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My Parenting Approach: Sitting on my thumbs

IMG_0842I’m the parent who’s doing nothing. Or that’s what I feel like anyway. When I go out with my toddler to the open gym or story time I see most of the other parents helping their kids with one thing or another. But I’m mostly sitting on my thumbs.

Or being led around by my kid like a security blanket. Sometimes I feel judged, but after being indoctrinated into the whole mommy-war bullcrap, I just kind of decided that judging isn’t for me. Giving or receiving. So, yeah, this post is about my parenting style, but that’s it. It’s not

It’s not commentary on anyone else’s. Parenting is all about what works for each kid and each parent, so, since I’m not you or your kid and you aren’t me or my kid, let’s all just go have some beer, or ice cream, or dechlorinated, filtered water.

In the free-floating morass that is early parenting, I came across the RIE approach and specifically the coach, Janet Lansbury. Her advice jived with me and with what I had observed about my daughter, more than any of the other advice that I had come across. Now, I’m really not a “PARENTING PHILOSOPHY” kind of person, so I don’t do everything that she says (sorry Janet), but I love the approach of treating your kid like a whole person from day 1 and not some pooping, needy blob. She knows better than anyone else what she needs on the inside. My job as a parent is to help her figure out how that fits into the world that we live in on the outside.

So I follow her lead.

I get toys, books and such that I think that she would enjoy, but then I let her figure out how to interact with them. She LOVES cooking with me in the kitchen, so her grandparents got her a play kitchen that she LOVES just about as much. And even though we populated it with play food and tools, many of our full sized kitchen tools have migrated over to her workstation (oh boy does she love putting pompoms in the garlic press – she calls them “play garlic”). Her baking happens in the refrigerator and she bathes her puppets in the sink. And everything gets a dash of fresh ground pepper from our former pepper grinder.

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When we go to play spaces I try to be the observer, not the participator. I’m not there for me, after all. Once we spent an hour and a half sitting at the entrance watching the other kids play. She was sitting on a car that I’m sure some other kids would have liked to use, but every time a kid came over to see if they could take it, I let her deal with the situation. Which was to say, “No, no, no, No, No, no, no.” to any kid within 3 feet of her car. They then backed off and found another car. Sure, I could have interfered and told her to share. But why? I would be pissed if I were sitting at a table in a café and someone came over and told me that I HAD to share my table with them, even if there were plenty of other tables available. Why is there such a double standard for our children? Why would I stunt my own kid’s ability to speak up for herself and handle a situation? I would definitely step in if anyone were about to get hurt, but both kids seemed to be fine with the exchange and happily playing on their own cars within seconds. So I keep sitting on my thumbs.

I don’t plan elaborate activities for our days together.

I mean, I hear about things and try them out, but move on if she’s not that into them (apparently snow in a bowl on the floor was a no-go, but I may give it another try if we ever get more snow). Mostly we just “hang” and get to know each other. Today we blew on each other’s faces, read some books, sang some songs (ok, mostly half songs, she’s not into everything that’s in the songbook that I put together last month), she tumbled from my lap (for fun – on purpose), opened some junk mail, drew on some junk mail, played a TON of peekaboo, looked at the pictures in a maple cookbook, ate snacks (major blueberry kick these days), changed some diapers, hung other diapers up to dry, chased each other around the house, put on socks, took off socks, looked at pictures, looked out the window and when she finally got her fill of me, she went off and played with the water in the bathroom sink while I got to veg out with my phone on the couch. We laughed a lot too. It was a pretty great morning. I don’t worry about the developmental stuff, as she seems to be on track for everything. And, as far as I am concerned, the main thing that she needs to learn at this stage of life is to just “be.” We do a lot of “being.”

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And I’ve learned so much! I never would have thought to buy a toddler a fine art book. I don’t even own a fine art book of my own, but a neighbor gave us a songbook with some paintings of parenting that Maia will peruse for ages. She’s on a huge baby kick and so I asked at the library if they had any fine art books with babies in them. I picked out “The Art of Motherhood” and Maia is obsessed with it. Really, the idea is not much different than those simple pictures on colored background books that we own a bunch of, just way more detailed and varying. The book has a picture of a female sculpture giving birth with the baby’s head showing, so I explained to her what was happening and how she once was in my belly and came out of my vagina. She promptly lifted my shirt and put her head underneath until I explained that she couldn’t climb back in. She put my shirt down and said, “K!”

IMG_0437But the most powerful part about this approach to parenting is acknowledgment. I acknowledge her struggles, her emotions, and her difficulties, I don’t simply fix them or quiet them. Janet Lansbury gave me the words I needed to do what I royally suck at in adult life. I’m a fixer. You tell me about your relationship issues? I’ll tell you what to do. You tell me about your car problems, I start looking up YouTube videos. Tech support was the perfect college job for me. But it drives my husband crazy. He just wants to vent about his day and I want to tell him how to make his life perfect. So I learned how to say, “I’m sorry, that sucks.” And with Maia, I say, “Climbing up into that chair is hard, huh? I can see that you’re working really hard. You’re almost there.” And then I keep sitting on my thumbs. Or I say nothing. It took me a while to understand that not every cry or whimper was a cry for help. Sometimes she was just struggling and making noises, like so many of us would if we had no inhibitions.

I like this approach because I get to trust my daughter with the little things that come before the big things that will happen when she’s older.

I’d rather her fail at climbing onto a chair than at driving a car. And her learning that her needs matter means that I get to show her that my needs matter too. So if I don’t want to read Perfect Piggies 17 times, I don’t have to, and that’s ok. If she cries, I hug her and show that I’m on her team, even if I don’t do everything that she wants. Just like she can be on my team and not do everything I want. And then maybe she finds a new solution all on her own, like having Daddy read Perfect Piggy 17 times.

I’d rather her fail at climbing onto a chair than at driving a car. And her learning that her needs matter means that I get to show her that my needs matter too. So if I don’t want to read Perfect Piggies 17 times, I don’t have to, and that’s ok. If she cries, I hug her and show that I’m on her team, even if I don’t do everything that she wants. Just like she can be on my team and not do everything I want. And then maybe she finds a new solution all on her own, like having Daddy read Perfect Piggy 17 times.

2 Responses to My Parenting Approach: Sitting on my thumbs

  1. Meredith Bay Tyack
    Meredith Bay Tyack March 17, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    Great post, Claire!

    • Claire March 17, 2016 at 9:31 pm #

      Thank you!

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