Recently I have become aware of RIE, founded by Magda Gerber, through Mama Eve’s blog (and our discussions on sleep). I have been reading and learning a lot about RIE, and I have to say I am very intrigued.
The philosophy seems to be very much in line with positive/gentle discipline. RIE is all about treating babies and children with the very same respect as you would an adult. It’s about allowing them to express their feelings without us trying to quieten them, and enabling them to learn about the world around them without being taught, coerced or directed. Although I don’t agree with all of the advice, I think the basic foundation of mutual respect between parent and child is positive.
However, the RIE philosophy doesn’t seem to align perfectly with the attachment parenting philosophy quite as well.
One example is the view on breastfeeding for comfort. According to RIE Associate Janet Lansbury’s website, breastfeeding for comfort is not a great way of helping your child deal with their feelings. They even go so far as to say that breastfeeding a child for comfort not only stops them from learning to deal with their feelings, but that it ‘trains’ them to find comfort in food. I really can’t get on board with this – if breastfeeding wasn’t supposed to be used as a tool to comfort children, then why would breastmilk contain hormones with calming, relaxing properties?
However, the RIE philosophy on sleep is very interesting. It seems to be the middle ground between sleep training and attachment parenting – teaching our children to sleep independently, whilst still respecting their needs and feelings – and most importantly, without withholding comfort. Sounds amazing, right?
Lansbury stresses the difference between a ‘struggling’ cry and a ‘suffering’ cry – she says it’s important to respond to these cries appropriately. For example, if your child is crying after you’ve put them to bed and you feel that they need you, you should go to them and soothe them. However, if they are struggling, you should support them to work through the difficulty independently – just as you would if they were experiencing frustration whilst painting, or playing with legos, or trying to learn to ride a bike – instead of rushing in and doing it for them.
I thought I was doing what was right for my children, but how can I teach them to respect themselves and their needs if I cannot do the same?
Now, as you all know, I am not a fan of leaving babies to cry alone in their beds. Regardless of the RIE suggestions, I will not be leaving my baby to cry alone for any length of time. However, I am starting to question my previous belief that all sleep training is inherently bad. I will never agree with cry-it-out sleep training – CIO and CC (controlled crying) disrespects the child and makes a joke of the parent-child bond. However, the RIE approach to teaching children to sleep is something that has helped me start to figure out a sleep solution for our family.
Here is where we are with sleep, at the moment: Squishy, who is 6 months old, wakes very frequently in the night. Sometimes as frequently as every 30 minutes. Occasionally I am lucky and I’ll get a 90-minute stretch or two out of him. As you can imagine, I am exhausted. Monkey, 3 years old, still requires parenting to sleep in the evenings. 6 months ago I wouldn’t have said this, but I feel that this need has turned into habit. When he wakes in the night or in the morning, he simply helps himself to a book from his cupboard or a toy car, tucks himself back up in bed and natters away to himself for as long as it takes to go back to sleep (or, in the morning, for me to come to get him). He is ready to let go of being parented to sleep.
As it stands now, we both have to be home at bedtime because of both children’s requirements. Alternative Daddy can’t do any overtime, which is going to be a problem now that I am not returning to work for a while. Up until recently, there was no need for our bedtime routines to change, but I feel that something has shifted. It’s time for us all to become a little more independent.
So, I am beginning to formulate my own plan that respects the needs of both of my children, as well as the needs of Alternative Daddy and I. There will likely be crying, and it will be a hard couple of weeks. However, there will be no abandonment, no withdrawal of love and affection, and no predisposed time-slots for comfort – and if at any point it becomes clear that they aren’t ready for the changes, we’ll stop. We will comfort our children as much as they need while they learn to fall asleep independently. We are not expecting them to sleep all night every night – especially not little Squishy, who will still need to be fed in the night for many more months to come – we just want to get to a point where I am getting enough rest to be able to cope with life, and where we are able to put both children to bed without the need for both of us to be there. This is not sleep training, this is a gradual change of routine which I hope will help instigate healthy and positive sleep habits in our home.
I have spent so long within the mindset that ALL crying is bad. I have also been guilty of consistently placing the needs of my husband and myself at the very end of the list. I thought I was doing what was right for my children, but how can I teach them to respect themselves and their needs if I cannot do the same? They deserve a mother who isn’t so chronically sleep deprived that she snaps all day long, isn’t present with them and loses her temper at the drop of a hat. They deserve better.
Will I be sleep training my children? No – we will be ‘sleep learning’ – together. This is about creating balance in our family. Respecting the needs and feelings of our children doesn’t equal stopping their tears at all costs.
And you know what? I actually feel really positive about it. I think our whole family will benefit. I will of course keep you posted on our progress!
What are your thoughts on RIE?