An NPR Science Desk correspondent challenges the misleading child-rearing practices commonly recommended to parents, outlining alternatives grounded in international ancestral traditions that are being used effectively throughout the modern world.
Hunt, Gather, Parent — a book about what harried Western mothers can learn from their supposedly serene Indigenous counterparts — opens in the style of an addiction memoir ... Thus begins another addition to the now extensive literature, mostly written for Americans by Americans, about the sensible, calmer ways that people in other countries raise kids. (I’m guilty of adding to the pile.) These books are in response to the rising and sometimes ridiculous demands of modern American parenting, which is practiced in weaker form in many other countries, too ... She claims to discover methods that are 'tens of thousands of years' old and practiced around the world, yet missing from other parenting books ... full of smart ideas that I immediately wanted to force on my own kids. (I wish I’d read it at the start of the pandemic, when I made their chore charts.) Doucleff is a dogged reporter who’s good at observing families and breaking down what they’re doing. Not all her findings are groundbreaking .... The book works better as parenting guide than anthropology. Some of Doucleff’s interviewees come off as noble savages brimming with nothing but kindness.
This is a heartfelt book that’s full of perfectly fine advice, wrapped in a story of some experiences that obviously changed this particular mother’s life, all built on a premise that should make us feel very queasy ... I say the advice is 'fine' because almost every bit of it is something I’d heard before, coming out of the interconnected worlds of Western parenting guidance that self-describe as 'respectful,' 'gentle,' 'peaceful,' 'unconditional,' and 'Montessori-' or 'Waldorf-inspired.'I point all this out not to discount the value of the parenting traditions Doucleff distills for her book, but just to note that there is no need to go on quickie expeditions to far-flung villages to get this advice. These ideas still aren’t mainstream, to be sure, but you might simply start reading, following people whose bios have the right keywords on Instagram, and joining Facebook groups full of parents who are also struggling to reframe our cultural scripts around early childhood ... Looking at some of the advice in Doucleff’s book, I think about how the idea that children can’t be trusted, which results in so much stress and struggle, goes all the way back to the Puritans and is deeply ingrained in our culture ... But this book is different from its predecessors. These aren’t European countries Doucleff visits, and so the power dynamic between writer and subject is not the same ... Doucleff knows that this problem exists. There’s a section in the book acknowledging it, without which Hunt, Gather, Parent would be even more preposterous ... The plain truth is, without the idea that these cultures contain 'ancient magic,' the whole narrative wouldn’t work, and the book would not sell ... There’s something very familiar (and ridiculous) about the spectacle of the overwhelmed white parent, begging Native women to teach her how to be happy in her role as a mother ... And despite its best intentions, that’s what this book does: It frames tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents, who in truth possess every material advantage, as miserable victims of circumstance.
Doucleff, a correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk, debuts with a lively account of traveling with her three-year-old daughter Rosy 'to the corners of the world' to research parenting techniques ... Doucleff includes specific and manageable instructions for parents and end-of-chapter summaries include extra resources. Parents will find Doucleff’s curiosity contagious and guidance encouraging.