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SF Bay Area, California, USA
November 06
Slow Family Online
Northern California writer, soapcrafter, jammaker, hiker, retro enthusiast, slow parent & cheesehound. Author, Fed Up With Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World (2012). Social Media Director for the Children & Nature Network. See more writing at

FEBRUARY 8, 2012 9:04PM

Forget Tiger Mom and French Mom: Meet Hunter-Gatherer Mom

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Last year, Amy Chua managed to push a whole set of collective parenting buttons when she asserted in the Wall Street Journal, and later in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, why Chinese mothers are superior -- apparently to us Western parents who let our kids attend slumber parties and take lowly "villager" parts in school plays.

Now, almost exactly a year later, the Wall Street Journal brings news of a new book about another group of superior parents halfway around the world, who have successfully spawned submissive, docile, vegetable-eating children to rival the Chinese --  Voila! The French. At first glance, Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (which bears the wonderfully succinct UK title, French Children Don't Throw Food) seems to be getting about the same derisive response as the Tiger Mom tome.

As well it should. While there may be some fine advice in both books, which seem a pendulum-swing antidote to the culture of helicopter parenting, it's always a bit difficult to swallow the notion that a whole culture has this parenting thing down, while ours does not. And, of course, these types of books play on the anxiety any thinking parent drags around from playground to play group -- am I doing this right? Is something wrong with me or my kids?!

Druckerman's book, in particular, appears to have some valuable insight about  life skills like delayed gratification and the ability to entertain oneself, good tools for children worldwide. Part of the problem, of course, is in the incendiary messaging and packaging of these books -- but then books that don't generalize and pit nations and groups against one another probably don't sell as well or garner the attention of the Wall Street Journal and others.

In the midst of this madness, a new style of parenting has come to my attention which actually makes the most sense of all. And talk about "Back to Basics": The time has come for the Hunter-Gatherer Parent. Hunter-gatherer children, which have been studied as recently as the 1990s in Africa, are, according to researcher Elizabeth Marshall Thomas:

"Sunny and cooperative, the children were every parent’s dream. No culture can ever have raised better, more intelligent, more likable, more confident children."

The secret of hunter-gatherer families? The play a lot. They tolerate appropriate risks. They value, encourage and teach independence and interdependence, rather than strict obedience. And they seem to do it through caring and trust, rather than carrying on and punishment. In addition, they are at home in nature and can navigate their own environments.

The changing world will certainly need more hunter-gatherers, who are resourceful, quick-thinking, creative and flexible. I, for one, will stake my lot with the hunter-gatherers. The Chinese and French methods weren't working out so well anyway.

Photo: Hadza archery by Woodlouse

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Thanks for posting a link to the Primal Family website. I hadn't heard of it before. It's a great article, and a good index of the Peter Gray articles on this subject.

When we were first embarking on family life, I read Jean Liedloff's The Continuum Concept, which is another book on this same theme. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would add it to any small library of parenting books.
Hi Rory,

I'm so glad you visited and enjoyed the Primal Family site. I just read a bit about the Continuum Concept, which looks very applicable as well. This is all fascinating and I hope these kinds of conversations around societies, parenting and early childhood continue.

Thanks again for chiming in.