Parenting Lessons From the Ancient World

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Mother's Day might be a relatively new holiday, but that doesn't mean parents today are any more deserving of adulation in the form of flowers and gift cards than their counterparts in the ancient world.

No matter in what ancient civilization parents raised their children, they faced a lot of the same challenges. And any advice from those early Imperial China or ancient Mesopotamian mothers could even still apply today.

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Ancient Rome

Although the history of ancient Rome conjures up images of marching armies conquering new territory, ambitious emperors seizing power and bloodthirsty gladiators dueling in the area, parents were still responsible for the somewhat more mundane task of raising children. For parents in the lower classes in ancient Rome, a well-raised child could be a means for them to change their fortunes, assuming the investment in that child's care paid off.

Quintus Sulpicius Maximus was an 11-year-old boy who lived during the first century in ancient Rome. The son of former slaves, Quintus had a knack for Greek poetry, a talent that was encouraged by his parents. But before Quintus had a chance to potentially be the next Ovid, he died in A.D. 94. According to a statue left by his grieving parents, the cause of death was working too hard.

The moral of the story? Don't push your children too hard.

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Ancient China

If there's one person from the ancient world who you could turn to for advice on just about anything, it would be the now legendary philosopher Confucius. Even with all the time Confucius spent teaching students and nobility his beliefs on morality, justice, politics and more, he still was able to spare a few moments to impart some parenting advice.

According to Georgetown University assistant professor of theology Erin Cline, early Confucians understood, like modern parents, that the earliest years of a child's life could fundamentally inform the person he or she would grow up to be as an adult. A nurturing parent can be the most important early experience in a child's life.

Like any other topic in which Confucius gave advice, his advice on parenting can be wrapped within a parable. In one such story, Zengzi, one of Confucius' students, explains to his wife, who had recently enticed their son to behave with promises of a slaughtered pig, that by deceiving the child to get her way, she has both taught him to lie and not to trust what his mother says.

Ancient Egypt

Unlike parents of other cultures who seemed to prepare their children for the life ahead, ancient Egyptians almost seemed to prepare their children for death.

As explained in the book "Egypt and the Egyptians," young men and women were essentially raised to take over for their parents when they became elderly, a relatively short period of time given ancient Egyptian men in peasant society had an average life span of 33 years and women on average only made it to 29. Formal education was generally lacking, so most children learned about morality, religion and more at the home.

And unlike ancient Rome and other societies at the time that were patriarchal, ancient Egyptians passed their inheritance on equally to both sons and daughters within a family. However, the eldest son was responsible for the costly and critical task of conducting the burial rights for his parents.

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Prehistoric Parenting

Before history was even history, human beings still had to raise and care for their young. Given the still untamed environment in which prehistoric humans found themselves, child rearing wasn't a one-person job.

According to a study published in 2010 in the journal American Anthropologist, unlike nearly 90 percent of all animal species, early human ancestor fathers helped by bathing, feeding and teaching their children. Well-adjusted children weren't the only goal of these early dads. In return for their help, males remained with the mothers as mates, essentially creating the modern family structure.

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