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Abstract

Parenting has a complex but only recently examined history. This article surveys this scholarship, which is driven by the histories of gender, emotions, medicine, bodies, material culture, class and deviance to uncover how parenting is socially and culturally constructed and therefore changes over time. It traces several significant arguments. First, shifting gender constructions have reshaped expectations about mothers' and fathers' roles. Thus, while paternal breadwinning and maternal care is always important, at times fathers have been commended for caring for infants and mothers for economic provision of offspring. Secondly, the material aspects of life have powerfully affected parenting. Until relatively recently, parents struggled against implacably high rates of infant and child mortality: nursing children, preparing them for death and the afterlife, and coping with grief. Therefore, although the depth of feeling over this remained consistent, varying emotional regimes have influenced forms of parental expression and practice. Parents' responsibilities for their children's health at times of inadequate medical treatment often left them physically and mentally exhausted and woefully disempowered. Other limitations or freedoms were imposed on mothering and fathering by the objects and spaces associated with bringing up children. Thirdly, levels of wealth and social class affect parenting, with working-class, poor and lone parents especially vulnerable to family disruption due to poverty, ill-health and under- or unemployment. Fourthly, the parameters of bad parenting shift over time, and even those mothers and fathers who killed their children were viewed differently over time and place as cultural sensibilities shifted. Finally, the article concludes with some suggestions for the further development of this exciting new field.