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

Last year, Amy Chua managed to push a whole set of collective parenting buttons when she asserted 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, there is 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 as much media attention.

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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10 responses to “Forget Tiger Mom and French Mom: Meet Hunter-Gatherer Mom

  1. Get the a proposal, stat, before someone else takes this idea to a publisher.


  2. See? Iwas so excited that I misspelled “thee”. Now, go!

  3. I think this has pretty much been done already. See Margaret Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa.” Or for that matter the writings of Rousseau.

  4. Pamela, you crack me up! Thanks for your enthusiasm, as ever!

    Hi there, Jane. Great to “meet” you. Without a doubt, Elizabeth Thomas’ work owes a debt to Margaret Mead and others. I think the reminder to honor and integrate the skills, values and practices of hunter-gatherer societies into our modern lives is completely apt and perhaps necessary. Especially as those ways are pretty much lost. I think many families might benefit from a re-prioritizing in the areas of play, risk, independence and cooperation, qualities that can be learned from hunter-gatherers, as the folks at Primal Family have pointed out. Do you agree?

  5. I totally agree, I believe when children are needed for the daily tasks of family and are given a role to play. The family unit can work together better– responsibility and cooperation on all levels. It’s so important not to just dole out ‘jobs’ to children but to give them a stake in the family workings.

    Well thought out post! Kudos!

  6. I will hunt for doughnuts and our daughter can gather M &Ms..

  7. What a great article, and the title is perfect! Hahaa. I agree, this needs to be the next big parenting culture book.

  8. Hi Lindsey! Thanks so much! Glad you popped by. I really enjoy your blog. Cheers!

  9. This reminds me of when my unschooled country children met their city dwelling cousins who didn’t know how to properly play with fire.

    The role of play has been downgraded to being a waste of time by many, but in an article about this subject that I read ( I believe it was in the ‘helicopter parenting’ issue of Time magazine-maybe a year ago?), a scientist at JPL was quoted as saying that how much a person says they were allowed to play as a child is a criteria used for hiring since children who were not allowed to play enough have poor problem solving skills.

    I have one more thing to say about this. My family are consensual unschoolers, so of course we feel that this is the best way, but honestly, parenting is about listening to and loving your children, helping them when they need it. Not everyone has to parent ‘our’ way to raise good kids, I just wish people would realize that and stop worrying so much about what other (Chinese, French) parents do. Trust yourself and your children and forget the rest. Use your common sense and your instincts.

  10. Wow! Great points, Elizabeth! Thank you so much for making them. The photos on your blog are beautiful, too. I really appreciate you stopping by.

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