Parenting Without Punishing

Chapter 10

The History of Parenting Practices: A Brief Summary*

Reading even a short survey of the ghastly treatment of children in times past can be disturbing. Therefore for this chapter, this is an Advisory Warning to minors, the unstable, and those individuals with weak stomachs: The horrors that follow are ugly and unsettling.

Yet these patterns of childhood treatment are the very basis of our "traditional" methods of childrearing. It was, as now, thought to be "discipline," and responsible "preparation for life." Unless the child was murdered, abandoned, or rented out.

All practices shown here have been documented in all areas of the world and in all periods of human history, including our own. In Arizona today there are parents who kill their babies at birth as they did (and do) in primate and pre-literate cultures; they rape and sodomize them as did the Greeks and Romans; they give them away, beat them and abandon them as in early Christian times; they use them for perverse and sexual gratification as was commonly acceptable in the Middle Ages. And as the influence of the church spread, the children were targeted with the projected guilt of God-fearing parents. Evidence of this "traditional" childrearing we see in our newspapers and TV every day.

As a human race, we have much work to do in becoming human, in making ourselves worthy of the love, admiration and affection every child naturally bestows.

The Hunter-Gatherer Tradition

Archeological evidence indicates that in the earliest cultures children's skulls were cracked open for access to the brains--to dine on raw or toasted over a fire. In the Pleistocene diggings it is clear that more girl babies than boys were killed and consumed; four times more boy skeletons can be found. Scientists estimate that as many as half of all babies were killed in those times, a traditional practice that was to be passed on for at least 400 generations.

The tradition of incest harks back to the primates as well. Jane Goodall's work with apes teaches us that it is normal for the mothers of baboons and chimpanzees to derive sexual pleasure from their babies. As for humans, even today the men in some New Guinea tribes gang rape young girls, and use boys up to teen age for anal intercourse. In some tribes adult men take school-age boys as concubines for daily and forcible fellatio.

It is not only the men who are culpable. Their mothers, too, readily and commonly prey upon their own children for sexual satisfaction, having begun with orgasmic pleasure experienced while breastfeeding. (So much for the mythical "incest taboo.")

The "Noble" Greeks and Romans

The fact that the raping of children was traditional in Greek and Roman times is a matter of historical record. The sexual victimization of young girls was commonly accepted as perfectly normal. Bisexuality was not unusual. The condemnation of Socrates for "corrupting the young" was not for his enjoyment of boys' bodies but for his persistent questioning in search of wisdom--behavior always found threatening by the politically powerful in any age.

Tiberius "taught children of the most tender years, whom he called his little fishes, to play between his legs while he was in his bath... Those which had not yet been weaned, but were strong and hearty, he set at fellatio..."

Pre-pubescent girls were given to older men as brides, and fathers customarily gave away their seven-year-old sons to men friends to be used as boy-brides. An essay by Plutarch, (d. 120 A.D.) read widely without objection, gave instruction on how one should best choose the friend to sodomize their son or daughter.

In comedies at the time, little girls were raped on stage as audiences roared with laughter. Contemporary physicians commented on the rarity of finding a girl at puberty who still retained her hymen.

Sex-slavery was rampant in every populated area. Houses of prostitution featured young children at premium prices; rent-a-boy and rent-a-girl businesses flourished. The wealthy found it necessary to buy pedagogues--slaves assigned to protect boys from sexual attack on the street. It is a matter of record that laws were passed requiring schools to close before dark, lest the teachers rape their pupils.

Petronius, at once Nero's "Judge of Taste" and popular satirist, thrilled audiences with his "Satyricon," an obscene romance, and repeatedly touted the joys of playing with a young boy's "immature little tool." (He eventually committed suicide, though not from guilt.)

Tiberius, a Roman general and later, emperor, was reported to have "taught children of the most tender years, whom he called his little fishes, to play between his legs while he was in his bath."

As though not enough, he also gratified himself with suckling babies: "Those which had not yet been weaned, but were strong and hearty, he set at fellatio..."

Laws were passed requiring that schools close before dark, lest the teachers rape their pupils

[Dark ages 300-800, & Middle 500-1500]

The introduction and spread of Christianity was generally a weak deterrent to the practice of infanticide, and its teachings did little to dissuade parents from abandoning their children. The tradition of drowning or strangling the crippled and physically unsound babies continued as the family planning method of choice, and healthy but unwanted female babies were still left by the roadside or trash heaps much as living babies in plastic bags are tossed into dumpsters today.

Reports of the time show that even infants and toddlers were commonly whipped and bludgeoned, in vivid descriptions of beatings resulting in bloody and bruised genital areas.

The parents, Christian and unbelievers alike, simply didn't want to raise their own children. The custom of leaving "foundlings" on the doorsteps of churches arose, since they could be taken in to make Christians of the infant and toddler surplus, the cast-offs, the seconds, and the annoying. (To be either colic or disobedient was often fatal.) Few were turned away; according to historical accounts, children also served to gratify the sex-deprived monks. Thus child abandonment became institutionalized as orphanages sprang up and the Christian population grew.

