April 26, 2018

Parents Should Learn from Hunter-Gatherers

Could parents learn a thing or two from hunter-gatherers? Perhaps.

English: Title: Personal photographs of the Ho...

Aborigine Chief of Bathurst Island (Credit: Wikipedia)

But just as the childfree get sensitive when parents judge their choice not to have children, parents tend to get touchy when the childfree judge or advise their parenting. In short, I’m venturing into tricky territory by advocating hunter-gatherer parenting practices to my “childed” contemporaries. And yet while I may be off-base, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some meaningful reflection to be had here…

Many of the world’s hunter-gatherer societies have a laissez-faire style of parenting and consider young children to be autonomous individuals whose desires should not be thwarted (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers). Consequently some societies allow children to play with dangerous objects such as sharp knives and fires letting them be free to learn from mistakes but also to be hurt.

However, hunter-gatherer societies also foster precocious development of social skills in their children.

The Westerners who have lived with hunter-gatherers and other small-scale societies speculate that these admirable qualities develop because of the way in which their children are brought up: namely, with constant security and stimulation, as a result of the long nursing period, sleeping near parents for ­several years, far more social models available to children through ­allo-parenting, far more social stimulation through constant physical contact and proximity of caretakers, instant caretaker responses to a child’s crying, and the minimal amount of physical punishment. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

Close Contact Among Hunter-Gatherers

Sharing a bed, or at least the same bedroom, is common practice among parents and their children in hunter-gatherer societies and many cultures throughout the world. It is only recently in Western society that isolation has become part of common parenting tactics.

A cross-cultural sample of 90 traditional human societies identified not a single one with mother and infant sleeping in separate rooms: that current Western practice is a recent invention responsible for the struggles at putting kids to bed that torment modern Western parents. American pediatricians now recommend not having an infant sleep in the same bed with its parents, because of occasional cases of the infant ending up crushed or else overheating; but virtually all infants in human history until the last few thousand years did sleep in the same bed with the mother and usually also with the father, without widespread reports of the dire consequences feared by pediatricians. That may be because hunter-gatherers sleep on the hard ground or on hard mats; a parent is more likely to roll over onto an infant in our modern soft beds. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

English: A Kali'na hunter with a woman gathere...

Kali’na hunter with woman gatherer. (Credit: Wikipedia)

From slings to cradle boards, hunter-gatherers employ a wide variety of techniques/devices to carry their children resulting in constant contact between the mother (or another caregiver) and the infant. Only when the child is older and mobile does the child choose to voluntarily venture away, usually to play with other children. (Note: Some consider swaddling or placing an infant in a cradle board cruel because it restricts the child’s movement. Others believe it causes the child permanent damage.)

[However,] there are no personality or motor differences, or differences in age of independent walking, between Navajo children who were or were not kept on a cradle board, or between cradle-­boarded Navajo children and nearby Anglo-­American children. […] Hence it is argued that doing away with cradle boards brings no real advantages in freedom, stimulation, or neuromotor development. Typical Western children sleeping in separate rooms, transported in baby carriages, and left in cribs during the day are often socially more isolated than are cradle-boarded Navajo children.  (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

Debate and studies are still ongoing about whether it is better to leave a child alone when it is crying with no reason or if it should be held and comforted. While there is no consensus on the issue, hunter-gatherers generally favor comforting a troubled child.

Observers of children in hunter-­gatherer societies commonly report that, if an infant begins crying, the parents’ practice is to respond immediately. […] The result is that !Kung infants spend at most one minute out of each hour crying, mainly in crying bouts of less than 10 seconds—half that measured for Dutch infants. Many other studies show that 1-year-old infants whose crying is ignored end up spending more time crying than do infants whose crying receives a response. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

What are Allo-parents?

Allo-parents are individuals who are not the biological parents but who play a role in a child’s life and do some caregiving.

