Every generation has their weird parenting trends. There’s something about a bad idea that has a way of captivating people. Every few years, someone with the word “doctor” in front of their name tells us to ignore all common sense, and parents, collectively, decide: What the hell, we’ll give it a shot.
It’s not just us – our parents did it too. And some of their ideas were downright insane.
1 | Open-air baby cages
In the 1930s, if you wanted to know if a mother really cared about her baby, all you had to do was look at where her baby slept. Any mother worth her salt, the experts said, would lock her baby in a metal cage that was hanging out the window.
Baby cages were created as a way to get city kids outdoors. Parenting experts, at the time, said that babies needed to be “aired out” with the odd trip outside. For moms in apartments, though, the easy way to get your babies out was to hang them precariously out of the windowsill.
These things sold decently well – even Eleanor Roosevelt owned one and let her own daughter rest on a metal mesh hanging out the window. Sales started to drop, though, as a new parenting fad started to catch on: caring whether your child lives or dies.
2 | Smearing babies in lard
The second a newborn baby was born, in the 20th century, nurses would take it over the bath and give it the first and most important scrub-down of its life – by smearing it with lard.
“Take a piece of lard about the size of a walnut,” obstetrician guides of the era recommended, and “rub the grease thoroughly” across the baby’s head, with “especial attention to the ears”. Nurses were to make sure they got lard all over the newborn’s body before gently wiping it off with a wet sponge.
3 | Never touching your baby
If you’ve ever hugged your children, according to a parenting guide written in the 1920s, you’ve pretty much ruined them already.
“Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap,” the writers, Watson and Morgan, told parents. Anyone who spoiled their kids by occasionally touching them, they said, ought to “utterly ashamed” of the “mawkish, sentimental way” they treat their child.
If a parent was weak and sentimental, Watson and Morgan allowed a little kiss at night. “If you must, kiss them on the forehead when they say goodnight.” Then, when you see your children in the morning, give them a firm, business-like handshake. After all, you wouldn’t ruin your children by letting them feel loved.
4 | Introducing solids at two-days-old
In the 1950s, parenting expert Walter W. Sackett told the world that this whole breastfeeding thing was ruing kids. “Milk, including human milk,” he declared, “is truly deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.” If you want to get your kids on the right track, you needed to feed them cereal – starting at two-days-old.
Sackett insisted this was “very natural”. He had heard of an African tribe, he said, where the mothers would chew up food and then dole it into their children’s mouths, like a mother bird feeding its baby. No mother would ever have trouble getting their child to eat cereal, he argued, when it’s “the consistency of putty”.
5 | Giving kids coffee
A few years later, Dr. Sackett upgraded his recommendations. Getting your kids on cereal when they’re two days old, he declared, was a fine start – but hardly far enough.
By 9 weeks, he declared, every baby should be starting the day with a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. And since no breakfast is complete without a cup of joe, a good parent might as well slip a hot cup of coffee in there, too.
“The six-month-old child often enjoys, and is not harmed by, a cup of coffee,” Dr. Sackett assured the world. Caffeine, he insisted, was harmless, and a child on a steady diet of coffee would “grow accustomed to the normal eating habits of the family.”
6 | Making Your Child’s Head Point North
“In order to ensure the soundest sleep,” parents in the 1880s were assured, “the head should lie to the north.”
The idea came from Dr. Henry Kennedy, who assured parents across the world that pointing a baby’s head at the North Pole would fix most of their problems. Electrical currents, he argued, course around the world and move through our babies’ nervous systems. Getting their heads pointed the right way let all the electricity pass through smoothly and ensured a good night’s sleep.
It’s one of those things that almost sounds scientific – until you read on to the part where the writer goes completely crazy. Because it didn’t take long before Dr. Kennedy was insisting he could pacify “acute diseases” by placing a child like the arrow on a compass.
7 | Stripping Furniture To Treat Depression
If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, forget tackling the roots of your problems or trying to find meaning in life. A 1958 issue of Mother and Baby has the real solution: stripping all the furniture in your house.
“Many people find,” the magazine claimed, that getting on their knees and stripping, sanding and staining wooden furniture “solves their emotional problems and save them hours on the analyst’s couch.”
It all sort of reads like a lazy husband’s convoluted plot to get his wife to strip the furniture so he doesn’t have to. In practice, it probably created more problems than it fixed by filling the house with noxious gasses.
But who knows, maybe it worked. Maybe those fumes killed enough brain cells to make mom forget about all her worries.
8 | Keeping Mothers Away From Babies
At the start of the 19th century, several men offered a new solution to get mothering right once and for all: keep mothers out of it.
Parenting, some men argued, was too important to be entrusted to women. “This business has been too long fatally left to the management of women,” one man wrote, “’who cannot be supposed to have the proper knowledge to fit them for such a task.”
He wasn’t the only person pushing the keep-women-away-from-babies campaign. Another man declared that 1825 would be the year that ended the “time of ignorance” when women were put in charge of babies.
The movement, of course, never completely took off – presumably ending as soon as the men were left alone with a crying baby for more than five minutes.
Strange parenting fads, though, would never die. Every year, another new expert would come out with a new way everyone had to raise their child from now on and parents would follow suit. And we can count on it – a few years from now, some of the things we do with our kids today will show up on a list just like this one.