The Historical Development of Love Between Parents and Children
By Bart Kaplan, May 2000

This essay is a commentary on "The Evolution of Childhood" at

The readings don't obviously contain information suggesting a progression toward the development of what we moderns call love between parents and children. What is obvious in the readings is the horrific mistreatment of infants and children across 9000 years. How each one of us alive now survived through our ancestors is but a random chance and a marvel. Upon completing the readings I couldn't see any way to explain the evolution of human love out of such hellish,ghoulish indifference to infant and child suffering.

The example given of how peasant women commonly birthed infants into the excrement beneath outhouses creates staggering images. They then arose and returned to their labors with no feeling whatsoever about the infant they'd grown within them. The infant had burst from them and then were forgotten. The mental state of such a mother is hard to imagine.

The mental state of a father like Epictetus who says, what harm is there in the fact that he can kiss the newborn infant and whisper to himself that by tomorrow the infant would be dead is again hard to imagine. I am reminded of my own parents and what I imagine they had secretly on their minds about children. And so it occurred to me that having infanticidal wishes that are somehow not acted out was the evidence the readings gave that an evolution was taking place, though incrementally and inadvertantly.

I found evidence of the evolution of human love in certain inadvertancies. I found instances of wrong reasoning which led to correct action. The frantic fluctuations of the mechanism of double imaging had to not occur in some humans for some reasons.

My first inadvertancy example arises out of the escape from death of an exposed baby--Louis Adamic. He wrote of his experience when he reached adulthood and placed into jarring perspective this hopelessness of infants. What he survived was placed in his story and awakened the conscience of readers . His account signaled that the wholesale slaughter of infants by wetnurses was just that: a slaughter that should end.

Another item of information proving an evolutionary push was the fact that by 374 A.D., Roman law began to consider infanticide as murder. This was so because the Roman population was killing off their offspring at such a rate that Rome was depopulating.

Another item involves the quote from Saint Justin Martyr: a Christian shouldn't expose his infant because later he might meet him or her in a brothel. This might mean that if the good christian was to expose his infant he should do so such that no one could rescue the infant and raise him or her as a slave. Certainly among Christians of the time pederasty was rampant. The outright killing of children was partially condemned for the wrong reasons. So such idiotic intricacies inadvertantly led to an evolutionary cessation of the pressures of thanatos. By implication, abandoned infants were being collected up to some extent by people who thereby came up with cheap slaves.

Somehow, too, it occurred that the Church Council of Vaison (442 A.D.) issued a decree that any parishioner who found an abandoned baby was to announce such in church. So, infants were being exposed, and people were finding and taking some of them. The church wanted clearly to separate and distinguish who those infants were. So, the identification of bastards created distinctions in the community about the treatment of infants, their deaths, their survivals. Obviously,there was a large difference between legitimate and illegitimate children.

Another instance of inadvertant progress comes from the quote about cradle usage. The 18th century writer distinguishes that there is something wrong with the nursemaid practice of violently rocking an infant in a cradle. So this insight constituted the breaking of the social alter trance surrounding an aspect of childrearing. It is the rippling effect of an incremental shifting.

Also the quote from the Archibishop of Canterbury in the 7th century can be cited. He ruled that a man can not sell his son into slavery after the age of 7. The softening of the hammer of barbarism came about for the wrong reason. Selling one's son before age 7 was not against any law. Yet even this Machievelian distinction must have saved many a boy a gruesome fate.

Another cause for hope for humanity came about because the English saw the Norman invasion as divine retribution for selling their children to the Irish for slaves. To reach such a conclusion must have meant the lessening of the practice of institutional abandonment and so constitutes an incremental advance in the evolution of human love.

Also mentioned in the course reading was the fact that by the early 17th century, wealthy English women were often nursing their own babies. These women had advanced beyond abandonment stage of childrearing.

These items are important because they prove that the automoton habit of not seeing a human as a human was passing. The advance in childrearing modes was creeping forword. What it took to develop humans with modern traits was not available to the species until certain points in history. The universal reign of terror released upon each generation had been automatic and undifferentiated across all time for all people.

Certain benevolent accidents occurred which took pressure off. These inadvertant advances called off the social alter reenactments for precious millenial seconds. There sprang forward out of those moments forces contributing to what we now know of as the evolution of human love.

Bart Kaplan can be contacted at

Return to Table of Contents