Telling parents how to raise children in books, says Hardyment, is ""arguably as silly as sending false teeth through the...


DREAM BABIES: Three Centuries of Good Advice on Childcare

Telling parents how to raise children in books, says Hardyment, is ""arguably as silly as sending false teeth through the post and hoping that they will fit""; with the emphasis on Great Britain, she convincingly demonstrates that all the baby care books seem to fit is their historic period. As we move quickly from French wet nurses to American Puritans, the stretch is sometimes too far and too fast; but the sea-changes are for the most part well-charted. The Enlightenment brought the first foundling hospitals, a highly practical attempt to deal with appalling infant-mortality rates, as well as the highly impractical ideas of Locke (who believed in preserving children's freedom of will by feedings at different times of the day--unrelated to the stomach's demands). In the 19th century, new scientific ideas and religious currents combined to put mothers in command. ""Nursing mothers were treated like candidates for the Olympic games""--and throughout the child's infancy mothers held prime medical responsibility, relying on leeches, herbal remedies, and ""quietness"" (opium syrup). In the century's final decades, however, mothers became increasingly demoralized, ""whether through a crisis of faith or through love of fashionable life."" By 1920 it was the professionals, guided by behavioralism, who would tailor the child ""to fit into the world he was born into, manipulating him along predictable patterns of stimulus and response."" A return to ""warmth, comfort, and cuddling"" would follow, with the realization--as in the popular 1938 Anderson and Mary Aldrich advice book--that Babies Are Human Beings. With input from Freud and Piaget, mothers now sought to respond to their children in instinctive, natural ways. ""The new model baby was warmly affectionate, impulsive, dependent, and (preferably) scintillatingly intelligent."" Within the contemporary era of ""Baby rules,"" there are more changes, as Hardyment demonstrates with reference to the evolving Speck doctrine (toilet training swings from laissez-faire relaxation to a power struggle and back again). She recognizes that manuals may effectively transmit information, but cautions parents against viewing them as infallible authorities: ""No one has yet produced the elusive blueprint for a perfect child."" The concerned parent may breathe easier; the historian will be intrigued by the evolutions complementing broader changes within the family.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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