Just listen to your instincts… Don’t over think and overcomplicate… Every child is different… I often hear these reasons for not embracing a particular parenting approach, and I generally agree. Yet it is hard for me to imagine raising my three children without the gift of clarity I received twenty years ago from infant specialist Magda Gerber.
Gerber’s methods didn’t come to me naturally, yet they felt right. She helped me clear away my confusion and focus on what matters most: real quality time and the kind of experiences we gain from engaging with our babies as whole people from birth. Magda gave me tools to recognize the unique perspectives of each of my children, inspiring me to trust their growth, allowing them to develop as individuals, each with a strong sense of self.
Magda’s lessons have been completely transformative in terms of my perceptions about babies, children, parenting and life itself. Twenty years later, it has become impossible for me to imagine the parent I might have been without them. It’s also tough to remember how uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, it was to learn and adjust to new modes of thought and behavior — like remembering to slow down and talk to a baby even though conventional wisdom tells you he or she doesn’t understand.
For all those reasons and more, I’ve appreciated my correspondence with Emilia Poprawa from Poland. Her learning experiences as she applies Magda’s Educaring Approach (commonly referred to as “RIE”) are like a mirror of my own development, and perhaps thousands of other parents worldwide.
I am sharing two of her letters. Her first reminds me of the passion I felt as a new parent to “do it right”:
I feel very passionate about what I am learning but also somewhat overwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve found myself in a state of disequilibrium where all I previously assumed about child development is somewhat falling part, leaving a space for a new paradigm to emerge. It is certainly not easy to change our old ways in favor of new, more effective and compassionate responses.
Slowing down, being present and gentle is by all means not an easy task. I have been trying to cultivate Magda Gerber’s principles in all my affairs but sometimes I feel just stuck in my old ways (when I rush, hurry, and mindlessly move through a day). My hands, instead of conveying a message of calm, sensitivity and patience, are channeling my inner anxiety, mindlessness, and hurry…My mother was a very anxious caregiver. She always rushed and was never truly present. Her hands were rough, irritated and impatient. I see the shadow of her in myself when care for my son.
I have to remind myself that change is frequently a painful process, and as a Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” So with my heart and mind open and hopeful, I take a deep breath and try again to be more present and gentle.
This later letter is also a reminder to me – of the priceless benefits of Magda’s approach, and of the parent I might have been:
It has been almost a year since I have welcomed my son into this world. It has been almost a year since I welcomed RIE into my life as a parent and caregiver. Needless to say I am grateful and lucky to have a proven roadmap to raise my son. Proven formula: miracle love + RIE = self-confident baby.
I am not saying that things are always easy and superb. There are many bumps on the road in forms of struggle, frustrations, not knowing, but I found myself always regaining equilibrium, learning from my mistakes and moving on. If I had never come across RIE, this is what my parenting would have been like:
– I would do everything in my power to stop my child from crying, not knowing the importance and meaning of crying.
– I would distract, redirect or use other means to prevent my child from feeling any frustration.
– I would swoop him up without even considering telling him what would happen.
– I would spend lots of money on so-called educational toys.
– I would see my child as helpless little person.
– I would rush and hurry through caregiving routines to get the job done.
– I would fail to see my son as an initiator and competent explorer with a mind of his own.
– I would still be a loving and devoted mother but more exhausted, depleted and definitely less respectful.
(Beautiful photos by Emilia! Thank you!)
I share more in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting