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.

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

  1. Great episode! I’m the parent of two children (3 & 5) and while I’ve had some of the normal parenting anxieties, my work history really helped me remain calm and not get caught in the anxiety of being a new parent. I worked for a Child Protective Services agency for 8 years before I became a parent and I had interacted with literally thousands of children and parents. I witnessed and assessed some of the most depraved things that a caregiver can do to a child and I’ve seen some of the those same children overcome or at least address that trauma; leading reasonably stable lives. Seeing the worst of the worse, in terms of parenting, showed me that the little things are not going to harm my children long-term and that most parents are doing the best that they can. Also, it created a situation where I have no energy for parents who judge other parents and I tune large societal debates over silly things (like pacifier or no pacifier). Unless it’s actually abusive or neglectful (as defined by diagnostic manuals or law) or has a proven impact on health (i.e. second hand smoke), I think you should keep your opinions to yourself. I very rarely give parenting advice, unless directly asked for it and even then I reassure parents that they should continue to strive to do the best they can, but should also to be kind to themselves.

    1. Yes – great comment. I don’t have the same experience with child services, but I’ve always had the feeling that these little differences in parenting strategies are not going to make a huge difference in the long run. There are SO MANY differences in circumstances and personalities that the best strategy is just whatever works. The kids will turn out fine.

  2. Thanks for this episode! There were two things that helped me relax about parenting – one was some advice from my mother. When my first daughter was born, my mom told me, “Don’t read parenting books”, which was advice she had gotten from my grandfather.
    Of course, I couldn’t help it, and there’s one book I really like – How to Have Your Second Child First. Instead of telling you all the things you should do, it tells you about all the things you don’t need to worry about.
    It made me feel better to realize there’s no ‘secret’ that I’m missing out on, and that I’m not going to totally mess up my child by not knowing the exactly right thing.

  3. Great episode, and the first one I’ve listened to. My son is just over five months old now, and when he was born I of course tried to establish breastfeeding. He was born by c-section, and my milk didn’t come in for some time. Because of this, the midwives started me on combination feeding at the hospital. At home, I continued with that and pumped constantly in an attempt to get my milk going. A well-meaning friend, alarmed when I told her that my newborn only fed every 3-4 hours, literally told me, “for now, your life is over – you need to put that baby on your breast every 60-90 minutes.” My son had other ideas. He would just fall asleep at the breast and even when he was awake, he couldn’t seem to latch. But my friend kept telling me to persevere, and that cracked, bleeding nipples were just a fact of life. Even her mother sent me a message telling me I wasn’t feeding my baby enough! After two weeks of pure frustration, with six different midwives trying to correct his latch, I gave up and moved to the bottle full-time. My friend’s reaction was total silence. To this day I’m convinced she thinks I didn’t try hard enough. I’ve seen other mothers torture themselves over breastfeeding too. My position is, “try it out, but don’t torture yourself if it doesn’t work out.” A well-fed, happy baby is the most important thing.

Say Something

Commenting Guidelines Curiosity and spirited discussion are welcome; personal attacks are not. We reserve the right to reject comments for any reason.