Parenting can be Tough!

Peace-of-Eden series no. 14

I have learnt a lot about parenting from the elephant mothers at Pongola Game Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The whole herd of 32 elephants, made up of several families, can be on the move and if one young calf wants to stop and feed or rest, the whole herd will accommodate that elephant calf's needs. They move when he is ready to move, stop when he’s tired, give him time to rest and the calf’s natural rhythms are appropriately responded to by the whole breeding herd. The older elephants quickly surround the younger, more vulnerable members if they’re confronted by any threat. What does that say about parenting, that as mothers or fathers we must immediately drop everything if our child expresses a need! I don't think many parents would be very happy with that idea!

A lot of our problems can be traced back to the poor mothering we experienced when we were still babes in arms. And - that’s exactly where the problem lies. Most of us weren’t “in arms” at all, but rather were transported in prams, car seats and carry cots instead of being on our mothers’ hips or backs.

Mothering is the most important job any woman can undertake but, as we’ve become more Westernised and affluent, we’ve lost track of how to mother naturally and instinctively. As a result we see children who can’t sleep, who won’t eat, who suffer terrible colic or who projectile vomit after each meal. You only have to look at the range of problems parents complain about to realise that something isn’t right. Parenting shouldn’t be this difficult.

I think as parents we do need to make certain adjustments to our lives to be available to meet our children's needs, especially the vital ones, like feeding and holding - physically and emotionally, especially when they are very young. We also need to take good care of ourselves so that we are in 'good condition' to take care of 'children needs', which at times can be very demanding.

The elephant mothers remind me of the tribal mothers written about by Dr. Jean Liedloff in her book called Continuum Concepts: The author ended up in the Amazon jungle living among South American Indians. What struck her was how happy, well-behaved and integrated the children were, and how in that community becoming a mother wasn’t seen as an incredibly demanding or stressful event, but rather effortless and joyful. This is in such stark contrast to how we perceive child rearing. Liedloff believes the South American Indian babies are so well adjusted because they aren’t separated from their mothers for long stretches of time and are “in arms” until they are ready to assert their independence and move away. The babies spend their days in a sling, which allows skin contact and provides them with all the rhythms and changes of tempo they were used to while they were in the womb. What’s more, babies and toddlers are never left to lie passively by themselves or made to sleep alone in a quiet place. Instead they participate in everything their mother does – fetching water, gathering food, cooking, chatting with friends, dancing and sleeping. Children are not the focus of attention, they are just a part of every day life – and seem significantly happier for it.

All of us want to be good mothers and have happy, confident children. Many of us have however have our own unmet childhood needs. There is no point in blaming our own parents for that, if you are wanting to break this pattern, you need to spend time working out who you are, how you want to parent and what you want for your children. This is one of the things I enjoy supporting parents with, through my work as a Psychotherapist and during the Wisdom of Elephants Ecotherapy Experience.

Do we want our children, like those in the Yequana tribe to grow up with a very strong sense of themselves so that as they mature they become well-adjusted adults? I’m not suggesting you rush off and join an Indian tribe, but you can adopt some of their principles:

But, for all the talk about mothers, where do dads feature?

Fathers' bonding with their children, even from the moment they are born, is very important. But they play a different role somehow - they are more protective and financially providing, which frees mothers to be more nurturing. They are also so much more playful, children love that!