Parenting Against The Grain – One Family’s Personal Struggle and Triumph

Although awareness of infant specialist Magda Gerber’s “babies are whole people” approach is increasing, many of her recommended child care practices are still considered unconventional. Parents and professionals who embrace Gerber’s vision of respectful infant care often feel alone in their views. And without the support of family, friends or associates (sometimes even the family doctor), the already challenging job of caring for our children is a whole lot tougher.

I deeply admire parents and caregivers who maintain an inexorable conviction in their beliefs despite scarce or minimal support. Many have shared with me their feelings of frustration and isolation.  Here is one parent’s account of the struggles and successes of her son’s first year… 

A week after my son’s first birthday he learned how to climb down our three front porch steps. The day after that he climbed all the way to the top of eight steep steps at the playground, had a look around, then backed up and made his way safely to the bottom. I was blown away. I only wished my husband were there so he could savour this moment with me — validation of a year of parenting against the grain. Everyone had told us we were wrong, but our son’s growing self-confidence assured us otherwise and made every metaphorical splinter worth it.

Rewind 12 months… My first real opportunity to breastfeed was rough. The midwife was like a hurricane — jerking breasts and arms, shoulders and neck as if baby Jess and I were detached appendages. She was brusque and kept repeating ”refusing the breast”. Little wonder RIE with its emphasis on respect and gentle, unhurried hands appealed from the get-go.  

I came across Magda Gerber’s child care philosophy online by happy accident, about three months into a mostly joyless start to motherhood. At night I would read passages from Janet Lansbury’s blog to my husband who would turn down the TV and listen attentively. Just as RIE spoke perfect sense to me, he would nod and agree these parenting do’s and don’ts sounded sensible. At last, a way out of the mire of conflicting advice.

We only wished we’d come across RIE before shelling out so much on the pricey plastic stuff. Exersaucer, baby swing, rocking chair, play gym… we had it all and out it went, along with mobiles, rattles and anything battery-operated.

Next, I put the phone down, locked eyes with my boy, and instantly bottle feeds went from a depressing reminder of my failure to produce enough milk to a time of deep connection.

Caregiving duties were suddenly satisfying, and because I abandoned the idea of having to entertain, the time between naps no longer filled me with dread.  

For months, we stuck close to home and did our thing. The television was off and our days were slow and predictable. Jess spent hours on the lawn, at first gazing up at the trees, then picking at grass and trying to eat the leaves. Baby was content, mum was finally coping and dad was thrilled … but that’s where the goodwill ended.

Surprisingly, my family found our quiet new routine stifling. To compensate for all our watching and waiting, grandparents and an army of aunts would circle Jess, clapping his hands together, shaking flashy, one-trick toys in his face and pulling him onto his feet. It was an assault to the senses, and they wondered why Jess would cry out for us. They said he needed to toughen up.

I tried not to dictate the way my family interacted with Jess, but I was eager to show off my new way of being with my baby. I was so proud and excited the first time Mum watched me talk Jess through his nappy change. Then she scoffed — scoffed! — and I’d never felt more foolish.

It’s lonely mothering without your own mother’s approval. 

I was full of self-doubt, made loads of concessions and often considered bowing to conventional wisdom for the sake of family unity. Three things prevented me from backing down:

1. My husband didn’t want me to. He is a hands-on dad and had embraced the RIE principles with enthusiasm.

2. I didn’t want to. RIE was such an easy and natural fit that it would have felt uncomfortable to parent any other way. In fact, I felt as if my parents’ criticism — of my parenting choices, my tendency to drift left of the mainstream and habit of reading up on everything -– was punishment for simply being me.

3. And Jess didn’t want me to. Well, I can only assume this respected, independent little man wouldn’t have it any other way. He was thriving under our “strange” roof. 

Accustomed to choice, Jess could and would tell me exactly what he wanted — an affirmative grunt that he’d like to be on the floor; a finger pointed at the back door; a tap of the book he wanted me to read. Over time he learned to drink from a cup, feed himself from a bowl (it’s messy) and help me dress him.

His joy of movement was textbook RIE, and because we never rushed in to help him out of a bind, he developed perseverance. People were always saying Jess was “so content” and “knows his mind”, and I never got sick of hearing this ringing endorsement of Magda Gerber’s methods.

So I thought if anyone could convince my mother I was on the right track, it was Jess. “Look at him,” I said one day as he played with kitchen gear. “Look how well he’s doing.” She watched him, then replied: “If he’s this good at entertaining himself with a colander, imagine what he could do with some real toys.”

I felt like I was living in topsy-turvy land.

The irony certainly wasn’t lost on me that my husband and I had chosen a parenting style rooted in trust and respect, and yet my family afforded me neither of those things.

To gain my family’s acceptance I needed their understanding. When that failed, our once-close relationship soured. My parents had raised four healthy children and were offended I wasn’t following their example; my sisters were annoyed that the Jolly Jumper, walkers and buzzy things they gave us for Christmas had stayed in their boxes; and everyone resented the fact that if Jess didn’t want to sit on someone’s lap, he didn’t have to. They all agreed we were weird and extreme. 

To be fair, my family adores Jess and could no doubt write their own 1000-word rant about the challenges of dealing with a hormonal, know-it-all new mum.

