From planting with placentas in Jamaica, to double Christmas in Russia – via gender role reversals in the Aka tribe, Maeve Shearlaw explores six parenting rituals we could all learn from…
Parenting Rituals #1
Have a first tooth party – Armenia
Any parent will tell you that teething is not an enjoyable phase. Babies are not able to understand or vocalise the pain, so in Armenia the breakthrough of the first tooth (and perhaps a few nights off Calpol doses) becomes cause for celebration.
As tradition goes; the baby is sat in a circle surrounded by objects, a visor or scarf is placed over their eyes and a mixture of popcorn and other sweets are poured over their head in a ritual to ‘prepare them for a fruitful life’.
The baby is then encouraged to crawl towards the objects which are symbolic of a future profession – a pen would indicate a teacher; a tractor would mean a farmer and so on. Or, as has become more common in recent years, the objects are parcels with the child’s possible job prospects written down inside.
Maybe you want your child to be a professional footballer? An X Factor finalist, or take on the family business? Or just be happy with their path, whatever that might be. This is your chance to set the parameters.
Parenting Rituals #2
Let dads be mums and mums be dads – the Aka tribe, central Africa
In 2005, the men of Africa’s Aka tribe hit the headlines after Father’s Direct branded them “the best dads in the world”. They take on 47% of the child rearing responsibilities when the women go out to hunt and let their babies suck on their nipples.
In an interview with the Guardian anthropologist Barry Hewlett, who once lived alongside the Aka, said it was not an attempt to breastfeed, but about babies being in constant contact with a caregiver for the first few months of their lives.
Headline-grabbing nipple sucking aside, there is much more to be gleaned from the Aka tribe. While the women are still seen as a primary care givers, men effortlessly slip into the ‘mothers’ roles’ without any fear of stigma. Sometimes men cook and the women set up camp; sometimes it’s the other way round, depending on who feels like doing what.
More importantly, as explained in this quote from Hewlett “your children are the very value of your life. The idea of a child as a burden would be incomprehensible there… children are the energy, the life force of the community.”
Parenting Rituals #3
Plant a tree with your placenta – Jamaica
Are you in a dilemma about whether you should (or could stomach) eating your placenta? Pros: it’s full of nutrients, which counts as eating clean – right? Cons: you’ve tried googling recipes but nothing sounds palatable.
Avoid this by following the Jamaican tradition of using it to fertilise a tree that will forever become part of your child’s life. Historically the placenta and umbilical cord are buried together over the ‘birth tree’, also known as the ‘naval string tree’ or the ‘baby’s tree’.
According to the Jamaican Gleaner; a website specialising in the country’s history, the tree was often donated by family, godparents or close-friends – becoming a great source of pride, symbolising a spiritual attachment to the land where it finds root.
If you can’t face keeping your afterbirth until you are strong enough to hold a planting ceremony, or have nowhere to plant it, maybe choose a tree for your child in a place where they will always be able to visit – ideally one that can double up as a good spot for birthday parties, or for building a treehouse.
Parenting Rituals #4
Go wild in the wild – coastal Inuits
Coming-of-age for young boys is to go in to the Arctic Circle and learn a survival skill they will need for the rest of their lives: finding food in the harsh arctic winter. According to a BBC report from North Baffin Island in the Arctic Circle: “coastal Inuit men will take their sons on a hunt as soon as they appear strong enough to undertake an arduous journey; usually 11 or 12 years old”.
Whilst traditional hunting methods are dying out for some of these communities, this initiation is being kept alive through ‘outcamps’ where boys, and now girls too, spend some time away from their day-to-day communities to learn traditional skills.
Most reading this will never require their children to be arctic circle-ready (if you do try calling Prince Harry) but studies have shown that children benefit from time spent in nature. Set a few days aside every summer to teach your child to light a fire, find a secluded spot and sleep under the stars in a bivvy bag (see here for a guide to responsible wild camping in the UK).
If that seems too extreme, try a camping weekend and practise cooking on the fire you build: baked beans for beginners; or brownies cooked inside an orange for the more discerning campfire cook.
Parenting Rituals #5
Ask what your elders can teach your children – Native American communities
The health of any society can be judged on how well it treats its most vulnerable members, but in parts of the UK old people are becoming so lonely that Age UK are running a campaign encouraging strangers to pick up the phone to speak to them for a few minutes each week.
In native American cultures a group of ‘Elders’ are appointed as the key bearers of cultural knowledge; according to the ANKN (Alaskan Native Knowledge), these are not necessarily the oldest in the community but those “who possess the wisdom and willingness to pass on their knowledge to future generations”.
Some people will be lucky to have grandparents around who have specific skills, or areas of interest that you don’t. If not, perhaps there are others living in your community your children can go to for specific pieces of advice. Or, in our increasingly digital world, the global figureheads of ‘teaching’ have never been closer – the Pope’s on Twitter and the Dalai Lama’s teachings are all over Instagram.
Parenting Rituals #6
Celebrate Christmas twice – Russia
Christmas without children is two weeks in which you drink your year’s allotted amount of Prosecco; sleep in your mascara and nurse yourself back to health everyday with cheese; honey roast ham and mince pies (insert other festive food and drinks according to your preference).
Christmas with kids is when the magic comes back; you can pretend that Santa still exists; presents (or the boxes they come in) turn into hours of fun and you’re allowed to drink sherry and leave half eaten mince pies on the floor for the sake of tradition.
Sadly this only happens once a year, unless, as is the case in Russia, you ask Father Frost (Russian Santa) and the Snow Maiden to pay a visit on the 7th January – due to a difference in the calendars, most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later than other churches in the western world.
So while everyone else in the UK is battling the most depressing time of the year, you can redecorate the house; whip up a feast and wrap the next round of presents. On second thoughts…
Do you know of any other unusual parenting rituals? We’d love to hear them – let us know in the comments section below…