In small-scale societies, the allo-­parents are materially important as additional providers of food and protection. Hence studies around the world agree in showing that the presence of allo-parents improves a child’s chances for survival. But allo-parents are also psychologically important, as additional social influences and models beyond the parents themselves. Anthropologists working with small-scale societies often comment on what strikes them as the precocious development of social skills among children in those societies, and they speculate that the richness of allo-parental relationships may provide part of the explanation. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

Population numbers affect the socialization of children of various ages. In all cities, and in rural areas of moderate population density, children are separated by age, and will learn and play in age cohorts (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers). However in small-scale societies, the smaller group of children will interact more simply because there are less of them and situations would arise that make is easier to keep all the children together in spite of age differences.

A typical hunter-gatherer band numbering around 30 people will on the average contain only about a dozen preadolescent kids, of both sexes and various ages. Hence it is impossible to assemble separate age-cohort playgroups, each with many children, as is characteristic of large societies. Instead, all children in the band form a single multi-age playgroup of both sexes. […] The young children gain from being socialized not only by adults but also by older children, while the older children acquire experience in caring for younger children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

Because hunter-gatherer children sleep with their parents, they are exposed to their parents having sexual intercourse which inevitably leads to groups of mixed-gender children mimicking what they witness.

Either the adults don’t interfere with child sex play at all, or else !Kung parents discourage it when it becomes obvious, but they consider child sexual experimentation inevitable and normal. It’s what the !Kung parents themselves did as children, and the children are often playing out of sight where the parents don’t see their sex games. Many societies, such as the Siriono and Piraha and New Guinea Eastern Highlanders, tolerate open sexual play between adults and children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

State vs. Hunter-gatherer Child-rearing

‘The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?’ by Jared Diamond. 512 p. Viking Adult. $22.94

The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond. 512 p. Viking Adult.

[A] tentative generalization is that individual autonomy, even of children, is a more cherished ideal in hunter-gatherer bands than in state societies, where the state considers that it has an interest in its children, does not want children to get hurt by doing as they please, and forbids parents to let a child harm itself. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

In the modern world there is much variation among industrial state societies where parenting practices differ from state to state and between classes and generations. But it does seem that their may be some universal lessons to learn from hunter-gatherer parenting.

Everybody in the world was a hunter-gatherer until the local origins of agriculture around 11,000 years ago, and nobody in the world lived under a state government until 5,400 years ago. The lessons from all those experiments in child-rearing that lasted 
for such a long time are worth considering seriously. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

Some hunter-gatherer parenting practices are obviously not worth emulating.

I don’t recommend that we return to the hunter-gatherer practices of selective infanticide, high risk of death in childbirth, and letting infants play with knives and get burned by fires. Some other features of hunter-gatherer childhoods, like the permissiveness of child sex play, feel uncomfortable to many of us, even though it may be hard to demonstrate that they really are harmful to children. Still other practices are now adopted by some citizens of state societies, but make others of us ­uncomfortable—such as having infants sleep in the same bedroom or in the same bed as parents, nursing children until age 3 or 4, and avoiding physical punishment of children. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

However, there are many less controversial hunter-gatherer parenting practices which might well server our modern state societies.

It’s perfectly feasible for us to transport our infants vertically upright and facing forward, rather than horizontally in a pram or vertically but facing backward in a pack. We could respond quickly and consistently to an infant’s crying, practice much more extensive allo-parenting, and have far more physical contact between infants and caregivers. We could encourage self-­invented play of children, rather than discourage it by constantly providing complicated so-called educational toys. We could arrange for multi-age child playgroups, rather than playgroups consisting of a uniform age cohort. We could maximize a child’s freedom to explore, insofar as it is safe to do so. (Best Practices for Raising Kids? Look to Hunter-Gatherers)

I hope you’ve made it this far. Interesting, right? Before lambasting Jared Diamond (or me), pause. Consider. Sometimes we feel judged even when we’re not. Sometimes we feel advised even when we’re not. I know, the title of my blog post suggests otherwise. And hopefully it got your attention, provoked your curiosity, compelled you to read the post. Perhaps you’ll even grab the book and probe further. Your comments after reading the book would real really, really welcome. Especially since I haven’t read it. Yet.

