Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking to several people who are new to RIE …parents of young babies, nannies, expectant parents…and it’s put me into a refreshed state of mind. A lot of what I talk about with parents on zoom calls and in these weekly emails is about, let’s call it RIE 400, advanced RIE…where the basics are down, and we’re moving on to higher level concepts.
But hold on…one of those people I was speaking to recently is a second time around RIE Mom, and she said something that struck a chord with me. I was afraid that the introductory topics would be too basic, but no…she said that it was almost like hearing them again for the first time.
And then, just last night, discussing Seeing Infants with New Eyes and making one of my corny jokes about how ‘cutting edge it is’ (it’s well over 30 years old and LOOKS it), I heard myself say what I always say… “this is one of those films that I can watch again and again, and yet I never get tired of it…because each time I watch it, a different part will stand out to me, simply depending on where I am in my life and work.”
And it’s true: that film is very old, but the messages in it are, indeed, still cutting edge, still relevant 36 years after it was made. Just as your understanding of RIE grows as you learn more and as you and your children grow, the heart of the Approach never changes. No, instead your articulation and expression of it become more nuanced and refined.
But it can be so important to take yourself back to the basics every now and then. It can be easy to slip into patterns without staying present to the reasons behind your parenting practices. And, just like the 7 Basic Principles are in the front of Magda’s books, respect and authenticity are your touchstones to go back to when you’re feeling challenged or uncertain.
The respecting piece is huge. In fact, I used to truly not understand why RIE stood Resources for Infant Educarers and not Respect Infants Everywhere. Respect is why we tell children what we’re going to do before we do it. It’s why we let them learn to move in their own time and way, and figure out small challenges, even when they get frustrated. It’s why we are honest with them when we leave the room or the house, even if it makes them upset. Respect is why we set limits and involve them in their care and ask for their help, even if they can’t do the whole task by themselves. It’s why we talk to them, not about them, in their presence; why we let them cry or rage (within the context of our caring presence).
Respect is where we start: we understand that even the youngest human has a point of view and a continuously developing understanding of this world. We know children will learn to expect to be treated with respect by others, and that they will expect to treat others with respect as they grow up.
Now respect brings with it an idea of reverence and perhaps awe…which I do believe is an important starting place. The sheer amount of learning and growing they do in the course of first days, then months, then years…it’s staggering, definitely awe-worthy. And reverence gives us a mental cue to slow down, and helps us to observe instead of assume. But if respect is where we start, our next step needs to be authenticity.
RIE is about respecting someone you are in relationship with, but I don’t know many bi-directional relationships that stay in a state of awe and reverence. They may start there, and I do hope those feelings visit the relationship from time to time…but I hate for people to get stuck in the stage of “RIE rigidity.” I understand it, and I even lived there for a time…I learned about RIE, saw how great it was, and was horrified when I saw non-RIE interactions. I wanted to go out and re–, erm – RIE-educate the world! I wanted to practice RIE perfectly…and boy did I beat myself up about it. I literally cried before and after many of my Practicum sessions…I absolutely agonized over every presentation, every workshop, every Parent-Infant Guidance class I taught. I wanted to get it just RIEght. And then a funny thing happened…I started working in the RIE office where I answered every email (I was the ‘educarer’ in firstname.lastname@example.org!!) and every phone call. With a lot of help from Deborah Carlisle Solomon, the Executive Director at the time, and my friend and mentor, I began to create my voice. I then began co-teaching, then solo teaching, Parent-Infant Guidance classes, getting to know families and parents well, and finding more comfort in my skin, and further finding my voice and articulation.
You know, when people who’ve known about RIE for a while watch Magda in that ancient film, Seeing Infants with New Eyes, for the first time they are sometimes really struck…Magda is funny! She is playful with the children during snack! And when you listen to her discuss her ‘ah-ha’ moment listening to Dr. Pikler, you can hear the merriment in her voice as she describes her awe at Pikler’s ‘magic’ ways with her daughter:
There is this lightbulb moment for them…RIE can be both respectful AND joyful?!
Magda thought so, and so do I. There are times for seriousness and solemnity, but there are also times for joy and laughter. There’s time for stepping back and there’s time for engagement. And there’s room for every parent to find their own expression and understanding.
And that’s a very important piece of RIE for me…I have my own ideas about this Approach and why it’s so valuable and useful…but I don’t live at your house. I didn’t grow up in your family. I don’t know that the things that I hold near and dear will be the same things that you do. I do think that most families who find their way to a RIE class have some universal values that draw them in…they’re looking for ways to raise confident, peaceful children; perhaps looking for ways that they can find their own peace and confidence as parents. It is sometimes an uncomfortable process: setting new patterns into place, making changes…those are hard things to do. It’s my job (and honor and privilege) to tell you about all of the ways that Magda and Emmi Pikler found peace and confidence, attachment and grace, for children and parents over decades of work. It’s also my job (and honor and privilege) to allow you the time and space to find your voice and your practice in your own time and in your own way.
Respect is our ‘why’
Authenticity is your ‘how’