Subscribe by Email

Friday, December 16, 2016

Where RIE and I Part Ways

A friend of mine was reading a Janet Lansbury's book and wanted my opinion on the following three paragraphs (which I have divided into chunks according to my responses):

"A child should have a child's life and not be an appendage of an adult's life. Children should have their own age-appropriate experiences.""

I have seen many children treated as if they were pets or trophies of their parents. To the extent that Lansbury means children should own their lives, I agree. But I think she doesn't mean what I want her to mean. I think she is a benevolent dictator. What is "a child's life?" Sounds like something an adult invented that he is forcing upon the child to me. The child should not "be an appendage" of the adult, but neither should he be a prisoner to the Victorian and Waldorf ideals of what "childhood" should consist of.

To the extent that she wants children to be excluded from the real world "for their own good," I completely disagree.

"Few adults adapt to a child's life--her size, temperament, and timing. Many expect children to adapt to adult life. This is very difficult for children to do. Children can adapt to anything, but it isn't in their best interest."

These statements I agree with. It is very hard to communicate effectively with a baby or toddler if the adult does not adapt to the child's timing. Notice when you talk to your baby, you have to count to four before you can see her reaction or comprehension.

Here is a great video of Anders to illustrate that:

At the end of the video he finally accomplishes his goal and smiles. But that smile takes a few seconds to appear. When Anders was able to lift his legs for me at diaper time he did, but I had to say, "I am ready for you to lift your legs," and then count to four, before those little legs lifted.

This is why I so heartily recommend going to RIE classes and watching them with babies--how slow they are, and how effective their communication is. (But of course it doesn't mean I agree with all of their ideas.)

But I think it may be important again to say: balance. Sometimes the child adapts. Sometimes the adult adapts. As long as the focus is on everyone getting their needs met, as long as everyone's needs matter, I don't see this being a real issue.

"Sadly, children hang on to their parents' lifestyles. The mother needs to shop, so the baby shops. The mother needs to run errands, so the baby runs errands. Everybody survives this, though it's not ideal for your child."

It is one thing to take a child shopping, rush him, and ignore his needs. It is quite another thing to take a child shopping, be present, and enjoy it as a way for the two of you to spend time together.

I remember wonderful times with Anders in the grocery stores. I always asked him if he wanted to go beforehand. He was generally excited to go and loved running errands with me. Every store was an adventure for him, and it was fun for me to share that with him. Trips to the store were very slow with him along, of course. He often needed to check something out for so long that I was done with a few emails on my phone before he was ready for me to keep pushing the cart. There were days when we were in a hurry, but on those days he would hurry with me--we were a hurry-ing team. And if hurrying wasn't working out we would make a choice to skip something. If Anders ever didn't want to on an errand,  I would put my errands off until later when he was happy to go, or I would negotiate with him and make some sort of trade so that we could both get our needs met.

In relationships there are always conflicting needs. In the parent-child relationship, parents are too often given the choice between bulldozing their child or sacrificing themselves. Lansbury seems to be advocating for the parents to sacrifice themselves. But she is also advocating for separation--daycare and nannies. There is an implied threat here: If you can't sacrifice your own needs to give your child a "child's life" then you should hand him to a daycare where he can have a proper "child's life."

It's this false dilemma that has led to the destruction of our families.

In all of our relationships we have a similar dilemma whenever there are conflicting needs: Should one person's needs get sacrificed? Should one person's needs get bulldozed? Of course not. We compromise. We trade. We look for the win-win. We find a way for both parties to get their needs met. It is no different with children.

Why would we skip teaching our children this valuable life skill and instead teach them that when people have conflicting needs, they should split up and go their separate ways? Not saying there isn't a time and a place for people to go their separate ways, just saying that in the daily life of a baby, daycare isn't more ideal than being with mom, being home isn't more ideal than being out--as long as everyone's needs are being respected.

I see the parent-child relationship as a fantastic place to practice "Both our needs matter! Let's find a way to get both our needs met!" Lansbury's "sacrifice or separate!" doesn't work for me at all.

"A child's life should be boringly the same--boring for the adult rather than for the child. In this way she develops an inner rhythm. Children aren't happy spending hours in car seats or shopping. Malls are not for children. They are overstimulating. Children need a life of their own."

This first sentence is very sad. Time for parents to sacrifice in the name of this ideal of their child developing an "inner rhythm." Whatever that means.

I totally disagree that a child's life needs to be boringly the same. It will be, even if the parents don't sacrifice themselves. The average adult only goes to seven places on regular basis. I think that qualifies as "boringly the same." Should the child join the adult in his/her life, the child will learn how to be in those seven places and that is great. The child will feel competent at life in the world and be competent at life in those places and have a life beyond his house, relationships beyond his parents.

Children, in my experience, love the world and want to know about the world. They also love their houses and want to stay home. Same as grownups--we want to go out sometimes; we want to stay in other times. There is no One Rule like "children need a boring schedule that is always the same." This is hogwash. I am a big advocate of striving for authenticity rather than consistency. The whole idea behind being consistent with children is that it makes it easier to control them. I have found that even the very youngest children are capable of complexity (e.g. inconsistency).