Source for Hunter-Gatherer Parenting Post:

 

Bored Child Nightmare

“A bored kid at home might be dangerous…” (Childfree Commercial)

Aside from the generally crumby quality of this video (Let me guess, recorded on smart phone from a hazy old school television?) the imagery is disturbingly hilarious.

Wait. Did I just say that?

Please scratch that insensitive remark.

The commercial for a kid’s crafting book to occupy your bored child is amusing. In a decidedly sick way.

Better?

Part of what makes this video sticky is that you don’t really know whether the bored child is pulling a prank or trying to help. Favor? Or Oedipus Complex.

Bored

Bored Child (Photo credit: John-Morgan)

A bored child might be dangerous either way. In fact, that’s one small part of the concern with kidlets. Sometimes the line between prank, favor, and devious retaliation is blurry. And shifting. And unpredictable.

During a recent visit with my darling nieces, the four year old straight arm cold-cocked me in the family jewels. Bull’s eye! For a few minutes I stood on the pier sucking wind and seeing stars. When I got my act straight and bent down to ask her if it was an accident she smiled and shook her head from side to side slowly.

“You hit me on purpose?”

Still smiling, she nodded her head up and down.

“Do you have any idea how much that hurt?”

Side to side.

“Do you think it’s funny?”

Laugh. Up and down.

We sat. We talked. She apologized. And went back to building her sand castle.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that she considered the sucker punch to her uncle’s zipper zone a prank. I’m big. She’s teeny. I’m a man. She’s a girl. I like to roughhouse. She likes to roughhouse. We’re both pranksters, and we’ve frequently conspired on practical jokes. But her 4-year old filter for sifting appropriate from malevolent is limited. And sometimes it can’t keep up with her actions.

The video is goofy. And real. And sort of pitiful if you’re willing to purchase a kid’s craft book as a simple plug-and-play alternative to parenting a bored child. Lesson needed? No nut knocking, kid!

And then on to the next learning experience…

Free Reads

Sometimes there isn’t anything to add, extract or analyze, and bite-sized blog post isn’t enough to satisfy. Sometimes the writing is so compelling the only thing to do is present the entire story. So here are some full meals to chew on (again if you’ve seen them already) repeatedly. The comments are also must reads.

1) Think Before You Breed – NYTimes.com.

2) Child-Free: Do They Change Their Minds?. – Slate

3) Laura Carroll: Why Childfree Couples Have It All. – Huffington Post

4) La Vie Childfree blogpost: Why Isn’t There More Talk about the Ethics of Reproduction?.

5) In Praise of Downtime – Ellen Ruppel Shell – The Atlantic.

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Baby Names Are Getting Even Worse – Deadspin

 I am only slightly embarrassed to say that while my wife and I were busy explaining to friends and strangers that the answer to their “When are you having children?” questions was “Never”, we also brainstormed names for the little genius. I liked Romie Lane, the name of a street in a Steinbeck novel, East of Eden I think. She liked the sound of Roma. What can I say? There is either some deep psychological well to drill here, or we are simply pretentious semi-literates that enjoy naming things. The car, for example, is named Bess, after my wife’s grandmother, who had similarly sturdy, wide hips and a heavy backend. We also unapologetically and ruthlessly offer name suggestions for friends’ companies, boats, and especially babies. Yes, we know we are annoying.

At least none of our baby branding ideas were highlighted as ludicrous in Drew Magary’s semi-hilarious story: American Baby Names Are Somehow Getting Even Worse.

Now, you and I both know that Americans of all stripes have grown progressively worse at naming children. It’s not enough for your child to have a normal name and then try to stand out on their own merits down the road. No, no, no. Every parent now wants every child to be unique and special from the moment the doctor wipes all the amniotic fluid off of it, even though all babies look alike and contribute nothing to society.

There’s a bizarre assumption that if you can make your child’s name unique, the child will be unique. And that’s NEVER the case. Chances are, if you name your kid Braxlee, he or she is gonna end up bent over the sink in the back of a TGI Friday’s, offering tail in exchange for a better skim off the tip pool.