They’re not alone in being suspicious of a way of parenting that is only just starting to pick up speed. Our early childhood specialist actually used the word “ridiculous” when I told her I warn Jess before picking him up and often ask his permission. Doctors and nurses look at me as if I have two heads when, instead of reeling off “it’s all right, shhh, you’re all right”, I acknowledge our boy’s pain and fear.

While my husband has borne the brunt of judgmental mamas equating a baby playing independently with lazy or ignorant parenting, I too got a small taste a few months back. I was watching Jess slowly warm up in a busy play centre and enjoying my role as “sportscaster” when a woman felt compelled to approach with a ball and roll it to Jess. Was she teaching mother or child how to play right?

Through RIE and our own observations we learned that we didn’t need to teach our son how to play and explore, nor how to roll, sit, crawl or climb. But could we trust him to figure out how to descend steps as well?

Jess had learned to climb up our three front porch steps several months before his first birthday. Whenever he did this (which was often) he would look wistfully back down the steps before crawling away. I had wanted so badly to tell him “backwards, backwards!” But because I stopped myself, Jess eventually realized this for himself.

It had been a long journey of patience and restraint, but worth the reward…another gross motor milestone that belonged completely to Jess.  


Kate-t (not her real name) is a 34-year-old first-time mum who works at a newspaper and hates surprises so much she reads the last page of a novel first and shakes wrapped Christmas gifts for clues. She tries her best to be present and savour every day but is busting to know what her child will be like when he’s all grown up. 

Kate-t welcomes your comments and questions.


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

Thank you so much, Kate-t and family, for sharing your story!




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

  1. Congrats to you for doing what you knew was best for your son! I’ve been the weirdo in my family for a long time, and people have learned to stop arguing with me, but I suspect RIE will cause some issues as my girls grow. I think the hardest part is doing things differently than your parents because they seem to take it personally. It would be awesome if we could change RIE’s name to something more catchy (I have a helluva time explaining it to people) and get a celeb or two to write a book. Who can make that happen? 🙂

    1. Oh, I totally second the motion to rename RIE! Nobody knows what I’m talking about, it doesn’t immediately strike people as an acronym so it’s confusing, and when I do explain what it stands for I just get so embarrassed by the word “Educaring”. I’m not a fan of invented combined words, no matter how accurately they describe things. Sorry! I do love the philosophy, though!

      1. A respectful third here… Brigitte, I experience the same thing! I, too, do love and appreciate the huge gift of this knowledge shared, though, and the people who share it!

  2. I am so glad to hear your story. I am starting out learning all I can about RIE. I am not a mother yet, but am a childcare teacher working with infants. It is very important to me to know that they are people — they want to know what is going on. It is their world, not just ours. At work, we are going through some transition and the boss said, “oh, you will just have to wait till the staff meeting to find out what room you will be in”…no warnings, no communication, just action. I feel like that baby who has not been informed about what is going to happen to them. As caregivers and parents we need to acknowledge that these children are people and have feelings, desires, wants, needs, and with all those, they understand a lot more than we know. Keeping and making that relationship is vital to their self confidence and to knowing they are able and capable people. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I respect these parents tremendously for sticking to their guns. What an inspiring post! I hope that our whole culture/society will adopt these respectful principles of babycare one day. Here’s to hoping!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. We are a british couple raising our little girl (5mos) in new Zealand where RIE is not very well known (I’ve had countless debates with nurses over tummy time over the past month!)
    We are making our first trip back to the uk next week and I am expecting a similar response to our parenting choices from our own parents. Our little girl loves nothing more than rolling around on her mat uninterrupted and I am already struggling with how i will be able to politely ask (well-meaning, loving) relatives to just leave her alone! Even though it feels like it sometimes, it’s so nice to know that we’re not alone in feeling that this philosophy of raising children just makes sense. Thank you for this and for all your other encouraging posts. They always make me feel good about what I’m doing (and of course, what I’m not doing!!) 🙂

    1. Erica, you are so welcome. And kudos to you for sticking with this despite little support. You should definitely feel good about the thoughtful way you are raising your daughter…and I can promise you won’t regret these choices!

    2. We just went to visit my husband’s family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) who all commented on our 27 month-old son’s agility, incredible focus, and routine participation in family life. I made a conscious effort to respect their choices in interacting with him, but stepped in on a few occasions to ask that they mind two of our preferences: 1) If he is focused in play, please don’t interrupt him to change the activity, smile for a photo, or distract him to look at something else suddenly, and 2) Please don’t place him in a position that he can’t get into to himself – like on a rope-swing, up on a platfom, etc. (Its remarkable to me that they don’t make the connection themselves that the very things they admire in him are the things they work against with all the ‘showing’ and ‘helping’…) Nevertheless, I felt that safeguarding his ability to focus and deeply play and to protect his safety were two areas that I could guiltlessly and reasonably stand up for as a Mom. Afterall, these little visits are really so short in the long-term picture of how we raise our children, but keeping some key principles as the constants of our daily life, even while on vacation, was important for our sanity, and of course, his safety.

      1. Sadie, it sounds like you handled the visit well. I really appreciate this insight: “Its remarkable to me that they don’t make the connection themselves that the very things they admire in him are the things they work against with all the ‘showing’ and ‘helping’…” I’ve made this observation many, many times over the years in regard to all aspects of RIE parenting. It’s sometimes hard to recognize the effects (both positive and negative) of our child-rearing choices in these early years. There’s a tendency to confuse elements of “nurture” with “nature”.