Children As Personal Property
Because children were traditionally considered their personal property, as they are today, the "owners" felt they could do with impunity whatever they pleased with them. Some children were sold outright, while others were sent into servitude to earn their keep until old enough to work for their family.

As the influence of Christianity spread, so did the practice of corporal punishment for erotic pleasure. Children were, as they are today, the objects of their caretakers' evil projections. Believed to be the hosts of demons, (as evidenced by their "bad" behavior,) the children had to have "the devil beaten out of them."

It was the opinion of St. Augustine [c.400 A.D.] that children who cry too often "suffer from a demon," thus providing powerful church authority to justify sadistic beatings. Reports of the time say that even infants and toddlers were commonly whipped and bludgeoned, shown in vivid descriptions of beatings resulting in bloody and bruised genital areas.

Brutality was considered a normal and expected part of a child's life. Virtually all children suffered these "lessons," countless dying agonizing deaths as a result of unchallenged traditions of child treatment. There was always a surplus of babies, and the prevailing view was, "There are alwaysmore where they came from." So the suffering of children (and their mothers) was not recognized as problematic. Those who survived childhood rationalized that it did them good, and, to demonstrate that conviction, brutalized their own children.

It was the opinion of St. Augustine [c.400 A.D.] that children who cry too often "suffer from a demon," thus providing further church authority for sadistic beatings.

A variety of tools were employed in "disciplining" children, including canes, rods, sticks, whips, and even shovels. A special instrument, "the discipline," made of small chains bound at the handle end, was used for special infractions of rules.

The torture tool designed for use in schools was known as "the flapper," a paddle with round holes meant to raise blisters. A rule of thumb for beatings became traditional, and continues to this day, preserved in a 13th century law: "If one beats a child until it bleeds, then it will remember, but if one beats it to death, the law applies." Yet there are few records of prosecutions.

Public support for such "discipline" was based on the near-unanimous opinion: It was for the children's own good. People defended, as they do today, the application of "the rod" to teach right thinking and strict obedience. "It did me good, and it will do my children good." Thus brutalization and the suffering were passed on from generation to generation.

A special instrument, "the discipline," made of small chains bound at the handle end, was used for special infractions of rules.


Rarely did a reformer raise a protest, but when one did it was typically with this advice: Parents and teachers should not "strike and buffet them about the face and head, and to lace upon them like malt sacks with cudgels, staves, fork or fire shovel," lest they die from the "discipline." Instead, "Hit him upon the sides ... with the rod, [so] he shall not die thereof." Sacrifice of Children in the New World

Mention must be made here of the Aztec practice of sacrificing children as well as war prisoners in the belief it would please the gods. The selecting of young virgin girls (a high honor) to be killed on the sacrificial alters continued through the 15th and 16th centuries, until Cortez destroyed the Aztec Empire in 1521. During that time period, thousands of children were placed naked on a stone slab, their throats slashed open by a priest, their hearts ripped from their breasts and held, dripping, to the sky, for the approval of the gods Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl.

IV. LOVE THEM, HATE THEM STAGE [Renaissance 1350--1650]

In Europe, the practice of swaddling (binding children to keep them immobile) during their first year gradually gave way to "only" a few months. But then parents felt obliged to enforce controls to suppress the "exuberance" that swaddling had made impossible. Punishment was the principal (or sole) teaching method employed to enforce conformity to behavioral standards. "Bending as the twig; shaping as the clay" was the predominant thinking, with the Bible--that is, tradition--the authority on pediatrics. While the "beat them into shape" pedagogical method continued (as it does today), there arose in the 13th century isolated signs of objection to the use of children as slaves and for the satisfaction of sexual appetites. Not surprisingly, such radical thinking was vigorously resisted.

Still, "gentlemen" were seen on the street flanked by the mistress on one side, and boy kept for sodomy purposes on the other. Martin Luther, among millions of others, was no lover of children. He complained, "[What is] more obnoxious than ten children with their crapping, eating, and screaming?"

The period of change we now know as the Renaissance that brought new ways and ideas to the arts and sciences also brought about changes (though very slowly) in raising children. New thinking held, for example, that it might be better for mothers to nurse their own infants rather than employ "wet nurses," as was then customary.

During the years between Chaucer and Shakespeare--roughly between 1400 and 1600 A.D., a change took place in the psyches of the general populace. Wrote Dr. deMause, "[This] much-improved child-rearing allowed the schizoid and borderline personalities of antiquity and medieval times--who regularly heard voices and hallucinated visions--to move on to the more integrated, less splitting modern neurotic personality more familiar to recent times."


During the time Shakespeare's work was being published and performed, (late 1500s) children were still beaten, but not as routinely on a daily basis. Nor were infants so often swaddled and given daily enemas to remove "badness." Sexual exploitation, however, continued to be commonly practiced. It was around 1540 when Queen Elizabeth, as a young child, was being sexually abused. Historians tell us that in 1603, the entire court of baby Louis XIII kissed his penis and breasts. His parents routinely included him in their bedtime sexual pleasures, in the 17th century version of the family bed. Mme. du Barry (1760) kept busy procuring small girls for King Louis XV to rape.

