Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trying Not to Teach

Before Willa came along, I’d read the RIE books, watched the videos, been through the ten day intensive training twice… I was a true believer: my child’s natural movements will build on each other; she will teach herself how to roll and crawl and walk; I don’t need to teach but rather be patient and allow her to recognize her own agency in her life.

At first it was easy! Willa was rather content on her back. When we had play dates with other children, I noticed that they would complain, looking to their parent for help to get onto their stomachs. I was proud that Willa didn’t need me to play contently.

At four months, Willa figured out how to roll—movement for Willa was a means to an end: toys get out of my reach, and I want to get to them over there!

By six months, Willa could pull herself across the ground (a one-armed, one –foot push), and by ten months, she was a pro crawler. At this point, I was still unwavering in my in-her-own-time-and-in-her-own-way path. Not only had Willa gone through all of the steps of movement, but she also was amazingly aware of her own safety. She could be trusted to climb onto chairs to look at the dishes being washed, up and down the stairs, and up the stool to wash her hands at the sink.




This combination of self-confidence, body awareness/caution, and perseverance/gutsiness meant that Willa was like a magnet for adult “helpers” wherever we went. People cringed at 12 month old Willa balancing on the edge of structures, and mothers ran to “save” 13 month old Willa climbing up the ladder at the park.





And then Willa hit 14 months and still didn’t walk. And then 15 months. And then 16 months. I could sense people now questioning my in-her-own-time-and-in-her-own-way ways. My aunt sent me an email reprimanding my lack of guidance for Willa: “Even a mother horse nudges her foal!”


Don’t get me wrong: I loved Willa immensely for her cautious and intentional and trustworthy ways. But I started to doubt myself: had I done her a disservice? Should I have walked her along with my fingers? Should I have bought her a Johnny Jump Up to exercise her legs? Should I have “taught” her to walk by now? Honestly, I felt a little ashamed. I could hear those critics thinking, “And she thought she had it all figured out!”

But I held on to trust. I tried and tried to let go of the urge to teach and affect and shape.
And then, at 16.5 months, Willa started walking. And she did it for herself. And she did it her own way—carefully and intentionally. And she did it beautifully.


And she did it in a way that taught herself that she can be trusted, that she is a competent and naturally-driven learner, that it feels really good to discover things for herself, that she can count on herself to keep herself safe as well as achieve goals that at first seem unachievable … that struggle is a gift.

And all this she taught to me as well. I became so thankful that Willa challenged me and challenged my faith in her and the “RIE way.” Looking back, I can see that to “teach” her would have stolen so much from her, from me, from our relationship… and I can’t help but wonder and fear my next lesson in letting go and trust.

Check things out five years later here.

8 comments:

  1. I want to cry after reading this post!!!

    Thank you for sharing your experience and emotions! Especially this part:

    "Don’t get me wrong: I loved Willa immensely for her cautious and intentional and trustworthy ways. But I started to doubt myself: had I done her a disservice? Should I have walked her along with my fingers? Should I have bought her a Johnny Jump Up to exercise her legs? Should I have “taught” her to walk by now? Honestly, I felt a little ashamed. I could hear those critics thinking, “And she thought she had it all figured out!”"

    I think so often we second guess ourselves when we don't see instant results. Maybe that stems from our needing to "do something" to help our children grow, and especially society pushing us to (like your aunts advice)... but here you have reminded us that simply by providing them with the basic care, compassion, love and trust the only thing left to do is to wait and observe. They blossom on their own time, and beautifully so.

    I'm going to share this post all over the place! Thank you!

    (Reading this, reminded me of Janet's post... http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/06/the-parenting-magic-word-10-ways-to-use-it/)

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  2. I am crying. Thanks for sharing this Amy.

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  3. I did not cry at all. Good work, though, horse-mother!

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    1. Thanks for holding it together, Pete, goat-father?

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