Ancient parenting techniques

Posted in: Applying Wisdom

“Togetherness is easy. It’s relaxing. It flows. It’s what happens when we all stop trying to control each other’s actions and simply let each other be.”

– Michaeleen Doucleff, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Humans.

I recently read the fun book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Humans.

The author, Michaeleen Doucleff, is an NPR reporter and parent to a toddler who spent time with several groups from different traditional cultures, including Mayan, Inuit, and Hadzabe families, learning how they raise their kids.

The premise of the book is that the way we raise children in the west is actually pretty strange, or WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), and it leads to frustrated and tired parents AND children. But, we can still adopt parenting techniques from ancient cultures that are more in tune with how tiny humans can actually develop.

There are lots of fun stories, like how a Mayan mother had trained her kids to help each other get ready to catch a 7 AM school bus, with zero tantrums.

Or how an Inuit mom transferred her own calm energy to the author’s screaming toddler and ended the tantrum.

While the particular techniques are useful for parents, I think the broader lessons are useful to understand just how strange modern, western society is.

  • Kids want to be part of the family team, not entities separate from adults.
  • Kid activities are artificial, they learn best by participating in natural and “real” family activities.
  • Energy and emotions are contagious. An angry kid will not calm down if you respond with anger.
  • Autonomy is important. Autonomy without obligation and responsibility is unbalanced.
  • Praise is less effective than acknowledgement.
  • Stories work better than abstract principles or lessons.
  • Letting kids take risks is critical. Monitor from afar to help prevent catastrophic incidents, but otherwise be hands off.
  • Raising children is best done communally. It’s too much for parents to raise kids on their own.
  • No one likes to be controlled, even kids. The need to control others and being controlled by others creates tension and distress.

While you may not be a parent, the book can help you identify different ways your natural mode of living conflicts with the way the modern world wants you to live.

You’ll be able to identify why you are frustrated, why you don’t feel part of a team, why you do weird and artificial work activities, why you don’t take enough risks, why you don’t have a good handle on your emotions, etc.

This project has mainly focused on ancient wisdom through the lens of philosophy and religion, but the book gives us the opportunity to absorb ancient wisdom through the lens of parenting and at the same time, point out real flaws in our WEIRD culture.