Historical parenting trends that would not fly today

The next time a person of a certain age rolls their eyes at you and laments about “parents today”, present them with the following evidence of the bizarre, dangerous and downright cruel parenting trends of yesteryear.

Open-air baby cages

These days, we might feel like we’re constantly badgering, begging or bribing our kiddies to go outside. And when we do manage to convince them to go out, they have the gall to make us come with them. Like we didn’t have better things to do (e.g. watch Dr Phil).

However, parenting groups in overcrowded 1930s London already had the perfect solution – baby cages. In essence, these cages were suspended outside the windows of high-rise apartments, enabling bub to ‘safely’ get fresh air while mum went about her domestic duties.

No affection

According to a parenting guide written in the 1920s, showing your baby too much affection and ‘giving in’ to their demands round the clock meant that you could be raising little socialists. They would also become spoilt, “sissy-like” and other bad ‘S’ words.

But don’t worry – if you absolutely could not resist showing your little one some affection (subtext: if you were a total wimpo), you were allowed to give your baby a small kiss on the forehead to say goodnight and a firm, business-like handshake in the morning.

Crying as good exercise

Related to the previous point, parenting experts believed that ignoring babies and letting them cry it out provided them an excellent form of exercise.

Basting baby

Around the turn of last century (circa the year 1900), experts recommended that for the first two weeks of life, mothers should completely cover their newborns in lard, butter or olive oil. Apparently, this process helped remove the waxy vernix coating that babies are born with.

If you ask me, telling a confused, severely sleep-deprived new parent to regularly baste in butter something small enough to fit in an oven was – pardon the pun – a recipe for disaster.

Caffeine them up!

American paediatrician Walter Sackett recommended that babies as young as six months could be given black coffee in order to integrate them into the normal eating habits of the family.

Note that the bearer of this advice is the same dude who reckoned that too many hugs turned baby into a spoilt socialist, so don’t feel bad ignoring him.

Want to bust those baby blues? Strip! 

No, I don’t mean getting your gear off and gallivanting around a pole for dollars. I’m referring to something just as sexy – stripping furniture.

According to a 1958 issue of Mother and Baby magazine, mothers struggling with postpartum depression could avoid expensive therapy sessions by simply getting down on their hands and knees and stripping, sanding and staining their wooden furniture.


In a book calmly titled “Save the babies”,* these experts claimed that the business of parenting 

*A not-at-all over-dramatic and exaggerated name for a book. Because only women are allowed to be hysterical. 

Not surprisingly, the practical applications of this philosophy did not get far off the ground – presumably because fathers ran for the hills as soon as the baby cried or shat itself. Meanwhile, this amusing mansplaining backfire had silly little women everywhere chortling quietly behind their hands.

I don’t know… as much as many of us don’t wish to be declared an incompetent parent, playing dumb might be a nice way to catch a break.