Editor’s Preface

Despite the rather disturbing view presented in this article, it is nonetheless offered as an accurate, historical overview of child-rearing practices that, unfortunately, continues to this day. It is also important to be aware of how children were historically treated and how far we have come in caring for the next generation. We think it is important to understand how and why the human race is in the state it is today, which, in the main, is due to the culturally transmitted practices with which we raise our children.



Child Rearing in the Past


By Richard Kieninger


Many people have a vague but persistent feeling that the quality of child care and the methods of rearing children are deteriorating to the point where civilization is approaching its self-extinction for those reasons. Unquestionably, the concept of the modern, nuclear family is facing some troubling challenges and inevitable revisions; yet the nuclear family, consisting of but one man and his wife with their children in an isolated household is a very recent development in family structure and was spawned by the Industrial Revolution. It is natural for people to assume that the institution of the family as they have experienced it has been a relatively static, stable entity down through the millennia of known history. They conclude that recent conditions are just now undermining this “backbone” of civilization. A study of the history of the family and attitudes toward children reveals how transitory our modern concept of the family really is.


The long-term coupling of men and women into a state of marriage has its foundation in the natural psychological and physiological needs of human beings. The legal and religious sanctioning of those couplings is manmade and subject to wide swings in style and custom. The mode of nurturing and socializing the offspring has been subject to many different attitudes and theories about child rearing over the centuries and in various cultures, but the scientific investigation of the real nature of learning and psychology will lead us to eventually know how to help unfold the most enlightened, happy and fully functioning Egos in fulfillment of the human potential. In the past we seem to have been most concerned with methods of producing obedient, cowed, soldier-farmers. It was long ago observed that the child is the father of the man, but custom and myths of child rearing over the last three thousand years held back civilization because of the crippling psychological effects on generation after generation. The importance of parent/child relations for achieving social change was recognized long ago as witnessed by St. Augustine’s plea, “Give me other mothers and I will give you another world;” but until enough girls are reared to become conscientious and capable mothers, the hope of attaining mankind’s promise is but a future dream in vain. As each succeeding generation becomes more enlightened as to the psychological impact of events and prohibitions imposed by adults on children, we can gradually build a civilization which will best meet the real needs of people.


In antiquity, adults regarded children as troublesome animals; and until two centuries ago, children were treated much like pets and were used and abused even unto death without anyone much caring. A Roman patriarch had total power of life and death over his slaves and children, and Roman Law formalized it. Even in Greece infanticide was the rule rather than the exception. Parents routinely resolved their anxieties about taking care of children by killing them, and this affected the surviving children profoundly. A sense of terror and dread overshadowed their lives. A large percentage of girl babies were abandoned to the elements by all classes in Greece and Rome, and rarely more than three children were kept for rearing by a family. The rest were killed or sold into prostitution while babes. Adult sodomy with boys and girls was a part of the Roman and Greek way of life. The killing of legitimate children by even the wealthy Greek parents was so common that Polybius blamed it for the depopulation of Greece. The rest of the pre-Christian world indulged in child sacrifice to the gods. Those of means would purchase children from the poor, who offered them for sale, and slaughtered them like so many lambs or doves. It wasn’t until A.D. 374 that the Roman Senate began to consider infanticide to be punishable as murder, and Roman parents were paid to keep children alive in order to replenish the dwindling population of Romans in a land swelled by foreigners. The custom of sending babies to wet nurses to be fed and reared was contributing to the dilution of Roman ethics because of the influence of being reared in the households of foreign slaves. Europeans regarded nursing as swinish and filthy until encouragement to nurse one’s own child was introduced into England in the eighteenth century. Twenty centuries of separation of the mothers from their children made for a very remote relationship between parents and child; and high infant mortality under these circumstances kept European population low.