      2. How do you deal with it when he gets HIMSELF into a position he can’t get down from? My son is getting into this a lot right now… He’s climbing up things that he isn’t comfortable climbing back down from (and sometimes it wouldn’t be safe to go backwards) and then he gets stuck and angry. Sometimes I’ll try to help with suggestions (Your foot is almost there, or: can you put your foot here?) but 1) he’s 15 months old and just doesn’t get it sometimes and 2) I don’t actually want to encourage him to drop down somewhere when he can’t comfortably feel the next step down. So I end up lifting him down.

        Should I just not be letting him climb into places he can’t climb down from? I worry that by getting him down I’m short changing him of a chance to struggle and figure it out himself.

        1. Yes! I was coming to ask just this!! I have an 11 month old who is showing an interest in climbing. The first time he climbed on an angled cushion in our living room, he fell over and of course cried. I’m so enjoying his accomplishments, but I feel like I am the one in need of the sportscasting right now!! SOMEONE WALK ME THROUGH THIS!! 🙂

          Thank you, Janet for all of your wisdom and patience with the parents. We need it as much as they do sometimes.

        2. Same here, 20 months old. I usually suggest how to move to get out of whatever it is he got himself into and then ask if he needs my help. I only assist if he says yes or I feel it’s a dangerous situation, which I try to announce before/during catching him.

    3. Christina says:

      Hi Erica. we too live in Nz and the plunked service here which his great, don’t get me wrong, don’t want tp hear or believe a bar if it ( the RIE way), I have been told many a time I need to do tummy time, my third baby has never had tummy time, and she is content to play lying on a blanket on floor, or in playpen, moving how she wants, she has rolled to her tummy a few times now, so she is ready for tummy time, in her own time, I am so glad I learnt about Rie, wish I knew about it when I had my first baby.

    4. Erica – im in NZ too and i just lied and said i was doing tummy time to plunket and doctors because i couldn’t deal with the criticism. When i explained to my sister that we don’t do tummy time and why not, she told me I was being neglectful. Its amazing how people react. I also hate going to playcenter because i feel like im being judged for being a lazy uncaring mum because i wont direct my boys play. But despite all that it has been so great for us as a family. Our boy who is now nearly two is so happy, self assured, a great adventurer and really trusting and safe with his body and his ability. Its so cool to see. And now im learning to trust myself more and part of this process for me is not backing down to pressure from others about how i should be a ‘good’ parent. This is so hard but i think its going to be amazing journey for me to find that strength. I so want be that sort of strong mum for my kids and myself.

    5. I raised my daughter RIE and she is now 3 years old. We never did tummy time with her and her spine is straight as an arrow! She is also a very strong little girl 🙂

    6. What a beautiful story. So sorry you faced so much opposition from family. It’s such an emotionally charged situation. My mom is my little ones caregiver now that I have returned to work. She spends quite a bit of time on Facebook so I liked Janet’s page on her account! She reads articles and gets exposure to the ideas on her own. We’ve been blessed with a content baby who has been happy on her mat since day one.

  5. Beautiful account of motherhood. It is amazing how much our child teach us and how much we learn through the act of parenting.

    1. Exactly, Vanessa. If we are open and observant, our children show us the way.

  6. What a wonderful story to read! I am trying to incorporate RIE principles, but it’s so hard when you’re not the primary care giver all of the time (I work full time :{ ) and my husband isn’t a fan of it.

  7. Laurence P says:

    Thank you for this story. I found a lot of myself in it, especially the relief brought by the RIE approach during the times between naps!

    In France, RIE isn’t even known by name. So I’m really the only one in the neighbourhood having such weird ideas. But I made a translation of the book and gave it to some of the mothers of my Leache League group. And they were thrilled. One of them said it was an “illumination”, another that she saw positive changes in 48 hours of pratice!

    Unfortunately, the dad for whom I made the translation in the first place read only a third of it. And I often see stuff I don’t approve of in my own family. But what can I do? I don’t want to interfere in their relationship. As he works a lot, he doesn’t see his son so much already. It makes me sad but I learned to think that maybe, if not ideal, it is not so terrible. Babies are really adaptable and they survive a lot of education styles.

    Besides, I tried not to be too hard on myself. At the beginning of the book it said that it is more a philosophy than a list of recipes. So if I’m tired and not doing all as well as I would like, I try to think that I treat my son with respect as much as I can. And that it is not horrible if, not seeing any anwser, I forgot for weeks to ask if I can pick him up. I’m doing it again now and with more success.

    Adrien is really focused when he plays. Every one is impressed by his way of playing : focused, always in movement, trying to improve, testing new stuff.

    I’m now preparing for the Nanny. I’m trying to think about some simple stuff to ask from her : such as “not forcing him if he doesn’t want to eat”, “not interfering with his style of movement if he doesn’t put himself in danger”. But don’t want to be too pushy, and to give her the idea I want to teach her how to do her job. I would like to give her the translation but I don’t dare. What do you think ? Some ideas on this subject ?

    1. Where are you living in France? We moved to Paris in December (with now-17-month-old) and I have been trying so hard to find other Gerber/Pikler families or creches here. I would love to connect. We were in LA before that and had the fortune of going to RIE classes with our baby. I miss them so much, it makes such a difference having that time every week among like-minded carers, free play for babies with each other, and learning from experts.

