Mom was right brain, Dad was left brain. I loved them both. Thankfully, Dad took care of many of life’s important details — but my mom seemed to have all the fun. Mom was spontaneity, clutter, and disorganized joy. Her presence was magnetic and her laugh contagious. She and her four daughters always arrived late to church, and were in a mad rush to school each day.
Mom made up a song that she would sing in the car called “Rush, Rush!” We begged for the song because we adored the reckless way she swerved the car back and forth (along an empty road) as she sang the last line, “Rush, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush, I don’t know what to DO!”
Everyone loved my mom, and even elected her to power — she was PTA president year after year — in spite of her wobbly left-brain abilities.
Like my mom, I make lots of gaffes as a parent and embarrass my children often due to my underdeveloped left brain, but I still give my right brain credit for most of what I’ve done right.
Infant expert Magda Gerber was a right brain, and maybe that is why it has been so easy for me to internalize her child care philosophy. From that first parenting class when I witnessed my 3-month-old daydreaming contentedly for ninety minutes, I was sold. I would have paid thousands to know my baby’s thoughts. Was she brainstorming a solution to world hunger? Or doing something left-brain-ish like counting dust particles, or organizing wallpaper patterns?
For me, the choice was obvious. Would I rather spend time fascinated by what my daughter might be imagining, and behold the unique individual I was learning more about each day? Or would I like to stress out at the playground like a mother I empathized with, who squatted on the ground in front of the tiny baby girl she had strapped into a swing, and while pushing her, repeatedly chanted: “A-E-I-O-U?!”
If we agree with Einstein that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” then why on earth would we rush to show our babies how to recite letters, walk, talk, read, draw and make a proper sandcastle? Children need time to explore and experiment, physically, mentally and creatively. Why do we interrupt our children’s musings, the power of their discoveries, and rein in their burgeoning individuality in order to teach imitation, memorization, and skills that an ape could master?
Parenting with the right side of the brain means resisting the urge to gauge our baby’s developmental milestones against charts, graphs, and comparisons with other babies. It means seeing the bigger picture – a creative, self-confident person. Children pick up on our urgent wish for them to stand when they are contentedly crawling, or draw when they are more interested in moving the crayons in and out of the box. They seem to like it when we help them to do those things, because they are motivated by their instinct to please. But the child who is nudged forward feels unappreciated for what he is able to do, because he senses that his parents are hoping for more. This creates self-doubt rather than self-confidence.
Human development is not a race. I can’t remember the last time anyone asked me in an interview or on a job application when I first walked or toilet trained. Can you?
Unfortunately, current parenting culture is focused on achievement, and even the most right-brain-leaning parents are rattled by the pediatrician’s list, a list that breeds fear when a child is not performing “on schedule.” Yes, of course, serious delays are sometimes discovered and intervention is needed, but more often than not these lists only effect the health of parents’ minds. Lists beg to be checked off and make even the calmest parents feel anxious and competitive.
For me, the last straw was when a doctor asked if my 18-month-old kissed with her mouth closed. Apparently, ‘puckering’ was an achievement that my baby should have mastered. She had fallen behind in her kissing skills. “No, Doctor. And thank you for sucking the joy out of my baby’s kisses!”
I know that I could not survive, much less be a decent parent, or accomplish anything without my left brain. I also know (thanks to my left brain reading about it) that the hemispheres of the brain always work in an integrated fashion, so the whole left brain, right brain idea is actually an incorrect oversimplification. (See how left brains ruin everything?)
That said, my brains have joined in agreement about a few things…
1) Children need years of free rein to play, absorb safe environments, develop their point-of-view, imagine and create, unhampered by well-meaning adult judgment or interference. When we allow children this opportunity, parenting is easier, more successful, and much more fun.
2) We err when we focus on the list of basic skills that all children will eventually have in common, impeding the development of the unique, original, and immeasurable…the one and only vision our child brings to the world.
3) The best kisses come from the right side of the brain.
I share more about the benefits of parenting with trust in