After reading some interesting posts on Janet Lansbury’s blog, Elevating Child Care, I was inspired to read the book her philosophy of child care is based on: Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect by Magda Gerber. I actually read the book about a month ago, but I’ve been holding onto my review because of vacations and visitors. The delay has given me extra time to try out some of the methods in the book and think about their effectiveness. Overall, my reaction to this book, and my personal implementation of it, has been quite mixed.
My main gripe was that the book contains a lot of mental coaching on how to think about a situation, but was somewhat lacking in how such a mindset might lead to concrete actions. As I’m a person who demands implementable results, this wishy-washy mindset talk drove me crazy. It’s all fine and dandy to say that you have to adapt to new developments in your child’s behavior, but how about some concrete suggestions on how to adapt to stranger anxiety or toilet training? Where there were concrete suggestions, they were brilliant for the most part.
My favorite concept from this book (though not as well developed in the book as I would like) was about four different levels of boundaries, or rules. There are “things a child is expected to do (non-negotiable areas), what she is allowed to do (negotiable areas), what is tolerated (‘I really don’t like that, but I can understand why you need to do it’) and what is forbidden” (page 113). I really like this perspective on rules. So often, parenting books on discipline make you feel like you have to enforce every rule 100% of the time or else your child won’t respect you. What Gerber reminds us is that while some rules are 100% of the time rules, not all rules need to be. In fact, the more I think about it, giving some leeway for independent good or bad behavior gives your child the chance to choose and reap the fruits of his or her actions in a way that he can’t with the 100% rules like bedtime. Acknowledging all four categories of these rules allows for growth while maintaining necessary order.
More of my favorite ideas:
- This book actually has the audacity to suggest that you should ask your baby’s permission before picking them up. I thought this idea was ludicrous until I tried it out on Sailor and found it actually helped. Getting his attention let him know something was about to change made transitions a little easier for him, but the real impact of this practice is on the mind of the parent. The act of asking permission reminds you of the humanity of your child, even in the seemingly-inanimate stage. I highly recommend trying it as a experiment.
- Let the child do more by providing a safe environment for experimentation. Wouldn’t it drive you crazy to be a toddler and have everyone stopping you from doing anything all the time? Eliminating the things they aren’t allowed to do lets you be a parent who says yes (which is way more fun than saying no). May I add that a “safe environment” doesn’t have to be as safe as you think. Your young baby can learn to climb up and down off the sofa, if you let him experiment and bonk his head a few times. And it’s really not going to kill a child to put a few small objects in their mouth. From my experience, past maybe 9 months, they really don’t try to swallow things. But that’s the Free-Range parenting part of me talking.
- “Wait . . . and wait some more.” Don’t solve a baby’s problems unless they are really getting out of control emotionally. Let them reach. Also, figure out what they’re really trying to do before remanding bad behavior. Nothing more embarrassing than to start punishing your child and realize halfway through that they were doing something else entirely. And it’s confusing for them. Be sure!
One thing that really hasn’t worked for me is the suggestions on helping a baby who hates diaper changing. I’ll have to admit, I turned to this chapter first because Sailor is becoming a real pain at diaper changing time. Gerber advises a mindful style of diapering where you don’t distract the child but rather call their attention to what you’re doing and teach them how to help. It’s supposed to become a bonding experience and a quiet time together. I’m not quite sure how this works for others, but no matter how much I respect Sailor and try to wait for him to be ready, he still finds it as boring as I do. Ah well.
Overall, I really liked this book, though I found some of its presentation disorganized and some of its statements wishy-washy rather than concrete. It won’t be my top recommendation to new parents, but it certainly does give a refreshingly different perspective on caring for children, particularly infants.