History, Impact today

The Basics of Culture: A Historic Account of Parenting

historic parenting styles

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

–Pericles

Historic Parenting Styles of Ancient Cultures

Many ancient cultures had cultures had similarities as well as differences in their parenting styles. One of the most important ways parenting has evolved over time is that in most modern cultures, children are no longer viewed as property. In many ancient cultures, children were often sold into slavery. Parenting styles differed a great deal according to the social class of the parents.

The historic parenting styles of the ancient Greeks reflected the social values of Greek society at the time. Male children of the slave-owning class were trained to participate in the intellectual life of the culture from a very young age. They were also expected to learn social manners. Female children were not educated, but remained at home until they married. Slave women were responsible for most of the child care duties such as breast-feeding.

Historic parenting styles in ancient Roman culture revolved around the power of the father, who had the right to order the death of an unwanted infant. Fathers also had the right to sell their children into slavery.

As in Greek culture, female children were taught domestic skills within the home, while male children were formally educated.

Ancient Mesopotamian culture also placed a higher value on male children, and death from exposure was a common fate for unwanted female infants. Selling children into slavery was less common, and mothers nursed their own infants for up to three years. Unlike ancient Roman culture, in which fathers often used corporal punishment as a form of child discipline, the historic parenting styles of ancient Mesopotamia discouraged it. Corporal punishment was reserved for slaves.

Historic parenting styles of the ancient Han Dynasty in China were heavily influenced by Confucius. A review of Anne Behnke Kinney’s book, “Representations of Childhood and Youth in Early China”reveals that parenting practices in ancient China were heavily influenced by the ruling dynasty as well. One ancient author suggested that the way parents treated their children reflected the way they themselves were treated by their rulers.

Another writes about the power of mothers over children’s moral development, beginning with the fetus! It was believed that children absorbed the moral qualities of their environments. Female children were educated less than male children and, like most ancient cultures, were given in marriage between the ages of 13 and 16. They were expected to pledge loyalty to their husband’s family and cut ties with their own families.

The ancient Celtic culture in Britain during the Iron age consisted of clans. Children were seldom raised by their own parents, but were fostered by other members of the clan, often relatives. Each clan had its own social structure. Slavery was non-existent, largely because lands were communally owned. Women were considered equal to men and could own property, choose their own husbands, and even lead in war. Queen Boudicca led the Celts in a revolt against Roman rule.

Historic Parenting Styles Versus Modern Parenting Styles

Most modern societies find the concepts of infanticide and child slavery morally reprehensible. However, it remains true that many modern cultures continue to place a lesser value on women, both in terms of education and equal rights within the larger society.

One important difference between historic parenting styles and modern ones is that most modern child rearing experts reject historic parenting styles that use corporal punishment as a form of discipline. However, the influence of those styles is still evident. Until fairly recently, corporal punishment was often used as a form of discipline in schools as well as within the family.

Poland was the first country to outlaw corporal punishment in 1783. Many other countries began to legally abolish the practice in the 1970’s. While corporal punishment is now illegal in many countries, it continues to be legal in 19 states in the U.S.

Modern parenting styles have been influenced a great deal by the advent of modern medicine, including birth control. Historically, lower birth rates have resulted in a greater value being placed on infants and children as well as lower infant mortality rates.

Despite the negative aspects of ancient historic parenting styles, many modern experts agree that some aspects of parenting in ancient hunter-gatherer societies are worthy of emulating today. Keeping children close, giving them freedom to explore, and more involvement by fathers and other community members are among the features of such societies that experts consider beneficial to children.

There has been a shift in social evolution from viewing children as property of parents and state, to viewing them as individuals equally deserving of human rights. Since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, many international organizations work tirelessly to manifest these principles into reality for the children of the world still suffering from the influence of the negative aspects of parenting styles of the past.

historic parenting styles
Akhenaten Nefertiti and their children
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