When the Whales came


On the 4th January 2011, whales came to Mahia. It’s not a new event; often whales beach themselves on the sand. Partly this is because the gradient from the water to beach changes so gradually and partly it’s because Mokotahi Hill was once Mokotahi Island, and the gap between the hill and the rest of Mahia was possibly once a short cut from the bay into the Pacific Ocean.

The last ones that beached themselves were a mother Pygmy Sperm Whale and her calf. The lone (and now sadly deceased) dolphin, Moko (yes, named after Mokotahi) guided them back to safety.

On the 4th, the call came over the radio mid-morning that a pod of 12-15 Pilot Whales had been spotted.

This is how far off shore we were, when we first saw the pod. That’s Mokotahi Hill. From a different angle, this is what we saw:

There were the whales! They were only a few metres away from us. And they were playing: rolling on their backs, diving and generally having a whale of a time (hee, hee). The great thing was, this time, they wouldn’t beach.  With the pod were some very bossy dolphins. One was leading them out into the ocean.  

Others chased and hounded them until they did what they were told, and moved away from danger. 

 What’s more, later on that morning my sister-in-law saw a larger pod of dolphins headed toward the group. They were coming to help!

How’s that for inter-species co-operation? Particularly impressive when you consider that they are in competition for the same food.

Often I hear people arguing for and against children being involved in co-operative activities or competitive ones. Personally, I have no issue with spontaneous competition (let’s race to the gate). But when children are obsessed with winning or being the best or most beautiful – it’s a problem. Those children are caught up in what I call the self-esteem myth, and often have no other way of knowing they are ‘good enough’ except by measuring where they come in competitions. They live with the eternal hope that they will meet their (or their parents’) expectations, and often later develop eating-disorders, mistake sex for love, become binge drinkers or drug takers, and become a social-shell rather than a whole person. They are never content or satisfied. The difference, in personality, is obvious when we observe children who are self-assured. For them, winning doesn’t define who they are as people and the competitive drive is internal. These children are more likely to be gracious when they win and when they lose, and they are most likely to compete against themselves than others.

I’ve taught for years, and believe me no-one has to tell children who those are in the top Reading or Maths group – or who the best runners are, or who has the best singing voice. Even five-year olds, know. But do children need to have their sense of self caught up in their strengths? Or weaknesses? Aren’t they good enough – just because.

Life is competitive. But what’s the point of rising to the top in one’s field: if you can’t lead a team; or have no friends; or continuously fail at relationships? What’s the point of getting to the top in one area of your life, if it’s your only measure of personal success? All looks fade. All careers end. Many, many people die lonely. Personally, I’d rather our children were  dolphins, competitive when truly, truly necessary but not worried about helping out the occasional whale.

(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll. :))


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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18 Responses to When the Whales came

  1. hakea says:

    everything is so competitive these days, parents are so anxious about making sure their kids are “up there”, the kids feel the pressure.

    we were watching a documentary the other day. it was off the coast of New Zealand, i can’t remember where. the dolphins were doing somersaults. they were having a blast! one nearly did a double somersault. do dolphins have somersaulting competitions, cause that dud was seriously “up there”?

    • kloppenmum says:

      I think you have hit the nail on the head…it’s parental anxiety that’s a big problem. If parents can’t trust themselves it’ll all be Ok – they certainly won’t trust the natural process of growing up for their children…hence the panic we are seeing amongst the educated middle-classes.

      Mahia (where we come for our holidays) is realitively untouched – so we get to see dolphins often, I’ve never seen any of them with a sticker chart or a certificate – and some of them are very clever.

  2. I read bits of your post out to my knight this morning, because i was just completely amazed by it all, (Not the competitive kid part- although my child is VERY competitive. It is a problem.) but the part about the whales and dolphins.
    My knight then came into the bathroom an hour later and claimed that breaking news was 25 whales dying off the coast of New Zealand. Do you know about this? I havent had a chance to find anything.

    • kloppenmum says:

      I haven’t heard anything. Will have to have a look…

      Yes, it was a really amazing thing to see and experience: the dolphins leading the whales to safety.