      1. Laurence P says:

        I also live in Paris near Montmartre ! I’d really like to meet you ! A real RIE personn, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. If you’re on facebook you can easily send me a message : my name is Laurence Poinsart I think it’s quite uncommon so I should be the only one.

        There are no RIE classes in Paris of course. But some French psychanalists also beleived in free play, and freedom for kids. So there are some parent-child places where you can go with your child and he’ll be given all the space and liberty he’ll need. For the creches I don’t know how they work. I chose a Nanny whose conceptions should be very different from Magda Gerber’s. But as a self made educarer, I’m not sure I’m so close to what she ment myself.

        Hope we’ll have the pleasure to meet. If you’re available we can even do it next week, because I go back to work on september the third, and I fear I’ll have a lot to do for some time.

        A bientôt !

  8. Corlia Gardner says:

    I have read countless articles about language acquisition as our baby has been born into a bilingual family. These articles all say the same thing: explain everything you do with your baby to your baby. This includes nappy changes, picking them up, bathing, feeding etc. Good on you for sticking to your gut instinct and for being an inspiration to RIE mums despite all the words of discouragement you’v received from extended family, nurses and/or friends. Good on ya 🙂

  9. I’m sort of dealing with this right now. just met with other families from our birthing class, and now that they’re… TODDLERS (!) there’s so so much interference. The one that I have the hardest time with is sharing… Specifically when my kid (17 months!) takes a toy from another kid and the other kid takes it back… Mom steps in and insists, you have to SHARE. I’d love to (carefully) see them settle it on their own, but never mind that. Nevermind that a 17 month old is developmentally incapable of understanding why they should share. What happens to new parents that we think “sharing” means giving things to whoever wants to take them from us? So not something I want any adult teaching my child… From either side.

    It doesn’t bother me too much when strangers try to “entertain” my baby (toddler). I usually lean toward a bit and smile if they look at me. Sometimes they just approached because they saw a baby “alone” and thought he was being ignored, and they wander away when they realize I’m watching closely. Sometimes they just love babies. I figure either way it’s another part of the world for him to learn about. He gets lots of uninterrupted playtime at home, but being out is full of distractions. Bells and whistles toys either get their battery removed or get shelved out of sight.

    I don’t explain or defend what I’m doing unless I see an important moment, and then I try to keep it simple. My mother in law was blowing bubbles and my son was more interested in the wand than the bubbles. He took it out of the container and tried putting it back in. My MIL guided his hand. The second time he did this, as she went to help him, I said, “wait, I want to see if he can do it himself.” After a couple tries he did. I’m not convinced that I can or should convert anyone to my way of thinking, and I don’t want to alienate anyone by seeming to say my way of parenting is better.

    At 15 months my son doesn’t walk or talk. I can see him, I can watch him and I know he’s FINE. The doctor thinks he’s fine. But then I think, is he not talking because I don’t chatter to him enough? Well no, probably not, his dad was a super late talker, and my son is quite successful at communicating… Just not in words. He doesn’t walk, but he can climb ladders, slides, chairs and tables. But it’s hard, to watch him and worry that I’m doing it wrong, that I’m holding him back or not giving him what he needs. However you parent, doubts creep in. It’s easy to see how intensive over involved parenting can be the norm, because it seems like you’re just DOING more, and everyone knows that more is better, right?

      1. Jennifer Gaffney says:

        My son is 2 years old and delayed in talking. Motor skills no problem. He is very easy going (most of the time – he is 2 after all). Communicates his wants/needs pretty easily without talking. We did 3 weeks (of a 6 week session) of speech therapy to try to give him a boost but it was very disappointing. Why have a 2 year old in a room full of things he is not supposed to try to touch/play/interact with (computers, paper, chairs, lights, etc.) then be chided for him not paying enough attention to the therapist? Just read ‘The Cow Says Moo’ (also have 2 other books to read on the topic next) and liked a lot of the pointers to help stimulate talking without forcing or frustrating your child. Ways to give choices and talk to them about everyday happenings and work with your child to understand why language is useful and not just forcing them to parrot you. I want to be proactive about his speech without turning it into a negative thing.

        1. It’s so hard to navigate family and friends, especially when they also have kids. Everyone takes it personally but has no trouble commenting on your “bad” method! First few months I felt judged everywhere. It’s easier now, they all marvel at my son’s autonomy so I don’t get much criticism. But all the comments and scoffing have made me more confident and less inclined to seek approval.

    1. Ah, the “sharing” thing. When my 2 year old gets into a dispute of this type, I have to fight the urge to intervene, myself– not because I think the children need help negotiating amongst themselves, but because of the culture of parenting that emerges when children are in groups (Be attentive! Protect the other children (even when the behavior isn’t actually dangerous)! Model ideal behavior at all times, even if you have to butt in to your child’s interaction to do so!). You learn what’s acceptable, how parenting is done in public, and I personally find it very hard sometimes to buck that, even when I know full well that it’s often kind of stupid.

      1. Right! And I honestly do wonder if most parents even think about what sharing means. I can’t think of a single example where acceptable adult behavior is similar to the sort of “sharing” we expect from toddlers and preschoolers. Sometime, I’ll try interrupting someone working on their laptop and ask them (nicely even!) to “share” with me… I wonder how that’ll work out for me? This has been a pet peeve of mine since long before I had kids of my own. It really shows how little value we put on a child’s “work.”

