When I was first introduced to RIE parenting a little over four years ago, I was grateful to have specific advice for raising my then 18mo and 5mo with respect. I read as much as I could, copied out scripts to use in speaking with my children in certain situations and followed what I saw as “the rules” in order to give my children the wonderful, supportive childhood that most of us could only dream of.
It felt relieving to finally have a manual to follow that I trusted would give my children an upbringing that would foster their unique qualities and have them feel good about who they are and their existence in the world as well as nurturing a strong relationship between us.
In the early days, I muddled through, trying hard to break not only ingrained parenting habits but ingrained life habits as I dealt with my children’s emotional outbursts, sibling rivalry, erratic behaviours and general growth and developmental phases. I was encouraged, however, as I saw an immediate positive change in our family life and noticed the bonds between the children and myself strengthening with every change I made in the way I approached parenting.
This positive impact lasted for some years and I was happy with the decisions we had made as a family. But then I began to notice that the tools we had been using to work through situations with the children, were not as effective in creating the connections we needed as they once seemed to be. The girls were less responsive and less settled at home.
With no major life changes contributing to this destabilisation, I consulted with Janet Lansbury (RIE Associate and respectful parenting advocate) to see where I was going wrong.
Her advice, as always, was profound and the penny began slowly dropping. Respectful parenting, and in particular RIE, is not about a set of rules or tools or a dogma of instructions. To follow the RIE advice blindly, mimicking words and trying to reenact specific advice given repeatedly over time is not truly understanding the essence of RIE.
The advised wording and courses of actions proposed are a great start when initially trying to make changes that challenge ingrained habits but at some point there has to come deep and refective soul-searching as well as a significant shift in perspective. Janet’s advice over a long period of time, allowed me to explore and understand this further.
It is not until we truly begin to understand that children are people; people who come into this world as people. People who have their own unique set of feelings and perspectives that are worthy of consideration from day one. People who, along the way, have their own experiences and understandings (unique from ours) that influence their actions, inactions, thoughts and emotions; that we can begin to richly embody the foundations of respectful parenting.
The behaviours of these people are not ours (nor anyone else’s) to judge and it is important that all our responses come from this place of understanding rather than simply being rote-learned and then robotically reproduced at the appropriate time.
Further, many of our reactions and behaviours come from our own set of experiences, values and perspectives. These have accumulated over the course of our lifetime with many being firmly cemented through our childhoods. The way we were treated by the adults we trusted and the way we were made to feel about particular behaviours and experiences have a significant impact on what we now deem important and even get triggered by when parenting our children.
Challenging these ingrained attitudes to see past our judgements fabricated from our past to truly see the child in front of us; the child who is encumbered by their own developing set of values but not automatically afflicted with the fears we have simmering inside us, is key to becoming a truly respectful parent. For it is often these attitudes and fears that see us react urgently and desperately to behaviours lest our children experience the same sense of shame and guilt from displaying the behaviours that we once did.
As we become cognisant of these factors and learn to understand that true respect can only come with true acceptance, we can start to see RIE not as a set of rules to follow but rather a way of being and a way of seeing. There are many respectful words to use and strategies to follow but following these without thought and consideration to the child they are being used on falls short of the mark of what Magda Gerber’s parenting approach is about.
This change in perspective definitely did not happen overnight for me. In fact, I remember reading early on that it was all about a shift in perspective and I naively thought I was doing that in simply changing my parenting style and the words I used with my children. The truth is, however, I wasn’t ready to challenge my perspectives as deeply as I needed to. I wasn’t there yet. I had a lot to learn and work through just to change years of habits in the way I spoke to and treated my children before I could look inwards and outwards concurrently.
That early pathway for me was like an uncharted jungle. There was so much overgrowth to clear and chop through before reaching a space in which to be able to see more clearly what respectful parenting was really all about. Once I got there, I was more receptive to the notion that the problem was not in my children, the problem was within myself.
I held the answers but needed to find a way to unlock a new dimension to my way of thinking. Then, once unlocked, I had to start from scratch again to make this new way of thinking and seeing a habit. I had to practise, reflect, make errors, read, discuss, and re-practise over and over before I was even close to getting to the point of sitting comfortably in this state.
And even with all this, I am still not there and actually, I probably never will be. This will be a life long learning adventure as my children help me delve deeper into my psyche with each new challenge they present me. I am okay with that though. I am okay with knowing that I won’t always make the right call and I am happy to work through the resulting guilt and reparation that inevitable follows.
I am secure in the knowledge that my efforts to be that parent are enough. My children feel the results of those efforts every day. Our relationship is solid and strong enough to weather the roughest of storms. I am their RIE parent and they are my RIE children, their learning journey is just as tough as mine and we will work through all stages of it together, forever.
My parenting is inspired by Magda Gerber’s RIE approach which I learned of through Janet Lansbury’s blog. If you are interested in learning more you can find some good information here or I highly recommend these 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