Authenticity Begins at Birth
Reflections on RIE Foundations Course (Beijing, 2018) DAY 1.
Who am I?
Whether we acknowledge or not, there are questions that pervade our existence, our confidence in ourselves, and our relationships with others.
“Who am I?”
“Who can I be?”
“Am I worth my place in this world?”
“Do I deserve loving relationships?”
“Can I make a life for myself that I am truly happy with?”
The answer to these questions determine how we view who we are, who we want to be, and who we allow ourselves to be. Interestingly enough, the two earliest years of our lives can set the path to a life-long faith in our identity, our interaction with people, and the footprints we make in this world.
introduction to rie
Resources in Infant Educarers (RIE, pronounced like “rye”) was pioneered by Magda Gerber, a Hungarian child development specialist who brilliantly took people down from their ivory towers, and literally made adults—parents and professionals alike— crawl on their tummies in order to understand life from a child’s perspective. Why not? Children are the authors, the subjects, and the focus of these discussions. Surely, they should have a voice and a say in this matter, right?
The RIE philosophy, which is built on years of research and experience of Magda Gerber, emphasizes the need for authenticity in ourselves and our relationships. I write “our” authenticity because, even as we discuss this topic as “for” the children, our honesty in connecting with the child within us ultimately brings us closer to understanding.
That brings me to the core of honesty and authenticity: respect.
Behind, within, and around every solid relationship is a foundation of respect. Respect permeates every sphere of existence—from our understanding of self, to the way we treat others, and to the manner by which we approach the work we do. Respect for ourselves and others gives way to values such as empathy (when we truly respect another, we begin to see and experience from their perspective), integrity (we value ourselves enough to consistently be our best regardless of the circumstance), and courage (when we hold fast to our resolve because we believe in who we are and what we stand for). You can name a dozen other virtues, and they will all link to Respect.
If we adults need, crave, desire, and even demand respect, shouldn’t the same be advocated to the children, whose voices may not always be as articulate as ours?
This is why we used half the day to reflect on this concept—because anyone who wants to support families and children will need to advocate for them and respect them. Therefore, too, anyone who is involved in this vocation needs to be brave enough to be real.
This also means that we must allow others—and children in particular—to be real themselves.
We can only say that we truly respect someone when we accept them for who they are, and allow them to be who they want to be.
This is the same for children, and at the core of the RIE philosophy: that we respect the children by accepting who they are, where they are, and how they want to be.
Here lies the challenge: this is easier said than done.
Because infants and young toddlers are unable to verbalize their thoughts, it is easy to overlook their preferences. Most often, what we believe is good for them is not necessarily what is true. In our (well-meaning) desire to help them be the best they can be, we often try ways of teaching them to “get ahead.” In a fast-paced culture where people feel the pressure to be “first,” we see the fruits of our goal-orientation in the way we are surrounded by programs that promise to make your child a genius. Flashcards, unrealistic expectations of toddlers sitting still, “certificates” promised at the end of each course, and toddlers who parrot work but cannot generate something new on their own. Creativity cannot be taught, because it is a way of thinking, not a product to be perfected.
Only when we stop to see how brilliant are children are, can we understand that the best gift we can give them is the chance to be themselves, and the chance to show who they are to people who accept them as is.
The Pressure to Be the Best
There is a pressure to perform that begins at infancy. In our desire to equip our children with the best methods possible, we sometimes fail to credit their achievements, where they are. Perhaps it is about time that we celebrate what our children have, rather than see what we feel they lack. Rather than comparing, “My child is not moving while others are dancing,” shall we say, “My child is so intently observing and learning how to focus.” Instead of labeling, “My child is so naughty because he is not giving back the toy,” we can say, “Let me take a moment to be amazed at my child’s will power. While I may take control of the situation now, I hope that as an adult he keeps this attitude of being strong in his resolve.” Instead of being afraid of the next school interview, can we just take a moment to think, “I am interviewing the school, because I want to know if they deserve my trust.”
Respect means that we accept the child for who s/he is, and how s/he wants to be, in that point in time. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know about children, and how much more I need to reflect on the many ways my interactions with them affect the way they view themselves.
Today, I realized that the pressure to perform—and the unnecessary parental stress that comes with it— begins at infancy. When we interrupt a quietly focused baby to show her a toy that we think is better, when we try to help a baby roll on his tummy, or when we encourage a non-walking baby to try to get up and walk, we send the message that we know better. Do we?
In many small ways, we sometimes unconsciously send the message, “You need to do more, to be more, to be first.” In the end, what this says, is “What you are is not enough.”
When we think about it, this perspective may be one of the strongest contributors to a lifelong stress and pressure associated with accomplishment. Many people have become obsessed with success, and trying to please others, or make it to the top. Heartbreakingly, some even hurt or take their lives because of it.
As the adults, children look up to us to show them models of who they can become. At the same time, they hear our voices, and it influences their own. The way we treat them, the way we give them our full attention, the way we encourage them, can all reaffirm the message that “You are worth being with. You are special. You are wonderful the way you are.”
If we can accept and celebrate our children and allow them to be as authentic as who they are, we would be seeing a future full of competent, confident, and happy people.
That would also begin by us accepting, celebrating and loving the authentic person inside of us.