Once parents began to accept the child as having a soul, abandonment became the method of parental escape rather than infanticide. From the harsh, loveless neglect of the wet nurse, the child was usually put out to an apprenticeship which was a virtual enslavement. The child was to become an obedient servant to adults until he or she successfully completed the period of training in their early teens. The affectionless atmosphere in which the child was reared was compensated only by his freedom to explore other children sexually. This was permitted rather openly. During the Middle Ages, infants in their cradles and children were routinely whipped in order to drive out the Devil and to harden them. Even kings suffered lifelong nightmares as a consequence of their childhood whippings upon awakening in the morning.


From antiquity, newborn infants have been tightly bound in swaddling bands to the point where they had not the slightest ability to move. This is of great convenience to adults, for the swaddled infant can be hung on a peg on a wall, laid on a shelf or put in a container. Swaddled infants are extremely passive; their hearts slow down, they sleep more and they are generally withdrawn. The swaddling bands were removed from the arms within four months and from the legs and torso after nine months. Thereafter, the infant would be kept passive by underfeeding it and purging it. Children were kept in restraints or stocks until they were old enough to walk so that they could not crawl on all fours like an animal. The effect of being undernourished, emotionally understimulated, neglected and abused was that children’s growth was retarded. Their first steps were taken around two years of age instead of one year. The practice of swaddling ended in England by the end of the 1700’s, and in Germany and France a century later.


Beginning about the fourteenth century, children began to enter into the parents’ emotional life. Child instruction manuals began to appear as well as the “close-mother image” in art. Brutality toward children continued, and the battered child would grow up to be a battering parent. Evil, sin, corruption and resistance were seen in everything a child did, but he was now also seen as an item to be molded into whatever the parent chose to make of him. He was made to behave by terrorizing him with threats of witches, boogymen, demons, hellfire, disease and hideous details of the torture chamber. Now the Christian concept of childhood innocence began to be heard. Clement of Alexandria’s interpretation that Christ’s advice that people “become as little children” meant that they should be pure, without sexual knowledge. The church began to stress that children were totally innocent, but the old customs of child rearing were to continue to hold sway until the seventeenth century. Moreover, parents and servants were the chief sexual monsters of children.


When the church finally succeeded in getting children out of their parents’ bed (as much to prevent accidental and intentional suffocation), its campaign against sexual abuse against children took an entirely new twist in the eighteenth century. The fault for adult/child sexual play was laid to the children, and punishment for masturbation became the expression and main obsessions of child rearing. This reached its peak of frenzy during the Victorian Era. The child was made to feel guilty for sexual thoughts or pleasant sensations and was convinced he would go to hell for not being pure. The child was divided within himself: he wanted to be good and earn God’s salvation, but he could not stop evil thoughts of which adults were constantly reminding him. The child’s woeful attempts to secure salvation and acceptance were salved by a mother who had been encouraged to nurse him and personally care for him. The child seemed to her less obnoxious and threatening, and real parental empathy began.


The nineteenth century saw an idealizing attitude emerge that made raising a child less a process of conquering its will than training it, guiding it into proper paths, and socializing it to become a useful member of the nation. Toward the middle of the twentieth century, fathers for the first time began to take a more active role in child training and care.


More recently, the “helping” mode of child rearing began. Here the parent is encouraged to let the child’s physiological and psychological needs as they emerge determine what guidance and assistance is to be given. Both parents are fully involved in the child’s life as they work to empathize with and fulfill his expanding awareness. Children are not struck, scolded nor made to feel guilty. This involved an enormous amount of time, energy and discussion on the part of both parents, especially for the first six years. Helping a young child reach his daily goals means constantly responding to him, playing with him, tolerating his experiments, interpreting his emotional conflicts, and providing the objects and services specific to his evolving interests. It is already evident that this results in a child who is gentle, sincere, never depressed, not peer imitative, and is strong willed and not intimidated by authority.


Where will a generation of such children lead civilization? Will they marry and have families of their own? Will they pass along to future generations the enlightened education they themselves received? Will they evolve still furthering the way that families and child rearing attitudes have evolved through the past?




Teach Your Children Well