There is no more positive trend in modern parenting than the increasing involvement of fathers. This uptick in paternal engagement has been obvious in my parent-child classes where there have been many more dads in attendance in recent years. Sometimes they’re even the partner that shows up most regularly. It has also been apparent in my private consultations, messages, and emails, and in social media discussion groups like “Raising Babies Magda’s Way,” which focuses on exploring Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. A mom named Sarah posted a query in that group that sparked some intriguing and insightful responses from several engaged fathers and they allowed me to share them here:
SARAH: Can we hear from the dads in the group?
I read posts and have real life discussions that make me think that some dads don’t think RIE is manly enough (my wording).
What attracts you to RIE? What are some challenges you face as a dad practicing RIE? What would you want other dads who are skeptical of RIE to know?
PHILIP: What attracts me to RIE is that it sees value in infants from Day One — and not just because they’re interesting to watch, but because of the learning process that is taking place. I’m attracted to the focus on our children’s need for freedom and boundaries within a relationship.
My biggest challenge is being able to share it with other families. It’s kinda weird for a dad to be into helping other families with their kids.
Lastly, my best argument for the power of RIE is my interactions with kids. My brother was very skeptical until I went to visit and he got to hear how I interacted with his son. It’s something that’s hard to put into words. A lot of men need to be able to hear the tone of voice, because they’ve never heard someone relate to a child in that way before. Probably why men respond to Janet’s podcast.
CHRIS: I first came across Janet Lansbury’s blog when my daughter was one year old after looking for some information on building self-esteem. I used to be a parent who thought timeouts taught discipline and endless praise raised self-esteem. I really wish I’d come across RIE earlier, but better late than never.
I’ve faced challenges getting my wife on board (which I did) and getting the odd comment from others when I sportscast, but I’m always happy to explain where I am coming from, or just push on should they disagree with how I do things.
When it’s come up in conversation with other dads, they’ve always been surprised that I don’t use timeouts or any form of punishment, or let my kids watch TV. I talk about the benefits I see in my children, the more trusting relationship and the fact that it’s much less stressful for me. That seems to get people interested (dinner times are no longer chaotic like they used to be).
I’ve also explained to friends why I don’t punish, distract or dismiss a child in distress, and why it’s important to validate their feelings. It’s easy enough to get an adult to relate to a time their feelings were invalidated and how it felt. “If you were crying, you would expect sympathy and support from me, not for me to dangle a shiny toy in your face or tell you that you’re ok, it’s not a big deal, you’ll be ok.”
DION: As a Christian father, I have two very good examples of what it means to be “manly”…Jesus Christ and my own father.
As most people know, Jesus was not “manly” in our modern sense of the word. He wept openly, he preached love and acceptance, and he cared deeply for those closest to him. But his strength was one that built others up and guided them. A real man loves and guides, giving to others of himself so that they may become better men and women themselves.
My dad was a tremendous example to me. He taught me traditional manly things: how to throw a ball, how to drive a stick, how to defend myself against bullies… But he also taught me that it’s okay to have feelings, that it’s okay to cry, and that loving those close to you is a manly thing to do.
Because of all this, RIE just makes perfect sense to me.
EDWARD: Thanks for the post.
I was drawn into RIE through Faber/Mazlish, who I thought provided life changing tips on how to better respond to my kids, but not much of the logical scaffolding behind it. It really blew my mind when I first heard Janet suggest on her podcast that we “roll out the red carpet” for our kids’ emotions. I’ve stayed with RIE because it’s paved the way for me to be deeply connected with my children, to ensure their psychological safety with me so they feel free to share with me about their lives.
My biggest challenge is pushing against the idea that punishments or consequences are necessary in the parent-child relationship, which is an idea that men carry around more than women.
I would want other dads to know that validating emotion is simply acknowledging that a child is having a certain experience, an experience that only the child can know. Letting your child navigate their emotional waters with your watchful support is like helping your kid ride his or her bike. You expect them to fall lots of times before they get it right. Berating them for not getting it right the very first time they get on the bike seems silly and outlandish, and the same goes for berating your children for not being able to regulate their emotions when they are little.
SEAN: I think some misinterpret RIE as having the [primary] goal of “being in touch with your feelings,” and perhaps that’s why the idea of RIE not being “manly” may come into play.
But RIE is so much more than that. For me, it is about setting a rational foundation for life. Being in touch with one’s feelings is part of that for sure, but the foundation of respect is far deeper. Respect means respect for the individual, as an individual. It means being able to trust one’s own mind and judgment and being efficacious interacting with the world and people around you.
KYLE: To me, RIE is a way of acknowledging my children’s strength and competence, which allows them to develop independence and self-reliance in a developmentally appropriate way. But for me it is also an anecdote to some of the more toxic aspects of masculinity. It reminds me to be open and empathetic, to allow others (and even occasionally myself) to freely express their emotions, and it is helping me break my habit of always trying to be the fixer. (Helping, but I ain’t there yet.)
SKIP: I don’t think what attracted me to RIE or the challenges are likely much different than for women. But there are some things about RIE that might appeal specifically to many men. (Please don’t construe any of this as implying men are one way and women another — I actually think when it comes to gender differences there’s no end in variation, and nurture is vastly more determinant than sex.)
When I talk to dads who are not really on board, there are a few things that seem to resonate with them. The main one is that RIE is all about fostering independence and confidence. It’s also easier to have a central role as a co-parent, because the respectful approach won’t result in baby being hyper-attached to mommy, leaving you second-fiddle (making things worse by having to be Mr. Good Times so you can also feel as cherished). By carefully reading one or two books and practicing RIE, you can pretty quickly develop some solid parenting legs and be really grounded in fundamental principles of caring for baby. These principles can be applied to almost every situation, even if you did not grow up thinking and dreaming about caring for babies. In fact, there are some RIE skills that may actually come easier for Daddy. For example, women may have a hastier intervention response to crying and baby struggling. And lastly, with both parents fostering a RIE experience, you will likely be happier because you will have a better relationship with your kid. And you’ll be a prouder papa because you’ll know that you helped create the conditions that enabled her to get so far on her path to awesomeness.
ME: You all ROCK! Happy Father’s Day!
To learn more about RIE parenting, please check out these resources:
Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber
Pikler Bulletin #14 by Dr. Emmi Pikler
My books: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (both available on Audio)
Check the RIE website for classes in your area: http://rie.org