I had the distinct pleasure of going to hear Janet Lansbury speak about bonding through discipline last weekend, it was the birthday present I gave to myself. She is, of course, the most notable voice for the RIE philosophy and provides so much clarity to those people who struggle to grasp all the ins and outs of respectful parenting. She also has a fantastic blog and podcast series called Unruffled that can be found here.
I have read (and re-read) her articles countless times and they have helped save my sanity when I was unsure of myself as a new mother, and cast out the self-doubt that was keeping me from feeling comfortable in my new role. Her words guided me, in my sleep-deprived state, when I would experience the pangs of regret after losing my cool with my then testing toddler. Her seemingly effortless advice always helped me reframe and refocus my intentions as a parent and I am eternally grateful to my friend Cathie who pointed me in the direction of RIE when I was pregnant. I have also directed many others to her writing…she has an article that covers almost ANY problem or concern you can think of regarding young children. So, after reading and admiring her work for 5 years, I was thrilled that I finally had the opportunity to hear her speak in person.
There were roughly 40 or 50 people there and the whole session was run like an open conversation, which I loved. I have always felt like the best way to tease out problems and gain a better understanding of issues is to air them out, especially in the presence of others who have similar struggles. Getting a group of parents in a room to speak about their concerns can be very cathartic, and new parents especially need this kind of support and reassurance. I sat and listened to each question, I didn’t really have any pressing questions of my own. I watched as Janet heard and acknowledged each person, and then eloquently spoke to their feelings, and asked thoughtful follow up questions to try to get to the root of the problem. It was almost as if a group of friends was sitting around and chatting about their kids…but with that one person who is a child-whisperer who everyone turns to for advice.
I was struck, however by the fraught tone I heard in some of the questions, it seemed as though people were stuck on trying to understand the “rules” of respectful parenting so they could get it “right.” There was a palpable anxiousness in their voices. They seemed worried about their children’s development and looked for absolute answers to their questions. I sat (with my teacher/Mama hat on) thinking internally, “Yep…sounds like your kiddo is doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing at that age.” I realize and admit that this can sound condescending but I truly don’t mean for it to be. I think I have learned, after working with children for almost 20 years how to roll with what comes and make light of situations that don’t necessarily need serious attention. I’m totally unfazed, for example, by the “poop and penis” talk that typically comes about around the age of 4. I know parents that take things like that VERY seriously, maybe even feel threatened by it and frankly it’s hard for me to understand.
I don’t believe everything should be treated lightheartedly, or playfully however. Children need to know where firm boundaries are, and anything regarding safety should be spoken about seriously. But I feel parents sometimes forget how to be joyful around children…or maybe what I mean is…to think joyfully about children. Our culture really demands so much of parents (especially working parents) today that it’s difficult to think joyfully at all. It’s hard to feel adequate as a parent when we live in a culture telling us “you’re not enough!” Parents are often duped into believing their child needs lots of external enrichment (which is usually in the form of something you can buy). But what they really need is your presence, your guidance, lots of time (to feel, to play, to be bored etc.) and yes…joy. They need a parent who can share in their joy authentically, whether it be through examining a dead bug together or singing silly songs at the top of your lungs together. Maybe your joy comes from cooking food, planting things in the garden or taking photographs. Whatever it is, hopefully you can find it and openly share it with your child.
I left the workshop feeling resolute and renewed in my commitment to parent advocacy. I left feeling certain that that’s what I want to continue to pursue. I had come not only to learn and grow as a parent myself but to gain inspiration from a person as knowledgeable as Janet Lansbury and see firsthand how she would run a workshop. Sneaky, I know. I met with her afterward and asked her to sign my copy of her book. She greeted me with a big hug and we talked for a while about my professional aspirations, she was such a warm and genuine person. I thanked her profusely for how her writing has impacted my motherhood journey, and my own work. Leaving, I felt empowered by the whole experience and actually had a few people approach me to tell me that they appreciated what I had to say. I was on cloud nine. Happy birthday to me indeed.