Throughout the last fifty years or so, new moms have faced a deluge of advice, much of it contradictory. But over all that time, one thing has been constant: the message that if you do any little thing wrong, your baby will die or become a serial killer or both.
For her new book Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, historian Angela Davis (no relation) talked to moms about the advice of six parenting experts through the ages. Here's her amusing and depressing summary of her findings:
Despite all the differences in advice advocated by these childcare ‘bibles' over the years, it is interesting that they all have striking similarities in terms of how the experts presented their advice. Whatever the message, the advice was given in the form of an order and the authors highlighted extreme consequences if mothers did not follow the methods of childrearing that they advocated.
Sound familiar? Did you know that if you don't breastfeed your kid will be obese and have a bad immune system and also be unable to truly give or accept love? Thought so.
Making the long history of dire pronouncements even sadder is the fact that parents haven't necessarily been scared into better childrearing practices — if anyone's even sure what those practices are. Davis points out that parenting advice is "cyclical," moving from the commandment to give children "strict routines" to a looser approach and then back to strictness again. She talked to some women who had seen the pendulum swing back and forth over the course of their lives and "were still unsure of what had really been the best approach."
Well, yeah. Even within a single time period, there's enough alleged wisdom flying around to make a mom throw up her hands. Says Davis, "more than 50 years on and experts still cannot agree on the best way to approach motherhood, and all this conflicting advice just leaves women feeling confused and disillusioned." It seems unlikely that experts will ever agree on the "best" way to be a mom, so maybe if they'd back off on the "extreme consequences," we'd all be better off.
Research shows 50 years of motherhood manuals set standards too high for new mums [University of Warwick, via ScienceDaily]