In a piece I sent out several weeks ago, I talked about the building blocks of RIE: respect and authenticity. I intended to write about both in the single article, but was encouraged to stick to one. It’s something I’m working on, as a writer and as a human: simplicity. So, fully planning to write about authenticity the very next week, I hit ‘send’ on a piece solely about respect.
And then I got sick! (Yes, the global emergency is over, but covid is still out there, folks! Beware!)
So, I got sick and I took a week off from writing. And even though my symptoms were short-lived, my tests stayed positive and my mood stayed funky for a longer than I would have liked. So, I took another week of recovery. And then the following week was hectic and stressful, so rather than writing, I reached into my back pocket and recycled a (truly epic) poem for Mother’s Day. It was good timing for Mother’s Day, but I still felt a little guilty for not getting back to writing, as promised, about authenticity.
And while those details may be characterized as over-sharing, I think they also convey my authentic experience! Rather than try to write when my body, my heart, and then my mind wasn’t in it, I gave myself space. Is there a place in your life that you can give yourself a little space right now? I encourage you do it. Don’t worry you won’t pick it back up, you will*, just like I am now.
*And if you don’t, maybe you didn’t need that in your life at the moment.
You know, taking the last 3 weeks to let that theme rattle around in my head has almost made it too big of a topic for me to write about. At the very least, it makes me wonder why there is no “A” in RIE (like how I thought the R stood for Respect) …it’s that important to this Approach (hey, there’s my A!). Because you can’t really respect someone without authenticity.
And I’m not talking about respect in a hierarchical sense: I can think of plenty of times I behaved ‘respectfully’…and entirely in-authentically…say, when getting pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign (ahem…that hasn’t happened in decades! Promise!! And actually, my authenticity saved me in that instance…but you’ll have to ask me to tell you that story in person!). No, I’m talking about respectful relationships: you cannot have a truly respectful, deep and meaningful, relationship without authenticity. Think about it: your best friends, your partner…you cannot go deep with them without authenticity, without feeling like you can truly be yourself and they are truly themselves with you. And now that I think on it, your relationship will also lack depth without respect. The two go hand-in-hand.
And so what does that mean in a relationship with a child?
But let’s start with why we don’t distract babies from their tears or their fury, but instead comfort them and acknowledge their feelings. We allow children their feelings, yes, because we don’t want them to fear those hard feelings, but to feel them and learn that they come and they go…and that we are there for them for the whole wave. But it also comes down to authenticity. When we hush a crying child, we are saying to them…don’t feel what you are feeling…as Magda said, we are communicating, don’t dare to feel uncomfortable…but the child DOES feel uncomfortable.
How do you feel when you have to put on a cheerful face even though your heart isn’t in it?
Again, Magda: that’s one of the sad things, we all know it’s not always easy to always play a role. And yet, we want even our infants to play roles, to perform according to somebody’s script or schedule. And one of the most visible timetables that babies are measured against is their movement…are they rolling? Can they sit up? Are they walking yet?
But did you know that one of the most subtle, but powerful ways, we can communicate our appreciation of a child’s authenticity is by allowing them the opportunity to learn how to move in their own way and on their own time…by allowing for natural gross motor development.
That’s because when you allow children to find their own way into movement, what you’re really doing is saying, I trust you to figure out what is next. To find your own way…to know that how you move your body is right for you. As Magda said, we allow babies to become real, authentic, genuine. To move. To feel the way they really move and feel. And not to WANT to move and feel differently. [When we move them, we run the risk of not showing] too much appreciation of what they ARE.
And one of the hardest ways we allow for authenticity is when we let them work through their conflicts with their peers. I can’t tell you how many conflicts I’ve watched over…keeping children safe, acknowledging feelings, but not solving. It’s so hard…society tells us we have to teach children to share. My gut and heart want children to share. But my experience and training tell me that the best way children learn to share is by not sharing. When children take toys from others and aren’t immediately forced to give them back, but are able to witness the upset that happens when they do that, they start to learn, from the inside, what that does to the other person, and to that relationship.
But this is a discussion for another article.
My point here is that babies and toddlers (and all humans) will have bumps and upsets in life. When we acknowledge what happened honestly and authentically, we can repair and grow.
So, your children are half of the relationship. You’re the other half. Authenticity is also about respecting yourself: setting your own boundaries, taking care of yourself first sometimes, so that you can take care of your children. Not expecting yourself to be perfect, and demonstrating grace when you fail to meet your own expectations.
Lucky is the child who grows up with parents who basically love and accept themselves, and therefore can accept and love their child, who reminds them so often of their own selves.
Speaking of your own expectations…there’s your own authentic practice of RIE, which is the most vital piece of this. And that doesn’t mean doing all of the things exactly right. Parents will sometimes guiltily tell me that they propped their baby to sit up, or worry that they gave them a pacifier, or ‘broken’ some other RIE ‘rule.’ And sure, I’m going to encourage you to try things like letting your baby find their own way to move and self-soothe, and you might feel a little uncomfortable when you first try things, and I hope you grow into feeling more comfortable…but I know that it takes time to incorporate a new way of thinking and being into your existing worldview. And not everything you try on is going to fit for you and your child. That’s okay. It’s important for you to go slow and find your own way…because RIE is a way of life, of being. You live it. And if you’re not living authentically, you’re not living.
Yes, RIE is about respecting babies, slowing down, letting them know what’s happening, and observing them. And when we do that, we can be totally awed by the discoveries we are privileged to witness. And thus, there is the temptation to think that to be RIE you must be zen: move slowly and speak gently. And while we do practice that in each class, you know that your babies will not always move slowly and speak gently: They come to you as their authentic selves, the best thing you can offer is your own authentic self in return…they will laugh and cry, rage and triumph, succeed and fail.
As will you.