Take a Deep Breath—You're Normal
Have you noticed that much of the parenting advice today can tend to make you feel like the worst parent in the world? It's great advice, but many times you'll feel as though you have no clue how to incorporate it into your family's structure. Or you worry so much that it won't work, that you fail to try. Or, worse yet, you don't even go looking for parenting advice because you feel that you are the only one having this problem, and you're embarrassed.
Take a deep breath—you're normal! Every parent experiences these feelings, and every parent can use good advice at one time or another, or all the time for that matter. This is true now, and it has been true throughout history.
Although very few problems are a crisis, don't overlook a problem your child is having by thinking “kids will be kids.” Yes, it is normal for problems to come up, but you should always strive to help your child fix his or her mistakes.
A Look at Parenting in the 1800s
In parenting, not all that much has changed. Take a look at these excerpts from Advice to a Mother on the Management of Her Children, by Pye Henry. It was published in 1880.
I am not overstating the importance of the subject in hand when I say, that a child is the most valuable treasure in the world, that he is the precious gift of God, that he is the source of a mother's greatest and purest enjoyment, that he is the strongest bond of affection between her and her husband.
A child should be happy; he must, in every way, be made happy; everything ought to be done to conduce to his happiness, to give him joy, gladness, and pleasure. Happy he should be as happy as the day is long. Kindness should be lavished upon him. Make a child understand that you love him; prove it in your actions—these are better than words; look after his little pleasures—join in his little sports; let him never hear a morose word—it would rankle in his breast, take deep root, and in due time bring forth bitter fruit. Love! Let love be his pole-star; let it be the guide and the rule of all you do and all you say unto him.
Pleasant words ought always to be spoken to a child; there must be neither snarling, nor snapping, nor snubbing, nor loud contention toward him. If there be it will ruin his temper and disposition, and will make him hard and harsh, morose and disagreeable … Never allow a child to be teased; it spoils his temper. If he be in a cross humour take no notice of it, but divert his attention to some pleasing object. This may be done without spoiling him. Do not combat bad temper with bad temper—noise with noise. Be firm, be kind, be gentle, be loving, speak quietly, smile tenderly, and embrace him fondly, but insist upon implicit obedience, and you will have, with God's blessing, a happy child.
Respiration, digestion, and a proper action of the bowels, imperatively demand fresh air and exercise. Ill health will inevitably ensue if boys and girls are cooped up a great part of the day in a close room. A distinguished writer of the present day says: The children of the very poor are always out and about. In this respect they are an example to those careful mammas who keep their children, the whole day long, in their chairs, reading, writing, ciphering, drawing, practicing music lessons, doing crotchet work, or anything, in fact, except running about in spite of the sunshine always peeping in and inviting them out of doors; and who, in the due course of time, are surprised to find their children showing up with incurable heart, head, lung, or stomach complaints.
Young minds cannot appreciate great sacrifices made for them; they judge their parents by the words and deeds of every-day life. They are won by little kindnesses, and alienated by little acts of neglect or impatience. One complaint unnoticed, one appeal unheeded, one lawful request arbitrarily refused, will be remembered by your little ones more than a thousand acts of the most devoted affection.
Trends in Parenting, 1890s to the Present
The trend in parenting in the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century looks like a tennis match, going back and forth between two different types of parenting, thereby defining the parenting style of the day. The two types are basically based on who was at the reins of the family: the parent or the child. When the child was at the reins, the type is called “child-centered,” and you will tend to see a permissive style of parenting emerge. The permissive style allowed the child to set the pace. When the parent is at the reins, the type is called “parent-centered,” and you will see a more restrictive/authoritative style of parenting. In the restrictive style of parenting, the parent set the pace.
In a study of more than eighty years of women's magazines, two different researchers identified these trends in parenting:
1890s–1920: Permissive, child-centered.
1920–1935: Restrictive/Authoritative, parent-centered.
1935–1950s: Permissive, child-centered.
1960s–1980s: Restrictive/Authoritative, firm but loving, centered on both parent and child.
1990s–present: Restrictive/Authoritative, firm but loving, centered on both parent and child; return of spanking debate; fear of breakdown of family.