Walter Panknin (1898 – 1977) and His Family Ch5 – Part 12

More Questionable Child-Rearing Practices

Biene contributed this post.

Another child-rearing practice my parents employed is also of dubious nature. My parents’ generation stood under the influence of the naturopathic medicine movement of Sebastian Kneipp. He believed in the therapeutic power of cold water. My parents wanted us to grow up strong and healthy. Every Saturday, my brother and I had our weekly bath in a big zinc tub placed on two chairs in our spacious kitchen. A hot bath was a luxury at that time.  We enjoyed this rare pleasure tremendously. But all treats come to an end, and for us, it was very abrupt. Without warning, my mother would dump a bucket full of cold water, which she had hidden under the chairs over us, as suggested by Sebastian Kneipp.

This “shock therapy” was supposed to toughen and strengthen us. Before we could utter desperate cries of protest, we were wrapped in warm towels. Time and again, my mother would assure us that she would not do it again. But she never kept her promise and was very skillful in hiding the bucket of frigid water. Until the end of his life, my brother detested cold water. I, on the other hand, started to like this invigorating therapy. To this day, I love swimming in cold lakes and conclude my warm bath with a cold shower. 

Another Kneipp practice my parents employed was even more dramatic and terrifying. As a small child, my brother had terrible temper tantrums. He frequently would fly into such a rage that he almost turned blue in his face screaming.  All measures to calm him down failed until my mother and sister started to resort to another Kneipp treatment. They would quickly pick up my hysterical brother and hold his head under running cold water from the tap.  The shock would instantly calm him. I was very scared watching this cruel procedure.

Like my brother, I was also strong-willed. But I did not voice my protests in furor. I would instead use passive resistance. My mother tried to give us one teaspoon of pure cod liver oil every day during the fall and winter season to prevent rickets and other health conditions. I vehemently detested this foul-smelling and even worse-tasting liquid. My mother could neither coax nor threaten me into compliance. I kept my mouth pressed shut. When all attempts failed to change my mind, my sister would hold me down on the couch, open my mouth forcefully. In an instant, my mother would pour the disgusting sticky liquid down my throat. I could not understand why my mother and sister, who loved us so much, could do such horrible things to us.