My favorite part of blogging are the stories parents and caregivers share with me from all over the world. While the details are always slightly different, the stories usually begin with a common experience: feeling dissatisfied, frustrated or unsuccessful, they sought answers.
And just like me way back when, they didn’t really know what they were looking for – just something that felt right. They somehow happened upon this site and discovered Magda Gerber’s Educaring approach, which intrigued and resonated with them. So they decided to take the plunge and try trusting their babies. They stopped busying themselves by constantly doing and entertained the possibility that their infants might be able to do a few things for themselves (like engage in independent thought, play, develop motor skills, and begin to comprehend real, human language).
As soon as these parents crack open this window, a succession of happy surprises stream in…and so they’re emboldened to open it just a tiny bit more, which means they find more surprises, more clarity and more conviction in their children as capable self-learners.
Here’s one account Jacki from Turkey recently shared with me:
Instead of responding to one individual post, I wanted to email you and thank you for all of them! I hope you won’t mind me giving a bit of positive feedback…
A little background info: I’m from Baltimore, but I live in Turkey right now with my Turkish husband and our son, who will turn 1 next weekend. As for parenting role-models, I lost my mom when I was 5 months pregnant, and my mother-in-law is disabled with advanced ALS. My older sister, who is raising three children, is back in the US, and she was grieving deeply for our mother, so we didn’t talk very much. My husband’s cousin has two toddlers, but I didn’t consider their parenting style compatible with my ideas.
I came across your site, and it instantly resonated with me. My son was about 3 months old. We had just started sitting him up, giving him tummy time, and even (I shudder and cringe to admit) turning on baby-oriented videos. I felt deeply uncomfortable with it, but it seemed the norm (our friends even encouraged TV as the only way I would ever be able to rest or get anything done during his waking hours), and I didn’t know what the alternative should be.
Once I started reading about how you don’t need to entertain babies and that they should be given the freedom to do what they want in a safe space, our life changed. My son was happier; I was at peace. I tried explaining some of the things I had learned to my husband; he was skeptical (also a scientist), but deferred to my judgment. I continued with what I felt was right, and when we got a nanny to look after him during the day at 5 months, I explained to her and demonstrated as best I could how I wanted him to be cared for: with trust, respect and freedom.
I discouraged propping to sit, standing him up and walking him, to protect his natural gross motor development. He started to walk at about 10.5 months, and then I discouraged holding his hands and trying to prevent his falls, instead encouraging people to spot him while he explored. Now, at nearly 12 months, he’s got the climbing bug, and I am encouraging everyone to let him learn how to navigate stairs, ramps and curbs by himself.
It is interesting how quick people are to assume he is incapable of dealing with these features, without waiting to see what he will do, and they rush to offer their ‘help’. When I ask them to stop holding his hands, they too are skeptical, but when they watch him take control and figure it out for himself, they believe. And the joy on his face is undeniable.
This weekend, all at once, he began to climb stairs on his hands and feet, and he climbed a large outdoor staircase with me behind spotting, but not helping… much to our friends’ amazement.
So this weekend I reflected on how our good intentions as parents and caretakers so quickly and insidiously set up a feedback loop of neediness. We assume the child cannot do something, so we impose our assistance on him. The next time he wants to do it, he looks for our help, as he has gotten used to it, and so we feel that our original assumption was correct, and we continue assisting.
But what a glorious freedom it is, for both child and caretaker, when we wait and trust and let it all unfurl before us in joyful discovery.
My ability to see my son as a whole being is another great benefit of reading your site. I try to speak to him with the same respect and rationality that I would with an adult. This also amazes/puzzles those around me.
When I take something away or prevent him from doing something, I briefly and simply explain why, and he does not complain about it too much (so far, anyway). Even if he does, I calmly acknowledge his feelings and hold the limit, and he quickly settles himself. People say things like, “Wow, it’s like he understands what you’re saying!” I usually just smile and nod, but occasionally I reply, “Why do you assume he doesn’t?” I think my communication with him is off to a good start, and I look forward to fostering that as he grows.
And I’m pleased to report that more and more, my husband is seeing the results and becoming convinced as well… from highly visible things like watching our son learn how to climb stairs by himself, to the subtler things like how he cooperates more if I explain what I’m going to do before I do it. I’m sure that as discipline and communication become even more important to our family, he will continue to support and join in my efforts (and enjoy the rewards!).
Am I perfectly executing the RIE manual in every aspect? No, most definitely not. But even so, the habits I’m trying to establish have already altered the course of our lives in a very positive way, and I am infinitely grateful. Thank you.
(Photo by Dennis Hill of fontplaydotcom on Flickr)