When I was introduced to RIE nearly three years ago, I instantly knew I was going to be a better parent for it. The tools, strategies and ideas Magda Gerber had developed and taught to parents and care givers for the past four decades struck a beautiful chord with me and for the first time since my children were born, I felt like I was finally doing something right.
According to Janet Lansbury, RIE Associate and respectful parenting advocate:
The RIE approach is based on a view of infants as unique individuals — whole people — and capable ones, too. We aim to treat infants with the same level of respect we would extend to an adult. We believe babies capable of participating actively in relationships with the adults who care for them, and help adults recognize a baby’s abilities…
RIE’s parenting methodologies make so much sense and have truly worked wonders for us. What I didn’t expect, though, was that by immersing myself in Gerber’s and Lansbury’s wise words, surrounding myself with an amazing, like-minded community of respectful parents and practicing being a peaceful, mindful, respectful, reflective, accepting and understanding parent on a daily basis, RIE would actually infiltrate every aspect of my life.
RIE has not just changed my parenting, it has changed ME. It seems ironic that just recently I wrote a post essentially complaining about the fact that I had lost “ME”. But in all the soul searching and reflection I have been doing over the past few months, I have begun to realise that, whilst there are many aspects of my old life I miss and need to hold onto, the new me, the RIE me is actually a much more accepting, understanding and selfless person. I can now see things with a much clearer perspective than I was once able to.
You see, once I truly believed in the innate goodness of all children, I realised that good or bad, at some point in everyone’s life, they were a perfectly innocent baby whose views on life were being shaped day by day, second by second. Everyone is born with beauty in their soul. Their life experiences often determine how much of that beauty we get to see and how much is repressed, or maybe protected, underneath a highly complex series of defense mechanisms.
Therefore, everyone, no matter their stage in life, is a gift, with real thoughts, feelings and their own perspectives. Every single person we encounter on a daily basis deserves respect and I am now finding myself looking at everyone with those same RIE eyes I have learnt to parent my children with.
I can’t help but think of RIE when I see troubled teens in my job as a teacher. I no longer feel justified punitively punishing the child who sits before me in my class, playing up but inwardly begging for his world to be a little easier.
I had a student in a temp teaching job recently who was hell bent on asserting himself as a difficult student from the very first lesson. This was familiar, comfortable even, for him. He had always been seen as the naughty child so why would my class be any different?
In the past, I probably would have gone along with his self-assigned role and thoughtlessly described him as naughty, annoying and with little hope for the future. I would have stuck him with a whole gamut of punishments, from naming and shaming on the board, isolating to the front of the room, sending him out of the room or sending him to the deputy’s office.
This was our first lesson of many to come, however. I knew I needed to connect with him. I knew he needed help and I could see that belittling him, shouting at him or harshly sending him from the class was not respectful of him and nor was it going to help him develop self-discipline.
RIE has helped me to recognise that students like him have their own demons to battle and it is not my right or place to judge them cruelly in my attempts to gain a peaceful classroom. I am the adult. I know better. I can do better. They are still learning. They need understanding and support not chastisement.
After our first lesson together, I walked with him to his next class. I acknowledged how he had had a hard time in class that day. I asked if there was anything I could do to help? He shrugged. I explained that he had a right to the same education as the other students and that I wanted to work with him to provide that for him. I asked him to think about how we might be able to find an arrangement that would suit both of our needs; mine to teach him and the rest of the class and his to move when he needed, express feelings safely and ultimately learn.
We did come up with a plan and honestly, within two weeks, I knew more about that boy than I did about some students I had known and taught for years. His family life was hard and although he still struggled throughout the term to control his impulses, our interactions with each other were always respectful. We knew when to give each other space and we worked well together.
Towards the end of the term and after a particularly testing lesson, he asked “Miss, when are you leaving?” Thinking he was hoping I would be gone soon so he could get his normal teacher back, I said “Don’t worry, Jason, [name has been changed to protect privacy] I finish up in a couple of weeks and your normal teacher will be back. I nearly cried as he himself choked back tears and told me he didn’t want me to go because I was the best teacher he had ever had.
