The Savannah

For all the ‘labour saving devices’ we are surrounded by, life in general and parenting in particular has only gotten more hectic.  We live in a world surrounded by confusion and bustle and if it’s hard for us, what must it be like for the little hunter/gatherers who are trying to work out the rules as they go along.

 When I’m frustrated by my children and they just don’t seem to ‘get it,’ I have a little trick that calms me down and helps me understand where they are coming from and why they are doing whatever it is (it usually involves lack of sleep).  So sit back comfortably, relax your shoulders, close your eyes (figuratively, unless you can read with your eyes closed) and come with me, back to the savannah …

 It’s hot.  It’s dusty.  The air is desert dry.  You sit on the ground in the shade of a small clump of trees, using a sturdy stick to pry and dig at the hard earth, searching for the rich roots and their stores of food.  Around you are a few other women, mostly sisters and co-wives, in a range of ages from new, nervous teens to wise middle age.  Toddlers and children are there too, the older girls copy you and make a game of it while the younger ones explore the trees and grass. 

 One of the children flushes a lizard, whack! You get it and throw it on a small pile.  The sudden movement startles your baby, sleeping on your back, and she stirs and starts to fuss.  You swing her around and offer her your breast, it’s important to settle her quickly.  While a healthy group is fairly safe from big predators, crying is a signal that something is very wrong with a little one, they are all alone and they are attractive prey.  Besides, who wants to listen to a baby crying?

 One of the toddlers comes over to watch her feeding, patting her.  You smile and shush him, one of the other ladies offers him a breast as well and he quickly toddles over, laughing.  Your little one goes back to sleep and you take a break to cuddle her in your lap and look around.

She wakes in a few minutes and you continue digging with her sitting in your lap, quietly talking to her and showing her things.  One of the older toddlers notices and comes over to get her, lifting her and practically dragging her over to the other children.  They are sitting with one of the older women who has made a small fire, and she rescues your baby and snuggles her in her lap while showing the children how to cook some of the food that has been gathered.

 There.  Don’t you feel more relaxed now?

6 responses to this post.

  1. The most effective labour-saving and time-saving device missing from modern families is the extended family….the tribe. The open pair of arms to plonk baby in when you need to finish cooking tea; the cousin ready to go out and play with your toddler when you’re attending to a crying bub…

    Becoming a mother made me realise that isolated nuclear families living far away from any extended family members just doesn’t make any sense…I really believe that this is part of the reason for escalating rates of PND, anxiety and depression in both parents and children…it really has almost become too difficult for one stay-at-home parent to attend to every other family member in the way that they would ideally want to…hence the need for short-cuts – the over-use of screen entertainment, the food coming out of packets and tins…and of course, the resulting mother-guilt…


    • You’re right. We have a basic mis-match between the way our babies naturally behave and our current lifestyle. Unfortunately we generally try to change our babies, which is where most of the ‘sleep problems,’ ‘feeding problems’ and toddler ‘behaviour problems’ come from. It’s not that the behaviours themselves are a problem, just that we’ve redefined what should happen and not let the babies in on it. Or the other response is for Mum (and a lot of Dads) to just cope with their little hunter gatherer, but also have to cope with contemporary life, Very rarely do we have the opportunity to change our lifestyle to suit the baby, and it’s hard to live in two worlds and try to meet everyone’s needs.

      I read a great interview a few years ago where a psych was suggesting that young couples and families house share to try to re-create a form of extended family. I’m a very private person myself and I don’t know if I could do that, but I’m certainly aware of the problem and making myself look for ways to get around it. My toddler has just done a casual placement at a day care, ( ) and it was a bit of a struggle for me because I believe I should be looking after her. But going back to the savannah, I realised that at her age she should be getting interaction with other children and adults that I can’t provide, so in our situation it is good for her.


  2. Posted by plahski on May 14, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I recently went out with a big group of women looking for food – it was TOTALLY relaxing. Better than a day spa! lots of laughs and learning.

    The desert IS a relaxing place…


    • I spent a day fishing in a community a couple of years ago. I don’t really fish and I don’t eat them, but just a day sitting out in the bush was fun. And have you noticed with little kids that everything is so much easier outside? Any time the door is open, Midget will be banging on the screen door trying to get out, if you want to open the door to put the rubbish out you have to race her because she will be out any chance she gets.


  3. Posted by mummytiff on May 15, 2009 at 1:25 am

    They LOVE being outside don’t they?! My two would spend all day everyday outside given the chance. Fine by me, I like it out there and I can take the laptop out and finish a report if I need to in between playing “catch and throw” or “roll the ball”.

    I totally believe in “it takes a village” – it’s at least true for me with raising our children. Paul’s family have little to d with our family save for a visit here and there but my family are in the trenches for most of everyday. For a start I would go nuts at home on my own (our house is tiny and I just feel overwhelmed with the closeness of the walls most days!) and secondly my kids LOVE to see their grandparents, cousin, aunty and whilst I am a fan of the way I parent (obviously! If not I would change it) I realise that my kids won’t always be exposed to such gentle methods and I think it’s essential for them to realise that not everyone is going to get down to their level and reason with them like I do but there are going to be all sorts of different people out there in the big wide world who talk to them and with them in all sorts of different ways.


  4. […] is quite correct.  Toddlers shouldn’t be breastfeeding dolls, because there aren’t any out on the savannah.  They should be practicing their skills on little brothers, sisters and […]


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