My favorite show is "Call The Midwife." If you haven't seen it, it's a lovely little period drama set in 1950s East London and follows bicycling midwives around the slums of Poplar as they welcome a new generation in the poverty stricken area. I love seeing all the pregnant moms and new babies and hearing some of the crazy advice they gave parents over 60 years ago (like telling them to have a nice relaxing smoke). I guess there were just some things moms did in the '50s that not a single parent would be caught dead doing today.
While basic parenting concepts are pretty steadfast and universal — keep your kid safe, fed, loved, clothes, etc. — parenting "strategies" are always evolving and changing. What's considered culturally appropriate one year, may be obsolete in five or ten. So, '50s parenting practices, like prescribing thalidomide, a medication to treat morning sickness that tragically led to birth defects and deaths in thousands of babies, isn't really a thing we do, as a culture, anymore.
Being a woman, and especially a mother, in the '50s was arguably a lot harder than it is today. Prevailing gender stereotypes, undeniable gender inequality, and little-to-no representation of women in the media made women's choices nothing if not miniscule. As a result, most women's lives revolved around keeping a home and raising children, and in a time of less innovation and motorization something as simple as doing the laundry could take all day. Once you had taken care of the home, children, and made a meal, you were also expected to pretty yourself up before "the man of the house arrived." Gross. I don't know about you, but I'm glad times have changed and the following '50s parenting techniques are no longer prevelant:
They Didn't Use Home Pregnancy Tests
If you suspected you might be pregnant in the '50s, you had to wait to have it confirmed by a doctor. That's right, at-home pregnancy tests were not available until 1968.
We thought the 2 week wait was the worst, but moms-to-be back in the day had to go to the bother (and possible lack of privacy) of attending a doctor's appointment, just to know if they were actually pregnant. Yuck.
They Treated Pregnancy Like An Illness
Pregnant women were referred to as "delicate" and "infirm" and were often unnecessarily ordered to remain on bed rest. If they put on more than the recommended amount of weight gain, they would be put on strict, reduced calorie regimen and prescribed diet pills. Diet pills, you guys.
They Gave Birth Asleep
During the '50s, birth practices were moving away from unmediated home births and attended by midwives, and towards hospital births overseen by doctors.
Laboring women of the '50s were often given medication to anesthetize them and, as a result, many passed out for the entire birth. These heavily medicated births were referred to as "twilight sleep births," although it did fall out of "style" after many women reported unpleasant side effects. (And, you know, didn't necessarily like being drugged against their will. Go figure.)
They Didn't Baby Proof Their Homes
Mothers of the post war era were told to "train" their young children not to touch special ornaments or dangerous objects, by saying in a clear authoritarian voice, "No, don't touch. Those are mother's things."
I just tried that with my toddler and, yeah, it doesn't work.
They Didn't Install Car Seats
They Left Babies Outside
It doesn't matter how many times I see an episode of "Call The Midwife," I am always amazed that they would place their babies in large carriages (without straps) and then leave them outside the front door "to get some fresh air."
My mother confirms this was not that unusual until the '80s, when paranoia about child abductions and "stranger danger" made the practice extinct.
They Didn't Rock Their Babies
Rocking or "jostling" babies was thought to be too much stimulation and, as a result, parents were advised against providing too much motion for their babies.
They Left Babies To Cry
In the '50s, doctors advised parents to allow their babies to cry without being comforted or picked up. Sure, we have sleep training now, but sleep training doesn't mean leaving your kid to cry for however long it takes for them to stop. Yikes.
They Were Permissive
You only need to catch a glimpse of Mad Men's Betty Draper's attitude towards her children, to notice that parents in the '50s had a very permissive parenting style.
Very young children were sent to the market to get the groceries and were left to play alone without any supervision at all, often with dangerous objects. Yikes.
They Let Their Children Play In The Streets
Like literally, parents didn't see their children for hours on end and until they stood at the door and called them in for dinner.
Without any screen time at all, as most people didn't even own a TV set, children had to learn how to entertain themselves.
They Blamed Mothers For Everything
If your baby had colic in the '50s, it was believed to be the result of a mother's tainted milk. And by "tainted," I mean the mom had a "bad attitude" or was "angry," and it "tainted" her breast milk. Unreal.
If your baby's umbilical cord became wrapped around their neck (something that is actually pretty common and happened with my son) the mother was blamed for reaching for high things off shelves or being too active.
This took mom shaming to a whole new level.
They Believed It Took A Village
Everyone in the neighborhood took responsibility for all the children. Of course, an extra hand was nice however, as physical punishment was encouraged, this meant children could expect a spanking from a stranger, just as much as they could their own parents.
I don't know about you, but I don't know too many parents who would be OK with a random stranger hitting their kid. Hard pass.