Keepers of the Children: Native American Wisdom in Parenting

By Laura M. Ramirez
Reviewed by Roberta Waters
Complete Mother readers with small children may find Laura Ramirez's book a useful guide for raising their children in a gentle manner. Although Ms. Ramirez is a white woman, she is married to a Pascua-Yaqui Native American man and has come to embrace his culture. The focus of the book is on how to parent your child relying on the wisdom of the ages in a loving, compassionate way.
An early discussion regards fear and American parents know well how to parent with fear. We run off to physicians at the first sign of pregnancy in case something is wrong; we subject our unborn babies to a myriad of medical tests with unknown future consequences in case something is wrong. We birth in hospitals out of fear our bodies will fail us during childbirth and we are terrified of the pain of giving birth. And on and on. Fear drives our society. Yet Ms. Ramirez begins the book with a solution to parenting with fear and beings with a Native American myth story, one of several interwoven to stress important points.
For example, the opening story is about a young couple with their first child and the wisdom of the Grandmother. It deals with learning the nature of each child. In the story, the Grandmother advises that a "baby is like a piece of turquoise" that needs to be polished in order to see it's full beauty and is unique. As the myth unfolded, the young mother began mothering with fear as her touchstone, but gradually, as she learned to trust and know her son, she let go of her fear and allowed herself to really get to know her child and appreciate him for the person he was.  This is a theme that repeats throughout the book.
Becoming a visionary parent means anticipating the person your child will become while living with them in the present and looking back at how far they've come. It requires active parenting, being "one who mothers" or "one who fathers,"  conscious of your actions and effects on your child. Fear conflicts with vision because it prevents parents and children from experiencing life to the fullest and developing their talents and self to the utmost.
Discipline is an area where being "one who mothers/fathers" can be honed. According to Ms. Ramirez, time-outs are a preferred method of getting children to change their behavior to an approved conduct rather than the traditional punishment and reward system. According to the book, time-outs help your child learn self-control by teaching him how to monitor his own feelings and think ahead.
One of the most use suggestions in the book is the Native American "talking stick."  For those unfamiliar with this concept, it involves using an object that can be passed around when holding family (or other) meetings to resolve a conflict. Only the person holding the stick has permission to talk -- everyone else must be quiet until it is their turn. For families with children old enough to participate, this is an excellent idea even for regular family meetings because it ensures that all will get a chance to speak and be heard.
Many pages are devoted to Erik Erikson's child development theory in which Ms. Ramirez explains the different developmental states Erikson defined and attempts to weave visioning parenthood with this theory much loved by teachers of nurses. This reader was greatly dismayed to find one-eighth of the book consumed by this singular theory devised by a white man and made me wonder what was wrong with the wisdom of American Indian psychology? 
Ms. Ramirez informs the reader in the preface that her children are small and some of the suggestions made in the book reflect her lack of experience in dealing with older children. While some families may be blessed with cooperative teenagers, many find themselves parenting surly, argumentative and down-right nasty kids who may not willingly (or otherwise) perform the kinds of chores she recommends. But, that is a small quibble and easily overlooked since she admits her expertise is with the small ones.
Overall, this is an interesting book, of about 200 pages, with an intention of giving the reader the tools to write their own family story. The frequent insertions of Native American practice are a welcomed innovation. My strongest criticism  is that I would like to see the white European Erik Erikson's chapter replaced by Native American philosophy of child development. A companion workbook is available and also a web site for additional information about parenting and child development. Cost is $18.95 for the book, $14.95 for the workbook, plus shipping ($4.95 for first book, $2.00 each additional). 
Available at or fax to: 775-856-4277 or email to:

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