I genuinely felt sad for him that in all his years of formal education, he would say that about a temp teacher whom he saw only once a week. It certainly confirmed for me that no matter, how hard it is or how bad a student’s behaviour seems, it is always better to find the good, seek understanding and remain respectful at all times.
It’s not just in my teaching that I find myself looking through RIE lenses. When I feel unfairly treated by a colleague, friend or family member, or even when I hear about people who have made questionable choices in their words or actions, I am now able to think about where they are coming from and what has made them do or behave in that way. I understand that each and every action taken by another has come from their own place of need. It is not up to me to judge whether my needs are more important than theirs.
It shames me to admit that before RIE I had a very insular view on life. Being quite introverted, I would find interactions with people with disabilities, mental illness, and even the very elderly awkward and difficult. It was as if the frailties or incapacities of these groups of people meant that they weren’t really whole people. I never knew what I should say or how I should treat them. RIE has taught me that there is no such thing as a person who is not whole. Inside each and every being is a soul, no matter how incapacitated their body or mind may be.
My beautiful grandmother passed away several years ago and I was so grateful to have discovered RIE before she did.
This amazing woman lived a life many of us could only dream of. She was a go getter, never letting anything stand in the way of achieving her dreams. Even as a 70 year old she thought nothing of getting her pilot’s license to fly a small aircraft. She could liven up any dull party with piano recitals that she had taught herself by ear, and she single-handedly transformed a rundown old shack in a jungle into an amazing country cottage with stunning gardens. She was chairwoman or president of many clubs and groups in her area, working hard and actioning change for good causes in her community.
Yet, when she was in her final days, it seemed all of this was forgotten. The incredible person that existed beneath her ailing exterior was disguised so much that all respect and dignity she would have been afforded just a year earlier, went out the door. Things were done to her not with her. They caused her discomfort; she was barely acknowledged. Although her hearing was fine, she was spoken to loudly like that would somehow help her understand.
I knew she was still in there. She couldn’t say much or do much but I could see her soul. Her body was failing but she knew me to the end and I knew her. This was evident as my family lined her bedside. She moved her eyes slowly, deliberately around the circle. She took in the faces. She recognised the warm smiles of her loved ones. She stopped when she got to me and took in not just me but my 8 month old baby in my arms. I saw a glint in her eye.
Caught by a wave of pain, she winced and emotion overcame me. I left the room only to be called back in 5 minutes later. She had muttered the words: “bay – be” She had wanted to see the baby. I lay with her, she held my baby’s hands and played with her feet. I chatted to her about her newest grand daughter and all the things she loved doing. My baby would never know her but she would know my baby. She was happy; content.
The nurse came in with her sedative pain medication. She wasn’t ready. She shook her head. She wanted to savour these moments but the nurse opened her mouth and down they went. Two minutes later she was fast asleep.
It was to be the last interaction I was to have with her.
I now know that respect should be there to the end. Inside of every body, is a beautiful soul deserved of love and understanding. RIE taught me this and I believe it with every ounce of my being.
In many wonderful ways, RIE has made my life easier, clearer and more enjoyable. In other ways, it has made it harder as I fight my instincts born of thirty odd years of habit. I have to think more about my words and my actions. I worry more now about how I could be more respectful and the impact it has when I don’t get it right.
It has also made it hard for me to simply accept the actions of others who have not been taught to see people, and children in particular, in the same way. It is part of the reason I started this blog. I want everyone to have the opportunity to learn what I have learned. You can’t learn something you don’t know about.
So thank you Magda Gerber and your source of inspiration, Emmi Pikler for speaking up and speaking out for children. Thank you for educating thousands of parents just like me. Thank you for mentoring wonderful people like Janet Lansbury so that they might carry your legacy to modern day parents and beyond. And thank you for helping me find clarity and perspective in life. I realise now that once you become RIE’ed you cannot un-RIE, it goes with you everywhere and I am so grateful.
You might also enjoy reading:
Respectful Parenting is Not Always Easiest ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
Respectful Parenting: Have I Made a Mistake? ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
The Hard Truth About Parenting ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
All My Life’s a Circle: Respect Across the Lifespan ~ Visible Child.com
For more information about RIE parenting I’d highly recommend reading the following books (affiliate links):
Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition) ~ Magda Gerber
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting ~ Janet Lansbury
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury