Friday, March 03, 2006

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement: User's Manual for the Montessori Home Environment

In addition to all the restrictions on my environmental design, the Montessori infant-care gurus would also restrict my behavior around my baby. So far, I am reasonably compliant and tolerant of these restrictions, looking for the zen within the method. In many ways, I've actually found it pretty liberating.

Talking To the Baby

Baby Talk. I am supposed to talk to my baby in a low, familiar, normal tone of voice--like the one I would use to talk to a good friend. High-pitched "mommy-ese" is to be avoided (yes, I catch myself at it now and then). So what do you say to a 2-month-old? I play baseball-announcer. I tell her everything I do, such as "I put my left leg in my pants, now the right, now pull 'em up, button and zip. All done." Diapering, bathing and dressing are all "sports-announced", and they are all done much more slowly than is really necessary, so that the child may help where she can. Also, I try to help her hold up her end of a conversation, a la "Tell me that story again, the one about where you lived before you came to live with me. I didn't understand it all the first time." She responds with delighted "Guh, goo" syllables.

Result: I don't find this as confining as I thought I might. I have come to actually think of her as a rather quiet friend. She looks at me when I talk, either concentrating on my lips--trying to figure out how I'm making all those sounds, or else with complete comprehension--as if to say "yeah, I totally get you." At first, I felt like my tone was sort of flat, but once I got into it, I find that I am able to express a broad spectrum of emotion to her, just by thinking of her as a person, rather than as a baby when I talk.

Puppy Talk: Puppy talk is just what it sounds like. Things you would say while scratching the head of an especially beloved family dog, and that you would not be likely to say to a good friend. "Good girl! What a good girl!", "No!" and the like. These are to be more pointedly avoided than mommy-ese, as the goal is to respect the child as an empowered individual. The idea is that we do what we say, whether we mean to or not, and making value judgements about the child, such as whether she is "good" or not, depending on her obedience to you, is seen as a bad verbal and mental habit.

Result: This is kind of hard, as I actually do often think of my baby as someone I am "training", and at this level, she does feel behaviorally a little like a puppy. It helps me if I keep in mind that she is, in fact, training herself. I am just showing her by example how people are supposed to behave. Unlike a puppy, she is hard-wired to try to be like me (then later to try to be as unlike me as she can) so I don't have to praise her for cooperating. Instead, I can thank her. "Can you pick up your bottom so I can put the diaper under you? Thank you!"

This rule is even harder for Kent. He is such a daddy-type, and really does treat her like a scruffy little dog. It's cute, and sometimes I would like to just give in and do it. It'll be interesting to see how she reacts to our differences as she gets older.

Questions: I ask my baby questions she can't answer all the time. "What's wrong?", "Are you sad?", "Do you want to tell me something?". However, I am not supposed to ask her permission to do things if I'm not willing to take "no" for an answer. I'm not to say "May I pick you up now?", "Should we change your diaper?", "Would you like to go to the grocery?" because I know damn well that we're picking up/changing diapers/ and going to the grocery whether she likes it or not. Instead, I am to simply tell her what's coming up next, as in "I'm going to pick you up, then we'll change your diaper, and then we have to go to the grocery."

Result: My enforcement of this one is a little spotty, but I'm working on it. I am so looking for a reaction from her (she is really making a lot of sounds now) that I find myself phrasing things as questions, probably because I'd like her to answer me. However, I really do think it's a good habit to speak accurately, especially with people who are trying to figure out how language works, so I really want to achieve this one. Again, Kent is even spottier than I am in doing this. The only argument I have that sticks is that one day, it will matter very much how you talk to her, and you never know what day it will be.

Baby Sleep

I am lucky. My baby sleeps easily and a lot. I have heard a lot of horror stories from people regarding their babies' sleep habits, so I'm not a good reference for what works with sleepless kids. Here's what I'm doing, and it works for my easy-sleeper.

Bedtime: I am to put my baby to bed while she is awake. This way, she is not disoriented when she wakes up--she is in the same place where she fell asleep. Likewise, I am not to move her from place to place without trying to wake her up first. I am also to leave her alone before she is actually asleep. The idea is that she falls asleep alone, she won't need me to help her get back to sleep if she wakes during the night. This is meant to empower her and build her self-confidence, and I see the logic in it.

Result: This has gotten WAY easier since she found her thumb. (Aside: My baby has learned to self-soothe without ever being left to cry. I don't know who scores a point for that, but someone probably does.) Before, it was pretty hard, and required a lot of work at night. Now, when she starts to get cranky, I just lay her down, read her a little poem or something (she goes to sleep during long stories, so that's out as I am supposed to leave her to fall asleep alone) and either walk away, or roll over and go to sleep myself. It works beautifully for me.

