Wednesday, September 21, 2011

That's What you do in a Herd

How very mainstream of me to comment on how a line from a movie has had a profound effect on me.....

One of our favourite movies is Ice Age, an animated picture about 3 unlikely animals--a sloth, a mammoth and a sabre-tooth tiger--who band together in order to return a lost human baby to his parents. Animosity abounds between the 3 creatures whose personalities and individual needs are so different from each other.

Near the end of the movie they discover that they are walking close to an active volcano.  The tiger nearly falls in but is rescued by the mammoth. The tiger says, "Why did you do that? You could have died." And the mammoth answers, "That's what you do in a herd. You look out for each other."

That's what you do in a herd. You look out for each other.

That line was enough to move me to tears yesterday, as Anna and Holly watched the movie for the umpteenth time. It was a lightbulb-moment for me, a breakthrough in my struggle to find a direction to move in, a significant piece in the puzzle that has me trying to figure out what my core values really are.

Mainstream articles in the newspaper and magazines are really focused on parents and schools getting kids to give back, whatever that means. It's the Me to We phenomenon, and I believe in it and support it, but only to a degree. I mean, the concept of getting kids to think about how they can have a positive impact on the lives of other people is great, but I really don't believe that generosity and the value of hard work can be taught.

And all this advice and information for parents on how to have children who share and have good manners and who stand up for other kids is really beside the point if it doesn't happen at home. I remember a parent-teacher interview with the parents of a boy in my Grade 6 class several years ago. I told the parents how their son was a natural leader in the class and how kind and helpful he was with both adults and peers. His parents were stunned and proceeded to tell me how at home he did nothing but fight with his sister. It was my turn to be stunned.

But now, in retrospect, I think that that is a pretty common scenario. I know a family with three children (under the age of 10) who are involved in community clean-up days, delivering food hampers, raising money for cancer research and other worthwhile endeavours. It's great, except that I have never seen those 3 children interact with each other in a positive way. In fact, the mother has even told me that the children mostly either ignore each other or fight.

Well, how is that possible in a family where helping others is obviously an important value?

I know of another mother who is so proud that her daughters have never been in trouble at school for fighting or being mean to other kids. But at home, all they do is fight. I mean, they actually pummel and taunt each other.  I don't get it.

And wherever I take my kids--the playground, the playgroup, LLL meetings, the dentist(!)--I get comments from other parents about how 'amazing' it is that my children play so nicely together. Amazing? Shouldn't siblings be expected to get along with other? Shouldn't it be easiest for children to get along with the people who they know and understand the best, and who have had similar life experiences?

And I'm really tired of hearing that my older kids are nice to each other because they are girls. What kind of sexist expectations abound in our society that adults believe it is more likely that girls will show kindness and caring to each other than boys will? A boy raised in our home will behave with the same kindness as his sisters because that is the expectation, and it has nothing to do with gender.

Which all brings me back to my premise about what you do in a herd. If my children grow up with the consistent expectation that they will look out for each other, I believe that they will continue to consider each other's needs throughout their lives. I believe that a loyalty to one's own siblings can only help to make one into a better person overall. And what a wonderful knowledge that someone who knows you so well will always have your back.

I will consider it to be the brightest diamond in my parenting crown if my daughters and son all grow up to love and cherish each other. I look forward to knowing them as adults whose loyalty to the herd is part of who they are at the core of their beings. If they look out for each other, they will probably look out for others in a more general sense. They'll understand the Me to We concept. Good people look out for each other.

It's what you do in a herd.


  1. This post is so real and refreshing. Family is so important. I have two sisters, and they are totally part of my herd. Big T has two brothers, and it's the same for him. Neither of our families ever really stressed the importance of giving back, per se, but they did stress the importance of respect and friendship and having each other's backs. I am raising my sons the same way. Baby T already loves his baby brother so much...I hope it always continues this way.

  2. What I use in our family is "that's what families do". They love each other, they help each other, they pray for each other... it's what families do. Helps the lad understand why we do what we do sometimes. :)

    Good to stop in again and see what you're up to. :)