KATRINA WARD
New Zealand Artist, Textile Designer & Educator

Journal

Cave Babies Don't Cry - Notes on Paleo Parenting

Cave Babies Don’t Cry – Notes on Paleo Parenting*

Plato (detail from Raphael's 'School Of Athens' 1509-1511)

Plato (detail from Raphael's 'School Of Athens' 1509-1511)

 

Plato's Cave theories might apply to parenting too...

Paleo diets we have all heard of, but what about Paleo Parenting?

Life lately has been a little fractious. We parents have been thrown a few curve balls that have kept us on the edge. We sleep on the edge of the bed, we sit on the edge of our seats, and our minds are on the edge of sanity as we think, ‘What next?’

We stare at each other, dumbfounded and surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam of a fast-paced life with kids.

Each time I find myself feeling frazzled, anxious and ‘over it’… there is a little voice in the back of my head that asks, ‘What would a cave woman do?’ I’m not sure where my cave voice has come from, but it is there all the same.

Most of my best parenting strategies have come from my grandmother’s generation (baking soda and vinegar for all cleaning, sunlight for getting out stains, homemade baking saving the day…) but what if we turn the clocks back further, much further, to be, like, Paleolithic?

Can we do without modernity, without expectation, without the mass ‘intelligence’ that is the internet? Could doing without the endless modern things we burden ourselves with potentially shine some new light on some of our old parenting problems?

Is Paleo Parenting the answer? I’m giving it a bit of air time.

On Philosophy and Feminism

I have struggled with my role as housewife. I left my job as a full time teacher to become a mother and I have resented the housework, the staying at home, the isolation and the running of the house that has become my new job.

I sometimes wonder if I would be happier if there was less expectation of me to achieve and more acceptance that being a mum/cave dweller is a full time job in and of itself. Pre-pre-feminism when women in the workforce were not even part of the equation.

Stop. Before you send a lynch mob – I don’t mean to abolish equal rights or to muffle any female voices, but it has occurred to me that IF I wasn’t so hung up on my own career and so caught up in what ELSE I should be then my role as a mother MIGHT be easier to accept.

Question: In a truly feminist household, who does the cleaning?

It still needs to be done and doesn’t it make sense that the person who is at home most should potentially be responsible for the lion’s share thereof?

My man can happily do the hunting because I am squeamish about killing things.

He can dig the drains because I am rubbish with a spade.

He can maintain the car because beyond tyre pressure and oil checks, I am less equipped to diagnose automotive problems.

He is stronger than me and he can do the heavy labour jobs outside while I take responsibility for keeping ‘the den’ clean and the babies fed and entertained.

I have breasts…hear me roar.

IF I could get my head around all this philosophical stuff about the transition of a woman’s role as worker to house-keeper (which I still can’t most days), then potentially I would have less to fight about with my man. (It’s a recurring argument). I’m thinking aloud here – what do you think?

On Sleeping and Self Settling

A recent difficulty has been putting mister two to bed. He got a new sister nine months ago, a big bed and his own room around the same time. Before his little sister arrived, he went to bed and to sleep without any major drama. Now it is Drama Central.

He gets out of bed and cries. He clings to us and cries. He yells and cries. He hits himself and throws things and begs for kisses and more stories and cries. He slams his door and cries.

How does this relate to the cave?

I have tried closing the door. I have tried sitting on his bed with him. I have tried laying with him. I have tried telling him to stay in his room and I have tried growling at him with my stern ‘teacher voice’ (NOT to be messed with, excuse me).

But nothing has been working.

So, talking it out with my man, we tried to figure out WHY all this drama. To Paleo Parenting I turn…

In a cave he would probably just curl up in a corner near us and go to sleep, reassured because he could still see us. Reassured because he could see the flickering light of the fire (my cave picture is rosy isn’t it…) and reassured because he is with his clan and not outcast to his own separate den.

I’m not judging anyone for any kind of parenting or any sleep arrangements but we worked out that his performance was because he was not in the cave with us (so to speak) and he potentially felt insecure.

So, with Paleo Parenting in mind and listening to the cave voice, the last three nights I have kept his door wide open and told him gently (and repeatedly) to go to bed. He is not trapped in his room, he is not in the dark alone, the light from the lounge floods his room, he is nearby and he can still hear us, his sister is not stealing his place by the fire and, so far, my cave concept, appears to be working. Go figure.

On travel and trips

Last week I had my worst outing yet with mister two and it was entirely my fault.

I had a full vacuous 24 hours of solo parenting in front of me and I wanted to fill it with fun. Consequently I filled the day with errands and visits, with play grounds and activities and topped it all off with a late afternoon visit to a friend’s house to share Fish and Chips.

Mistake.

No nap + Big day + strange environment + interrupted routine + too many in/out of car dramas = MONSTER BOY

I don’t want to go into it but it was not fun.