Magary seems to have a point, and I’ll bet that baby names become even more bizarre as expectant parents choose names based on the availability of their dot-com address on GoDaddy. (As I write this I think I might finally understand the inspiration for the name of that company…)

 

 

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Dads Are Using Their Kids’ Sporting Events to Get Out of Household Chores

“at least dads are doing something to keep kids from mucking up the house with their dirty fingernails and carelessly-brandished Ring-Pops”

OK. Lets agree to save the anthropological discussion about how men are not meant to be domesticated for another post, or another era maybe? In the meantime, perhaps someone can do a study of mens’ dorm rooms, bachelor pads and fraternity houses so we can conclusively report that MEN ARE DISGUSTING! We are the last beings anyone should want to be responsible for disinfecting! Men will give themselves double diarrhea or watch The View (or give themselves double diarrhea by watching The View) in order to avoid cleaning toilets, so “I have to drive to a swim meet while listening to (childfree) Justin Bieber songs” must absolutely be an acceptable excuse to get out of household chores. No?

Those conducting the report, or commenting about it, don’t necessarily think so:

“men aren’t making much progress in taking over some of the less-glamorous housework. “The fathers we studied,” said Kremer-Sadlik, “are finding ways to create a new ideal of fatherhood, but they are not creating a new ideal with their partners.” He added that some fathers even use sporting events as an excuse to get out of doing housework”

via Dads Are Using Their Kids’ Sporting Events to Get Out of Helping with Household Chores.

Father Traps Child in Washing Machine

So the laundromat bores you? Try sticking your youngster in a washing machine…

Stop! What?

In the video above (recorded by a laundromat surveillance camera) a man closes a young boy in a washing machine as a joke, but the door locks, trapping junior inside. When the automatic cycle starts the parents start to panic.

Light bulb moment: it’s a bad idea to place a child (or an infant, small adult, domestic pet, etc.) in a laundry machine. Ever. Period.

Unfortunately by the time the lightbulb illuminates, junior’s already spinning inside the washing machine and the genius man is helpless. He tugs the door, dances around and finally decides to seek a laundromat attendant. At last this coin-op nightmare is resolved by an efficient attendant who interrupts the wash cycle and liberates the damp but uninjured tot. The attendant’s efficiency is actually a little alarming. Has he experienced this before?

Darwin Awards, anyone?

Despite spending a minute or more getting tumbled and rinsed, the being trapped for more than a minute, the child escaped the doltish prank bruised but otherwise intact. Or so reports assure us, though I suspect that psychotherapy might be a better judge of that.

Why no kids? Rattlesnakes!

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had rattlesnakes on the brain for the last few days.

Timber rattlesnakesCrotalus horridus.

And even Massassagua rattlesnakes. Sistrurus catenatus.

It’s spring in the Adirondacks, and spring means critters, LOTS of critters. I witnessed a hawk shredding a live pigeon about three feet from our breakfast table before my bride donned her pink dish washing gloves, chased the hawk away and saved the wounded pigeon. Sort of. It died, but not in the hands of a vicious raptor.

The hawk’s an efficient and frequent diner at Rosslyn, and judging by the fresh piles of pigeon feathers every few days, we’re up to a half dozen in just two or three weeks.

And two nights ago we startled an ermine imitating a boa constrictor, coiled tightly around the bird feeder. I’m not sure if he was digesting a woodpecker, suet or birdseed.

A little earlier in the spring we had a red fox that cleared out about a half dozen squirrels.

Spring. Critters. Predation…

All of this backyard safari action got me to thinking about kids. Actually, it got me thinking about kids and predators.

Especially the hawk. That bird was a killer. And powerful.

Wikipedia doesn’t list human children as part of the diet of any of these critters, so I should be relieved. I mean, I don’t even have any kids to get eaten alive by a hawk.

And yet while whipping up a couple of posts about rattlesnakes, in particular one massive and extremely lethal looking serpent who appeared and promptly vanished in my rhubarb patch three years ago, I realized that it’s a pretty major relief not to have to worry about these critters getting hold of my own progeny.

