Wellness Wednesday: The Indigenous Parenting Journey
By Rebekah Elkerton
We are experiencing a monumental period for Indigenous healing. After more than a century of our families living in survival mode, Indigenous people are openly reclaiming our ways. We are examining ourselves and the things we’ve been taught so that we may break cycles of intergenerational trauma and reset the ways we interact with one another. This includes the restoration of our kinship systems so that collectively our families and communities are healthier. Indigenous parents are actively generating a revolution to overthrow colonial family practices that have damaged the ways we relate to ourselves and our children. We are in a time of restoring family oneness.
I am mom to a 5 year old boy named Elk. My father was part of the 60s Scoop and his parents attended residential schools. The generations before me have been marked with disconnect from loved ones and culture. Their abilities to uncover their unique gifts and special qualities were met with push back from forces that aimed to strip them of their power because of their identity. I’ve carried these stories of familial pain with me since I was a child and, like many other Indigneous parents, I am actively working to unravel the ways these stories have intertwined with my understanding of myself, my worth, and the unhealthy ways kinship systems have been modelled in my life. I am seeking to raise my son with self-love and full enjoyment of his Indigeneity. I envision a life where I can consistently provide a loving home where he feels safe to blossom into an aligned and happy person. This is a decolonial parenting journey.
This journey is not one that can be embarked on alone. Indigenous parenting asks us to unlearn western pressures for parents, whether single, coupled or otherwise, to have it all figured out. The solo family unit has been a tool for undoing dynamic kinship systems in which families received support and were aided in the raising of children. Indigenous parenting asks us to welcome support systems into our parenting practices. With the greater web of people involved, children have access to more knowledge, different ways of seeing, and a larger foundation of love provided by the community that surrounds them. Additionally parents are able to nurture healthy connections with the people around them and have time to rest. In these ways there is deepened support for the parents' wholistic health and through them healthy practices of self-care and nourished relations are modelled within the home for the next generation. This may sound idyllic however the process of shedding the belief that our worth is linked to our productivity, or the perceived strength associated with going it alone, is not always an easy one.
Healthy parenting habits take time to build and children are always growing, requiring new levels of understanding from those around them. As a result, any parent will tell you that there is no one-and-done formula for facing the situations that will arise when supporting a child in their growth. Children will challenge us in new ways, perhaps daily, and as Indigenous people we recognize that children are our teachers. Much of the world unfortunately operates on the belief that parents are above children and the home functions best on hierarchical terms in which children are placed below adults on the scale of importance and worthiness. This is not the way I’ve come to understand Indigenous parenting, contrastingly I have been told countless times that children are a gift from the Creator and we must treat them as such. We must show them respect and welcome the lessons they bring to our lives as an opportunity for growth and greater self-awareness. They unknowingly guide us into deeper realms of love as we bond with them and find our footing as parents.
When we let love lead the way we create space for our children to be their authentic selves, something that our ancestors dreamt of. This requires that we parent without fear, releasing the urge to control our children, and instead seek to understand them and the choices they make. So often parents are encouraged to have expectations that their children will be like them and enjoy the same things they do. When these expectations are not met, because our children are their own people, feelings of disappointment, resentment or parental guilt can arise. Placing expectations on children only leads them to associate their worth with their ability to fake an inauthentic way of being. Indigenous parenting asks us to heal so that we don’t project our fears and personal wounds onto the next generation.
Parenting does not have to look the way mainstream media depicts it. The separation between parent and child is widely pushed in everything from sleeping arrangements to how families spend time with one another. Indigenous people have long included children in daily tasks that support the home and family. Realizing that connection is necessary and fulfilling for both parent and child sets the tone for families to find natural ways to spend time with one another, that don’t have to include expensive toys or gadgets. Advertisements will push that buying new things for children will bring them the most joy, however it is loving inclusion that will truly fill them up. When any person feels seen and accepted for who they are, no amount of material trinkets can top the feeling. It is not monetary wealth that ensures our children feel secure, but rather it is community support as well as kindness and reassurance in the home.
Indigenous parenthood is about wholistic family wellness, both parent and child feeling supported and seen. We are asked to refind oneness with our children and release unnecessary parental guilt that smothers our ability to connect with one another by removing us from the beauty of the present moment. The parenting journey offers valuable daily lessons in self-love, respect for ourselves and others, and diversifying the ways we see the world around us. Indigenous parents today are creating a new legacy in which our children come to know their Indigenous identity and community as sources of strength and love. As more Indigenous parents forge new habits to heal unresolved pain and reclaim traditional values, we are collectively building new systems that transform and restore our communities to health.