The definition of childhood is one that has evolved since before medieval times and continues to change even today. Philippe Aries in his Centuries of Childhood, believed the idea of childhood altered as different eras arose. During medieval times, he felt that parents in France viewed their children simply as small adults. He went further to say that “the idea of childhood did not exist; this is not to say that children were neglected, forsaken, or despised” (Cleverley & Phillips, p. 6). He believed there was a general lack of consciousness over what childhood was. Once a child was able to “live” or survive without constant need from their caregiver, they were considered an adult (Cleverley & Phillips, p. 7). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Aries believed a shift in beliefs occurred. He felt people became more aware of the idea of childhood. This is evidenced by the production of children’s games, clothing and schools. He argued that people saw children “as fragile creatures of God who needed to be both safeguarded and reformed” (Cleverley & Phillips, p. 7). Today, most would agree with Lyric Winik that “childrearing has evolved into the notion of parenting” and “we may find childhood shrinking to a kind of late-stage infancy and adolescence lengthening out to a decade and beyond” (Winik, 2000). This suggests that the focus has shifted from the child to the parents and that idea of true playful, innocent childhood and exploration is drastically decreasing.
Another aspect of childhood that has changed is the family dynamic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the “traditional family” consisting of a stay-at-home mother and working father dropped from 43 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1999. By 1999, 4.3 percent of American fathers were staying home with their children as well. This is not to say that in the past children were not left to be raised by older siblings, nannies, wet nurses, etc. while the mother attended to chores related to maintaining a household. Technology, such as a washing machine and vacuum cleaner, has drastically changed the definition of maintaining a household by serving as tremendous labor and time savers (Winik, 2000). Clearly, balancing a career and motherhood can still prove to be challenging, however. Another dynamic factor is that mothers are now having children later in life. Together these changes have had drastic effects on childrearing.
Historically, childrearing has changed over the years from the view of the child, to the preferred type of parenting, to the outcomes of different parenting approaches. In 1732, Susanna Wesley wrote her son a letter illustrating how she raised her multiple children. She, as did many Puritan evangelists, believed that men were inherently sinful. She felt the first step in childrearing was restraining their self-will, which was the heart of all sin. Wesley believed that sin could be expunged through strict and controlled sleeping, fasting between meals, family prayer, polite whispered requests for the passing of food at the table, and corporal punishment. “When a child turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod, and