Family & Pets

Thu, 26 Apr, 2018Danielle McCarthy

5 lessons we can learn from a 1945 parenting book

5 lessons we can learn from a 1945 parenting book

When I had my baby, Mum gave me a lot of great advice. One tip stuck with me.

"Make sure you clean under his neck rolls," she said, peering underneath the soft skin. "It can get pretty cheesy under there," she added, sneaking an ominous glance at my neck.

As a new parent, it's difficult to know what suggestions to take on board. Do you let baby cry, or will they be forever damaged? Do you feed them to sleep or are you "creating a rod for your own back," the most frustratingly nonsensical saying ever invented?  If you swaddle them too long, will your 22-year-old son repel all future girlfriends with his desire for a snail-like wrap before beddie-byes?

I flung the last parenting book I read across the room in disgust, after it suggested buying Action-Man undies for toilet training boys, and "pretty knickers with flowers on them" for girls. Way to establish gender norms early, stupid book. In general, I close their pages feeling more disempowered than before.

Not so with Modern Mothercraft, the official 1945 handbook of the Plunket Society of New Zealand. What could the experts of yesteryear teach me about motherhood?

1. It's important to take care of our mums

In a section entitled, "Going Home," we learn that a mother should be taught how to bath and feed a baby, tuck it down to sleep and look after her health before leaving the nursing home. "It is considered necessary for the mother to have some help in the home for the first few weeks, but if this cannot be managed then a few weeks' stay in a mothercraft institution is advisable. Actually every mother with her first baby would be better for such an experience," the book notes.

"The nursing mother should lead a regular and tranquil life, and her husband and those about her should see that she is protected from worry, overwork and undue excitement."

Enough said.

2. Our grandparents were obsessed with the sun

Pasty baby? Put it outside. Annoying toddler? Get thee to a backyard. Fresh air and sunshine are answers to almost any ailment, and a daily sunning of baby's limbs is encouraged.  "At first only a small area of the skin is exposed for a short time, and the area and time of exposure are gradually increased until the whole body is exposed for ten minutes or longer each day, and an even coat of tan is produced."

Furthermore, "Children who spend too much of the day indoors have a ‘washed-out’ unhealthy appearance and lack the vim and vigour of outdoor boys and girls; they are more apt to catch colds and other infections."

3. Nappy changing could be worse

Mothers are instructed to hold baby out after a feed, around 10am, to allow them to empty their bowels. This joyous task was designed to reduce hand-washing cloth nappies, and to ready the child for the toilet. It must commence from when the baby is a month old, though a mother should ensure not to make a "fetish" of it, which seems like a real danger.

4. Babies are not to be fussed over

When I had a newborn, I recall worrying that I wasn't spending enough time engaging with the baby. This concern was considered indulgent in 1945.

"Every baby requires a short ‘mothering’ time once or twice a day, during which he should be picked up, nursed in the arms of his mother or father or played with judiciously," we are instructed. "Baby quickly responds to such attention, and his parents enjoy the play period too, but it must not, of course, be overdone."

The same goes for bath time, with this terrifying and unexplained dictum: "Never allow a child to dawdle about after a bath."

5. Babies are not to be trusted

It is important to get the upper hand on your manipulative little Svengali, before they think they rule the roost.

On crying: "It is important to train baby in the right way from the start, and not allow the habit of crying merely for attention to develop, as it is bad for the baby and annoying for those who have to care for him."

On toddlers: "With uncanny instinct children pick on their mother's weakness and make capital of it. The ideal mother will not be stampeded in this way; she should steel her heart for the child's good and refuse to be intimidated."

On bedtime: "It is a good idea to have them in bed early so their parents can sit down and enjoy their evening meal together without interruption. The quickest way of ensuring nocturnal peace is to allow him to cry himself out on one or two occasions, and so learn that he is not master in his parent's domain."

So there you have it.

It's either amazing that our parents didn't grow up into emotionally-stunted robots, or possible that babies of every generation, when it comes down to it, thrive on one thing; their parent's love.

Written by Michelle Duff. Republished with permission of Image credit: Stuff.