RIE in Real Life…Mindful Parenting

First off, I’m thinking of all my families who will be celebrating the Lunar New Year this Sunday…I’m wishing you lots of good fortune in this New Year!

With the turning of the calendar, our minds often turn to thoughts of renewal and rejuvenation…I know my mind did. I wanted to recommit myself to a more mindful practice with the start of this year, and apparently I wasn’t the only one with that thought because when I announced my choice of book for this round of book club (Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids), I had an avalanche of responses! So many that I had to open a 3rd timeslot!

I initially chose this book because the theme seemed so aligned with the principles of Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach…mindfulness, as described in this book, is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. And that’s what we strive for in classes: the goal is to sit back and see what happens when we don’t entertain or interfere…what happens with the children, and what happens in ourselves. As a parent recently wrote me, “sitting in mindful presence and observing [our daughter and the others in the class] …was really transformative, healing, and it gave us the opportunity to know our girl on an even deeper level. [She thanked me] for shepherding them through their fears, questions, discovery, and for giving them a space to quiet down the senseless chatter of the outside world.”

It didn’t hurt that her class met in a former church*.

But seriously, this is part of the gift of RIE: slowing down to be in the present moment. Another gem from just the first chapter… “your child needs you – the authentic you underneath all of the stress and reactivity – with less tension and more presence and ease. Your availability to be fully present will naturally start to soothe your child, helping him feel seen heard, and accepted.” And that’s what happens in the 90 minutes of a RIE class…90 minutes of not answering emails or responding to texts, of not running to the other room to do a quick task…90 minutes of simply being available and observant…not always in silent observation, but in authentic presence. The most valuable thing you can give another person is your attention: to see them and seek to know them.

And when I read the short and simple paragraphs encouraging parents to slow down when comforting children…to resist the temptation to skip over acknowledgement to solving, I knew this book was a winner. As Magda put it: “How many people say [to a crying child], you’re okay? Well, maybe the child doesn’t feel okay…who are we to say how a child feels? Imagine the message we give them when their way of feeling is not acknowledged, but kind of talked out.” And of course we know that in the grand scheme of things, they are okay or will be, but when we can slow down and be with them in that moment of discomfort, they feel seen and that’s what can help them to feel better.

I know it can feel scary to lean into the sadness. It’s hard for us when children cry! We want to make it all better for them, and for us! The temptation is to, as one Mom said this week, put a lid on the pot…but the thing is, the pot keeps boiling with the lid on…and it can get hotter. But acknowledging feelings demonstrates that you are seeing them where they are, and that goes a long way. Let me give you an example…

About a month ago, I was serving snack to two children on a very special Wednesday: we met up in a park near their homes…one child was with her beloved caregiver, the other child was with me. We wandered around a playground and then I got out a snack (yes, 🍌!). Even though I didn’t have my table, the girls quickly settled into the routine on an enormous concrete picnic table, washing hands, picking bibs and peeling and eating banana. It was a delight (the table was so big they had to stand up…stand up snack! How cool!) but as we were finishing up the banana, the caregiver’s phone chimed…they needed to head home to wait on an appliance repair person…and they needed to leave quickly.

Hit with the double whammy of 1) not getting to pour and drink water and 2) having to abruptly end this special date, “Rose” fell completely apart. She put her head down on the table, stretched out her arms and wailed. She pressed up and looked at her caregiver and said “stay!” and “no! don’t want to go!” while crying hard. Her caregiver reached out her hands to Rose and said “I know. You want to stay. This is fun.” And she started to say “but we have to get home so they can fix the washing machine” but she could see that made zero impact on Rose, so she immediately pivoted back to simply acknowledging. “This is hard. You’re so sad. You’re angry. You want to stay.” And gradually, gradually, Rose’s body relaxed a little, she stopped crying so hard, but she still looked so sad. Her caregiver walked around the table and picked Rose up. Rose cuddled to her, and her caregiver said, do you want to say goodbye to “Emmie?” Rose waved, and then, inspired, she said “high five” and she gave Emmie a high five and left with a smile.

Her caregiver could have diminished her upset; she could have tried to distract or tease her out of her feelings; she could have picked her up kicking and screaming…they needed to get going after all…but instead she slowed down, empathized, acknowledged and then they were able to move on.

Do you have a friend or partner who lets you get all your feelings out? Who doesn’t immediately jump to solve or distract or change the subject?

Can you imagine if you grew up with that?

Yeah, that’s why I do what I do. ❤️

* I threw in that line about the church to lighten the mood a little, but as I thought on it, I’ve taught in many places: a run down church, various living rooms and front and back yards, even a garage for a while…and, of course, in parks all over this city and at BINI Birth (the former church)…and now, in my studio space inside my home. And while the setting does lend something to the experience (I love, love, love how my space glows in the mornings), the real magic comes from the energy of the parents present.

So, thank you to all of the parents who have ever graced any and all of my spaces with your watchful, present energy.