As a new parent, maybe you think you have it all figured out in the first six months or so, and maybe some do. But for me, it’s taken years to really feel like I have found my “why” when it comes to parenting.
What do I mean by parenting “why”?
I mean the reason that you parent the way you do.
Maybe you haven’t given much thought to why you parent the way you do, or maybe you have. For me, it’s something I have reflected a lot on over the past four years and I have come to the point where I feel confident in my parenting decisions and although I am not perfect, I hope I am giving my children a positive, loving childhood.
I can say that I had a pretty great time growing up. I have one parent who has supported me limitlessly throughout my life, always encouraging me to try new things, question authority, and try my very best at whatever I chose to do. Although my childhood wasn’t perfect and there were quite difficult times involving my other parent, I feel like I came out as a strong, independent, and hardworking person who is self-aware enough to work through my personal weaknesses and capitalize on my strengths.
I see the world and the people in it. I see people who struggle with mental health, who have had unsupportive families, who have never felt like they could measure up to impossible cultural expectations. I see people who lack empathy and are blind to the problems of the world. Who have never felt that sense of purpose swell up in them when they see injustice. Who have never felt called to stand up for someone. I see a lot of people who can’t see beyond themselves. I see people who are passing on generational trauma of all kinds to their children instead of doing the self-work it takes to heal. I see people who have yet to discover that many of their issues stem from their relationship with their parents or other caregivers as a child and who also don’t recognize the importance of their role once they become parents themselves. I know this is not everyone. But there is enough hate in the world to let me know that it is more common than we may think.
I believe the world needs its future citizens to be brave, compassionate, self-assured, and with a great sense of respect for everyone and everything that exists on this planet. As a parent, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to raise my children to be this. They ARE the future.
My philosophy of parenting comes down to two basic principles: respect and freedom (within limits). Interestingly, these principles are also two of the main facets of Montessori.
It’s incredible to me how society has normalized adults disrespecting children as if they are less than human. Babies and children are deserving of your respect from the moment they are born. Instead of talking about how I don’t disrespect my children, I will share some ways that I respect them:
- I respond to them at night. No matter how tired I am, no matter if two babies are crying at the same time, no matter if I have work to do. If they need me during the night, I go to them and soothe them. I don’t believe letting a baby cry themselves to sleep is teaching them how to “self-soothe”. Babies come into this world with basic needs and it is our duty as parents to fulfill them. Dr. Montessori observed that an infants first attempts at communication with the world around them was through crying. If we don’t respond to our babies when they cry and try to communicate with us, how can we expect them to continue trying to communicate as they get older and start to use words? Not much has been studied about a potential connection between babies who are sleep trained using cry-it-out methods and speech delays but I think it is always something to keep in mind.
- I do my best to fulfill their needs. If they are crying, I try to hold them. If they need to be carried for a nap, I carry them. If they want to play by themselves, I facilitate that. If they want to help cook or clean, I invite them to do so if I can. I can’t always meet the needs of all three children at once, but I do my best every day and I certainly don’t worry that I am spoiling them by doing so.
- I speak to them the way I want them to speak to themselves. The question I often ask myself when talking to my children is, would I say that to another adult? Most of the time, yes. Sometimes, no. I am not perfect! As Montessori parents, we try to find other ways to communicate other than yelling and we avoid shaming language. I think this is one of the most difficult things to change as parents, because we often find ourselves saying the same words our parents said to us (this may be a good thing or a bad thing!). It takes a lot of self-discipline to change the way we speak to our children, but it’s something we can continue to improve on everyday.
- I touch them gently. This is something that is also surprisingly difficult, especially when I am upset as well. Although I have never felt compelled to hit my children, it can be easy to pick them up roughly or push them away if they are hitting etc. But the thing is, the way we touch them is how they will touch others. We need to model using gentle touch as well. A good reminder for myself, even if I am angry, is to actually say “I am going to pick you up gently right now and move you away” or something similar according to the situation. Saying this to my child helps me remember to touch gently and also lets them know what I am doing. Again, I try to keep in mind that if I wouldn’t touch another adult in that way then I shouldn’t touch my children like that.
- If I make a mistake, I always apologize. I am not perfect, far from it. If I make a mistake, I always apologize to my children because they deserve it. I want them to know that adults make mistakes too. I also know how important it is to model making things right when we make a mistake.
FREEDOM (WITHIN LIMITS)
Giving your child freedom is the first step in instilling self-confidence. They are in charge of constructing themselves and dictating their own life. It is our job as the adult to set up an environment, both physical and mental/emotional, that supports this construction. Some ways I invite my children to be free are:
- On-demand breastfeeding (or bottle feeding). Nursing on demand has been part of my parenting since the beginning. Not only is it the best for your milk supply, but it also gives the baby an opportunity to show you when they are hungry or not and dictate their own feeding schedule. This also applies to weaning which I believe should be done in a way that respects the child but also your own limits. For example, I night weaned my eldest after having severe nursing aversion (you can read about it here) and my boy twin self-weaned recently at 15 months and I am respecting that.
- Baby led weaning. Allowing the child to feed themselves from the very beginning helps with establishing a positive relationship with food and eating. We eat the majority of our meals together and the children eat the same as the adults. I believe it is my job to offer the food, and my children’s job to decide what and how much of it to eat. Some limits we set are making sure to sit down when we eat and keeping food on the table (not throwing it on the floor). Rules around safety are consistently enforced.
- Providing materials and activities that appeal to my children’s interests at the time. Dr. Montessori writes in the Discovery of the Child, “At any particular moment a child is attracted to the object that corresponds to his greatest need at the time. In the same way the petals of the flowers in an open field are calling other living beings to themselves with their colours and perfumes but each insect chooses the blossom that was made for it.” (106). If my child is only into trains and building tracks, that’s okay. If they only want to push a wagon around, that is also okay. I give them the freedom to fulfill their own sense of purpose. Who am I to say I know better what they need? I simply observe and provide materials as much as I can based on my observations. With three children sharing a space, we have to enforce rules regarding playing safely (for example very small toys that could be choking hazards aren’t used in shared play spaces). That is a limit we set for everyone’s safety.
- Setting up the home to encourage independence. Children naturally want to do things themselves, so over the last few years I have set up our home to invite independence. There are stools so my children can wash their hands by themselves. The toys and materials are accessible to them without my help. Some snacks are available to them. Their shoes and jackets have a place in the entryway. It is not perfect, and it doesn’t have to be. The idea is to support them in doing things themselves as much as possible. I also haven’t overhauled my home all at once, I have changed things gradually over time to fit the changing needs of my children.
I take my job as a parent very seriously and know how important my role is to my children’s future selves. The time period of birth to six years old is potentially the most impactful time in a person’s life. A parent’s influence is huge and we only hope to do more good than harm. I truly believe showing children the respect they deserve and giving them the freedom to construct themselves will give them the best chance at fulfilling their potential. What parent doesn’t want that?
FINDING YOUR PARENTING “WHY”
This is different for everyone and it may not even be related to Montessori. Actually, a lot of what I wrote above may not even be what you think of when you think of Montessori because Montessori at home looks a lot different than Montessori in a classroom. Some questions you may want to ask yourself to discover your “why” are:
- What was my childhood like? Are there parts I want to replicate for my own children? Parts I want to steer away from?
- What kind of person do I want my child(ren) to be as they grow up? (This means their character, not their career/school/etc.)
- How do I parent now? What things do I feel I need to improve?
- And the final tough question: Do the things I am doing now as a parent truly benefit my child or do they only benefit me?
What is your parenting “why”?