Pioneer Children: Born To Work

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, pioneer children rose to do chores. Some of the chores for which they were responsible were done even before the children had breakfast. Chores depended upon the season, the land, and how many people were in a family but children were expected to work hard.

Pioneer families were typically large. During the colonizing of America, there were as many as twenty people to a family. From the reading of books such as Little House On The Prairie and Spencer’s Mountain, mention of big families and girls married as young as thirteen pepper the pages.

I wondered at the large numbers of children. It is true there was no birth control but then again, there were mentions of much smaller families with only one or two children. It may be large families resulted from plentiful intimacy between husband and wife, or from within a relationship where, with respect for the times, women did not say ‘no’ to their husband’s advances.

I found smaller families were found among the wealthy storekeepers and merchants, as opposed to farmers; I found households with many children almost always were among the farming men, and further reading brought me to a deeper realization of the truth; one a lot more realistic for the pioneer age: children were born for labor.

That may seem a cruel thing to say but work on large farms was hard, and many farmers could not afford to hire help. Having a large family, especially since many farmers kept moving further West, solved the problem of falling short of labor. Farmers needed help, and children cost nothing except the food and clothes to sustain them. Parents ended up with fives of children under their roofs and, to keep them under control, mothers turned to spanking while father’s whipped in the infamous woodshed.

Many children died in blizzards and of disease. Grieving was proper but new children quickly followed to fill the void left by death. If births yielded only girls, often the wives kept having babies to satisfy the need for boys. In a day when women did one thing and boys did another, boys were used for harder labor that was considered improper for women to do.

Children were expected to carry out many tasks: girls swept, washed dishes, mended, and sewed. They weeded and hoed in the garden while boys helped with the heavy farm work such as plowing and sowing seeds. The jobs they were responsible for doing were important to the survival of their families but the methods used to punish them for failing at their tasks involved corporal punishment. And that is where the love divides. 

Where there are children, there is love and I am certain there were parents who loved their children in the pioneer age, yet I cannot help but hypothesize that parental love may have been eclipsed by the need for labor. Expecting children to do their fair share and help toward the family survival is a healthy expectation, but pioneer use of corporal punishment, coupled with the fact many settlers were Christians, tells me the love was not strong enough to sway popular belief that hitting was a good way to teach children to obey. Not many parents or teachers felt uncomfortable whipping their children, and it was considered weak not to do so.

Nowadays the need for farm labor is much lower in the world, and children are not as large a part of it. Still, large families still exist, especially among the Mormons and people of religion. Why?

That is a question I cannot answer and cannot even comprehend. Perhaps some Mormons and devote Christians feel they are serving God by bringing new life into the world. But marriage does not mean children. Children are a choice you make as a couple, not a requirement demanded by law or God.

Many people may feel children are a required part of becoming a married couple and have children based on those feelings. But if you then turn and hand your offspring into the hands of babysitters, daycare, and school, what time do you spend with your child(ren) as parents?

Why have children if you do not have the time to love them; to explain with patience a wrong instead of taking the quick way to remedy something: spanking is for those with no patience.

Pioneer farmers had little to no patience, and were rough men and seasoned women who had expectations and were willing to go to any length to accomplish what they had traveled far to do. Spanking is a temporary solution to stopping behavior in the moment but does not shape character. Pioneer children were often afraid of their parents.

The time today’s parents spend with their children can be limited to punishments, and discussion around the table may be stuck to topics about school, “what you learned today”, sports, and extra-curricular activities.

I believe parents and children grow further apart after birth. Many babies sleep in cribs separate from the people who gave them life, and are fed from a bottle, furthering the gap between mother and child.

I find spanking is still in large practice among people of the Christian Faith, but communities of gentle Christian parents are springing up, and Christians are interpreting the Bible in new ways related to children.

Parenting has changed in this day and age. Not nearly as many children are being born to fill in as labor, and spanking is diminishing among parents who turn to gentle and respectful methods of teaching their children empathy and respect.

The world is changing and I believe the most innovative of us who will continue to carry the world forward will be those people who were not spanked as children, or who may have been spanked, but chose not to bring spanking to their families. I believe the people who will change the world are those who bring to their lives the creative thinking parents who do not spank bring to the ways they teach.

I want to be one of those people.



23 thoughts on “Pioneer Children: Born To Work

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  1. Parenting has changed. I hate the way kids are sent off to school and spend most of their time learning from peers instead of adults. I wish there was a better solution and I hope to do better for my kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish kids could spend more time learning from their parents and kids who are being taught intentionally by their parents too!
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.