      Yep, here’s a link to the latest stranding: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2043777,00.html
      Sadly, these ones didn’t survive – the coastline is so vast and the population so small (4.5 mill total) that often it’s too late, when stranded whales are discovered, to do anything.

  3. Mama B says:

    Its so true. People focus on the wrong things a lot of the times. My kids are sp competivtive especially with each other. I had to start the no winning and no loosing rule between them. Its a difficult balance to try and make your kids work hard and reach their full potential without them feeling its a huge competition.

    • kloppenmum says:

      I agree, it is tricky to get that balance. I guess I’m suggesting that competition is fine as long as children don’t depend on winning to feel good about themselves, and they are truly driving it – not their parents.

  4. Sangitha says:

    A whale of a post! 😀 Yeah, just woke up around here and puns are a bit weak, do ‘bear’ with me!

    Went whale watching in South Island when we were there and it was an experience of a life time. And came upon a pod of dolphins playing, jumping, showing off and swimming by the boat. Everyone was entranced and quite ready to stay there forever!

    Just figured out what my anxiety has been doing to son and the moment I pedaled back (this was related to his behaviour in school), I can see the difference. It’s like magic. I would argue that competition is not necessarily bad, it is the unsportiveness of it that is. So if we can teach our children to be sporting and stop to help when they were winning, I can enjoy the competitiveness as well. Sometimes, being the best one can be will need some bench marking to see if one can improve to get oneself to the next league. And that comes from looking outwards.

    Long comment – have been thinking about this lately.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Pleased that you’ve sorted the behaviour issues with your son – it’s amazing how we impact on our children, isn’t it?
      It’s the anxiety about not being the best or always winning, which is my problem with children competing. I’m sure you know the type of child I mean – the ones who fall apart when they don’t win or are horrid to the children against whom they compete. Also, often many children get so caught up in the winning or losing that the competition gets blown out of proportion – even for kids who are usually kind and well-behaved.
      I have been thinking a lot about what age competition is best to start…my inclination is later rather than earlier – but I’m well aware many people would disagree with me there. Thanks for the long comment – it’s lovely to know what others are thinking about my posts.

  5. Loi says:

    Coming a little late to this….but how I would love to see the whales 🙂

  6. Lisa says:

    Thank you for this beautiful, magical and sad reminder. I am greatly enjoying your blog!

  7. Pipi says:

    I agree with this. I am surrounded by parents, in competition with other parents. It seems like they will not love their children for being mediocre. This bothers me a lot, and I didn’t realize that I was one of them, until one day I read somewhere that the most important thing is to love you child the way they are. I read the article and cried. I feel like a terrible parent. From then, I promised myself that I will love my son no matter what. It doesn’t matter if his skinnier than his cousins, I began to see him in a whole new perspective and be grateful for all his uniqueness.

    Turns out by loving him the way he is, right now he’s ahead his cousins.


    • kloppenmum says:

      That’s often the way – just love them and they do, do better! I call the way we parent ‘open palm’ – in other words we don’t push or even encourage our kids much, but neither do we stop them doing things when they are ready. Our Owl who is very ‘shy’ and sensitive was riding his bike without training wheels at three and a half..compared to other children I know with the same temperament who have been six or even seven before they were confident enough to try. You’ve given me an idea for another blog…thanks for visiting and commenting.

      • Pipi says:

        Glad to hear, and can’t wait for the new blog. I’m curious about your Owl and his shyness, because my son is also pretty anxious around adults.. Any idea how to overcome this? I’m doing nothing about it at this moment, but to wait until he’s ready to jump in, and stick around him in new places.

        It’s a normal process, isn’t it?

        • kloppenmum says:

          Yep, they just take longer. Have you had a look at my quick way to stop fussing blog? There’s a really nifty trick which works wonders with Owls, every time. here’s the link: http://wp.me/p1dHwa-1i
          With other adults I’m fairly cautious (that they understand he’s shy ) and protective (incase they do something dumb like insist he make eye-contact or tell jokes at his expense that he doesn’t understand), but I also insist on manners – so he can whisper thankyou or goodbye, but he MUST say them. Hope this helps.

  8. Pipi says:

    Thank you Karyn, and I’m on my way to read the “stop fussing” blog!

    thumbs up!

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