Go to any bookstore or search any online bookseller under "parenting" and you'll find many books on what to do from before birth to the teenage years and beyond. You'll read different theories on discipline and how to get kids to sleep, what to feed your children and what to do with a runny nose.
Parenting advice, though, is like any other cultural phenomenon: It changes with the times. Some of the previous advice might seem unthinkable to today's parents.
Author Jennifer Traig took a look at parenting trends throughout history for her new book, "Act Natural: A Cultural History of Misadventures in Parenting" ($26.99, Ecco). The book's design is a spoof of the book "Dr. Spock's Baby & Childcare."
Even though Traig lives in Michigan, she did much of her research in Austin while she and her husband were on sabbatical here and visiting his family.
Quickly she learned that the idea of parenting is a modern concept. In fact, she says, "I wasted about two weeks of a librarian's time at UT." She had been looking under "parenting," when that wasn't a word used until the mid-20th century. Instead, people talked about child rearing.
Doing this research, though, made Traig feel much better about her own parenting skills. What she realized is "how low the bar has been historically," she says. "If you show up and you love your kids and they eat something and they show up at school, you get an A-plus."
Judging how someone was as a parent, though, goes back to the Romans and the Greeks. "The Romans would say the Greeks are terrible parents, but the Greeks would say that the reason Roman children are deformed is not because their mothers are drunks but because they don't love them."
The idea of having parenting experts is all 20th century and beyond, and those experts became very critical of modern parents.
Parents also weren't historically blamed if something went wrong with their children or their children acted inappropriately. Instead, it was a divine curse or a lack of going to church instead of parents not paying attention to them.
The Puritans also changed the way fathers were perceived because they actively believed women weren't to be trusted and were tainted with evil. Fathers, instead, stepped up with raising the children.
One of the most surprising things Traig learned about in her research was the wet nursing network in places like Paris in the 1780s. Most parents sent their children out to the country to be raised. "It would be as if 90 percent of the families in Austin decided to send their infants to the Hill Country and then, 'See you again when you are 5.' They were sending them to women they never met. It was very shocking to me," she says.
Babies throughout history also were kept in tight swaddles. It would take two hours to get kids into these swaddles, and then they would stay in them, sitting in their own filth. The swaddles were so tight the caretakers could hang the baby on a wall from a hook. The swaddles served the purpose of trying to shape the baby. People believed that the baby wouldn't acquire human form without it.
Today, we worry about whether babies are sleeping enough or go to bed in a timely fashion, but Traig found little mention of that as a parenting worry until the late 19th century. Mostly that is because families all slept in one room and cradles didn't come into being until the Renaissance.
Crawling as a milestone is also a recent phenomenon. Until the 1900s, it was actively discouraged because the floor was considered disgusting and a place that could make people sick. Crawling also was associated with animals.
Parents also actively worried about children eating fruit and vegetables until the 20th century. Those foods were suspect because they come from the ground, where disease also comes from.
One thing that became clear to Traig is that "we spend more time with our children than at any point in history, and we're not working less," she says. Men also are spending more time with children.
Previously, they were raised by someone else or a slightly older sibling, or the children were working from an early age.
Sibling rivalry also is a modern invention, she says. Parents just didn't intervene historically. Picky eating also wasn't a thing parents worried about until the 1970s, because kids ate what the grownups ate. Also, the concept of a teenager is missing from the historical record. There was childhood and adulthood and nothing in between.
One of the things Traig considered was what parents of future generations will say about us. She believes that they will talk about us being distracted by our constant use of phones. It might be like the way we shudder at the idea that our mothers and grandmothers smoked around their babies.
Find more parenting articles online at Austin360.com.