        1. Laurence P says:

          You’re right next time I’ll see one particular grandmother at the park I’ll ask her to lend me her handbag.

          She made so much fuss about little Suzanne sharing her doll, and interfering anytime the child tried something unexpected, this ended by a tantrum. She then turned to me and said. “It is this new doll, she usually is very cute”. So I answered “But she IS very cute !” Poor little girl so full of life, nice and inventive whose grannie thinks she has to appologise for her.

    2. My daughter is 16 months old and doesn’t talk or walk either. But she communicates with gestures and noises and obviously understands SO much of what we say, and boy does she get around on her hands and knees! I’m not worried in the slightest. I’m becoming rather fond of being that mom with the huge (tall) crawling child while all these tiny little ones are running next to her. I suppose it does help put everyone at ease that she is so outgoing, social, and full of smiles.

    1. My goodness, Laura, such a jewel you’ve shared! Thank you so much…I will share your post on Facebook immediately. Thank you for making me aware of your wonderful blog!

  10. “At night I would read passages from Janet Lansbury’s blog to my husband who would turn down the TV and listen attentively.”
    Turn DOWN the TV?I think we should start talking about he evils of “screen time” for adults.
    (just kidding–sort of.)

  11. Yes. Education is not doing things to and for kids, it is about doing the most elemental and natural thing: delighting in them. Their genius is the educator, get to know him/her.

  12. I’m glad you shared your story. It is hard when your own parents don’t appreciate your approach. Especially when they take it as an attack on their parenting styles. My husband and I both agree on the RIE approach to raising our daughter. We’ve had to explain to his mom why we don’t use “baby talk.” I hope things get easier with your family! It is great to see how well things are working for you and your son.

  13. Jessica Ruggles says:

    I loved this story. I too had similiar struggles. I flat out told people not to buy all the contraptions that have become a way of life for so many. I had to argue and argue until I just said I won’t use them so there is no reason to buy them. They finally listened but I am sure some of them thought I was weird too.
    My husband couldn’t believe it when our little girl started climbing up things and doing things all on her own. One day he said I guess you did know what you were talking about. I just said thank you and moved on even though I wanted to say told ya so.

  14. I´m sure our own parents do the best they can, the best they know. And if there´s a trace of doubt in us, they feel there´s an open door to step in and “help”. I loved reading Magda Gerber´s advice for grandmothers (can´t remember if it´s in Dear Parent or in Your self confident baby): “wash the dishes, do the house cores, don´t criticize”. Haha! Genius. Anyhow, if our parents don´t read Magda´s books (of course they don´t!), we can always remember within ourselves their comments are not personal, it´s not against us. They are trying to help because they care. So, we can suggest them how to do it to fit our real needs. Maybe, if you ask them to sweep the floor and do errands they won´t come as often :)!! Thank you for sharing this honest life experience, love, Fernanda

  15. Thanks so much for sharing this story, it is always so encouraging to know that there are like minded parents out there but I think in the end it will be a valuable lesson for our children that their parents stuck for what they felt was right instead of doing things more mainstream just to avoid conflict. I still wonder when to comes to grandparents if there can be more leniency on our part about letting them do their thing as long as we have a list of big no-nos where we might have to gently intervene.

  16. I have a stupid big grin on my face after reading through the comments! Thank you all so much for the encouragement, and I wish you well on this path less travelled.

    1. I can hardly even read your story and comments because my eyes are blurry and head pounding from all the crying I’ve been doing. I am visiting family in Canada, and we live overseas. I am totally the ‘weirdo’, no one understands, I feel so unsupported and with my husband away it is sooooo hard to do what I know is right and best for my 22 month old. I feel like my days are spent justifying and explains everything we o, defending our choices and man it’s exhausting! To make it worse my son has been whiny and clingy, only wanting me all the time. Lovely to know I am not alone, even though I feel SO alone.

      1. Oh Joyce, let me encourage you that you aren’t alone. I live overseas as well and we are actually at home visiting family in Canada as well!! And having another baby while we are here I totally understand your frustration in feeling alone in how you parent. It has been such a struggle for me seeing how my parents and in laws treat my kids even though they are 5 and 3! There is no respect for them as individuals with their own needs and opinions. My in laws even gave us a book the other day on parenting (an absolutely terrible one that I totally disagree with, I won’t say the name) and I am trying so hard not to be offended! It is hard. I feel like our kids are doing so well and I’m so happy with how our years of parenting seem to have positively affected them so far. I wish others would be more willing to look at that instead of the “unconventional” way we parent. I’m glad to be at home but at the same time just wish I was back overseas some days where it’s really just our family most of the time. Criticism stings more when it comes from family. Stay strong mama, and know you aren’t alone!

  17. Loved reading your experiences. I have a 16 month old, and I rediscovered RIE a few months after she was born (I had studied it in NZ as an ECE teacher) and she is just striving especially in her gross motor skills and her ability to express exactly what she wants, her perserverance (I could quite possibly go on and on). Luckily my family are very supportive as my Mum and sister are also ECE teachers. i am living in Australia now and I remember the push for tummy time. I was told by midwifes that if I didnt give my child tummy time her neck muscles would not develop! I ignored this. At her 8 month check up she could not sit on her own, I was told to sit her up because if I didn’t her centre of gravity was all over the place. I ignored this too. My daughter has great posture, and I often get comments on how she walks, with confidence and ease. These comments and watching her determination know I’m making the right choices. It is hard though, when I take her to the park and others feel the need to lift her onto things when she is perservering and looking at me as if I do not care for her safety.

