Growing Up Protestant: Parents, Children, and Mainline Churches
Margaret Lamberts Bendroth

Bendroth’s analysis of mainline American Protestants and their families is one of the few historical treatments to focus on the 20th century. Her introduction looks at mid-19th-century Christian child-rearing, but she follows up by examining the rise of parenting experts in the early 20th century, the influence of the world wars, the role of the 1950s, and family-values debates between the 1960s and the 1980s.

The Christian Home in Victorian America, 1840–1900
Colleen McDannell

The best histories of Christian parenting give glimpses into everyday practices. McDannell details not only the most common devotional practices in 19th-century American homes, but also the physical materials—paintings, statues, Bibles, bookmarks, parlor decorations, and architectural touches—that supported what she calls the “rituals of the hearth.”

Help for Distressed Parents
Cotton Mather

One cannot fully appreciate the nature of early-American Christian parenting without diving into the writings of Cotton Mather. In Help for Distressed Parents (1695), Mather provides heartfelt comfort and counsel for Christian parents struggling with rebellious children. He assures them that they are not alone, pointing to biblical examples of parents who shared this burden. And he encourages them to pray and fast with “Agony of Soul” for their children’s salvation.

The Mother at Home
John S. C. Abbott

Abbott’s classic 1833 text reflects the pervasive 19th-century notion that mothers “have as powerful an influence over the welfare of future generations, as all other earthly causes combined.” Stressing conversion, obedience, and the power of prayer, Abbott’s book encourages mothers to present religion in its “cheerful” aspect, speaking to children about Jesus’ love and the joys of heaven.

The Father’s Book
Theodore Dwight

Dwight’s 19th-century book—one of the few written to fathers in this era—contains much on religious teaching, but it also reflects Victorian values in its insistence that parenting is chiefly concerned with forming habits. Christian training, therefore, includes care in fostering regular sleeping hours, healthy diet and exercise, and proper manners. Dwight emphasizes moderation in all things, discouraging overstimulation in eating, games, and reading.

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