“I don’t know what kind of mom I want to be, but I know I can’t be THAT mom.”
I confessed this fear to a friend one afternoon over superfood ice cream at Erewhon Market in Los Angeles.
Before I had Navy one of my scariest thoughts about motherhood was that I would completely lose my life and be at the beck and call of a tiny human. I felt like I would be trapped spending hours on end with this person that wanted everything and anything from me, and with whom I couldn’t even really communicate.
I liked my life. I liked my freedom, and my independence. I always knew I wanted children of my own, but when the time came around I wasn’t sure I was ready to give all that up.
Luckily my friend then introduced me to something that changed my life: the RIE method. RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers - it’s parenting/caregiver philosophy (but I see it more like a human empowerment movement) started by Magda Gerber in the 1980s.
The goal of RIE is to raise “an authentic child” - one who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected. This isn’t done by over parenting, but rather respecting babies and creating conditions for them to grow in the way that their intelligent, unique beings are programmed to do.
The more I learned about RIE, the more it made sense to me. The principles resonated, they felt intuitive and inherently aligned with me and my values. When I shared about RIE with my husband, he was into it, so I was sold - I knew our relationship had the potential to get rocky once we stepped into parenting land, so if there was something that he and I could agree upon and reference together, I was HERE FOR IT.
RIE has been life changing for me - not only as a mother, but also a wife, daughter, sister, friend and business owner. The principles were created to inspire to a child’s healthy development, but can be applied to all humans, regardless of age.Today I’m sharing more about the principles of RIE, as well as my greatest takeaways from studying and applying this parenting philosophy the past 3+ years. I’ve also included the best resources for learning more should this blog post spark something inside of you.
What is RIE?
RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers. It’s a caregiving philosophy started by Magda Gerber in the 1980s.
The goal of RIE is to raise “an authentic child” - one who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected. This isn’t done by over parenting, but rather respecting babies and creating conditions for them to grow in the way that their intelligent, unique beings are programmed to do.A good way to think about applying this is that you treat a child like an elderly grandparent, not a helpless baby. You don’t feel the need to entertain that person; you help them with what they can’t do on their own, maybe provide some useful information or guidance and you communicate as if they understand what’s going on all along the way. A great example of this is a diaper change, you can see a “RIE method” style diaper change here for reference.
Basic RIE Principles:
The Basis of the Educaring® Approach: RESPECT
Respect is the basis of the Educaring® Approach.
We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.
Our Goal: An Authentic Child
An authentic child is one who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected.
When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that “somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,” by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.
Trust in the Infant’s Competence
We have basic trust in the infant to be an initiator, to be an explorer eager to learn what he is ready for.
Because of this trust, we provide the infant with only enough help necessary to allow the child to enjoy mastery of her own actions.
Our method, guided by respect for the infant’s competence, is observation. We observe carefully to understand the infant’s communications and his needs.
The more we observe, the more we understand and appreciate the enormous amount and speed of learning that happens during the first two or three years of life. We become more humble, we teach less, and we provide an environment for learning instead.
Caregiving Times: Involving the Child
During care activities (diapering, feeding, bathing, dressing, etc.), we encourage even the tiniest infant to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient of the activities. Parents create opportunities for interaction, cooperation, intimacy and mutual enjoyment by being wholeheartedly with the infant during the time they spend together anyway.
“Refueled” by such unhurried, pleasurable caring experiences, infants are ready to explore their environment with only minimal intervention by adults.
A Safe, Challenging, Predictable Environment
Our role is to create an environment in which the child can best do all the things that the child would do naturally. The more predictable an environment is, the easier it is for babies to learn.
As infants become more mobile, they need safe, appropriate space in which to move. Their natural, inborn desire to move should not be handicapped by the environment.
Time for Uninterrupted Play and Freedom to Explore
We give the infant plenty of time for uninterrupted play. Instead of trying to teach babies new skills, we appreciate and admire what babies are actually doing.
We establish clearly defined limits and communicate our expectations to develop discipline.
My biggest takeaways from studying and applying the RIE method:
I could do parenting this way, emotionally. This approach made me feel like I COULD do the whole parenting thing. I felt less responsible in all the exhausting ways - trying to manage and shape and entertain every single moment of her reality. Instead it was my job to honor her and her experience on this earth; she is capable and can understand me, and her body will naturally develop on the right course, given the right circumstances.
I could do parenting this way, practically. When Navy was born we were still living in a small, one bedroom apartment. RIE is a proponent of having a simple, minimal space with developmentally appropriate objects, which felt like a relief to me on a more practical level. We didn’t have a whole play room (or even her own bedroom at that point), and that was okay! Plus, the fact that I didn’t have to entertain her in every moment meant I could lay her on a mat to explore the a few simple objects like bowls and scarves while I made dinner, or answered some emails.
The importance of validation. Yes it’s served me as a parent and my relationship to Navy, but also in ALL my relationships: with my husband, my team, my clients and my friends. Most of us just want to be seen and heard - we don’t always need someone to provide us with a solution, we just our emotions and experience to be validated. “I see you’re upset right now.” “I hear you.” “I can tell you’re feeling things.” These phrases are powerful beyond measure.
The magic of human beings. Parenting this way made me believe in the innate ability of her as a human being, and realize how magical we all are. I believe that our bodies and brains will develop and nourish without so much intervention, but raising a child this way has allowed me to truly see that play out.
The ability to zoom out and see the bigger picture, not just the symptom or result. With RIE, responding to a child isn’t about fixing the cry or stopping the squirm, it’s about tuning in and asking what the child needs (which is one of a few simple things - food, love, touch). I began to use this question with Navy but also with myself: What would be most supportive right now? What does she (do I) really need? What’s really going on? This allowed me to be more of an observer of the whole parenting experience, versus getting fully caught up in the moment and worrying about how I would fix the thing at hand.
The power of our intuition. Most of us naturally do so much of what RIE teaches, which made it easy for me to adopt, but also strengthened my trust in my intuition.
If your interested in more of the technicals, or simply curious to dive deeper into the RIE method, here are the resources I recommend checking out:
The Official RIE Website - More on the technicals, plus when and where you can participate in a RIE training (like the one I did in LA in January!)
Facebook - Another go-to resource for all of my “what about X?” questions was Facebook. I searched and found so much good info and helpful tips in groups. Just search for “RIE” on Facebook. You can also check out Lisa Sunbury's page.
Learning about RIE was empowering for me embarking on the biggest job of my life. It was so nice to have something that makes sense and (so far) it’s worked.
This post was fun to write and I’m looking forward to hearing how it resonates with you - leave a comment below with your insights, personal experiences or any key takeaways and please share it with family and friends.
I can’t wait to continue this conversation with you.
Photo credit: Stylish & Hip Kids for WellRoundedNY