What would a Paleo Parent do and how does cave philosophy solve this drama? It tells me to take life more slowly. Days don’t have to be filled with a hundred and one activities.

I rushed him and I overstimulated him and I overcooked him.

One trip would have been a big enough mission for a little cave boy’s little cave legs and little cave brain. We should have stayed near the den when his nap didn’t happen, we should have taken it easy and rolled the rock in front of our cave entrance and hibernated together in the cosy dark. The little monster may have still reared his ugly head, but I doubt to the same degree.

On babywearing

Where would I be without my babywearing devices?

Happiest is my baby when she is on me, with me, near me. It makes sense in a cave not to leave them on the floor or to sleep them far from you when lions and tigers and bears lurk about. (because we have those in NZ don’t you know…)

To add to the ‘simple trips’ note above; if we wore our babies until they could walk, we would still only do short trips and potentially avoid the ‘overcooking’ of our children. (Doing too much in one day /venturing too far would mean that YOU would have to carry them back… so you only go as much as all of you can physically manage.)

Whenever I am in doubt or struggling with an unsettled baby, out comes a wrap or carrier of some description and I wear her. In most cases, this is the quickest way to calm her.

On baby food

Pre-blenders and pre-pre-packaged foods, what would you feed your baby?

When I find myself stressing about my baby’s diet, I try to keep things simple. She eats what I eat. If it is too tough, I pre-chew it for her.

Is that gross? Or is it just simpler than getting out a blender or relying on processed/packaged food stuffs?

Incidentally (factoid alert) the bacteria in your own saliva can actually help your baby’s digestion system. I read that somewhere… (glad I can read, let’s not go too ‘cave’ now…)

 

On maternal knowledge

How much do you rely on your mother for mothering advice? I call mine pretty frequently and it would be easier if she lived closer to us.

In a cave-dwelling society our mothers would be closer and knowledge could be shared more easily from generation to generation. We could have the village they say we need to raise our children.

Have you noticed that the passing down of knowledge from mother to daughter is not as natural as it used to be? We are having our babies later and later and the extended generational gap is making it more difficult for our mothers to recall what we were really like as infants. Their advice can be outdated and/or difficult to recall… Instead we rely much more heavily on the shared cultural knowledge of our contemporaries on the internet.

On play

Paleo parents would have to be creative. Rather than buy the latest toys, books and DVDs for children, parents would have to be resourceful and find things for their children to use with their imagination. A stick and some sand, some stones to stack or some leaves to sort would have to do. Discovery learning would be front and centre.

Activities in nature are free and are often the most stimulating. Puddle jumping, stone throwing, sand drawing, leaf collecting, flower colour-sorting, stone stacking, mud smooshing, shadow making…

As an aside: Browsing pinterest recently I found a shaving foam painting activity. Armed with a can of shaving foam and a hose, I let my two year old paint on the windows and then wash it off. I supervised from inside where I was safe from getting squirted and it struck me that his little hand movements combined with the hand-prints he was enjoying making were not altogether unlike cave painting…

On isolation and the internet

I hinted earlier that housewifeliness doesn’t always suit me. It can be isolating being at home with children and the internet offers a sense of community in ways that could never have been imagined in the 1950's let alone in the Paleolithic Era.

What would Paleo Parenting suggest? See real people. I like to have people over to my cave. I like getting out of my cave and I also love returning to my cave by contrast.

In my experience, too many days spent ‘in the dark/trapped in the cave’ do not a happy mummy make. If you were to think about your home as a cave, would it make you more motivated to get out?

A daily walk keeps me sane. Seeing real people keeps my life real.

Philosophically, living a social life on the Internet is like being in Plato’s Cave.

I prefer to be part of the real world to help me to keep perspective.

On comparison and happiness

By extension, the internet must be responsible for an awful lot of unhappiness.

Social media is a highlight reel of everyone’s triumphs, holidays and heavily filtered versions of events. Do you think I want to share my worst moments for all to see? That monster boy I created didn’t get any mention…

We all edit our lives to paint a version of our world we are happy with others seeing.

‘Comparison is a thief of joy’ – Theodore Roosevelt

A Paleo parent would see a lot less of what other families are up to behind their door-boulders. Potentially then, could a Paleo parent be happier with less to compare their lives to?

What do you think? Are some aspects of 'Paleo Parenting' worth considering? Or should I crawl back inside my cave...

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.

Kurt Vonnegut

* new term I invented just now

Thanks for reading This is food for thought anyway. Please click 'follow' (on the right) before you go and follow me on Instagram.

Mwah! Katrina

PS - THIS post is a blast from the past and was originally written on my Outie blog. My two year old son is now FIVE and his sister is THREE! We still think-cave when things go wrong, still use a carrier for moody days and often find ourselves co-sleeping with light creeping through the open door from the fire in the living room. Though I'm extremely dependent on the internet and our connected world for work, art and life in general, the cave analogy is a good one to have in your back pocket for days when you need to return to basics.