Children are not happy to spend hours in carseats and neither are adults happy to spend hours in the car. When Anders was a baby he would strongly object to being in his carseat after two hours. So when we had a drive longer than that I plan the trip so every two hours we could stop somewhere for at least an hour. Usually we would stop for lunch at a park, other times we would check out a random store (like a book store) to give us a break. Other times we would rethink the trip. There is nothing we truly have to do. Everything is a choice.

As long as I approached every situation with the belief that Anders's needs mattered too, there always seemed to be a way for us to both be content.

"Allowing your child a child's life means letting her play peacefully at home, indoors and out, with her play interrupted only by daily caregiving necessities and occasional errands. In earlier times children had more of a chance to do this. In modern culture, life is more urban and less rural, and it takes effort to provide a child with this kind of environment."

For Lansbury, "allowing" her child to "have a child'd life" means imprisoning him in the Victorian childhood.

For me, I "allow" my child to own his body and be in charge of his property. His needs and opinions matter; he is invited to help plan his own schedule and have input on family decisions. He is encouraged to decide what is best for him--staying home or going out and then negotiate accordingly. He is not shut out of aspects of my life in the name of "childhood."

My distaste for Lansbury's wording aside, it's important to note that Anders largely lived her ideal childhood. He spent a great deal of time at home when he was a baby. I tried to never interrupt what he was working on. He played peacefully, indoors and out. He had a chance to really explore the world around him--the very safe and contained little world in our Oxnard house and then our LA house. As soon as he could scoot, he generally scooted to wherever I was and sought a way to join in with what I was doing. The series of videos on my Anders playlist on YouTube illustrates his early life pretty thoroughly. I didn't overstimulate him. I let him be in charge of what he was interested in. I did my own thing (cooking, cleaning, reading, writing) and he found ways to join or not. Sometimes I stopped what I was doing and just watched what he was doing or interacted with him if he wanted to interact.

What I see is that children want to play versions of or explore whatever adults are doing. But how can they do this if they are deprived of adults? To me, respecting a child means inviting him into my world and then letting him be free to explore it how he wishes (as long as it is respectful to me).

Also, I think Anders had a fine baby-hood, the best I could do--but it's not the ideal childhood I envision. It was much too much work for me (and Tom) and far too lonely.

When Anders was an eighteen-month-old we attended a family wedding at a campground resort. Each family had a little cabin and outside our cabins was a grassy area with picnic tables, trees and a creek. That's where all the action was. There were always kids and adults out on that grassy area doing something.

During that long weekend Anders would wake up in the morning, get dressed, and rush outside to the grassy area. He felt totally comfortable saying, "Bye!" to me and heading there all by himself. He played with his cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends, and explored the creek, plants, and trees. He would come back to the room looking for me every few hours for a diaper change, food, or cuddles (though I was often outside and then he would find me there). It was really beautiful and effortless. In our regular life he could only join in on whatever I was doing. There he could choose from among what twenty or thirty different people were doing. He could choose which activity was the most interesting to him, or what person he wanted to get to know better. That is what I envision as the ideal childhood.

The nice thing about what I envision is that if the child wants to stay in the house and not be with people or be out in the world, he totally can. But there is a world out there for him to be a part of if he chooses.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to decode this.

    I think I understand and agree with your response in general.

    The only thing I had a comment on was the idea of a "child's life". I agree that this could be interpreted in a way I don't agree with-- creating a fantasy world of arrested development where the immaturity of the child is idealized and prolongated. And that may be what Lansbury means.

    An alternative interpretation is something more along the lines of Montessori, with her example of how awkward a child must feel living in the "World of No" which occurs when they try to be a child in an environment constructed by adults, for adults, and are constantly scolded for their curiosity and interest (and perceived danger to that world). Montessori asks the adult to imagine going to some place where the furniture is 10x too big, and how terrifying and frustrating that place would be for the adult to navigate and participate. From this place, she asks adults to be considerate of how easy it is for the child to interact with the adult world. I could see this interpretation as a way to encourage people to provide a "child's life." But that could be a big stretch from Lansbury's actual intent!

    I follow Lansbury on Twitter. She is, sadly for me, a typical Hollywood liberal in everything that isn't RIE. She has spent the last few months since the election bemoaning the way racist America has elected a fascist dictator. There isn't much in those tweets that indicate to me that she can consistently apply her framework of respect for infants which she has absorbed through RIE, to a broader framework of human interaction involving respect for everybody. As a person big on integrity and logical inconsistency, my heart shudders every time I read such things!

    1. If by "child's life" Lansbury meant child-sized objects, then I totally agree. I haven't read her book myself, but because I have read many books on RIE, I assume that what "child's life" means is schedule and location, that children should not be going anywhere with their parents, that they shouldn't be in the adult world, that they should be at home or at daycare where they can have the mythical "consistent schedule" and "child appropriate knowledge of the world" and "safe space" as opposed to being exposed to the real world.

      RIE teaches that all children should be kept, not even at home, but in their child safe room that is gated off from the rest of the house until they are 2 1/2 to 3 years old. That is why I assume she means this.

      I always thought that particular RIE idea was developed because the RIE ideas were developed in an institutional setting. Of course someone who provides institutional care for orphans thinks group care is a great idea, and the idea of caging them up in groups of six was so effective that they write about the idea as if it is a good one for every kid.

  2. Btw, it's possible Lansbury reused this passage in NBK, but when I read it it was in her "Elevating Childcare".

    1. Thanks, I updated the post to just make this a Lansbury quote.