Guest Author: Kumiko Akiyama talks about her RIE Parenting Journey

Kumiko Akiyama, RIE Intern

Kumiko Akiyama (Kumi) was my student for one year during the second portion of her training to become a RIE Associate…she first learned about the Educaring Approach in a Parent-Infant Guidance™ class in Beijing, where she also took the Foundations™ course from Deborah Carlisle Solomon. I was mentoring her remotely, in her role as a caregiver in a child care center that used the Educaring Approach in their toddler rooms…until Covid-19 broke out in China and she and her children were forced to flee to her parents’ home in Japan. She has been sheltering in place in a small apartment with her children, ages 2.5 and 4, and parents, while her husband continues to work and live in Beijing…since December!

(As of 2021 she has reunited with her husband in Beijing and is continuing her journey to becoming a RIE Associate…you can connect with her via her Instagram @friends.of.rie_japan.)

Please enjoy her essay!

Kumi and me with her two children on a visit to Beijing in 2019

This stay-home period makes us think of the activities that we normally would not think of… For my husband, he got himself a challenging Lego collection set and proudly presented to the children when it was completed. Lately for me, I started my old habit of playing the piano and it has been therapeutic to focus on something other than thinking about covid-19.

I used to take the piano lessons when I was young, between 4 to 15 years old. Unfortunately my memories of playing the piano are not so positive. I remember feeling pressured to practice just to get through the lessons. More than enjoying the music, I was stressed to perform well. I was afraid of making mistakes and being judged, even though nobody really gave me the pressure. (My parents were not strict about practices at all. However, I did not know how to simply enjoy it then… )

So I did not think of playing the piano at first even during this stay-home period. It felt emotionally heavy to open the piano cover… But when I tried, wow…it was such a great surprise to experience the change. Now I can decide which piece I want to play and how to express my emotions through music more freely… I rediscovered the joy to play the piano for my own pleasure without any judgment. More than playing perfectly, I can focus on what kind of sounds I want to create, and how the melody makes me feel – calm, relaxed and happy.

This rediscovery of playing the piano reminded me of my parenting and RIE journey. As I practiced the Educaring Approach with more commitment at home and in a professional environment, again I was falling into the trap of rigidity. As I interacted with the children, I was often asking myself “am I being too soft?…am I being too cold?…is this RIE?…Is this correct?” Just like my piano experience in the past, I focused on doing well and I felt anxious from any judgment even when nobody commented on my parenting and caregiving skills.

I am so grateful to meet my mentor, Melani, at the time of struggle. She consistently reminds me of the importance of authenticity for children as much as for adults. As I gradually allowed myself in the process, just like I reconnected with the piano, I rediscovered pure pleasure to spend time with children. I needed to embrace whom I am first, in order to extend the compassion and respect to the children. And I could finally free myself from all the worries and insecurity, which came from within me, in fact. As Magda Gerber said: “having respect for the world is when you allow people to be what they are,” she let us know how important it is for you to be what you are, as much as you allow your children to move and express their emotions freely. To have authenticity as the foundation of parenting, I experienced that the rest of RIE practices flow together more naturally with joy.

Another discovery around the piano is connection of my mind, body and space. When I was young, I hardly paid attention to my unconscious stress triggering my shoulder tension, and how it would influence the piano tones. Now that I am older and have more emotional space, I can pause to breathe and relax my mind and shoulders before playing. This makes a completely difference in the sounds. I believe that this can be applied for many scenes for parenting and interaction with children. Even for sensitive observation, when I sit down to observe my children with open mind and relaxed shoulders, I notice different aspects of children’s development and their competencies. Just like the sounds of piano, the way of being present can extend to the atmosphere and interaction inside the room.

So, lately I try to pause and ask myself: how am I feeling, to be aware and tuned with my own emotions. Take a moment to breathe to relax my shoulder tension and reset my perspectives. I may discover something new about my children and myself. And this can be challenging especially during this period, with constant struggles of balancing the needs and authenticity of each other… But including the challenges, I hope you will enjoy the process and journey of playing your own music through parenting with Educaring Approach, as much as I do!