The Craziest Parenting Advice Throughout History

The Craziest Parenting Advice Throughout History

Let’s go seriously old school with some of the wackiest parenting advice of all time!

By Wendy Robinson

When I was a kid, my favorite thing to do was ride my bike to the library. I’d hop on my banana seat and ride alongside a highway, my hair blowing in the breeze, a decade before it would even occur to me to get a bike helmet. I’d leave around noon and make sure I was home before dinner. My mother had no idea where I was and that was fine with her.

My kids have never ridden without a helmet, and it was a big step for me to let my son start riding his bike around the block by himself. The “rules” of parenting sure can change in a generation.

The laissez-faire parenting style of the 1980s that I grew up with pales in comparison to some of the really crazy parenting rules of the past, like:

1. Give your baby liver soup … starting at 3 months old! (Source: Meat in Your Baby’s Diet, 1941)

2. In 1971, your hospital packing list was supposed to include your “sanitary belt” along with a bed jacket and one or two bottles of your favorite perfume. You might also want to “invite your husband to help” with the newborn sometimes. (Source: Before and After Having Your Baby, 1971)

3. Always make sure your baby has his head pointing north when it is time for bed and remember that the “new-born child should be nursed about every second hour during the day and not more than once or twice at night.” But make sure that all that nursing doesn’t make you feel anxious as “nervous agitation may so alter the quality of the milk as to make it poisonous.” So. No pressure there, right? (Source: The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife and Mother, 1878)

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4. You should be careful to “handle the baby as little as possible. Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs.” (Source: The Mother and her Child, 1916)


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5. In order to avoid raising your children to be wimpy adults, you should be firm with your child: “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task.” (Source: Night and Daytime Care of the Child, 1928)

6. Be careful how you dress that new baby -- remember that “a new-born child cannot well be too cool or loose in its dress; it wants less clothing than a grown person because it is naturally warmer.” Swaddling should also be avoided, lest the baby’s “bowel not have room nor limbs any liberty…this is a hurtful circumstance for limbs that are not used will never be strong.” (Source: An Essay upon Nursing and the Management of Children, 1749)

See? Isn’t parenting easy? Just make sure you know how to make liver soup and that you aren’t being too free with the hugs and kisses and your kid will turn out just fine!

Which piece of advice seems the most unbelievable to you?

Wendy Robinson is a writer, working mom and graduate student. Someday she'd like to sleep in again. She also blogs at

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