The Montessori method isn’t for everyone as it’s just one path of many, but my motivation for sharing it is because I truly believe it can provide inspiration for all of us as parents. Its greatest inspiration for me has been in terms of respect.
It’s not that respect wasn’t already a pillar of our parenting before we discovered Montessori, but this journey has helped me deepen what that means and how to practice it from birth. When we only ever think of babies in the context of being dependent on us from one diaper change and feeding to the next, we can overlook little moments in-between where they take the lead and teach us something in turn, thus transforming our role as parent.
One of the first books I picked up on Montessori inspired me to make a change with these words:
“Children who are treated with respect and who are encouraged to try new skills learn more readily to do things for themselves. Montessori taught that a child who feels respected and competent will develop a greater level of emotional well-being than a child who is simply loved and doted upon.” – How To Raise An Amazing Child The Montessori Way
And one of my most recent reads further reminded me of this:
“We can love our children so dearly that it makes us blind to what is best for them. We can desire so eagerly that they shall grow into fine men and women that we correct and frustrate them at every turn without once realizing that they have within themselves the power of their own development.” – Montessori Speaks to Parents
Before, I think I treated my love for and attention to my children as one in the same with respect. I am caring for them round the clock at these ages, so that is respect, is it not? On the one hand, yes, it is respectful to respond to their needs, but respect encompasses so much more than being responsive. It asks us to be truly engaging.
Engaging in a baby’s development is not always intuitive, especially when we’re surrounded by so.much.stuff that conditions us to think our babies need to be entertained rather than trusted to simply explore. Once I stopped solely responding to my babies and started engaging in their development, I began to see them in a whole new light; they were no longer just asking things of me but truly communicating with me. I began to see their capabilities, preferences, challenges, and accomplishments. I was able to do things, then, that met them on their level rather than provide them things purely based off my adult-world assumptions. THIS is respect, because it is love that comes from a place of honoring our babies as whole, capable people, on their own individual journeys. I was able to find this through Montessori.
Today, we’ve grown to deepen our respect by a few game-changers:
Freedom within limits: Instead of confining and restricting their worlds as something “separate” or “baby proofed” from ours, the limits we set are for the purpose of safely letting them JOIN our world. We focus not on blocking off parts of our home, but on making it inclusive to them. We focus not on toys and games, but on the overall exposure to real, tangible exploration.
Follow the child: I observe my children so that I leave room for them to teach me rather than assuming an all-knowing role. Child-led in this context doesn’t look like bending to their every impulsive want or idea, but it does let them take charge of their learning by letting their passions lead the way.
Seeing work as play, play as work: Gone are the days of “No, don’t touch.” We have broadened our understanding of play as something that isn’t limited to the playroom. Their reaches into the dishwasher to try and participate with cleanup are just as meaningful to them as letting them unleash creativity with their craft supplies and toys.
Help me to do it myself: I’ve got one who is very cautious and needs encouragement to see that he can do hard things, and I’ve got another who is overly-ambitious and needs reminders on, um, risk assessment. The way in which we can best help our children is not one-size-fits-all, nor is it simply accomplished by always doing on their behalf. Slowing down to recognize our reactions and ensure they are proportionate is one of the greatest forms of respect towards their autonomy.
This is one of my favorite pictures from Elowen’s baby days. I had just begun switching to a Montessori-inspired space, and I felt so much peace. I was learning to respect her innate need to move freely by swapping baby gear for floor space. I was learning to engage her development by cultivating a space that was age-appropriate, marked by focusing on purpose and understanding behind the things I introduced to her. I was learning to follow her lead by observing what she was interested in and what she was not. I was learning my baby, and therefore growing our relationship as something rooted equally in love and respect.