Messing With Mother Nature (Guest Post by Michael Lansbury)

Meet Mike.  He’s a dashing husband, father, and blog editor extraordinaire. I’ve put him through the wringer since beginning this website, and he’s made many heroic attempts to protect my sanity. His latest is the offer to share his thoughts while I’m working on mine.

Mike agreed to respond to a question from Andrea in my Comments section regarding the post Don’t Stand Me Up, where I encourage allowing children to develop gross motor skills naturally, independent of adult manipulation.

Andrea wrote:

“Yes! This is exactly what I have always known in my heart. Leave the childen alone to figure it out for themselves. The animal kingdom has many lessons for us, but we ignore them.  

Question? How do I deal with my husband? He’s a very normal male type and wants to raise our 2 year old in a ‘manly’ way. It’s all about his physical development, and my husband thinks he can advance our son’s coordination by teaching him to walk — like that is possible. It is very frustrating, and I don’t want to argue, if you know what I mean. It makes him happy. What do you think?” – Andrea

Mike’s Response:

Andrea – I hope you won’t feel slighted hearing from a student rather than the teacher, but you can be sure that anything I write has been carefully vetted by Janet. Very. Carefully.

A couple of caveats: 1) All I know about parenting I learned through clumsy experience or from Janet through osmosis. So, I am no expert in the art of fathering; 2) I would never presume to negotiate another couple’s parenting differences.

That said, I can speak honestly about my own learning curve as a typical, caring father who wants his kids to reach their full potential – intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Surely, this is basic instinct.

When we become dads for the first time, we are overwhelmed by the gift of parenthood, hyper aware of the responsibilities and the possibilities. As men, it’s difficult for us to just sit back and enjoy the miracle, because we are hard-wired to tinker – to reshape, re-jigger, improve and (above all) fix. Clearly, the baby has very little use for us. It’s all about mom. But we are driven to do something with this new project.  It’s as if we confuse our babies with a kitchen remodel.

Like new mothers, most dads begin the parenting journey dazed and clueless. We have just produced (with an assist from the wife) the most perfect, pure, dynamically complicated creation imaginable. We’re in love and excited and terrified all at the same time, and there is no way we’re going to blow this gig. So, we want to roll up our sleeves and get busy. Though our child is perfect in every way, we can’t help ourselves – we are going to make that baby better.

These instincts compelled me to ‘help’ as my first child explored her physical potential. Nothing wrong with helping, of course, but I think where I (and other fathers) get into trouble is when helping becomes pushing, when we perceive physical development as life’s first competition. Our Pediatricians point to statistical charts — what’s above and below average for various developmental stages — and we consciously or unconsciously compare our kids to their peers.

My kid, average? Surely, she’ll be happier in life excelling. I know I’ll be happier.

I’m proud of my kids. They are a reflection of me — everything that I am, and certainly everything I aspire to be. Naturally, it’s personally gratifying if they demonstrate advanced physical abilities.  As a new father, I assumed I could (and should) assist my girl in this area.  I imagined that I could accelerate her development, as if I could ‘teach’ her balance and coordination, to roll over, to walk and eventually run (really fast). While my intentions for her may have been good, I understand now that my motives were misguided. I wanted her to excel, to perform beyond age-appropriate measures (to impress her doctor, maybe?), and to give her a better shot at the 2010 World Cup team.

I’ve read about elite athletes like Tiger Woods and Andre Agassi receiving hand/eye training from their fathers in the crib (!). Like science projects. I’ve also read that Tiger and Andre never felt that they had lived up to their fathers’ expectations. I’m thinking that if Tiger had been allowed to mature naturally — maybe play basketball, ping pong, skateboard — and he wasn’t introduced to a golf ball until he was 16, he would still be Tiger Woods. Same power, same concentration, same ability, same package. Maybe he’d even have avoided his current personal crisis (I know, off topic — but integrity is something we can teach our kids very early on by modeling).

What I know today through experience (and the gift of Janet’s modeling) is that every infant progresses physically in his own way, and in his own time. This is Nature’s expertise, not mine. Obviously, a child who is developmentally disabled presents an exception. But by tinkering with any stage of our kids’ natural development, we risk undermining the next. For most infants and toddlers, tricks like rolling over, crawling and eventually walking do not need to be taught. Sorry, dads, but our babies really don’t need us in that way, and we need to stifle our impulse to facilitate. Turns out our kids are quite capable in this area without us, and our interference can actually put our child at physical risk (more on that cryptic note here).

The good news is that there will be glorious years ahead when our time spent as a mentor, role model, coach and friend will be invaluable, indelible, precious and very much appreciated.

That’s all I know.

I know Mike will appreciate your comments.

I share more about this organic approach in
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. angela mancuso says:

    Good words mike, and totally true.

  2. mike aragon says:

    so well said and well written. Kudos to you both!!!

  3. excellent…and yet, i would got to bed each night after a day with my youngun and wonder if i had done enough…we are so silly. nice to see your words, mikey…

    1. Lisa Bailey says:

      Thank you, Mike! This article reminds me of two favorite stories: Ruby in her own time and Leo the Late Bloomer. These stories were included with the district adopted reading programs. I am an early childhood educator who taught Kindergarten and first grade for years. These stories teach children and parents that everyone develops on their own timeline naturally.

  4. Mike: So well put!! I appreciate your comments and plan to share them with all families in my parent-infant classes. It is such a joy to see babies moving gracefully with their own intention, without adult intrusion. Some things cannot be taught by manipulation, but must be explored, experienced and practiced by the baby, “on their own, with our help” as parents provide the baby a safe, comfortable space and the time to delight in their own discovery.

    1. Lee – thanks for taking the time to comment and for your kind and encouraging words. I consider it high praise from a professional with your experience and background.

      Mike L.

  5. Carla Prosch says:

    It takes a lot of thoughtfulness to really sit back and observe children. I found myself having a hard time with this many times with my own children. What you say here makes good sense and I believe many parents crave such guidance. For those that agree with this perspective, it will hopefully help them to gain some clarity for themselves and to feel at ease. Then they can fully enjoy the beauty of observing their children develop naturally, which is a true gift.

    Kudos to you for sharing your thoughts and insights!


  6. Mike, among dads you are a great leader. Thank you for showing how to blow the fuse of our internal wiring and learn how to sit back and treasure observing children learn at their own pace resulting in the pleasure that learning brings. Hurray!

  7. GREAT post (and hilarious!).

  8. Mike, Thank you so much for sharing a very beautiful and loving perspective from a dad. My husband is an amazing father and has values and priorities very much in line with what you’ve written here. Our two year old daughter crawled with her belly off the floor at 11 months and took her first steps just shy of 18 months. We never pushed her or tried to help. We just sat back, observed, supported and have enjoyed her reaching all her “milestones” on her own time frame. Thanks again for a wonderful post.

  9. Give that man a hug — this RIE thing is not easy for us.

  10. Beautifully said Mike. Thank you for your insightful words. There’s nothing better than getting the Dads on board. 🙂

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