I used to hear my mom say that kids don’t come with manuals as I was growing up. Maybe your parents said the same thing. I’m older, and I know that was not true. Parenting books have always been a popular subject to publish on. She probably meant that it doesn’t matter how much you think you are prepared when raising a kid; there is always something that will stop you cold on your tracks.
In my case, I try to learn about parenting by reading books on the subject, paying attention to what other parents do, and following Instagram accounts that give me parenting knowledge in little nuggets I can alternate with memes about hating Mondays. But there are always things that my daughter does that stop me on my tracks.
For example, if I tried to move her away from playing because she needs a diaper change or a nap, she would get upset, and she’d start flailing her arms, sometimes hitting her mom. At first, we tried to create a pattern disruptor by asking her to take a deep breath and demonstrate what taking a deep breath looked like. Sometimes it was effective, and sometimes it wasn’t.
Then we tried to model the behavior we wanted her to exhibit. So I’d demonstrate to her how we touch her mom. I would caress my wife’s face and explain to her we always treat mom gently. My daughter liked it, and she would, in turn, start being gentle with my wife. But it needed prompting.
Every time I saw her starting to get upset and flailing her arms when she was being picked up, I would step in and remind her to be gentle. Somehow, the prompt evolved to “doing a gentle,” which my wife hates because, let’s be honest, it sounds really weird. Doing a gentle is a very effective prompt, but it doesn’t always work because that’s just the way it is. Kids have a mind of their own even at a very early age.
As with everything else, when it comes to parenting philosophies, we all tend to gravitate towards the things that resonate with us. On our parenting journey, my wife and I find ourselves reading and following authors that talk about the RIE method. If you are not familiar with RIE, then the closest thing to it that is more popular is the Montessori philosophy. Both philosophies are grounded on the idea of empowering kids to make their own decisions so they can develop their personalities, intuition, and understanding of the world.
Because we waited to have kids until our mid-30s, we are also surrounded by loving parents, and we watch what they do with their kids. If there are things that we like, we will try to incorporate them into our model. Then, I also bring my own baggage into the mix, which revolves mainly around my fear of my mom’s sandals. If you are Latino, you know I am talking about the infamous chancleta.
Learning about the RIE method has been an interesting experience. Others have criticized RIE because it seems like an elitist type of education. It is indeed very white. Whenever my wife and I would go to meetings, I would be the only non-white person in the room. I don’t know why that is or even try to take a sociological stab at it. I just know the groups tend to be whiter than a cross-section of the California population or even my city.
Something else that happens is that people are buying into what it could represent in terms of status because often, you know that they are there because they think it is the “latest and greatest” but not because they buy into the governing principles of these educational ideas.
I’ll put that aside because the most interesting part about RIE is not my cheap sociological observations but the friction that comes from learning concepts you might not understand yourself — at least I didn’t. One of the things they will focus on will be the concept of emotional regulation, and while I think that is great, I don’t know how to teach that when I struggle with emotional regulation myself. The books also talk about teaching your kid to eat until they are full. I don’t know how to do that. So how would I teach that?
Finally, they promote the concept of sportscasting. It is exactly what it sounds like: you behave like a sportscaster to guide your kids through what is happening at the moment, so they internalize your voice to make sense of the world as it is outside of them.
Sportscasting is hard for me — maybe because I am not big into watching sports. I don’t know how sportscasters behave or talk or do things, let alone how they would parent. Maybe sports lovers have an unfair advantage because they can turn all those countless Sunday hours watching sports into parenting gold. I am not sure if that’s true because I have also seen dads who are big into sports, and they also seem to struggle with parenting as a whole.
My wife is naturally gifted in sportscasting. I think women tend to be. I have seen her used this method whenever my daughter takes a tumble and hits herself. It usually develops in the same way. My daughter takes a tumble, my wife squats, looks at my daughter in her eyes, and walks her through the entire event.
“It can be hard when we try something, and it doesn’t happen in the way that you anticipate it would happen. What happened here is that you lose your footing, and you hit yourself against the wall that is here. I know it hurts, but I’m here to hug you.” Then my daughter hugs her. They cry. They laugh. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
But it looks a lot different when I try it. My daughter takes a tumble, I squat, look at my daughter in her eyes and walk her through the entire event.
“It can be hard when we try something, and it doesn’t happen in the way that you anticipate it would happen.”
That is where the similarities end because it takes a weird turn after that.
“So there’s this concept in physics, it’s called gravity. Actually, it’s a law, the law of gravity. You challenged the law of gravity, and you ate it. I’m not telling you that you need to follow the rules; you can break the rules. But what they say is you need to know rules before you can break them. So maybe wait a little before you challenge gravity, but for now, stop that!”
I don’t know if that’s the way I’m doing it. That is the way it sounds to me that I’m doing it. I’m sure that when my daughter grows up, there will be future parenting guidelines that I will fall short of in the same way that we judge our parents’ skills through the lens of what we know now. I’ll I can do right now for my daughter is to remain present and keep loving her even if, at times, I feel like I don’t know how to respond to the things she does.
A hopeless optimist sorting the deeply ingrained neurosis of a hypervigilant and topsy-turvy upbringing in Colombia.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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