extended family

Moral education and the extended family governed Motherhood in 1800-1850, not Mother love

Motherhood was about creating the religious and dutiful house

Once the nineteenth century started things changed. There was increased concern with the children’s moral and spiritual development. Science and religion will much determine this century and this will have an impact on childcare. The ideal of domesticity was reinforced by the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars on the continent. These were times of patriotism, loyalty and reproduction of striding and defending soldiers and soldier wives.

Mothers needed to look after the moral and spiritual development and their good example would shape the mind and hearts of the children, less Mother love itself. The extended family played an important role. And propaganda towards a religious and dutiful house was what mothers left alone kept going. They were told that taking care of the children would be just as useful and sacred to society than their husbands fighting to defend the country.

The importance of the extended family and no mother love

However there is no mention at all of the emotional attachment from the child to the mother and dangers of separation of the mother were simply not an issue at the time. Members of an extended family did  often most of the work. Mother love seemed not to exist at all. That was not before Freud would arrive on the scene. Ideas of mothers have changed radically with the role of women in general. By that time mothers were needed to stay at home but not for sentimental reasons. Too much sentimentality and softness could even be bad for children. The mother did not only to look after the morality of the children but also had a responsibility in providing a safe haven and refuge for her husband who worked ‘outside’ in a corrupt and hard world. Yes, her responsibility was also making the home peaceful, harmonious and uplifting for husbands and children which is still different than the emphasis in Mother love we have today. She was the good spine for all relatives. With the help of the extended family, she ‘managed’ family life and children.

The appearance of childcare books

By the mid nineteenth century a massive amount of books in childcare debarked. All with a similar message: the moral and spiritual welfare. The books came with loads of good advice.

Mothers are the best teachers for their children and this job is the most rational and pleasing employments in which human mankind can engage’


‘It ought… to enter into the domestic policy of every parent to make her child feel that home is the happiest place in the world; that to imbue them with this precious home-feeling is one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow

are two examples of two very popular childcare books in that time, Advice to the Teens by Saac Taylor of Ongar , from 2nd London ed., Boston, 1820 (p.64) and H. Montgomery Hyde. Mr. and Mrs. Beeton, re-edited in London, 1951 (p. 98).

Although this might sound similar to the advice experts would give today the reality is very different. Mothers were cold and intolerant to their children. They were very little with their children either because they were educated by nurses or extended family if they were at least middle class or the mother and sometimes the children would be working. Mother love would not be useful or provide the needed results. The duty to love was more prevalent than the love itself. Children were treated like guests when entering in the living room if there was one and could eat in the kitchen with the servants.

But all in all, the nineteenth century had been good to children in general because it was the first time since long that they were not seen anymore as small adults. It began to be less obvious to let them go to work for fourteen hours a day. Childcare, a new science, was for some interesting as a new fashion and for others a tool for a better soul or a way to be (seen as) a religiously good and faithful person. All good reasons really if this period ended up providing better living conditions for children.

Children and their needs appear in literature

Since the end of the eighteenth century there had never before been so many books about children. Literature in general was unconcerned with children. It did not exist as an important or continuous theme. It actually simply did not exist at all. But that changed. In the written world, the child became the symbol of creativity in an increasingly mechanical and industrial society. The child was pure and innocent in a world of bigger communities and alienation. The child represented escape and refuge because his world was smaller, simpler and perceived as happier. William Blake, Wordsworth, Dickens and Mark Twain all used these themes when writing about children our childhood.

The birth of the family unit versus the extended family

One could say that from the nineteenth century family and children took a bigger dimension in most parent’s lives. The unit “family” increased its significance in opposition to the “larger community”  or extended family of this industrial area. The family had never had such a big importance in society nor did it exercise such an influence on it. The economic dependence on a larger community or extended family had diminished and people organized themselves more around a few members and intimacy and privacy became important notions.

Sentimentality, feelings, small habits and routine, gave comfort and identity, were remembered at old age. Family’s idealization had started. The family before was loosely together and open and unprotective of privacy. A family (and not the extended family) existed no longer for only materialistic and economical reasons.

If you want to move  into the second part of the 19th century, head over to the more disciplinary education during 1850 and 1900.

extended family
Eleven Stages Of Womanhood 1840s. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Common
social change

The Seventies: Negative Motherhood, Social Change and the Celebration of Women Power

The sanctity of motherhood is a modern concept

Although there was a wave of social change and women’s liberation in the 1920s throughout the world, which led to women’s suffrage, as the world got pulled into war, the realization of such women power became a little diluted as the world strived toward bringing back peace. Women were not yet soldiers, but did help out amply in the war efforts, either as nurses, military officers or various forms of support.