I haven’t successfully identified the snake, but I suspect it was a rattlesnake.

I now suspect that I may have spotted a massasauga rattlesnake with markings totally unlike our local Adirondack timber rattlesnakes. (Rosslyn Redux)

Rattlesnakes! (Cochiti Pueblo, NM)

Rattlesnakes! (Photo credit: virtualDavis)

I’m probably wrong. Odds are it was a timber rattlesnake (we have a large, healthy breeding population just a few miles up the road) with unusual coloring for our area. Or possibly, at least in the opinions of some naturalists I’ve spoken to, it was a Northern Copperhead that had wiggled a bit north of their usual northern limit which is apparently a couple of hours south around New Paltz, New York. Global warming?

Lest you’re missing the bottom line, these cool looking snakes are all venomous. (Read poisonous.) Adult fatalities are rare if medical attention is immediate. But kids? Especially little bitty kids? The odds are a bit spookier.

Fortunately rattlesnakes tend to be reserved, preferring to avoid contact and altercations.

Most resources concur that timber rattlesnakes only strike if/when provoked. And common sense should compel anyone happening upon a timber rattlesnake in the wild to avoid provoking it. If the snake is behaving aggressively, coiling and preparing to strike — perhaps even false striking — its defensive behavior indicates that it perceives a threat. Avoid further threatening the snake and withdraw cautiously, slowly. In all likelihood the rattlesnake, no matter how large and menacing, will slither off without striking. (Essex on Lake Champlain)

Good news as long as your tyke is prudent. But it’s a bit of a gamble, no?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no alarmist. I grew up in the Adirondacks’s Champlain Valley a short bicycle ride away, and I never had to ward off a hungry hawk or get pumped full of anti-venom to save my bacon. But I could have…

So, rather than worrying all the conscientious parents out there who are 100% attentive, shepherding their kids through life’s wilderness perils, I’m just taking a moment to savor the profound relief I feel about never having to worry that junior could stumble across that 3+ foot long snake in my rhubarb patch. The one that’s probably poisonous.

Have a great week!

Kids’ Manners Matter

365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly (Image via Rainbow Resource)Is it only my observation or have manners largely gone by the wayside these days? Moreover, how many really well mannered children do we all know?

Okay, so I’m giving away my northern location because generally, the kids I know from the South could teach the northern ones quite a bit when it comes to manners. However, It follows that if many adults aren’t too familiar or interested in basic etiquette, then their children won’t be either.

Are you tired of rude children in restaurants, airplanes, theaters and the like? Do you cringe when your favorite child rips opens your thoughtfully chosen gift with little notice of you or a thanks for the gesture?

Fear not. For those of you who long for a more mannered world, Sheryl Eberly has created the book, 365 Manners Kids Should Know: Games, Activities, and Other Fun Ways to Help Children Learn Etiquette. It’s pure Genius. Has anyone attempted this before? If this kind of book has been offered in the past, it unlikely covered the extensive topics that Ms. Eberly offers. In this information-packed book, the author, a former employee of First Lady Nancy Reagan (well, no wonder – that explains some of her expertise), tackles every sticky etiquette scenario one could ponder.

Ms. Eberly’s advice roams near and far.

  • Anticipating the needs of others
  • Neighborly manners, sloppy language
  • Active listening
  • Writing letters with care
  • Everyday table manners
  • Dress appropriately for the occasion
  • The valued teammate
  • Be a model American
  • Be considerate to people with special needs

And my favorite, Environmental Manners, because “taking care of the environment is everybody’s responsibility.”

She also demystifies “netiquette,” (net etiquette) museum, travel, restaurant, wedding and even funeral behavior. In doing so she goes a step further by breaking down the important details of religious holidays and ceremonies in every denomination. Not sure how children should act at a Ramadan or Kwanza celebration or at a Mormon wedding? She has all the answers. It’s clearly as much for the parents’ education as for their offspring.