Yet in the 18th century serious efforts began in reforming the widespread and common practice of sexual abuse. While formerly adults masturbated children and licked their bodies, the sin was now projected to the child, who was then punished accordingly. For touching their own genitals, children were terrorized with threats of circumcision, castration, clitoridectomy, and such mutilations. The corrective remedy for masturbation, child experts of the time recommended denying food to the child for an assigned number of days, or imprisoning in a dark closet. On visiting a typical home, a con-temporary eye-witness described it as: "... a sort of little Bastille, in every closet of which was to be found a culprit--some were sobbing and repeating verbs..."

Gradually the practice of exploiting the child for sexual gratification was replaced by brutalizing for "touching themselves." And as late as the 1930s, the tiny hands of the Dionne quintuplets, on orders of their pediatrician, were tied to their cribs to prevent "disgusting" self-exploration.

What 1750 Was Like for a Child
Psychological terror gradually took the place of the physical brutality. Children were taken to view decaying corpses and preached moral lessons the while. Highly moral parents had them watch public executions, and then beat them, the better to impress on the memory. An entire class of school children would be marched, as on a field trip, to watch criminals being hanged, for the opportunity to teach a lesson on the virtue of obedience was not to be missed. It cannot be doubted that the trauma disturbed them all their lives.

Indeed, there were widespread reports of nightmares, phobias, hallucinations, and psychosis. The child's world was one of terrifying ghosts, bogeymen, ghouls, ogres, witches, goblins, and demons. "Caregivers" dressed themselves in frightful costumes and sprang on the children in their beds, to impress on them some moral admonition. Teaching by terror became the enlightened, humane way of preparing children for life.

Child Psychology Begins
The emergence of childhood psychology theorists in 18th century, Middle Europe spawned manuals on child care and taught methods, almost all of which focused on suppressing children's natural exuberance and forcing submission to authority.

Beginning around 1750 certain German writers in the fledgling science of psychology urged the absolute necessity of exacting strict obedience. Dr. Alice Miller, in her For Their Own Good, quotes one such "authority," J. Sulzer, who wrote in 1748: "If willfulness and wickedness are not driven out, it is impossible to give a child a good education."

It is necessary, he went on, "to drive out willfulness from the very beginning by means of scolding and the rod..." It must begin "in the child's first year."

The influence of these early theorists on our practices today cannot be overestimated. These are precisely the "discipline" methods that Attorney General Janet Reno urged on parents in a 1989 TV interview, 141 years later. "Begin in the crib!" she admonished. "Teach them right from wrong from the very beginning!" Sulzer's education philosophy was similar. He wrote, "Obedience is so important that all education is actually nothing other than learning how to obey."

(Need we note that the second generation brought up heeding this expert's counsel brought on World War One; the third generation gave us World War Two, which killed over fifty million people?)

A manner of "non-violent parenting" very gradually came to be accepted, where alternatives to beating and torturing were used as cures for the child's "sins": Psychological punishment was considered the "humane" way to reform erring children.

But change was exceedingly slow. Even during the 1800s in Florence, Italy, more than half of all newborns were abandoned on the street or put into homes for foundlings. There they stayed for their first five ("annoying") years. Then, when obedience trained, they would be returned to live with their parents. And even as late as 1900, in Paris, over 90% of the newborn babies were taken to farmers' wives to be wet-nursed.

Thus history shows that the much-revered "mother love" is a myth, not at all instinctual. The championing of "family values" among Christians is hardly a sentiment founded on tradition. They simply refused to care for their children, and there was no commandment admonishing, "Honor thy sons and daughters." It would have sounded as absurd to them as advising "love thy burro." Says Dr. deMause, "... by the nineteenth century parents would less often commit incest themselves, but still sent their children to schools where they were erotically whipped on the bare buttocks ..."

To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, here is our one-sentence History of Childrearing: Adults have never refrained from inflicting on children any cruelty of which they were capable.

The End.

Life At Pooh Corner

Bedtime stories included Winnie the Pooh, with the ridiculous adventures of that silly bear, and Kanga, Roo, Eeyore and the rest, stories so exquisitely absurd that Russell and Henry laughed until they had to be carried from the room and up to bed. In the summertime we'd trudge down the hill through the pasture to our "Pooh Corner," a just-right place with a waterfall. Here it was that we made up our own stories of squirrels, deer, mice, and rabbits, all of whom talked, and some of whom lived in underground burrows with castles filled with buckets of chocolate.

Nearby a small grove of trees became the camping spot where we pitched a tent and stayed overnight in blissful adventure. There were nights that friends were invited to camp with us, to double the pleasure.

Where the stream fed into a meandering brook, the spring rains had scooped out a swimming hole. Here the boys taught themselves to swim, simply by doing it.

Thus the failure to find an apartment in town, as it turned out, provided experiences for us to treasure all our lives. What could be more idyllic for small boys than tramping through a cow pasture with dog and Daddy to explore a small stream with a waterfall, make up fantasies about talking animals, tent-camp under the stars and trees, and skinny dip in the brook?

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