  18. You know, this post once again makes me wish for a simple pamphlet or booklet about RIE that I could give to family members or other caregivers. I find it so hard to articulate in a concise way so that people don’t tune out after my first sentence.

    We did Baby-Led Weaning with our daughter, and we found a fantastic little handout we could print off the internet for family and friends. It really helped them understand our non-conventional approach, with the essential rules clearly outlined and the general philosophy explained concisely. Family found it easy to follow such simply printed guidelines when feeding our daughter her meals.

    Is there such a thing for RIE? Could someone perhaps undertake such a project? I know I would find it an incredibly valuable resource!

    1. Brigitte, that is a brilliant idea! I’m not sure if the RIE approach could be explained so simply, but perhaps we could do an intro, at least. Thank you for this idea, Brigitte.

      1. Yes please!

        I would especially find it helpful if there were a few key suggestions or “rules” to follow for family/caregivers. My biggest struggle with RIE has been in deciding which tenets are most important for me to insist others follow with my child, and which ones aren’t so important for those who are not primary caregivers, and then also how to choose my words well in order to communicate the essentials clearly and politely.

        1. jenniefae says:

          i would love something like this, too! my baby is (unfortunately, because we are all on my insurance so i have to work full-time) at daycare so much and i would find it really helpful to find a way to pass along this info to his caregivers. any help would me much appreciated.

  19. Hi Janet, I’m a mother of 5 and have never heard of RIE or Magda Gerber till i found you. I was happily surprised to find many of my unformed ideas about parenting and early childhood expressed. This makes me smile. As a recent grandmother i have been trying to form and verbalise all these ideas whenever i am asked questions by my 2 oldests daughters who are now beautiful mothers. Thanks for this helpful website which I will link to mine.

  20. Ok, I cried… CRIED… reading this post. I just came back from a baby playgroup where the floor was covered with plastic toys and moms kept saying “Good job” to all the babies just because they rolled over (heck, one mom pointed out that my baby had two bottom teeth and told him “Good job!”).

    I feel so alone in this parenting journey, even though I know I’m doing the right thing for my son.

    Kate-t, did you have a hard time making friends who supported your parenting style?

  21. jenniefae says:

    i’ve been checking out this site today, and i’m wondering if i should give this RIE thing a try… but my boy is 5 months old this week. is it too late to start? i feel like i’ve been floundering these last months and am having a difficult time in many areas of mommyhood.

    1. 5 months is definitely not too late to start, Jennie. In fact, that would be a very early time to start. Welcome!

      1. jenniefae says:

        Thanks, Janet. I’ve been feeling so awful and guilty lately… as if I’m in a monsoon of parenting advice and doubt. It’s bad enough that I really haven’t felt much confidence in my mothering skills from the start, but even worse that I am still coming out of the fog of postpartum depression and am also frustrated about having to spend so much time away from my baby. I have to work full time because all three of us (my hustand, son, and I) are on my insurance, and as a result my boy is in daycare.

        I’m wondering if I’ve “ruined” my child already by having done most everything your posts advise against: positioning baby, using those “bad” phrases, putting him in jumpers and play seats, etc. And I’m also doubtful whether it’s even possible to attempt to utilize these RIE principles effectively since he’s in daycare the majority of the time.

        To be honest, while I find your blog’s information thought-provoking, logical, and encouraging, I also am finding myself losing hope as I consider the reality of putting these ideas into practice.

        I really want to be the best mom that I can and raise a son that feels nurtured, self-assured, and happy. Please help if you can.


        1. Hi jenniefae, I hope you don’t mind me jumping in here. I’m the mum who wrote this account, and I think I should add that I suffered debilitating anxiety after the birth and still experience terrible feelings of guilt about those first few months. As soon as I was better (ie the meds kicked in), my baby was remarkably more relaxed. I also work full-time and can identify with your feelings of frustration at having to be away from your baby. Hard time in history to be a parent. That’s all I have to offer. Please be kind to yourself, it sounds like you’re a wonderfully caring mum and your baby is lucky to have you.

          1. I loved this post and and just wondering where do you start with RIE? My 8 week is doing great and we are starting with explaining everything to her. Just the change in telling her when she is getting an outfit change and her clothes are going over her head has helped a lot!

            1. Great question, Jenny! The explaining you are doing is perfect. Then I might start by reading one of Magda Gerber’s wonderful books: Your Self-Confident Baby or Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect.

        2. Hi Jen,

          I hope I can jump in too–I think Janet and any Mom here will tell you that no, you haven’t ruined your baby! They don’t ruin that easily–luckily for all of us. We ALL do things that we realize later (or even at the time) are less than ideal. Like Kate-T said, it’s clear you care about your baby and want to do the right thing for him, and that’s important by itself.

          As far as the difficulty of putting ideas into practice–I’m also new to this blog and this philosophy, and I think that the best I can do, right now, is to incorporate one or two of Janet’s suggestions into my interactions with my 20-month old. (Like being clearer on which choices my daughter can make and which ones I need to make for her.) Later, I’ll hopefully be able to make some more changes.