  2. This is a really interesting piece. It’s so fascinating to think about how different families have been throughout history and where we are now with expectations of behaviour within family units! Thank you for sharing such a great piece 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jaya, I really enjoyed reading this article. It is fascinating to think about how different things were in other times. I believe that large families are still more common among farming families, even though our life expectancy has increased; but hopefully corporeal punishment has begun to diminish. Thanks for sharing this post!
    My Best Friend Adeline

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is interesting to learn about how families operated many centuries ago. The lifespan was a lot shorter so it made sense to have lots of children, because at least you increase the chance of one surviving. I am not too educated about religion but it’s definitely not a requirement in today’s world. I’m with you about not wanting to spank children. There are other ways to still teach a lesson!

    Nancy ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I do find this very interesting. Although we wouldn’t think about treating children that way now. Back then, it was just a way of life or why was expected. In some instances I think some children growing up have lost the view of work ethic and making something of themselves. (Not all!!! No one hate on me) but some who grow up and see parents who have no work ethic (again I am not attacking the people who physically or mentally can’t work) just the ones that choose not too because they get money for doing nothing. Anyway thought I would share that view. Again, not hating on people who can’t work and are good parents!! X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are right in saying back then what we view now as strange was normal.
      Thank you for sharing your view on people who grow up and do not care to make anything of themselves; I have met such people and it always saddens me they cannot find it in themselves to even smile!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I find this so very sad. The way that children were treated. I hare to see spanking, but I was spanked – and much more. It ruined my lufe un many ways, but in other ways I became strong. I had my own dererminatiin. But many don’t. A very interesting post Jaya.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think in past times couples had more children because the mortality rate for lifespan was shorter, children didn’t always survive into adulthood due to lack of medicine. Also they wanted males because property was passed to them, not to the females who were married off in financial alliances. I agree that the poor farmers and laborers had children to help with the chores and work the farms, coal mines and etc; even though it’s now illegal for children to work many do in third world countries. They pick through trash, carry heavy boulders, some are sex trafficked by their families for income. It’s disgusting. The pedophile clients come from wealthy countries, there’s a whole underground sex tourism industry. I think even before birth control, women knew how to time sex to their menstrual cycle to avoid pregnancy, it’s not a foolproof method of birth control but worked to a point. You’re right that women often couldn’t refuse sex with their husbands because they were considered property. This still exists in many patriarchal countries. When a woman is raped she’s imprisoned and raped again by the guards. I’m going off topic, my apologies. Children need to learn self-control but physically hitting them doesn’t teach discipline, it just teaches violence. The Old Testament Bible said many things promoting corporal punishment but I think Jesus never said that. Actually Jesus said anyone who hurts children and leads them astray will be punished by god. Many Christians don’t understand that and think they’re doing the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no apologies necessary! So much truth lies in our words when we speak our thoughts, and you are right; women did know how to time sex with their menstrual cycles.
      It is a pity Christians are so selective in their learning of the Bible!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Children are at the foremost of those who need to be strengthened. Did you ever focus on what these children turned out to be?

    They were hardened, strict, and strong. They had character, principles, and rigidness. These are values, lost to today’s time, due to our unending obsession with “safety”. Love is all about the rest, AFTER the work, not before it. That’s a fact.

    Imagine a laborer, working. And then, after their work, they rest. They feel the calming sensation after they laid their head in their mother’s arms, or on a bed. That’s a laborer, receiving their rest.

    A world without the branding of work into children, the branding of ethics and morals into children, the branding of strength and discipline into children, results in one weak or “dumbed-down” generation after the next. This is what you are noticing, around us, and it’s pathetic.

    You spank a child, as a parent, without patience in mind, and you teaching a child to have patience for themselves, in what they do.

    You don’t spank a child, as a parent, and believe if a parent can hold the patience, then the child will learn to be impatient.

    Why do you think that so many children are run up on Ritalin? They have so much energy that they cannot contain. They are impatient and undisciplined creatures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is wonderful to see a new perspective on my article!

      I will not disagree that pioneer farmers and their children were strong physically, and they had many good morals and principles as they moved onward into wild lands, but I do not agree with the way they applied their principles to their children.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s good to know that you’re open-minded.

        I usually write something on my own blog, and someone writes a comment to say that my words are “utter nonsense”, or something similar. Lol.

        Having an open mind is rare these days, I think. Especially since, I have a tendency to write very controversial opinions.

        Liked by 1 person

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