(This blog was originally posted on August 25, 2016)
|Photo by Rick Hustead|
Orcas (killer whales) do it. So do wolves and elephants. And in some cultures, more and more often, humans do it, too.
I am talking about Alloparenting.
This is when individuals in a group other than/in addition to a youngster’s parents participate in raising the child. For example, in Israel children may be raised in a kibbutz where they spend only a few hours each day with their own parents; instead, all the adults in the community help to raise the kids. Young athletes and dancers/performers often spend a majority of time living and training at facilities away from home and their families. Sure, their parents and academic tutors affect these kids’ lives; but the coach or dance/acting instructor’s advice is likely more influential. Apparently, before the Rio 2016 Olympics all five members of the United States women’s gymnastics team moved into their Olympic coach’s home so they could prepare for the Olympics. If any of these women felt homesick or got nervous about the stress of this major competition, they would have sought and received reassurance from their coach Márta Károlyi, not Mom or Dad.
I know many people who count at least one grandparent as a primary care-taker while mom and dad were at work. Families with a lot of children often enlist the older siblings to take on some roles more traditionally allocated to parents, such as transporting the younger kids to and from school, helping with homework or even preparing meals. Even when parents do have a significant role in their upbringing, siblings may even find themselves in the role of mentor to a younger brother or sister. After all, doesn’t advice about relationships and sex, how to negotiate social rites of passage at school, etc., seem so much more relevant and relatable when it comes from someone is perceived as less authoritarian, than a parent?
Another benefit of alloparenting comes to the parents, themselves. First-time parents might get support and advice from their own parents or grandparents to help get through the first week, or night, with a newborn in the home. If her own mother, sister or aunt isn’t around, a new mom might alternatively turn to a close friend or other women in her “Mommy-and-Me” program with more experience in this role for advice and even practical support.
I am very fortunate to be able to consider the parents of my two best friends—who are like sisters to me, anyway—as surrogate parents. I met the entire family on my eighth birthday when they moved into the house across the street from us. As I grew up, I was alternately close with different members of the family, but Amy (the mom) introduced me to my first riding teacher and has continued to encourage my passion for horses and riding throughout my life. Paul (the dad) used to take his kids, me and my sister to the park, the movies and even taught us how to play basketball when we were little. When I returned to the United States after living in England for seven years, he and Amy would invite me over for “steak night” every Saturday night. Although I no longer eat meat, the memories of those evenings are among my favorite and most special. I could confide my feelings, hopes and fears to friends who were not my parents but still had a parental privilege/influence and perspective about how I went and tend to go through the world. They could provide a more objective perspective about a situation without fear of getting involved in family drama.
The plethora of collective life experience that other relatives and/or even close friends who participate in raising a child cannot be under-estimated or under-valued. I appreciate all of the parents in my life.
Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.