As a committed parent, I want to optimize every situation for my baby’s development. In addition to the feeding, diapering, snuggling, and bathing, I’m always at the ready with an age-appropriate toy 0r the Baby Einstein Pandora station. I read Wonder Weeks, Google every incremental action, and know the developmental milestones like the back of her tiny baby hand. But the other day, I was reminded of why I try to give Elliott space instead of trying to drive her development. This day in particular I was waiting for her to turn from back to front. She had mastered the front-to-back roll, but not yet the opposite.
Instead of entertaining her, showing her how to move, or even cheering her on, I got quiet. I watched the micro-movements that were not in her repertoire a couple of days earlier. She moved in a circle on her back to get a toy. She pushed off with her feet to scoot along on her back. She explored a blanket by putting it on her face instead of lying atop it. Eventually, after a long while, Elliott turned a full circle, 360 degrees, on her back. Looking at the babe, I realized that this wouldn’t have happened if I had followed my instinct to reposition her as soon as she moved off her baby blanket or even changed her diaper as soon as I noticed it was wet. Instead, I let go of my parental agenda and followed her lead. She was exploring. She was happy. She had a wet diaper and was laying directly on the rug, but she was doing all sorts of unexpected and “untaught” things.
While I was focused on the great big milestone of The Roll, Elliott was accomplishing a whole host of subtle new moves – when I gave her space to do so. But by asking her to be with me instead of me being with her, I was missing all the ways she was developing herself – and perhaps even getting in her way.
In parenting, I have been particularly inspired by the thinking of Magda Gerber and her parenting philosophy known as RIE (“Resources for Infant Educarers”)*. One key point of Magda’s philosophy is to “observe more, do less” and, correspondingly, to “do less, enjoy more.”
I can go days feeding, changing, and playing with Elliott to belatedly realize that I’ve spent very little time just observing her. When I do that, I realize that she is up to far more interesting, complex, and developmentally-appropriate ‘play’ than I could ever design for her. It’s not easy to settle and be present; Lee Fernandez, a RIE instructor we’ve worked with, suggested that even just ten minutes a day of truly being present to your baby is an accomplishment.
Of course, the following day, when Liz and I sat quietly with her, Elliott rolled from her back to her front. And when she finally rolled over, she did it for a purpose. She turned over not because I was showing her how to do it or cheering her enthusiastically, but because she was exploring her world. She did it not to satisfy some developmental milestone, but instead because it was the best way to reach her ball. Elliott had no sense of it being better to move this way or that way; indeed, she seemed to be less likely to do what we might hope when we’re getting in the way with our interference and expectations.
Now, when I’m shaking a toy in front of her face or moving a toy to within her reach, I have to ask: “Am I doing this for her or for me?” Often, I am trying to control the situation for me or shaking the toy to entertain myself. Instead, I need to breathe, take a step back, and see what she’s up creating. Ironically, that’s the way that she ends up taking the developmental leaps that I am expecting anyway.
*Liz downloaded the book Your Self-Confident Baby for our European babymoon roadtrip. She asked her sister, Kate (with a graduate degree in Early Childhood Education), advice on whether it was a good pick. Kate’s response was that it seemed like something I would like. That was my first introduction to RIE and she was right.