Helicopter parents hover, tiger parents expect the world and guerilla parents raise entrepreneurs. But thanks to a manifesto of sorts by Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar for The Atlantic, there’s a new animal in the parent zoo, and her name is elephant.
“If you’re wondering what ‘elephant parent’ means,” writes Sharma-Sindhar, “it’s the kind of parent who does the exact opposite of what the tiger mom, the ultra-strict disciplinarian, does. Here’s a short video clip that shows how real elephants parent. And that’s what I’m writing about here—parents who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.”
As a champion of the nurture-their-nature approach to childrearing, Sharma-Sindhar’s article is worth the read. But if you really want to know whether you might be an elephant parent yourself, compare your parenting style with these elephant family facts.
ELEPHANT MOMS DO IT ALL, BUT THEY DON’T DO IT ALONE
Elephant females live in family herds with their children, while adult males roam on their own. The females, also known as cows, raise babies cooperatively. Young cows babysit, learning valuable parenting skills and allowing elephant moms to load up on nutrients so they can nurse their young.
ELEPHANT PARENTS DO EVERYTHING FOR THEIR YOUNG
Elephants start weaning around a year old, but may continue supplemental nursing for over six years. When an elephant baby is in danger, its mom and aunties surround it. There are many documented cases of elephant matriarchs sacrificing their own safety for that of their young, or their herd.
ELEPHANTS STAY CLOSE WITH LOVING TOUCH
Elephant babies spend much of their early lives walking under their mothers, as close as can be. Elephant mothers help their babies walk, pick up them up when they fall, fetch them when they stray, and bathe, caress and nurture them almost constantly.
WHEN A BABY ELEPHANT IS IN TROUBLE, ELEPHANT PARENTS RUSH TO HELP
When a baby elephant needs his mama, she doesn’t fret about how his current dependence impacts his future SAT scores. She just gets there. This video from Switzerland’s Zoo Zurich, which shows two female adults rescuing a baby, says it all.
ELEPHANT BABIES DON’T GAIN INDEPENDENCE UNTIL THEIR TEENS
Elephants are completely dependent on their moms for at least the first 2 years of their lives (if an elephant is orphaned before then, not even its loving aunts can keep it alive). Elephants become more independent in their teens, when male elephants break away from the herd. Even though older elephants can feed and fend for themselves, mom and daughter pairs stay close for life.
IT TAKES A HERD TO RAISE AN ELEPHANT BABY
Not only do elephants babysit each other’s young, but they also stay in touch with extended family members, using rumbling calls to communicate with interrelated “bond groups” that share their terrain. An extensive network of relationships and clear communication skills are essential to elephant survival.