(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)
A quiet day on zoom, but I did get some very thoughtful questions from the Mom of a younger baby who hopped on and multi-tasked with a quick lunch while we chatted (brilliant! Keep taking care of yourselves!!).
First, we chatted about safe spaces for your children… please create them: your whole house is just too big for babies who are just learning to crawl and walk…if you give them a smaller space that they can safely explore, you’ll both feel better…them for owning the space and not feeling overwhelmed, and you for knowing where they are and that they are safe.
Let’s look at the space not feeling overwhelming for them…I often tell the story of my earliest memory…a wasp stinging my hand while I was out on the back porch…I don’t remember the pain, but I remember that it hurt…I ran down a looooonggggg hallway and found my mother, who scooped me up and settled me into a THRONE of a chair. She put some baking soda in my palm and I looked up to the cathedral-high ceiling…Yeah, except the whole place was probably 500 square feet! I drove past when I was a teenager and remember being shocked at how tiny it was when my Mom said it was our old home! But young children have a different sense of scale than we do, quite naturally! It almost sounds silly to say this, but, they are smaller than us and our homes, no matter how confining they may feel now, are still enormous for them!
As for your own sense of security and peace of mind, a safe space means you do not need to remain in eye contact with your child at all times if they are in their safe space. Remember: healthy attachment is time together and time apart. If you bring your child along with you to the kitchen while you do the dishes, to the laundry room while you move the clothes, to your bathroom while you take a shower…the message becomes “you have to be near me at all times.” Perhaps even, “you’re not safe if I can’t see you.” Further, to keep them safe in all of these various locations, you’ll need to confine them a bit, either in a sling or a chair or small playpen…but babies need to move. The first two years of life are known as the Sensorimotor Stage (Piaget). What that simply means is that babies are learning in two main ways: through their senses (the way things look, feel, smell, sound, and especially taste) and through their motor skills. Even ‘just’ lying on their backs, they are in that position that we fidget through in yoga and meditation: feeling where their bodies make contact with the earth, feeling how it is supported… though truthfully babies very rarely simply lay still…they wiggle and twist and move their arms and legs, strengthening themselves as well as learning about themselves and the their worlds. So, fill them up with oxytocin and feeling ‘felt’ and seen in your caregiving moments, then put them down and let them play and explore…doing the things they need to do while you move on with your day and do the things you need to do.
(Of course, this is not to say you should NEVER play with your baby or spend time in that ‘safe’ space…no indeed, part of what makes it a safe space is the emotional safety…knowing that it is a place that you also feel comfortable in is part of what makes it feel comfortable for them.)
We also talked about food and feeding children, and as we chatted I realized that even the simple choices of food and what to feed your child, and even what order to introduce foods to children, is part of parental values and something to be examined and considered. This Mom chatted with me about growing up in Sweden and how that gives her a different perspective from her husband’s (American) choices about food…and going deeper, thinking not just about the emphasis on whole, real food, but also the idea that maybe you want your child’s first foods to be vegetables as opposed to fruits…but that topic can be a landmine when talking with other parents, no?
There are so many landmines in conversations with other parents (sometimes even your co-parent). I’m reminded of the last words of Seeing Infants with New Eyes…but let’s spin it…and think about it in terms of parents:
The first two years [as a parent] are extremely important. The first two years are the time when basic patterns develop: patterns of learning, of living, of loving, of how you relate to the world, of how you adapt. Of how you solve problems, how you make choices. These are the important things. Your attitude develops during that time.
The one thing I truly believe that while different methods may be good for different people, I could not imagine that what we tell people could ever, ever harm. And there are many other approaches that could be harmful. I think respecting a child [and yourself]…I cannot imagine…can you?
And, you know, having a little bit more respectful world…where people allow each other to be what they are, where we don’t need to manipulate, where we can have more trust. We can trust ourselves and each other, where we don’t need to always perform. And 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 [and parents of infants] to play roles, to perform according to somebody’s script or schedule. So it may be a more comfortable life we could create.
In my weekly online toddler class this week we talked a lot, mostly about sleep(!), but we also got into a conversation about values and authenticity as a parent. One of the reasons parenthood is so hard is that you’ve spent your whole life getting comfortable with yourself…so comfortable that a lot of your values are automatic, ingrained. But now you’ve added another person to your life, someone who’s making their own values and understandings about life and how they fit most comfortably into it. And because they are a unique creature…part you, part your partner, part mystery (not necessarily equal parts!), you are required…no, invited (not everyone does this!)…to look at yourself again…what’s important to you? What are your values? What’s ideal? What’s okay? What’s absolutely horrid?
I can’t answer that for you: only you can answer that.
RIE is a framework that invites and encourages you to slow down, to look to your child and to yourself first for answers, instead of always looking out. Just as our goal with children is that they learn to solve conflicts on their own and look to themselves to figure it out, the goal for parents, similarly, is to learn to look, really look, to themselves first. To discover their own boundaries and values. And just as we offer children the context of a warm and attached, supportive and caring relationship as they figure themselves out, we also offer parents a warm and attached, supportive and caring relationship with other parents, guides, and professionals…resources…to help them figure themselves out.
It has been said by experts,
“You must be consistent,
or your children will be confused.”
Who among us is consistent?
Circumstances are always changing.
Children become confused
when parents become rigid,
holding rules above love.
Be consistently flexible.
Hold tight only to compassion.
As people age they become
either soft and supple,
or hard and brittle,
both in mind and body.
I have seen profound examples
of each type,
so have you.
Which are you becoming?
Children are flexible
in body and in spirit.
The greatest gift we can give them,
is to become the same.