City of Alexandria, VA
Page updated Dec 6, 2010 5:51 PM
Victorian parents stressed absolutes
February 15, 1996
by Pamela Cressey
In our quite separate households, compared to villages with more communal living arrangements, enculturation does take on individual variations. I will never forget my awe and fear when an elementary school classmate invited me home to dinner. I knew the table manners for cozy dinners in our kitchen where we picked up the chicken. I was not prepared for a formal dining room meal at which the chicken was eaten with fork and knife!
Today, articles frequently examine television's effects on children and teens (Sesame Street, MTV, talk shows, violence). The terms "dysfunctional" family or "adult children of an alcoholic" are applied as a ways to understand why people are missing information for behaving successfully.
The children's morality cups and plates used by Victorians in Alexandria were specifically used to enculturate the young in absolute values. The nouns used, such as Industry and Humility, were easy to portray in images and to remember when linked with catchy phrases and poems. While the last half of the 19th century was one of great change, adults used memorization of 100 year old maxims to create a firm foundation for their children.
For comparison purposes, I looked at books available today on child raising. Although I have used various books for advice in the last 9 years, I frankly had not looked at them in a historical perspective--just for HELP! I was shocked at the difference between now and then. Here are some excerpts from What To Expect; the Toddler Years: "When it comes to parenting, there are few absolutes...there is no one "right way" (with the exception of issues that affect a child's safety and health.)" "Different parenting styles suit different parents and the same parents at different times of life."
The contemporary parent is given little guidance in what to do, only to go on a quest to figure it out--to try and discover what works best: to teach child how to solve problems, think, explore alternative solutions; to help the shy child be assertive; to insure ' self esteem; prevent behaviors that lead to violence and depression. Yet in "The Optimistic Child," Martin Seligman states that even though children are raised to feel good, "they have never been more depressed." Our culture is facing rapid change by raising children to be more relative and responsive to themselves and specific situations.
Today we let kids grab their own meal, eat Happy Meals with cartoon characters, and serve meals on placemats with history or science data. Yet, 175 years ago we would place a dish with this moral message on the table: With steady had the sower throws That seed in which so much depends. Following the plough's deep track he goes and plenty every step attends.