          Personally, I have found that in spite of new challenges, things are *better* for me and my daughter than they were at 5 months. Hugs and good luck!

  22. Oh my goodness, I feel like I could have written this! Our Gracie is 8mo and a joy to be around and I find it so interesting that, in the same breath, her great-grandma can praise us for what a “good” baby she is (read: doesn’t cry & fuss very much) and chastise us for not giving her blingy toys and not making her be cuddled when she doesn’t want it. I was so proud of my husband when he answered her query of “Is she always like this? Does she NEVER cry?” with, “well, yes, she does cry but, we assume it’s because she needs something so, we figure out what it is and makes sure she gets it.”
    She acted as if that was such a strange, novel concept! We’re still trying to negotiate the extended family dynamic. It’s a delicate balance because they’re not trying to harm her, everything they do is because they love her. My mantra (which I’m sure they’re OVER hearing by now!) is “Baby’s needs trump adult’s wants, every time.” I say it kindly and with a smile. 🙂

  23. Stheffany says:

    I really needed this today!!
    I’m brazilian and noone has EVER even heard of RIE here! It’s so lonely!
    We’ve moved out 3 months ago (across the country) and the house was built in a way that all of the neighbours can see the stares (weird, I know, but it was the best house available).
    Since we’ve moved in, someone would start scream and shout at the front because they can see may 17mo going up and down the stares (she goes up since she was 8mo and down since she was 11mo). This happens every week, and I mean EVERY SINGLE WEEK!
    Then they started ringing the bell to “let me know” my girl was “on the stares”!
    And sunday a lady came to my house to announce they were gonna report me to the social service (kinda like the CPS) if I don’t put a gate on the stares! She said that the whole neighborhood thought I’m irresponsible! And when I talked to her, trying to show her that my girl is capable of safely going up and down the stares and that my “little mini professional climber” would quickly climb a gate and THEN surely fall, she replied that “i trust her to much” and that “babies have no sense of danger what so ever” and that “they never know what they are doing”! I was chocked!
    I’ve been a little depressed the whole week since that…
    It’s just so lonely and tiring…

  24. I’m planning to have a child in a few years and raise them with RIE parenting in a group of close friends. I’ve been dealing with my family’s largely negative reactions to my plans. I found this article really affirming and helpful.

  25. This was such an encouraging post! My son is 15 months and we fairly recently grabbed onto this approach that brings such peace and joy in to our home. His first year of life I allowed family members and friends bully me in to what I should be doing with our son. There was constant comparison to other babies they knew who just “didn’t seem that bright” and because I didn’t have the confidence in myself as a mother to go with my gut, I spent the first precious year of his life always second guessing myself, and struggling with depression. Just in the last three months my sons confidence has grown as well as his ability to problem solve and explore new surroundings.

  26. Thank you for this article! I have been practicing RIE for the last 8 years with the babies I work with, and now have a 6 month old daughter. I have had these same struggles with well meaning relatives, “here come and sit on my knee you can see much better from there” etc, a lot of it I have to let slide and trust that she will let them know in time. Even with all my experience working with babies I am still a first time mum so how could I possibly know. I always get comments on how content, engaged, and happy she is and people put it down to luck.

    Each day I watch my baby spend hours on the floor engaged, happy, and mobile through her own doing, I just have to trust that what we give her at home is enough to override the well meaning actions of others

  27. Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s fine. It’s not their journey to make sense of. It’s yours. – lessons learned in life

  28. it is important for parents to have confidence but surely we must also project to a child to have confidence in their own grandparents who love them. Sometimes I think parents spend more time reading the Internet and desperately trying to find others the ‘same’ as them that they ignore the diversity in the world.

    Building relationships with extended family is more important than constantly judging and criticising. And having play dates with a variety of children with a variety of different backgrounds, toys and homes must be of value.

  29. Hi, I enjoyed the article and can relate! I have a specific question. At the park, my 17 month old climbs up the equipment and goes down the slides herself while I wait at the bottom to catch her. I do stand near her while she climbs because the equipment is not “childproof.” (or fallproof) So, there are areas at the top of the slides where a child could choose either one of two slides, a spiral pole, or this rock climbing ramp. This thing is about 8 feet in the air. Lately she wants to come down the steep climbing wall thing. I can’t reach her to guide her down. I don’t want to tell her not to, but it is clearly a safety issue….what are some things I can do? I feel like sometimes people think I don’t care what she does, that’s not it! I just really enjoy watching her as she figures these things out on her own! its amazing! And its what’s best for her.
    I have not yet read the book, but plan to. Maybe there are insights in there for me regarding this?

  30. Janet and Kate-t, thanks very much for this post. I find it very reassuring to hear from you and all the other parents in the comments who are having similar struggles to myself. My personality is very much watch and wait, so RIE works perfectly for myself and my son, but it also means that I don’t interfere too often if other people are interacting with him in a way that I don’t agree with.

    My family hasn’t been accepting or not accepting, but I was changing my 8 month old a few weeks ago and asked him to lift his bum while my mother was watching and she scoffed, “yeah, right”. He was too distracted to show her that he does help, but I was so surprised to hear such a negative comment from her. Because he does help and understand what’s going on and pay attention.

