There's no faster way to feel better about modern day parenting than peering into the past and learning about parents of past eras. When it comes to the Victorian era, well, that was not a good era to be a child. It sounds like a miserable experience, whether you were poor or rich. It doesn't take much research to learn that we should all be grateful that there are things parents did in Victorian times that no parent would do today.
We sometimes lament the way we were parented, or hear our parents or grandparents lament the way they were parented, citing those ubiquitous stories of having to walk barefoot up hill to school in the snow both ways. However, our grandparents probably had it the worst, or the most closely resembling a Victorian childhood. My grandfather worked in a woolen mill from a crazy young age, collecting bobbins from the skeins of thread or diving down deep into a pit of incredibly flammable fabric. His stories always seemed a bit horrific, but viewed through new perspective in my role as a parent, they're so far from what I would ever fathom for my daughter.
My mom often says she's glad she wasn't born in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder, claiming she'd be a terrible pioneer. Well, it's a darn good thing I wasn't born in the Victorian era, as the sheer dirt levels alone would have done me in.
Nannies Were Substitute Parents
There were very different situations for Victorian children based on whether your family was poor or rich, and neither was in any way fun for the kids. Victorian children were often raised by nannies who functioned as substitute parents. I suppose this does happen nowadays still, although in theory the nannies modern day moms employ for their children are expected to be a little nicer than Victorian nannies.
Victorian nannies were typically older women who never had children, and they did not have a reputation for being in any way warm. Instead, they were tough and crotchety and the opposite of what you'd put on a job advertisement for a nanny today.
Parents Only Communicated With Their Child Once Each Day
Rich Victorian parents often only communicated with their children once each day. In fact, there was little expectation that they should be communicating with them any more than the bare minimum. Some days it seems like only speaking to my toddler once each day would be a relief from answering the same question 1,000 times in a morning. However, imagine only speaking, or only wanting to speak, to your child once a day! I mean, how sad it would be not to know them as little people more than that would allow.
Toys Consisted Of Wooden Blocks Or A Doll
Again, the modern day proliferation of toys sounds a little over the top when contrasted with Victorian parents' toy options of wooden blocks or a stuffed doll. While it's tempting to think that only having two toy options would be a heck of a lot easier to clean up at the end of the day than an entire room full of options, it's also hard to imagine modern parents only allowing their children two toys without society thinking they were depriving their kids of learning opportunities.
Children Lived In Boredom
By all accounts, rich childhood in Victorian times was utterly monotonous and boring. Kids were dressed in restrictive clothing and expected to sit nicely and not tear up the place by running around and playing. Imagine a young child having to sit all day and only playing with a doll or blocks occasionally, and rarely venturing outside let alone to music class or to the local playground.
Parents Didn't Show Affection
Victorian parents were not known for showing affection. In fact, they believed even minimal amounts of affection would spoil a child. Victorian parents were encouraged to never kiss or hug their children, only a peck on the forehead before bed if they really couldn't help themselves. It's only 10 a.m. and I think I've already kissed my daughter more times than a Victorian kid would get in a month.
They Shook Their Kids' Hands
So instead of affection as we know it, Victorian parents shook hands with their children in the morning. Shook hands. Thank goodness the pendulum has swung pretty far in the other direction.
Children Started Working At Age 4
Poor Victorian kids, on the other hand, possibly had it worse. They often came from enormous families who were packed into tenement apartments like sardines, and they were expected to work dirty, grimy jobs from an outrageously early age. Think chimney sweeps or street sweepers, jobs that rendered small children permanently filthy and always in certain danger. All to be able to afford to live in their grimy, crowded, and definitely unsafe apartment. Major sad face emoji for all involved.
Parents Used Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment was the norm in Victorian times, and children could expect to get a beating if they did even minimally naughty things. By Victorian standards, our kids today would probably need to be beaten on a regular basis for what we now consider to be normal "kid behavior." The thought of ever hitting my child is pretty hard to consider, let alone doing it regularly.