History of Judgy Parenting


History of Judgy Parenting

When Nicholas Day became a father eight years ago, he suddenly felt a deep, primal aversion to a thing he had never previously cared about: pacifiers. He felt certain that giving a pacifier to his baby would ruin the kid’s life—and worse, it would be proof that he’d failed as a father. Nick wanted to know where his pacifier fear came from, so like a good journalist, he went looking for answers.

Turns out, the root of Nick’s fear went way farther back than online parenting debates. It was actually centuries old, and based on some pretty far-out judgy ideas about parents and kids. And the more Nick dug, the more weird stuff he learned about parenting of the past. (Note what’s going on with the baby and the goat in the image above, for example.)

This image of a six-year-old thumb-sucker terrified parents in 1880

Tune in to this episode, in which Nicholas Day walks us through the bizarre, hilarious, and strangely relatable history of parenting babies.

More resources to keep you from freaking out about out your infant
Nick wound up writing a whole book about infancy; it’s called Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle: A Journey Through Infancy.

And here’s the CDC’s list of typical developmental milestones for kids ages 0-5.

Special thanks to a few anthropologists
Jennifer Eyre, Dr. Holly Dunsworth, Dr. Ian Tattersall and the American Museum of Natural History helped us clarify some prehistoric parenting history.

What made YOU anxious as a new parent?
Superstitions? Studies? Expert-y books? Well-meaning advice? Tell us! In the comments.

Photos: Top image (A woman holding a baby who is feeding from a goat): Wellcome Images, (CC BY 4.0)

Our sponsors for this episode are Amazon Kindle, StoryWorth, Third Love, and Little Passports. Use the promo codes at checkout for a special discount.

12 thoughts on “EPISODE #123: The Weird History of Judgy Parenting

  1. I’m curious to know if gorillas in the wild have trouble nursing their young, or is it just gorillas in captivity? In the wild, gorillas must have more opportunity to witness other mothers nursing and I imagine that’s mostly not the case in zoos. It makes me think that nursing is probably a great deal a learned/social behavior as well as instinctual. *i realize I picked a 2 second clip to focus on, but it really piqued my curiosity.

    1. Thanks for your question, April! We actually had to cut it from the episode, but Nick told us that zookeepers sometimes have to model breastfeeding to gorilla moms, using a doll. I think you’re correct that in the wild, the information is transmitted socially among other primates, just like it is for us!

  2. I loved this episode! Mostly because my daughter is 20 months old and well on her way to the terrible twos and my sister in law is expecting their first baby (a girl) in August and we have been talking a lot about bringing home a new baby and what it was like. She hasn’t outright asked for advice, it’s just conversation about things that were hard or how we chose certain methods and avoided others and I realized that I had the most trouble fitting into my new mom role when I was worried about what others would think or if I was doing something wrong. Then about a month or so in, I said fuck it, and just started doing what worked for us. She napped when she wanted, who needs a schedule. We co-slept (my husband travels for work 50-75%) and getting up on my own at night was killing me, she was slow to gain weight despite thriving and hitting those pesky milestones and I just stopped worrying… the list goes on an on. All that to say I loved this episode because it speaks to my core belief, that when you do things/make decisions with love in your heart for your child, there really isn’t a wrong way to do things…..I know someone is going to say I am wrong because such and such could cause such and such but I just mean, for the most part the little differences in the ways we choose to feed, bathe, put our babes to sleep etc are never going to be identical and it is OK! I am of course not condoning harmful behaviors, like giving your kid a shot of whiskey so they sleep ;-)

  3. I really loved this episode! I actually went online and bought Nick’s book before I even finished the episode. I agree with Kirsten’s comment above. I think the “right” way to raise a kid is whatever works for you and your family. When I was pregnant the best advice I got came from a friend’s husband. He told me whatever you do, you’re doing it right, and whatever your kid does, your kid is normal. Whenever I have doubts or second guess myself I think about that and it helps me feel a lot better.
    I also loved that the episode started with pacifier woes. When I was pregnant I was so against pacifiers. After a couple weeks I broke down and tried to give my daughter one and she wouldn’t take it! When she got to about 4 months old she started taking it. Now that she is a year old I try to only give it to her for sleep and in the car, but learning about how absurd the history behind it is will probably help me let go some of my negativity towards it.

    1. Too funny about the paci, my daughter was the same. She’d take it hit or miss till about 3-4 months then it became her fave. We do the same as you, only when she’s sleeping or in the car!

  4. This was a great one. Discussing these things in their cultural/historical context helps dispel some of our current anxieties. It would be fun to include some mentions of bizarre parenting suspicions passed down from grandparents of other cultures, too. My daughter’s Mexican-American grandmother insisted on my licking a piece of red thread and putting it on my infant’s head to banish hiccups. My Cuban grandmother thought the way to get rid of bruises or bumps was to push them in with a wooden spoon. Ouch! Thanks for the great podcast.

  5. great episode! we have 3 kids; the first was very, very fussy and not a self-soother. So when the 2nd found his thumb we were thrilled. Got lots of unrequested opinions about his thumbsucking which continued through preschool, and I always dismissed those comments– just uptight, old- fashioned people. Well, we just started phase 2 of orthodonture to the tune of $7200 for a mouth of perfectly straight teeth but for a gigantic overbite. Sigh.

  6. The premise of this episode was awesome but I do wish I had heard about practices from cultures other than a White, European context. I would have liked to hear about what ancient cultures did with swaddling, breast feeding and child rearing in general. It would have made for a much stronger show.

  7. My daughter is 11 months old. Before she was born, a friend with two kids gave me the book “The 90-Minute Baby Sleep Program” by Dr. Polly Moore. It had ideas that seemed like a reaction to the Baby Einstein phenomenon where babies need constant stimulation, music, and toys to develop healthy brains. The book talked about underlying biological sleep patterns and argued that sleep is really important for babies’ growing brains. It outlined a simple plan to recognize when babies need naps.

    I took it a little too far. Once I recognized a pattern of sleeping and waking in my daughter (after six weeks or so) I became consumed with sticking to the sleep program. When she went through normal sleep transitions and would only nap for 15 minutes at a time, I was a wreck. I’d badger my poor spouse for keeping her awake too long. I’d obsess over how much sleep she had in a day.

    The book is a great resource but my hazy postpartum interpretation of it was that if I didn’t give her a chance to sleep I was depriving my little helpless child of the rest she desperately needed. It’s amazing how much fear and parenting go together.

  8. One of my family members ALWAYS makes such a big deal about swaddling — “we never did that and our kids slept fine.” Love to hear that it dates back longer than her life 😂😂😂

  9. I am a Canadian but have been living with my Brazilian husband in his country for almost 6 years. When our son was born 2 and a half years ago, I was assailed with so many wacky (in my mind) pieces of advice related how I should and and shouldn’t raise my infant. It was overwhelming at times and it took a few months to get my bearings as a mom and start trusting my own instincts as well as advice I had received from books and from my own culture. Some of the strangest pieces of advice were the following. An obsession with keeping my son’s feet covered, in socks or shoes, until four months of age since “the cold and germs pass directly through the feet to the rest of the body” ( quoting my mother in law). So even in super hot weather my son wore simple sleeveless onesies and socks when visiting his Brazilian grandmother. I was also told not to let my son suck his thumb or fingers beacause it would make him a slow learner. As someone who sucked her thumb until age 5 or 6 I found it particularly funny since I never struggled academically in highschool or university and I speak three languages. My husband kept joking with me, “imagine if you hadn’t sucked your thumb, you might speak 10 languages.”

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