That saying has been around a long time. Probably because the meaning endures through the ages, in your rush to get rid of waste, don’t lose out on a valuable treasure. During a tour of Hoxie House Museum in Sandwich, MA, I learned an explanation for that phrase that shocked my modern parenting sensibilities.
The house was built around 1675 and has been restored to reflect what it looked like then. I went into the tiny house expecting to have a short, somewhat boring visit, but I was very surprised how interesting the tour was! It gave me a glimpse into the everyday life of the pilgrims. What I remember most was the distinct feeling that if one of them were to come back to life and observe modern parenting and family life, they would think we are crazy.
Vice versa, I could not believe the way children were treated. Thinking about the context of the times, it makes sense, but it is still shocking. We were ushered into a large darkish room with a fireplace at the center. Logically this was the central work area for the women, especially in winter. On the floor next to the hearth was a tiny cradle, and next to that a toddler sized chair with a hole in the seat and a leather belt. The infants were kept in the cradle (which looks doll-sized, too small even for a tiny human) until they started to walk. From the age of 3 until about 5 they sat strapped into their little potty chair because no one could be spared from working to look after them and keep them from getting hurt. Around 5 they were considered capable of doing work under the supervision of an older sibling. When the family ate, the father got the best food, the littlest one the worst, usually the burnt bottom crust on the loaf of bread. When they bathed, once a year in the spring, the hierarchy was the same. The father first in the clean water and the baby last in all the family’s grime. Thus the reference to throwing out the baby. Because the father was the most indispensable to the family’s welfare.
Unbelievable, right? But it made me realize that more has changed in modern parenting than we know. The fundamental way children are viewed has done a 360!
I sometimes struggle to reconcile the “children should be seen and not heard” of a few generations ago, with the massive guilt a parent is taught to feel for denying their child anything nowadays. I do believe we are not serving our children well by these extreme shifts. Of course children should not be ignored or made to feel less valuable as a person simply because they are young. But unless we teach them that they are not the center of the universe and that they need to respect others, we are setting them and ourselves up for epic failure.
Children need to be specifically taught that their actions affect others. It’s ok to tell them that their whining is ruining your day. It’s ok to tell them “no” when you really don’t have the patience or the money to take them toy shopping. It won’t break them. But it just might make them kinder, more empathetic people.
So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think we have something to learn from previous generations about teaching our children respect. Every human is deserving of being treated with dignity. While treating our kids that way, let’s not forget to teach them to return the favor.