Good manners, the author advises should begin at the onset of a child’s birth and “involve more than simply knowing the rules about forks and finger bowls in formal situations – they include good attitudes, respect, and consideration for others every day. If we want our children to be confident, poised adults, we need to teach them the rules of etiquette today. Knowing proper behavior is an essential part of being prepared for life.”

Well said.

The book is informative, never preachy, and a great gift for parents (their children will thank you years from now, or maybe sooner if the lessons are well learned). The only question is how do we give this book without offending parents, without them thinking we’re suggesting their kids are ill-behaved? You’ll have to figure that out. In the meantime I’m passing it around to all my favorite parents. Thank you, Ms. Eberly, from the non-parents of the world.

“Where do your idle hands go while eating in America?” I quickly quiz my nephews on a regular basis.

“On your lap,” they sullenly respond. They’ve been through this before.

“And what if you’re in France?” I fire back.

“Wrists resting on edge of the table, fingers off” they dutifully retort. They are half German and part French so I have always found it important for them to distinguish manners in different cultures.

“What about your hands in Africa?” A harder question they don’t get asked as often, but they find the answer.

“The left hand never touches food, especially communal food. It’s reserved for the bathroom.”

Do they need to know this? Well, maybe if they live in Africa like me one day, or if they visit there, they will not offend. I am proud. At least their table manners are well rehearsed, but I have more work to do.

“Why do we need to know this?” they will occasionally ask.

“Because good manners are important and because you will dine with Presidents and Heads of State some day,” I proclaim. “Do you want to be forever embarrassed because you ate with the wrong fork?” They are not convinced but oblige their silly aunt nonetheless.

“How do you know we’ll ever meet Presidents?” they ask.

“Oh, I know these things.” And we leave it at that.

I suppose this book was just destined to find me.

Doomed Parenting

Cover of Parenting

Image via Wikipedia

Ah-ha! My suspicions all along…

A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. “Our research suggests that while  overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life’s difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood… [and] anything between those two extremes is equally damaging…” (The Onion)

And this doesn’t even take into consideration the inevitable unhappiness of the parents! 😉

Leila Revisited

Matti

Image via Wikipedia

In reflecting on the movie Leilait is easy to see the conundrum couples face in traditional cultures when they can’t have or don’t want children.  Many cultures just don’t accept childless unions.  How many people do we know, however, who really might be having children largely for their parents, or for the tradition of having children to carry on their family gene pool, so ingrained in every society, even the most modern of ones?  It’s not uncommon.

I have to admit, the continuity of family heritage, and pleasing one’s parents or in-laws with the gift of grandchildren are compelling reasons to procreate.  My own parents and in-laws have been exceptionally supportive of my decision not to have children, but if I told all of them tomorrow that I had changed my mind, or that I was pregnant, would they be over-the-moon elated?  You bet.  Multiple year-long celebrations would be initiated.  Who doesn’t like to make people you love that happy (especially because of all they did for you)? Who doesn’t like the idea of having your parents and in-laws helping to shape your child if you know they would be great at it?  That part of parenting would be ideal – the part where the baby’s grandparents are cooing over the child, playing on the floor, cleaning up the mess, while you’re reading a book or having cocktails with friends.  But, then the grandparents leave, and you’re stuck with all the responsibility.

Perhaps if we lived with our siblings and parents as adults, like in some traditional societies, raising a child wouldn’t be that daunting, what with all those extra hands to help out. Frankly, multiple wives made it much easier too (but don’t get too excited about that idea until you see the film Leila).

Leila grippingly explores the consequences of ignoring one’s own needs and instincts, and one’s own biological destiny to please another entity, or a culture at large.  It serves as an important reminder to know ourselves and our partners and to ensure that when our partner tells us that he or she does not want a child, to believe it and to discuss that choice with frankness and honesty.

Moreover, people choosing not to have children or questioning whether it is the right choice also need to have those same frank conversations with their parents.  Hopefully, if they love you enough, and if they are not as imperious and opportunistic as Reza’s mother, they will happily accept the grand dog or cat and more quality time together (because you’re not saddled with the time demands of parenting) that you offer them instead.