A journalist who wrote about Mayan parenting techniques applied what she learned in rural Yucatán to her 2-year-old in the United States.
While visiting Maya families, reporting for NPR’s special parenting series #HowToRaiseAHuman, “Science Desk” reporter Michaeleen Doucleff noticed something that blew her away.
“While I was interviewing one mom her 12-year-old daughter went over to the dishes and started washing away — without being asked,” she writes, then detailing many examples of exceptionally harmonious mother-child interactions.
Her resulting article last May suggested that the world could benefit from learning traditional Mayan parenting methods.
Kids in Mexico with ties to indigenous communities tend to be more helpful — and more likely to help voluntarily — than children without indigenous ancestry, research has found.
Maya moms harness their toddlers’ zest for being helpful, even before they’re really competent to wash a dish or hang laundry.
The writer, who lives in a tiny San Francisco apartment, then tested it out with her 2-year-old daughter, Rosemary, who was showing great interest in all sorts of household chores.
“At first, the Maya method was catastrophic in my hands,” said Doucleff. “Rosy and I broke dishes, flooded the kitchen floor while washing dishes and ruined a load of laundry. She also ended up with a tiny burn on her wrist — about the size of a ladybug — when I let her help me fry meatballs one evening. (There’s a reason why they don’t make hot mitts in toddler sizes — although I am still on the lookout for a pair).”
But over time, “the results have been incredibly gratifying.”
“She now voluntarily feeds the dog on a regular basis, rinses the dishes for the dishwasher, sweeps the floor with me and holds the door for me when I take the garbage out. She loves to crack eggs for pancakes, start the dishwasher, put the soap in the washing machine and walk the dog with me in the morning. (‘Mom, can I pick up the poop?’ she asked one morning. ‘You just have to wait a few more years for that privilege, honey,’ I told her.)”
Here’s how an American mom integrated Maya parenting techniques.
1. Make chores the fun activity of the day. Instead of doing all the chores while her infant sleeps, “now I relax, read and enjoy myself while she’s sleeping — and save all the chores to do with Rosy. … I’m showing her that chores are for the whole family.”
2. Welcome the 30-pound troll trying to stop you from finishing the chore. Overcoming a knee-jerk reaction is to shoo her away. … embrace your child’s desire to help. Or if she doesn’t feel like helping, let her go. A key Maya strategy is to encourage but never force.)
3. Take your time with the chores. It’s tempting to rush through chores, but a tot might have a hard time keeping up. “So I decided that chores are going to take two to three times longer than if I did them alone. I realize it usually doesn’t matter how long it takes. And yes, sometimes we are time restrained and then I have to do most of the chore, but many times, we really don’t need to rush.”
4. Find a toddler-sized chunk of the task she can complete. “The Maya moms made me realize that toddlers get excitement — and great pride — from the smallest contributions to housework.” With laundry, for example, Rosy loves pouring the soap in the machine and pressing start. And toddlers are great at rinsing dishes before putting them into the dishwasher, notes Doucleff.
“For sweeping the floor, I just bought two brooms. Then I put some music on and we ‘dance’ while we sweep together! Sometimes we sing: ‘Together, together always together,’ because I’ve learned that a huge part of the fun is just being together,” the reporter concludes.