Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hunter Gatherer Parenting

In order to determine if it's possible to adopt some hunter gatherer parenting practices into a "modern" culture, we must first discover the core characteristics. Some of these are specific to parenting, and others are true of hunter gatherer life in general.

Here are the ones I feel are most relevant:

Happiness and Laughter
Hunter Gatherers are known for their high happiness levels. They tend to laugh a lot, including at things that Westerners would become upset over. How great would it be to approach parenting with this same attitude?

Less Stress
Hunter Gatherers tend to be more relaxed than people in a high paced Western society. It is harmful to people, particularly children, to have such high, perfectionistic standards that even minor mistakes and mishaps are viewed as catastrophic. This is all too common in Western society. See my post The Parent I Want to Be for an example of including less stress and more happiness and laughter into modern parenting.

Work and Leisure are the Same
Hunter Gatherers tend to approach work as fun and social. This is an area where I generally excel. Even with work or jobs that I've absolutely hated, I've found ways to make it more fun. This is a great thing to model for your children.

Longer Duration of Breastfeeding
This is pretty straight forward. Hunter Gatherers breastfed for much longer, measured by years instead of weeks or months. Many people believe this is not possible in a modern culture, however many, many mothers are able to breastfeed their children for 2 or more years. The main hurdles are changing attitudes about breastfeeding and increasing the support structure for breastfeeding.

High Degree of Touch
Touch is almost as important to human survival as food and shelter. It is especially important for babies to survive and thrive. Culturally, we have lost a lot in this area. Babies spend way too much time in car seats, strollers, cribs, and baby swings. There are many different practices (see below) that can help modern parents increase the amount of physical contact with their babies and children including breastfeeding, babywearing, and sleep sharing.

Rapid Response to Baby's Cues
Not only did Hunter Gatherers not allow their babies to cry, but they responded to early need cues before babies even started to cry. Unfortunately, we have developed the idea that babies can be "spoiled" if we respond to their needs. This couldn't be farther from the truth. The other practices and characteristics of Hunter Gatherers support the ability to respond rapidly to babies' needs.

More Caregivers
By now I think everyone's heard the expression "it takes a village to raise a child" and for Hunter Gatherers this really was true. With more and more families deciding to live multi-generationally, this is an easier aspect to attain. Social and support groups as well as caretaking cooperatives are modern adaptations satisfying this characteristic. And ask any parent of a large family, or a single parent with multiple kids and they will tell you that the older children become little caregivers.

Fun with all Ages
I have homeschooled 2 of my children, and one of the main lessons I learned was the benefit of children interacting with all different age groups. The age segregation in public schools has had the unfortunate effect of driving home the belief to parents and children that they should only play with kids of the same age.

Respect and Caring for All Ages
When the characteristics and practices of Hunter Gatherers are practiced, babies and children feel welcomed and worthy. Hunter Gatherers really shine in the area of social service and support for the weaker members of their tribes.

Belief in the Instinct of Self-Preservation, Socialness, and Cooperation
This is one of the most difficult characteristics to understand, and one of the most difficult practices to incorporate. Hunter Gatherers assume that all humans are born with the instinct to survive, and that they are social and cooperative. They believe that they will look to their elders and others viewed as "experts" on what to do to survive, thrive, be social, and contribute through cooperation. This information is often obtained in a subconscious, almost instinctual, way.

Contrast this with Western parenting where we sabotage our children by our belief in the opposite. We express consciously and subconsciously the ideas that children are completely helpless and need everything done for them, children will choose the wrong thing unless they are coerced and punished, and children want to do the wrong thing and will "be bad" unless they are highly supervised and strictly parented.

Nutrition Matched to Human Biology
The old expression "you are what you eat" is very true, and I would add to that "eat for what you are." There are consequences to the unhealthy and highly inflammatory Standard American Diet. So, it's no wonder there is so much interest in eating more like Hunter Gathers such as The Paleo Diet.

And the specific practices of:

Natural Birth


Sleep Sharing


Elimination Communication


In the weeks to come I will create posts on many of these areas, including some ideas on how you can add them to your modern parenting.

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