One of the most challenging and life changing aspects of becoming a new parent is the realization that you are now responsible — every minute of every day — for another human being. For this new soul, you are the center of the universe. All of your child’s needs — sustenance, safety, love, learning, comfort and security flow from you.
This will not always be the case. In the years to follow, as your baby grows into an independent person, you may find yourself yearning for the precious time when you and she existed in your own world. At the time, however, it can sometimes seem daunting, claustrophobic and overwhelming.
How do you account for 24 hours in a day? How do you fill them with love and learning and go to bed each night confident that you did everything in your power to meet her needs? How do you shake the parental guilt of never having done enough? And, how do you carve time in this co-dependent microcosm for your own needs without feeling neglectful?
RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) is a parenting philosophy developed by infant specialist Magda Gerber that encourages parents to view and interact with their babies as unique human beings. When you allow and encourage moments of independence, you build your baby’s confidence and competence. By empowering her, you take some of the pressure and stress off yourself.
Here is how it works:
1. Involve The Baby In Her Own Caregiving
Janet Lansbury, RIE parenting expert, recommends talking to your baby from day one. Caring for an infant can be incredibly isolating, and maintaining a dialogue helps break up the monotony of everyday routines.
Every time you engage with your baby, let her know what is going on at that moment, e.g. “I am changing your diaper”, “we are going for a walk,” etc. Once she gets a little bit older, you can start to give your baby autonomy by asking her questions and responding to her cues.
“Every time we pick a baby up, we tell the baby, “I’m going to pick you up.“ Lansbury advises. “We wait a few moments. We wait for them to give us a signal that they are ready. We might even say, “Are you ready?” Then we slowly and gently pick them up. Everything that is going on, the baby is invited to participate in as an equal member of this new world that they are in.”
2. Create A Safe Environment
“When we talk about creating a safe play area, what that does is to create a place in your home that allows the baby to explore freely in their own way and allows mom and dad to relax and be with the baby [without] having to direct or correct [their behavior]” explains Lisa Sunbury, parental educator.
A safe play area is one that is completely baby-proofed, secure, free of hazards and easily observable. For example, a padded playpen, or a section of a carpeted room enclosed with a baby gate.
Knowing that your baby is safe offers a huge psychological benefit to parents because it gives you permission to relax! When you can take time in your day to focus on other things, such as making dinner, helping another child or going to the bathroom by yourself, it alleviates some of the pressure of taking care of an infant full-time.
3. Trust In Her Competence
“[Babies] come into the world with their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, the ability and desire to participate with us and participate in their own learning” says Sunbury. “The RIE Philosophy helps parents to listen to and trust their child from the very beginning. It gives the child the experience of joy in mastery, and gives the child the joy of learning.”
RIE parenting empowers kids but it is equally empowering to parents, who are often amazed at how much their babies can do. There is nothing quite like the joy on your baby’s face when she figures something out for herself. Seeing your child’s pride in her own abilities is one of the most rewarding parts of parenting.
To sum up, if your goal is to raise an independent child and maintain your sanity, remember this: “In the beginning, we cooperate much more with the baby. And slowly we ask them to cooperate more with us. [RIE parenting] is about balancing the wants and the needs of everyone in the family, not the parent giving until they have nothing left to give,” Lisa Sunbury.
For more information, check out our RIE Parenting videos