It would be so nice if there was a fool-proof, 100% successful approach to everything we do in life--parenting, marriage, jobs, health, faith, etc. However, I learned that such a guide does not exist through my dating days.
I knew that with my struggle with non-fiction "growth" books, I might ruin early motherhood if I read a lot of books. So I read relatively few parenting books (really only one practical one which I regret ever reading and have slowly tried to forget entirely). However, I did way too much Google research. And between that and the book I did read, I became a bit discouraged about how things were working for us. Why wasn't my baby sleeping through the night? Had I created sleep crutches? Why was he crying for an hour or so every evening inconsolably? Was he eating too often?
I finally discovered that there were two important questions: Was Liam happy and healthy? Was I happy and healthy? If the answer to both was yes, then why fix something? I stopped researching and reading and worrying. When I did research, it was just to get ideas, not to try to find a full approach to follow.
Recently, I have re-discovered the Montessori approach to education. My brother attended a Montessori school for a few years, and I fell in love with the ideas and structure. I didn't realize, though, that Montessori also focuses on the development of infants. Maria Montessori made some incredible discoveries and observations about how humans learn, grow, and develop. And her ideas have helped me resolve major tensions in many parenting approaches.
Much of Christian parenting philosophy tends to present the child as totally depraved. I have shared this idea before. While I agree that total depravity represents an important idea--that without Christ we have no hope--we have often taken it too far. Because this is the foundation, Christian parenting philosophy often focuses on bending the child's will, teaching obedience (after all, how will she obey God if she doesn't obey you?) and turning practical issues into fully spiritual issues (eating, sleeping, etc.). In much Christian parenting philosophy, there is a harshness and intensity that does not seem appropriate.
In addition, most parenting advice tends to focus on making the child fit neatly and as.soon.as.possible into your life. That just wasn't working for us. Liam wasn't a cute, tidy little addition to our lives. This was clear from the early weeks of nausea and my constant need for naps throughout pregnancy. To use a Christian phrase, I was dying to myself to grow and birth this child. How could that change dramatically once he entered the world? (It didn't!)
So Montessori has been a refreshing re-discovery for me. I am not learning about trying to get Liam eating and sleeping in a way that benefits me as soon as possible. I'm not overwhelmed with information about crying it out and sleeping through the night. Rather the focus is on helping him grow and develop into the best human he can be. It's about not focusing on the total depravity but on the God-given characteristics he has--creativity, a desire for relationships, the potential for language, and many others. It's about helping these unfold.
And my favorite part? Montessori, like many parenting philosophies, focuses on independence. However, this independence is not for the sake of adults. It's not to make my life easier. It's so Liam can have the richest, fullest life possible. It requires much more effort on my part to help him be independent, but it will help him grow into a happier, more human adult.
So during the day, instead of stressing over naps (or lack thereof) or trying to stretch his feedings, I am focusing on creating an environment that helps him grow. I am researching toys that develop skills and how to set up his nursery in a way that encourages his development. I am reading to him and playing little games with him and giving him time alone to explore.
So far, I have found two helpful books.
The Joyful Child was a wonderful read and showed how Montessori applies across the globe (across cultures, economic status, and family traditions). It deals with the first year and creating an environment that helps the child learn to roll, sit, crawl, and walk and use his hands. It gives ideas for the older child (ages 1-3) as far as helping children learn to feed themselves and dress themselves.
My current read is Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three. So far, I am three chapters in. I have enjoyed the explanation of Maria Montessori's approach and ideas. It is a great book full of theoretical and practical ideas. I plan to review it more when I finish it.
While I don't think any one approach is entirely perfect, I do think many of Montessori's ideas ring true with my experiences as a child, my teaching experience, and now my experience as a parent. I can't wait to share more about it over the coming weeks, including Liam's Montessori-inspired nursery makeover.