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Parenting in the Steam Age

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Victoria -Albert -familyThe Steam age, when huge locomotives roamed the land, is often viewed with nostalgic warmth as a period of industrial might and solid, firm victorian family values.

With Mother’s day fast approaching we thought we’d take a look at families and parenting in the Victorian era, how it differs from practices today and what things, if any, have had lasting effects.

What new issues did families face in Victoria’s reign?

The most fundamental change to family life that occurred in the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) was the change in how the concept of childhood was viewed.

Reportedly children previously were simply viewed as mini-adults - there was no particular sentimentality involved in the process of rearing children, or any notion that childhood was “precious”

This all changed in the Victorian era where the Queen and Prince Albert’s high estimation of family life and the sanctity of children filtered down into British society in general - probably aided by the expanding, affluent middle classes which industrialisation was creating.

What did a Victorian parents role involve?

The Role of Victorian parents and their duties and styles varied across individual families and social classes (not unlike today).

As is popularly portrayed in period fiction, childhood for the wealthy elite classes could be a stifling experience.  Young Victorians being trained in etiquette and the correct ways to be proper and polite from a very early age.

Amongst the better off this involved very little interaction between parents and offspring - this job being delegated to nannies and maids. On the sporadic occasions children saw their parents it must have been like a meeting with a business owner whom you must be on your best behaviour for.

Meanwhile those lower down the social ladder may have been free from the tyranny of watching their P’s and Q’s so much but they did have to contend with having to work for their families survival.

Attitudes to discipline and cruelty were roughly similar across the classes though.  The man of the house had the right to mete out physical punishment as he saw fit (on children and servants!).

This changed during the course of the era - in 1891 the RSPCC was created and by 1889 laws were passed to prevent cruelty towards children (tellingly this was 67 years after the RSPCA was set up - typically English!).

What aspects of Victorian parenting still remain today?

“Victorian values” are regularly cited in the realm of politics in both good and bad terms - depending on which way the wind is blowing.

Arguably some of the notions of authoritative parenting can be seen in today’s education system where children’s emotional needs are put second to the need to live up to goals of achievement, to be well-behaved and contribute to society.

On the ground modern attitudes mostly reject the more extreme notions of Victorian parenting, the mind shift that occurred of parents becoming more involved in their children’s upbringing remains.

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

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By Alastair Baker at 9 Feb 2017, 00:00 AM