The Parent I Might Have Been

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”:

Dear Janet,

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.

***emilia blurry

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.Emilia twisted

– I would feel that my obligation as a parent is to provide non-stop entertainment for my child and to teach him how things work.

– I would prop him to sit, help him to walk, teach him how to move.

– I would swoop him up without even considering telling him what would happen.

– I would spend lots of money on so-called educational toysemilia leaves

– 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.

Thank you and all the folks who are working so diligently on promoting the Educaring Approach. I know that it has made a big difference in lives of many families and it made a huge impact on my life!Emilia's hand

With love,

(Beautiful photos by Emilia! Thank you!)

I share more 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. I love this post, and this in particular resonates: “So with my heart and mind open and hopeful, I take a deep breath and try again to be more present and gentle…” I think this is the essence of RIE parenting or practice.

    I remember Magda saying, “You will forget. You will close down, and go on “automatic”. It is human nature. Don’t worry too much about it. Just come back to your intention. Let your baby help you. Observe your baby, slow down, talk to her.Try to go a little more slowly.”

    Even for someone who has studied and endeavored to practice RIE for years, it can be hard sometimes (especially because this is NOT the kind of care or example I had growing up). But, each and every day…. Magda’s teachings (and yours Janet) are a touchstone for me… I take a breath, and keep coming back to my baby, and the beginning, again and again. And what a gift it is, to both of us.

    1. “You will forget. You will close down, and go on “automatic”. It is human nature”… Oh how I love this quote! To Educare following Magda Gerber`s vision is a spiritual path. Human nature is to forget, spiritual nature is to remember. Remember WHO we are and allow babies to discover by themselves WHO they are. I see many parents who are so desperate, following this or that piece of advice, wanting to do EVERYTHING for their kids and ended up being depleted, ignoring that stepping back, staying present and appreciative is the best they can do for their babies and for themselves… It is not always easy to share Magda’s vision, though, because it is countercultural, she is by far way ahead in the vanguard. I am summing up courage to write more and more about her work both in Spanish and English. I believe her work is a gift to human kind. A gift to remember. A gift to regain our spirit.

  2. so great — all of it!
    i can totally relate to the “getting it right” mentality of new motherhood.

    finding RIE early on felt like a huge sigh of relief. it literally silenced all the other noise of the different approaches, philosophies and approaches that i was wading through when bonz was tiny. RIE resonated with me so deeply and felt so intuitive — and helped me not fall into many of the traps emilia wrote about. and even as intuitive as RIE feels, i’m so thankful to have it to lean on and draw upon when i need it — which is often!

    so yeah. love this post.
    and i hope you’re well!! xx

  3. Dear Janet, I just want to say thanks for opening my mind. Before RIE I was a “helicopter parent” and now I can watch and observe and my son initiate his self play. Still for short periods but that make me happy because a few months ago that seem impossible.
    Greetings from Brazil.
    PS:I think I’m the only brasilian one than knew about RIE. People should think I’m a very crazy mom! ; )

    1. You’re so welcome, Ludmila, and I’m thrilled to hear about your son’s progress! This is much more fun than being a helicopter, isn’t it? 😉

      You might not know that I have a community forum here…and there is a private section (which you can view once you’ve registered) with city listings from parents from all over the world. Many have already arranged to meet each other! So, you might want to check to see if there are other parents in Brazil…I wouldn’t be surprised. Register here:


  4. Great article. Reading your blog has helped me change and become a more calm, respectful mom, but I still have far to go. I get frustrated with myself when I lose my temper with my children.

    I have a question for you: my 6 yo son loves his 11 month old baby sister and loves to play with her, but he is constantly picking her up when she’s in the middle of doing something and carrying her around the house. I’m conflicted on what to do. I’ve tried telling him to be respectful to her and that she probably doesn’t want to be picked up when she’s doing something. I’ve also suggested that he ask her if she’d like to be picked up by extending his arms to her. This hasn’t worked and he continues to drag her around the house at his pleasure. On the one hand, I want her to feel respected and to be able to concentrate on what she’s chosen to do, but on the other hand, I don’t want to meddle in their relationship and keep nagging my son to leave her alone. She does tell him her opinion by screaming when she doesn’t like it, but she also smiles sometimes like she doesn’t mind it.

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