I have been reading a lot of books about one year olds and toddlers (more on this tomorrow). One of these books, Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber, was given to me by my SIL and describes “the importance of respect in caring for children.” The author of the book is the founder and director of RIE or Resources for Infant Educarers (not a typo but a term coined by the author). In the introduction she mentions that she is a great-grandmother and has been working with children for over 50 years.
There is a lot about the book that I like. There is also a lot that I don’t like. I don’t feel like I’ve read enough about the book to explain her philosophy but if you want to explore it further, without buying the book, I suggest you check out the blog Mama Eve, written by a mother who enthusiastically employs RIE philosophies with her own sons.
Some of the suggestions I appreciate from the book are observing your child play instead of leading her, allowing her to figure out how things work instead of teaching her, telling her what you’re going to do instead of man-handling her as if she weren’t a sentient being. Sometimes I’ll go whole paragraphs agreeing with everything this women has to say.
Then I’ll come across something that I’m not sure about and almost always it’s crouched in a declaration of the author’s opinion. Evidently there is no research to back up these claims, she just believes them to be true. Here is an example: “You might think, what’s the harm? I think all behaviors add up over time, and the sum total either helps or hinders a child.” Now whether you agree with that statement or not (and I know it’s hard to agree with it when it’s taken out of context, which is precisely why I presented it out of context), it seems strange to me that I should except it just because this woman believes it to be so. Sometimes I’m surprised by how negatively I react to her declarations. Is it because she is stating what she thinks, without any “research” to back it up? Do I place so much faith in study findings even when I know they can later be disproven? Is this just a reaction to the teacher inside of me who painstakingly instructs her students to not pepper their expository writing with “I”s and “me”s? Or is it just that I don’t agree with what she’s saying? And if I don’t agree with it, is it because she is over-stating or because I am falling back too confidently on my own experience-based assumptions? When it’s just two people declaring their beliefs, how do you determine who knows better?
The truth is, I’m not sure. This book has me questioning not only what I expect from parenting manuals (or constructive self-help books of any kind) but also where my own beliefs about parenting come from. Whether or not I take all of what this book has to offer to heart, the self-questioning it has inspired is certainly making it a valuable read.
To better explain illustrate this dilemna I’ll include an excerpt on tickling.
I don’t believe in tickling children. Tickling is invasive, almost an assault. It changes the way a child feels by making her “laugh.” Laughter should come from the soul and be a sign of happiness, contentment and joy. When a child is tickled, she laughs hysterically, and behind the laughter, there may be fear. I believe that this laughter is a nervous reaction on the child’s part, and makes the parent feel like he or she is not in control. It gives one a feeling of power, almost hypnotic, when you can make another person laugh.
Now this is something I don’t agree with. I don’t believe that tickling is an assault. I don’t feel powerful when I make Isa laugh and it doesn’t seem to be a nervous reaction on her part. She seems to enjoy it immensely. And I believe that I know my daughter well enough to be pretty sure of what she likes and what she doesn’t like. Right? I mean it’s not like the author has done any real research to prove this, it’s just her assumption anyway. Why should I believe her over my own motherly instincts?
Of course my conviction is not based on any study either. It’s based on my own observations just as the author’s belief is based on hers. And just because I have fond memories of being tickled, I know for a fact that my uncle loathes it with the firey hatred of a thousand suns. Maybe Isa does feel attacked when I tickle her. Maybe I am wielding my power as the bigger, stronger being when “make” her laugh. Maybe I’m not taking her preferences into consideration at all.
Examining this more closely has forced me to look long and hard at where my ideas about parenting come from. When I disagree with Magda Gerber, where do my conflicting beliefs originate? Are they based on my own childhood experiences, which have no real bearing on my daughter? Are they supported by societal expectations, which frequently fail to represent everyone’s true feelings? If I’m not sure why I disagree whose opinion should I honor – yhe woman with 50 years experience in early childhood education or a new and uncertain mother who’s reading the book because she feels lost and unsure of herself in her new role?
I don’t yet have answers to all of these questions but I will continue searching for them. And I will continue doing what I believe is best for my daughter, even if that conflicts with what some “experts” would recommend.
Do you read self-help/parenting “manuals”? What do you do when their philosophies don’t compliment your own? Do you always trust your instincts or do you sometimes question them?