When I had my first son, I was head-over-heels in love with him but also unsure what to do with him all day. I also found myself facing a surprisingly challenging transition from full-time writer to a stay-at-home parent. I was used to creating and producing, having a self-directed schedule and being part of an active workplace. In the quiet of home, I felt like I needed to fill the space. If my son was just laying on the floor (as newborn babies tend to do) I wondered if I should be singing him a song or counting out loud and surrounding him with stimulating toys. I’ve joked to friends that I felt like I was putting on a Broadway review for the poor guy, who was probably totally content just watching lint float through the air.
Fast forward a couple years to when we were going through a tough phase during toddlerhood. Some desperate Googling in the wee hours led me to a blog post by a woman named Janet Lansbury. Her suggestions were some of the first things that made sense to me, and that actually seemed to resonate for my son and our situation.
Like me, Lansbury says she also found herself stumped during the early days of motherhood, when she came across a quote from Magda Gerber, founder of RIE — Resources for Infant Educarers (pronounced “rye”). The inspirational quote was, “take the mobile off the bed, take care of their needs and leave them alone.” For Lansbury and for me, Gerber’s approach made sense, felt natural and helped us view motherhood through an entirely new light.
When my younger son was born last year, I made a concerted effort to incorporate a number of RIE principals into our life. It was a quieter, simpler, less-pressured existence (minus the active 2 1/2 year old running through the room with us). Looking back, I wish someone had handed me copies of “Your Self Confident Baby” and “Caring for Infants with Respect” when I was a bewildered first-time mom unsure about what to do my precious new baby all day.
So when stories about RIE started popping up in the mainstream media recently, I was excited that more people might become acquainted with an approach that had been so helpful to me. Unfortunately, the spin on the philosophy that has been around since the late 1970s is that its the “newest Hollywood parenting craze.”
As the popular press sees it, celebrities like Penelope Cruz and Toby Maguire treat their younglings like grown adults, eschewing discipline and traditional baby items like pacifiers, bouncy chairs and beeping toys in favor of talking to their children as they would a peer, and letting the kids work out baby disputes on their own, without parental refereeing.
It’s disappointing that some elements of RIE are being exaggerated and portrayed as another fringe parenting movement just to attract ratings. My experience has been otherwise, and while I don’t normally evangelize on behalf of specific parenting philosophies, I felt compelled to speak up and encourage anyone caring for babies and young children to at least check it out for themselves from reliable sources like the RIE website, Janet Lansbury’s blog, or other RIE-minded people like Lisa Sunbury, Dr. Laura Markham and members of the RIE community who are speaking up about why the philosophy is right for them and how it can serve as a practice, rather than a prescription.
In the meantime, I’ll be reminding myself to keep calm and carry on during this grand adventure of raising children.