Staff Pick: Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff

Title: Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans

Author: Michaeleen Doucleff

Narrator: Michaeleen Doucleff

Imagine: you’ve just turned 16 and are about to get behind the wheel of a car for the first time. You’re excited and nervous in equal measure, but optimistic about the outcome because you won’t be left alone until you’ve mastered certain skills under careful mentorship. Then, surprise! You’re tossed the keys, told to drive yourself to some isolated area and figure it out for yourself no matter how dangerous or damaging the consequences. You can call a friend or try to Google your way out, but the intense support system that is essential to creating competent and confident new drivers is non-existent. That’s basically new motherhood in Western culture. 

If it sounds like the wrong way of doing things, well, that’s exactly what Michaeleen Doucleff would say. She’s a correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk with a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. She’s also a mother. Her travels around the world and through the fields of psychology, anthropology and neuroscience have lead her realize that everything from the nuclear family structure to the bulk of parenting guidance and societal norms for new parents in North America aren’t based on tradition or science, and are actually unusual on the world stage.

To find out how the rest of the globe parents, Doucleff focused on three communities: Maya families in Mexico, Inuit families above the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania. She brought her three-year-old daughter with her and spent time living with families descendent from these ancient cultures who showed her how to be a parent. She was taught their strategies and techniques that raise happy and helpful children, and then distilled that knowledge down into this book so that it’s possible for all parents from Western cultures to do the same. 

In narrating her own book, Doucleff brings the personal inflection and emotion to the text that only an author can bring. Her career in radio journalism also means that the performance is high-caliber and artfully told – easy to listen to and consistently captivating.

Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans has renewed my sense of optimism around parenting. It does not need to be the lonely, exhausting venture our culture has made it out to be, centered around behavioral control. It should be the relaxed, village-based approach founded on gentle principles that has worked for millennia, and continues to work all around the world.

Publisher Summary:

The oldest cultures in the world have mastered the art of raising happy, well-adjusted children. What can we learn from them?

When Dr. Michaeleen Doucleff becomes a mother, she examines the studies behind modern parenting guidance and finds the evidence frustratingly limited and the conclusions often ineffective. Curious to learn about more effective parenting approaches, she visits a Maya village in the Yucatán Peninsula. There she encounters moms and dads who parent in a totally different way than we do—and raise extraordinarily kind, generous, and helpful children without yelling, nagging, or issuing timeouts. What else, Doucleff wonders, are Western parents missing out on?

In Hunt, Gather, Parent, Doucleff sets out with her three-year-old daughter in tow to learn and practice parenting strategies from families in three of the world’s most venerable communities: Maya families in Mexico, Inuit families above the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania. She sees that these cultures don’t have the same problems with children that Western parents do. Most strikingly, parents build a relationship with young children that is vastly different from the one many Western parents develop—it’s built on cooperation instead of control, trust instead of fear, and personalized needs instead of standardized development milestones.

Maya parents are masters at raising cooperative children. Without resorting to bribes, threats, or chore charts, Maya parents rear loyal helpers by including kids in household tasks from the time they can walk. Inuit parents have developed a remarkably effective approach for teaching children emotional intelligence. When kids cry, hit, or act out, Inuit parents respond with a calm, gentle demeanor that teaches children how to settle themselves down and think before acting. Hadzabe parents are world experts on raising confident, self-driven kids with a simple tool that protects children from stress and anxiety, so common now among American kids.

Not only does Doucleff live with families and observe their techniques firsthand, she also applies them with her own daughter, with striking results. She learns to discipline without yelling. She talks to psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and sociologists and explains how these strategies can impact children’s mental health and development. Filled with practical takeaways that parents can implement immediately, Hunt, Gather, Parent helps us rethink the ways we relate to our children, and reveals a universal parenting paradigm adapted for American families.

Read more and sample the audio →

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