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.