On a Child Rearing Method

How does one raise a child? That’s a question that has developed into a wide spectrum of philosophical and psychological study over the centuries. Today, most child psychologists divide parenting styles and methods into four groups: The Authoritarian, the Authoritative, the Permissive, and the Neglectful. These parenting styles are the product of researchers including some from Stanford University and are now universally accepted.

That wasn’t always the case. Take the situation in 1820, when the Duchess of Kent, one Maria Louise, found herself widowed and facing the rearing of an infant daughter alone. The child was improbably named Alexandrina, and the prospect of bringing this child up by herself absolutely terrified the Duchess. You see, the Duchess knew that her substantial inheritance from her recently deceased husband and her standing in the aristocracy in Great Britain meant that this child would have to be taught the responsibilities that came with such wealth and such position.

The widow turned to a trusted family advisor named Sir John Conroy. Conroy had been in the Napoleonic Wars and approached this problem of how to raise Alexandrina from a military perspective. He devised a system of child rearing for the infant that is now called the Kensington System. It centered around making the girl completely dependent on her mother and on Conroy for, well, everything. The thinking was that such responsibility would need the influence of the Duchess and of Sir John (who possibly had the additional motive of being able to wield influence over the substantial inheritance). Thus, the child would grow up to rely only on her mother and her mother’s trusted advisor.

The system revolved around isolating the child from not only other children but also from other relatives. She would not be allowed to be alone without either her mother or the governess. Detailed records of the child’s daily activities would be kept, monitoring her intake (and output), and detailing things like hours of sleep and what toys she played with, etc. Such behavior was designed to make her not wish to turn to anyone else for advice or help. She did have two playmates in her life but only two. One was a half-sister from one of her father’s dalliances and the other was Sir John’s daughter. But even these interactions were extremely limited. The child was rarely allowed even outside the gates of the family’s large residence. And, incredibly, the girl was required to sleep in the same room as her mother (despite their house having many large bedrooms) until she turned 18.

When Alexandrina was of age, her private tutoring began. The schedule was strictly adhered to, starting promptly at 9:30am daily and ending at 5:00pm. The girl was trained in languages, literature, poise, and even religion. And, daily, the Duchess would drill her child on what she learned. If Alexandrina failed to recall properly, there would be punishment. Remembering was expected and therefore not rewarded.

Well, it doesn’t take a child psychologist to realize that the Kensington System was a complete failure. The girl grew up to intensely hate her mother and greatly distrust Sir John. When she turned 18, Alexandrina fell heir to the fortune, and she made two requests. The first was to insist on having at least two hours during the day to herself (which had never happened in her life), and the second was that her bed be moved to her own bedroom.

And, when Alexandrina Victoria became Queen Victoria and married Prince Albert in 1840, she banned her mother from the palace for the remainder of her life.


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