Yale professor Amy Chua’s controversial Wall Street Journal essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” spurred Oshrat, an Israeli mom and frequent commenter on my blog to begin a discussion in the community section about parenting philosophies. Regarding Chua’s strict directive approach to parenting, Oshrat commented, “It looks a bit extreme and I am finding many of the RIE tips to be more of a middle ground that I as a parent am comfortable with. I would love to know what others think.”
Early Childhood Educator and RIE Associate Lisa Sunbury, M.A., wrote this insightful response…
I did see and read this article yesterday. Pretty fascinating to me. I think what it points to is that there are many different ways of parenting, and many people feel very strongly that one way or another is the best way. Everyone is entitled to their way of thinking and doing things, but I object to any one way being presented as “the best way” or a “superior way.” I believe all of the various philosophies of childcare and ways of parenting (or caring) have developed in response to a number of factors, including cultural and personal values and norms, the ways in which adults view children and childhood, and new scientific understandings of how children develop, to name a few.
All parents and teachers, whether they realize it or not, have a philosophy (an underlying set of beliefs) about children and parenting, which then impacts their actions and how they approach caring for children. I mention this because I have recently been doing a vast amount of reading of on-line blogs written by parents and teachers.
Especially among parents, there sometimes seems to be this argument (or discussion) about the best way to parent, or, on the other hand, there are those who say, “I don’t have a philosophy. I do what feels right to me. I don’t want anyone to tell me how to be a parent. I don’t care about what research says or what works for you. I do what works for me and my child.”
Well, guess what? Right there is a philosophy about children, and parenting. What we think, say, and believe impacts how we care for, raise, teach, and interact with children. This in turn impacts how children learn and grow. What I like about RIE is that Magda Gerber challenges adults to become conscious of the choices we’re making, and why, and to consider the impact our choices and actions might have on children in the long run. (She also didn’t think a child had to be walking and talking yet, to be a considered a whole human being, capable of participating fully in relationships, and learning from the start.)
Because I have no biological children of my own, but instead have devoted myself to caring for other people’s children, and supporting families, I have an interesting vantage point. I feel an added responsibility to constantly be listening, learning, and questioning my assumptions about young children, what they need, and how to best support their optimal physical, emotional, and cognitive growth, and further, how to support their parents in finding their own way in their parenting process.
One thing that the parent/child relationship has going for it, is the protective factor of love, and the on-goingness of the relationship over many years. There are a lot of opportunities for parents and children to learn from each other, and to “get it right” over time.
As a caregiver, or teacher of young children, I am sometimes only a part of a child’s life for a very short time, and so feel the burden of giving them the very best I can offer. Which brings me to RIE again. In all of my years of studying and working with young children, never have I found a philosophy that makes more sense to me, not just in terms of the deep respect, trust, and understanding for young babies and what they need, but also in terms of being one that works for parents, and makes the very hard job of parenting easier and more enjoyable.
RIE principles encourage awareness, slowing down, considering the other, honesty, creating and holding a safe place for the other- it’s all about building strong relationships, and honoring the needs of both people in the relationship. I love what Janet said in her most recent blog post about discipline: “Parenting is about building a relationship with another person.”
Notable in terms of the available research findings, and “proof” we have today about how babies develop and learn, RIE practices can be considered “best practices.” What could possibly be harmful about slowing down a little, stepping back, listening, and trusting a baby to be able to guide us in caring in an attuned way?
Then again, if you read the article in question, the Mama writing that piece makes a good case for parenting and teaching in a wholly different way, but one I personally am very uncomfortable with, and can’t support. (Again, this has a lot to do with who I am as a person, and what my values are in terms of caring and teaching in ways that will result in confident, free thinking children.)
So, I’ve come full circle in my comment it seems! I love what Magda (Gerber) always said about parenting, which is that she believed there were many good ways to raise a child, and she offered one way, which she believed would never cause harm. If you asked her, she was very clear about the how, and the why, and she never compromised, yet she allowed people to come to their own understanding in their own time and their own way (or not), much like she did with babies.
(Lisa Sunbury is the author of the blog Regarding Baby.)
I’ll be sharing my opinions here in the comments. Please join me!