Home History A Global History of Child Death: Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes
Ambivalence, Christianity, Slavery, and the Devil. America and England in the 17th to 20th Centuries
After the first Boston small pox epidemic in 1677 when thousands of children died, parents were cautioned to restrain affection to their children so as not to become too attached to them. Therefore, fear of childhood death facilitated the aloof nature of parent-child relationships at this time. In the early 1800s children began to be thought of as innocents, changing not only childhood experiences, but the way children were treated at death.1
The 1800s also marked a turn in mothers’ behavior in colonial America, which included bonding with their children. Just fifty years prior, a culture of ambivalence appeared to limit parental concern for American children. In fact, some historians regard parental responses to child death as evidence of self-control rather than ambivalence. Religious belief played a large part in demonstrating steadfastness, as it was often believed that the life of the child was the responsibility of God. While records, such as diaries, from this time note that parents appeared to accept child death as an expected milestone of life, other accounts demonstrate that parents despaired at the illnesses or deaths of their children.
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