In today’s hyper-anxious world of parenting, when the idea of making one bad choice makes us fearful of inflicting lifelong damage on our little ones, it’s important to keep ourselves in check. For example, do you serve your child gin? No? Then you’re doing okay. Nervous parents, rest assured: History has brought with it a handful of very unwise parenting trends — some of which are so shocking that your jaw may drop.
In addition to serving kids gin (a trend during Victorian-era England), examples abound of the low bar that parents throughout history have set for the rest of us:
8 Unbelievably Bad Parenting Trends Through History 1 of 9
The Middle Ages: Serving Beer with Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner 2 of 9
During the Middle Ages, children, like their parents, generally drank beer, which we can only assume made for fairly riotous play dates. While kiddie keggers might sound, um, problematic to modern parents, beer was a far safer alternative to the disease-ridden water available. According to Medieval Celebrations: Your Guide to Planning and Hosting Spectacular Feasts, Parties, Weddings and Renaissance Fairs, just about everyone drank beer from breakfast to dinner as an alternative to non-potable water, and children were no exception. While historians are quick to point out that this beer had low alcohol content, beer continued to be a cheap, widely available option for children well into the Victorian era. So next time you feel bad about giving your child that sugary juice, remember: at least it's not a brewski!
The Tudor Times: Betrothing Your Baby 3 of 9
Be honest: When you had your baby, did you immediately promise them in marriage to another baby? No? Then you're one up on centuries of royal tradition! For most of civilization's history, children of royals were used as pawns in making alliances, adding to their home country's coffers, or even claiming the throne, according to A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories History's Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors. Tudor England's Lady Jane Grey, for example, was the sacrificial lamb in her ambitious parents' move for the throne after the early death of Edward VI: Grey was put in the line of succession, married to another pawn, made queen for 9 days, and executed, all before her 17th birthday in 1554. It's said that her conniving mother — who was pardoned — frolicked with a young lover as her daughter lost her head. Did you do that today? No? Then you're doing great!
The 18th Century: Giving Children Gin 4 of 9
Gin for the whole family! The Gin Craze of England wreaked havoc on the county's poor during the first half of the 18th century. It's estimated that the average Londoner drank 14 gallons of gin a year in 1730 — and that included children. Gin was often safer than the dirty water and milk available, and was cheap and intoxicating, which made it a no-brainer. Infants were given gin to calm down and sleep, and older children drank it along with their parents to escape the squalor of their lives. In Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason, author Jessica Warner explains how declining birth rates, disabilities, and general public drunkenness finally brought about a series of gin acts and taxes in the mid-18th century to curb the craze. This didn't stop the madness, though; the Victorian Era saw a revival through the "gin palaces," where children could go to drink it without restriction after a hard day of child labor. That McDonald's Happy Meal you bought your kid for an after-school treat doesn't seem so bad now, does it?
The 18th Century: Only Allowing Dads to Raise the Kids 5 of 9
You might think that centuries of childcare would give women some cred in the parenting department, but physician William Cadogan knew better, and ushered in a "No Moms Allowed" mini-trend in 18th century parenting. In 1747's "An Essay Upon Nursing, and the Management of Children, from Their Birth to Three Years of Age," Cadogan scolded, "this Business [of childrearing] has been too long fatally left to the Management of Women, who cannot be supposed to have a proper Knowledge to fit them for such a Task." According to Cadogan, successful childrearing was based on "Philosophic Knowledge of Nature, to be acquired only through learned Observation and Experience." Men, of course, could handle such advanced thinking, while women's puny brains and "old superstitions" (like nursing and swaddling), made them incapable of successfully raising children. Fathers were to use their innate powers of reason to produce rational children. This trend was out by the end of the century, when experts generously granted mothers and their "feminine instinct and sensitivity" the power to "shape their children's souls," according to Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children.
The Victorian Era: Using Morphine to Reduce Colic and Teething 6 of 9
Worried about giving your sick child that fever-reducer? As long as you're not doling out Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, you're doing just fine. Branded a miracle cure for colic and teething, the "miracle" actually came from a very special ingredient: morphine. The Victorian era also suggested doling out spoonfuls of Laudanum (a painkiller/sleeping-aid/tranquilizer made of 10% opium and 90% alcohol) to infants for a variety of ailments (or just to assure a long night's sleep?).
The 19th Century: Dipping Kids in the Sink to Treat Croup 7 of 9
If a pharmaceutical-grade opiate wasn't available, 19th-century parents could opt for holistic cures, like this 1873 recipe for treating croup from T.J. Ritter's Mother's Remedies Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada: Children would be placed in a hot bath up to their necks, and an emetic (a vomit inducer) would be administered. Parents would apply a mustard plaster around their sick child's neck, and the plaster would remain on the child as long as he or she could bear it. If the doctor was late to arrive, they'd make a powder, to be applied every 20-30 minutes for relief: "Mix 6 grains of calomel, one grain of tartar emetic, and 15 grains of powdered sugar loaf together, and give every 20-30 minutes until there is relief." Simple!
The Early 20th Century: Preventing Kids from Playing to Improve Their Posture 8 of 9
Bad posture, bad character! The 20th century ushered in a new focus on children's posture, and parents were advised to look for the slightest slouch as a warning sign. According to Anxious Parents: A History Of Modern Childrearing In America, poor posture was a sign of poor character and emotional fragility, and responsible parents had a duty to correct "asymmetry" before a generation of hunchbacked juvenile delinquents took hold! To avoid the ominous slouch, responsible parents kept their children from outdoor games and strenuous activities, bought corrective clothing like the knickerbocker shoulder brace, and enrolled their children in posture courses. If the SATs, essays, and activities a kid needs to get into a good college seem overwhelming today, imagine if admission departments still considered an applicant's posture. Some elite colleges tested applicants on their posture as a part of the admissions process, and then offered graded posture training courses to correct what the parents could not.
The 1930s: Kenneling Kids in Cages 9 of 9
Plopping the baby in the Pack 'n Play while you shower might make you feel guilty, but at least you're not suspending your child in a cage outside of your apartment window! In 1930s London, parents who longed for their babes to get fresh air without, you know, taking them for walks, began affixing kennels to their windows. Babies could crawl through the window and outdoors into metal cages. The 1922 patent, by Emma Read of Washington, read: "It is well known that a great many difficulties rise in raising, and properly housing babies and small children in crowded cities, that is to say from the health viewpoint. With these facts in view, it is the purpose of this invention to provide an article of manufacture for babies and young children, to be suspended upon the exterior of a building adjacent an open window, wherein the baby or young child may be placed." What could go wrong?