With the end of the war and soldiers returning home, the world was now concerned with peace time needs and rebuilding. Industry mushroomed in the western world as did families. Soldiers rushed back to their wives or to find wives and much of the western world in the late 40s to the late 50s was devoted to building families. This was the era of social change before birth control became popular and a time in history when women themselves were almost like commodities. Once they married, at the average of 20, they then officially “belonged” to their husbands as did any of the property they owned. When a women married in this era, she pretty much signed her rights over to her husband.

Also, at this time, in the 1950s, women were only offered the very basic jobs, the usual ones dedicated to women: secretary, nurse, librarian, or teacher. Fewer women went to college in 50s than in the 20s.

Luckily, this type of social behavior began to be put into question, like much of the status quo, in the 1960s. An air of social change was blowing and affecting all of western society, including women and women power. Everything from the past was being redefined to suit modern-day society, including women’s roles. Social change was taking place. The sixties led the way for social change in large stride throughout most of the western world.

Social change  from the sixties on

This was a powerful era for women and from it emerged strong women archetypes that were no longer pinned to the role of the commonly accepted woman at the side of man, having his children. Birth control made it possible to no longer be controlled by the birthing process; social change in marriages meant divorce became a way for women to leave marriages when they no longer felt fulfilled or happy without having to prove wrongdoing. Women became free from the heaviness of roles from the past, which were often inflicted on them, and many strived to make a difference in the world. In short, it was truly an era of growing women power and social change.

The angry seventies

As a result, the seventies was an era where the concept of motherhood took a great beating. Because this was something previously forced on women, many were only too happy to publicly knock it, and to drag the concept of motherhood through the mud, using another one of the concepts birthed in the sixties: Free speech, which although it had been around for a long time, got a real boost in this era.

This became visible in the way women presented themselves in the seventies: Women were in their power, quite naturally. From a psychological perspective, the seventies could be viewed as an individuated period that followed the permissiveness of the 1960s, which was in reaction to the authoritarian model of the 1950s. As mothers were finding their voices, so were there children. This was a period that could be referred to as under-mothering, where moms with kids did not necessarily put their kids first, as modern-day moms frequently do. There was still distance between parents and children and children were left more on their own to develop.

But next to this wave of mothers, were women who were downright indignant with the whole image of motherhood referring to it in a very negative manner publicly.

Car stickers appeared announcing,

Babies are Pollution
World pollution is YOUR baby

Earlier Simone de Beauvoir had written of the ‘ordeal of pregnancy’ (though, to her credit, she also writes a lot of good sense about mothering). Juliet Mitchell writes of maternity as possession. One writer discusses ‘the negative role of Mum’.

Another writes

‘The big push to have children, whether we are married or not, should be viewed as one of the strong links in the chain that enslaves us.’

Kate Millett writes that a woman is

‘Simply by virtue of her anatomy … prevented from being a human being.’

Some feminist writers are downright hostile to the whole business. Penelope Leach quotes an example from a widely-read women’s liberation magazine which describes the full-time care of a baby or very young child as:

‘Like spending all day, every day, in the exclusive company of an incontinent mental defective.’

Shulamith Firestone in her Dialectic of Sex describes pregnancy as ‘barbaric … shitting a pumpkin’ and announces:

‘Pregnancy is the temporary deformation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species.’

She ends her book with the following announcement:

‘With the disappearance of motherhood, and the obstructing incest taboo, sexuality would be re-integrated, allowing love to flow unimpeded.”

Women power or Motherhood

Modern articles today look back on the seventies as a time of social change and a unique time where women could be themselves and mothers at the same time, the true definition of women power. It is portrayed as a more laid back time where children required less care than today’s modern children. This could be due to the fact that women were choosing motherhood instead of feeling it thrust upon them. It was also before the time when women inflicted the role of wonder women on themselves, attempting to juggle home, office, family and personal life all at once. As one writer says,

A life is long enough to do everything we want, only we can’t do it all at the same time.

Seventies’ moms seemed to instinctively know this and if there is a lesson to take away from that period, it would be this, which is the true source of women power.

Want to know more on the origins of feminism and motherhood, head over here.

social change
Head of the Artist’s Mother, Umberto Boccioni, 1915. Metropolitan Museum of Art