It's easy to look at parenting as this "new thing," especially if you're experiencing it for the first time. However, and of course, it's not. People have been caring for, guiding, and loving their children for as long as the human race has been in existence. Still, with each generation, parenting styles come and go and evolve. If we go way back, about 700 years or so, we find quite a few things parents did in the Middle Ages that not a single, solitary parent would even think about doing today. So while parenthood might be old as time itself, it sure has changed (thankfully).
Then again, medieval moms and dads did share some of the same parenting strategies we take advantage of today. They could even be described as fans of attachment parenting, given their fondness for practices such as extended breastfeeding and bed-sharing. Time does change a few things, but it doesn't change everything. Back in "the day," society was largely divided into two groups: the aristocracy and the commoners. The nobility led, wore fancy clothes, and had access to education and privilege. The commoners worked the land or served the noble classes, largely disenfranchised as a group. Of course, as a result of the massive difference between the aristocracy and the commoners, life could be very different for the children of these two groups.
However, whether you were born into the upper crust or had to toil for your supper, parenting in the middle ages was quite different when compared to the modern view of what it means to be a mom. There were some things medieval parents did, that we would never do today, for example:
Face The Possibility That Your Child Wouldn't Survive Their First Year
Sadly the infant mortality rate was sky high in the Middle Ages. Historians estimate that a quarter of all babies born wouldn't live to see their first birthday. Of course, infant mortality is still an issue for modern-day parents. In fact, the United States ranks 180 on the world's Infant Mortality list, with 5 out of every 1,000 births.
Hire A Wet Nurse
Breastfeeding was the only option for feeding babies in the middle ages and it was normal for children to be breastfed well beyond 2 years of age.
However, if children were born into nobility or if their mother was unable to nurse them, there was another option available: a wet nurse. A wet nurse is a nursing mother who breastfeeds children other than her own. While wet nurses aren't entirely unheard of today, they're rarely used and/or spoken about openly.
Hire A Cradle Rocker
If you were a well-to-do lady in the Middle Ages, the thought of rocking your child to sleep may have been a bit too much like hard work. So, lazy ladies of the Middle Ages hired an official cradle rocker (no, really). I mean, I'm not entirely knocking it. That must have been nice (and arguably the most boring occupation in all of world history).
Leave Your Baby Unattended
Mothers of the Middle Ages were encouraged to leave their babies unattended in their cribs and go shopping, as long as they were swaddled. People of that particular time period also seemed uninterested in baby proofing their homes (yeah, "baby proofing" wasn't a thing), either. Magistrates records shows accidental deaths of infants from falling out of their cribs or being strangled by hanging cords were quite common.
Hire A Toddler Groomer
Anyone who has a toddler knows how messy they can get, and in such a short period of time. Wealthy parents in the Middle Ages hired a member of house staff known as a "Groomer" to follow toddlers around, steering them away from messy situations and helping to ensure their expensive clothes stayed clean and dry. That's the dream, my modern-day friends. That's the dream.
Give Your Baby Jewellery
Parents today aren't really into giving their children any potentially dangerous items or strangulation hazards. In the Middle Ages, however, babies were routinely given amulets and necklaces to wear that supposedly kept them safe from "evil spirits."
Pre-Chew Your Baby's Food
This is as gross as it sounds. Mothers, or nurses if the mother was too posh to do it herself, would pre-chew food to ensure it was soft and mushy before feeding it to the child. Gross.
Tie Your Toddler Up
The old phrase being "tied to mothers apron strings" is from a real life Middle Age practice of tying rambunctious toddlers to their mother by way of a string from her apron. The idea was to keep them away from harm such as open fires and stairs.
Consider Childhood Over By Age 7
In the Middle Ages childhood was thought to last only 7 years. Although children were not considered adults until they were quite a bit older, a protected childhood was over much sooner.
Send Your Kid To Work
Once childhood was "officially" over, children were expected to start giving back to the family, either by learning a trade, helping with the family business, or running the household (if they could).
Only Send Your Son To School
In the Middle Ages and right up until more modern times, girls access to education was severely restricted. Members of the upper class could have their daughter privately tutored, but most parents thought it appropriate to only teach daughters how to become wives and mothers.
Think Public Nudity Is Totally Normal
It was totally normal to see small children playing in the nude in the Middle Ages. Even older children would strip down to absolutely nothing, without a second thought about potentially offending those around them. Privacy was an unknown concept.
Marry Off Your 14-Year-Old Daughter
Although boys didn't apparently mature until 21 years old, girls were considered ready for marriage (and children of their own) at only 14 years of age. Progress is a funny thing. It has certainly taken a long time for a daughter's worth to be considered as valuable as a son's, and in terms of gender equality and access to opportunity for girls we still have a long way to go.
Still, in more ways than I count, I am glad that I'm raising children in this century, and not the Middle Ages.