One of the happy benefits of blogging about respectful parenting is the positive connections I’m making with some outstanding dads and moms (or, as in this case, a warm, exuberant mum). As New Zealander Helena is discovering, learning to parent is nothing like acing a multiple-choice quiz. Developing our relationship with a unique other person — a much smaller, more fragile, non-verbal one — is an ongoing process, one that infant expert Magda Gerber likened to “two awkward adolescents learning to dance together.” In the early months especially, this means struggling to communicate, balancing needs, finding a rhythm. There are lots of trials, many errors and plenty of bruised toes.
Helena allowed me to share a glimpse of her process with her charming 9 month old son Kees…
Firstly, thanks for all your amazing insights into childrearing. I was recommended to your website by my sister-in-law here in New Zealand when my first son Kees was about 3-4 months old. We were having such a hard time with him. He would scream for 6-8 hours a day, and I had no idea what to do about it (your story about playing extremely loud music and jiggling your daughter around in the front pack was a little close to home *blush*)
He is now 9 months old and such a delight to be around. Within weeks of reading your blog and starting to try out the RIE approach, we were both enjoying each other more than I could have imagined! It was your post “Blue Sky Thinking” that got me at first, as it resonated with how I was feeling with him. Only a few days before reading that post I had found myself aimlessly waving a toy at him (as he lay unhappily in his play-gym) thinking ‘is this really all there is?’
I have a question for you (or perhaps several): He is 9 months old now and we are talking about trying for our second child. Before I was pregnant with Kees I was a very active and fit person. I used to play competitive sport and went to the gym up until I was 7 months pregnant. Since his arrival I have struggled to do any exercise apart from the odd walk and time in the garden. I still haven’t shed all my pregnancy weight, and the idea of adding to it with another pregnancy in which I can’t go to the gym scares me a little.
Everyone says to me I should just take him out walking in the pram every day, but that creates a dilemma for me. I guess I think that if I do it when he is awake I am wasting his play time, and that it is a bit selfish. But if I do it when he is due for a sleep, that isn’t very good either, partly as he won’t sleep as well, but also because if it becomes a regular thing it will create a bad habit for him, and we are trying so hard to keep his sleeping regular and predictable for him.
It is summer here and beautiful outside, but it is so sunny you would need to have the shade cover up on the pram at least half the trip, which kind of defeats the purpose as he can’t see or enjoy the walk?
So I guess my questions are…what do you think about regular walking in the pram for a child his age? And do you have any exercise suggestions that might work around him?
A few details about our life that effect when and how I can exercise:
My husband works full time, and I run our own business from home, so nearly all of our time when Kees is asleep is taken up with work. His safe play space is our lounge, so when he is awake it isn’t practical for me to exercise in there, and there are no other spaces inside that would work well. I am still breast feeding so breakfast/dinner time I have to be around so can’t head of to the gym then…
Any insights would be much appreciated!
I’m thrilled to know that you were able to discover Magda Gerber’s ideas (and you will be forever grateful you followed her advice) via your sister-in-law and my blog. Is she part of the big group of RIE enthusiasts in New Zealand? Please thank her for me!
I’m a little stunned by how thoroughly you seem to understand the RIE approach already. And I love the concern you have about Kees missing out on play time in the stroller. Most of us are led to believe that walks are ideal, even necessary for babies every day. Yes, his movement will be restricted and he won’t be able to play actively, but if you need a walk, that is certainly a good enough reason to take Kees for one.
Would late afternoon timing work for you? After the second nap? Late afternoon is often a fussy time for babies (sometimes referred to as “the arsenic hour”). Maybe that would be a good time to give him the entertainment and lulling effect of the stroller? Of course, if you could afford one of those fancy old fashioned prams that he could move a bit and sit up in, wouldn’t that be great? (I couldn’t.)
Can you create a play area for Kees outdoors and then jump rope nearby (actually, jumping rope with breastfeeding breasts might not be too fun) or some other exercise?
Otherwise, maybe after his first feeding in the morning your husband could stay with him while you do some exercise somewhere?
The main thing to know is that these issues will begin to work themselves out soon. I remember being so impatient about getting back in shape with my first, and realistically, that isn’t going to happen until the second year, at least, for a hands-on (and breasts-on) mom like you. Go easy on yourself!
Please let me know how I can support you.
Looking forward to hearing more about you and Kees.
Thank you for your amazing reply. I read it to my husband and he was surprised that you would take the time to write it. We both feel very blessed to have discovered Magda Gerber’s ideas.
My sister-in-law is an early childhood teacher and came across it [RIE] through her work. She then bought both of Magda’s books (which I have read). She also went to the recent RIE conference and brought home the RIE manual. So, along with those books and the huge number of your blog posts we have read, we are learning heaps!
I think I have managed to take some of the RIE basics to heart, but I have found it an interesting internal struggle to learn and also unlearn so many things. I am a very rush rush rush person whose idea of the perfect mother was previously based on how well I could multi-task and juggle. I remember being proud of how I still managed to make it to the local bridal show to set up my stand with 5-day old Kees in my arms (I make bridal accessories), and how I could breastfeed and e-mail or make jewelry at the same time! I had even tried sewing on my machine with him wrapped in a baby wearing contraption!
Possibly one of the most amazing gifts that Magda has given me (and subsequently my family) is allowing me to slow down — teaching me that it is not only OK, but also beneficial to all involved. To my initial amazement, I actually found I got more done when I slowed down and gave Kees 100% of my focus during care routines and then allowed him to have time to play on his own. Within days of trying this he played happily on his back for over 30 minutes when previously I don’t know if I had even had 5 minutes! I am also a very reactive and loud sort of person, so learning to respond thoughtfully and gently to Kees has been very trying, but I know I am getting there slowly (hopefully, I will have it worked out before he is 18!).
Thank you for your suggestions. We have been working on an outdoor play area for him, but a few other urgent jobs (including cars that don’t run) have taken up my husband’s time. We have a lovely big flowering cherry tree in the middle of our back lawn and have been looking for appropriate materials to build a safe area underneath it that he can use over the next year or so before it is safe for him to be out in the rest of the garden. In the meantime, we have used a playpen which we know is getting too small for him. He doesn’t seem to mind too much, but it isn’t ideal.
Thank you again for taking the time to reply as you did, your encouragement means the world. RIE can be a little isolating sometimes and so it is great to have this online support. I haven’t spent much time on your community forum but I will have a good read.
P.S. I attached a picture of Kees who turned 9 months old today! As a reminder of the little life you have influenced so much.
Then, when I thanked her for the adorable photo of Kees (which is posted above and makes me feel a little like a proud grandma) and asked if I could share her e-mail, Helena shared new insights…
You are welcome to post my email if you think that it will in any way encourage other parents. I know that it was so common to get the advice to ‘follow your instincts’ or ‘do what felt right for you’. When he was first born, we did follow this conventional advice, and it didn’t work so well. As we began implementing the RIE principles, so many felt a bit counter-intuitive and almost unnatural, especially for me. But as we all adapted, it now feels like the most natural thing. I think for some reason parenting advice is easier to listen to via electronic means — no-one really wants to be told how to parent, so in person it can be hard to share with others without offending. On line, I think we can react in the comfort of our own homes, and it can be easier to process advice without having our guard up so much trying to make people think we have it all together.
Helena and I welcome your thoughts!