    I’m still questioning some of the things you talk about on the blog and Magda discusses in her book, but in practice, every single thing I’ve tried that you and Magda recommend has turned out how you describe. It’s amazing to watch.

    I know that everyone says these baby years go by so quickly, but I feel like this philosophy is allowing me the time and the patience to soak it all up and watch it move by without feeling like I’m missing anything.

  31. This post couldn’t have been more timely for me. I follow a respectful style of parenting after having my 2nd thanks to your wonderful posts like this. I can really relate to the feeling of being criticized for parenting this way and the pain is especially tough when it comes from your mother. Just last night I decided to finally lay out on the table to my mom how disrespected and criticized I was feeling. This is a hard thing because my mom can be very fragile. And sure enough it was a very painful reaction I got from her. At first she completely could not listen and was purely defensive, and then came a lot of deep pain and tears. She admitted to me that she too had not been respected as a child. And finally, after some more unsolicited advice of how she felt I should parent my 2 yr old…she broke and finally HEARD me. I told her that all I wanted was for her to respect me even when she doesn’t agree with me and be my strongest supporter. She wanted to keep reminding me her points abd opinions but we made headway. So it’s nice to see others struggling with the same thing. I hope one day I can relax and enjoy her company again. She is a very caring, giving soul and often they are reacting this way because of their own childhood pain.

  32. Thank you for this lovely piece
    My question is related specifically to stairs. At the moment we have a very steep stair case leading down to an under house garage (which is gated) and also four steps leading down to a small hall to our front door (which is also gated). The front door steps are very slippy tiles and are treacherous to everyone, particularly in wet weather. I’ve often wondered if I should leave the gate off them to let my 10 month old figure them out for herself but nerves have stopped me. She is pulling to standing already and frequently gets ‘stuck’ trying to get down to the floor again, and while I try and leave her to work it out herself (while talking about her being stuck and offering her to take my hands as an option) I feel like she really is stuck after a while and help her down anyway. I’m aware this is probably wrong? Any RIE advice would be very gratefully received. Thank you!

  33. Jill Winkler says:

    I children are now 9 and 11 y/o. My story is similar in the ways as I felt like we were so much against the grain, in everything we did and I felt the judgement. Now I get full acknowledgement from my mother that the choices we made and the culture we created in our family really have payed off. They were hard for her to understand at the time and difficult sometimes to live with (such as no TV ). It is so interesting and rewarding to see for myself how I think this influenced who my children are today but also hear that others see this too.

    1. YES, I have felt that in many ways myself. Thank you for sharing your wonderful success!

  34. For anyone thinking they are “late” joining in, we didn’t discover RIE until our son was about 3 years old! (He’s 5 1/2 now and just started kindergarten.) He had plenty of colorful, plastic gear, and the TV was on from an early age. But the idea that he was a whole person who should be respected and have a voice in our household is something my husband and I have always felt; we just didn’t have a label for it. Neither of us was raised in such a respectful manner, especially from such a young age, and we knew we wanted to do it differently. Now, having seen success in his social-emotional development and having the support of this community along with a *few* friends who parent similarly, it is getting easier to stick to our beliefs. Hanging back; allowing time and space for quiet, unstructured play; not explaining so much; not refereeing so much; not forcing activities to please other people or for photos for social media posts (don’t get me started on THAT); sitting with him (or giving him space) respectfully when he is upset – just as I would with any loved one – are just a few of the things we try to do. It’s become second nature now and relatively easy when we are alone, but it can still be a challenge doing what we think is best when out in public or with friends and family who don’t get it. We live in the southern United States, in a rural area at that, where you will hear all kinds of unsolicited, ignorant “advice.” I can feel the judgement, but it is making me a stronger person and mother. It is a good workout for one’s backbone! … Thanks to Kate-t for sharing and to you, Janet. I’m so grateful I did find your website. It’s never too late!

  35. I have been a silent reader of your wonderful blog up until now, but the line ‘it’s lonely mothering without your own mother’s approval’ struck a cord so well it made me cry. Thank you so much for this article.
    I struggle so much with loneliness, coping with the disapproval of my own parents in all my parenting decisions. They make me waver, question myself. Each time I visit with my children, I come home completely disoriented and discouraged. And my indecisive parenting, oscillating back and forth between RIE and a traditional approach with scolding and shaming, makes everything so much harder. I am destroying my own efforts. In contrast to the author, I cannot show off my skills or the results in my children, because especially the older one misbehaves quite often (even more so at my parent’s – what a surprise), and in a way my parents find particularly shocking (disrespectful backtalk towards adults, lashing out towards the younger baby). They say it’s my parenting style that ‘made her this way’, and I end up questioning everything and moving back to traditional parenting. It’s hard to stay calm, focused and trusting in yourself, your child and RIE if there are no results to take pride in.
    Maybe letting go of the need for my parent’s approval stems from my own upbringing. But I think it has also to do with me being a very young mom, having had my daughter at 19 and my son at 21. I feel inadequate and incompetent. But articles like these and the comments under it give me hope and a little more trust. So thank you (and sorry for any mistakes, English is not my native language).

  36. Lianna Nall says:

    What a beautiful story! We are “mostly” RIE parents except for *this* piece of the puzzle. When our little one was just starting to move, he had a pretty hard fall required ER visit. Ever since then, I am soooo scared to let him venture out on his own. I want to be more trusting and open minded but am struggling

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