Nap time: The same principle applies as for bedtime. She is not to be left to sleep in her play area, or encouraged to play in her bed. Ergo, no toys in the bed.

Result: Ok. She doesn't really play with toys yet, so I'll have to come back to that. It's a little harder than the bedtime rule, since her daytime sleep schedule is still kind of unreliable. I have to watch her for signs that she's tired and try to put her in her bed before she passes out. It takes a jeweller's eye, I'm here to tell you.

Baby Feeding

Breastfeeding: I am to do nothing else but feed her when we're nursing. I am supposed to find a quiet place where I can give her my complete attention while she's suckling. The Montessori gurus consider breastfeeding to be something close to a sacrament, and do not encourage carrying on casual conversations or watching TV during such an important bonding moment. When presented with the argument about breastfeeding in social/public situations, the gurus sternly respond that such situations overstimulate the infant and shoud be avoided if possible.

Result: I am not religious about this. It sort of flies in the face of my quasi-militant public breastfeeding attitude and my tendency to travel around a lot with my young infant--kind of a no-no. Can I help it that she has far-flung grandparents whose homes are in attractive, exotic locales? However, when I'm at home, I really do stay away from the TV and other people (though I am susceptible to blog-reading).

Table feeding: Remember how I told you we had no high chair? The Montessori baby has her own table and chair for eating as soon as she is able to crawl up to a little chair and sit in it. before that, she is fed while seated on someone's lap (and that someone is wearing a raincoat!). There are all kinds of further rules about how the containers have to be transparent so she can see the food disappearing--and if you want to stop a Montessori teacher cold in her tracks just bring up the spoon placement question--but all that gets a bit anal-retentive after a while. Also, no sippy-cups are allowed at the table. The infant drinks from a little glass. Technically, sippy-cups are not allowed at all, since food and drink should be taken only while seated at the table, but who lives like that these days?

Result: Yeah, I know you're all snickering at me now because I have no idea what I'm in for. Ok, I can take that for now. There are lots more rules regarding play and the like, but I'll just let you chew on these for a minute while I go and respectfully nurse my quiet (mostly) friend.


Amy said...

hey wow... I actually practice a lot of these things! Maybe I'm more Montessori than I thought ;)( forget about that screaming GO TO YOUR ROOM post on the ol' blog.) I think Gus has a whole different Mommy these days. :) After speaking to our favorite doula about how to communicate to your fit throwing 4 year old, I was given a few pointers and I must say things are looking up. Nuvy is a lucky little one to have such commited parents. I know most people have good intentions about the way they parent.. .but how many of us can say we do exactly as we plan more than most of the time? I know I wish to be a full time attachment parent who owns nothing but wooden toys and no TV... but life happens a little differently sometimes. ( ie: noone asks you what you will "allow" in your home when it comes to birthday gifts... and when recovering from a c-section and are on the verge of a post partum breakdown... that TV is the best thing that has ever happened to me.)

testdriver said...

Yeah, a lot of it is just respecting another person's humanity, and Montessori doesn't have a trademark on that.

Good intentions are a dime a dozen, and mine might be as cheap as anyone's, but I keep thinking that it's like quitting smoking. If you tell everyone you're doing it, you're kind of stuck with it, and people feel bad smoking around you.

Also, I think it's important not to try to shelter a social-age child from the real-live things of the world--I have seen the results of that at school, too. Just right now, while I can control things a little more, and while she's really just learning how to "be", I want her to gain the skill of looking at things that are real, and seeing things that are not screaming "BUY ME BUY ME!" even though she will see a lot of those things in the future. What I hope is that, later, she can respect herself through the experience of being respected (that's something that, in many ways, I can exercise some control over. I can let her know how people should treat her).

And secretly, in my dark little heart, I would like for her to be a TV snob and give her kids wooden toys and natural fibers--in spite of Tickle-Me-Elmo...

Auntie Shoogs said...

ok, ok. I got that hint. No Tickle-me-Elmos. But what happens when she asks me for the complete set of Mary-Kate and Ashley DVD's????

testdriver said...

She can have Mary Kate and Ashley AND tickle-me-elmo, just not until she's old enough to ask for them, and to program the DVD player herself! :)

Rece Anthony said...

I think all of this is very interesting. And some of the points I definitely agree on-the sleeping and self soothing and the like(and I have a terrible sleeper) I will be interested to continue reading how it all goes. But, don't you get tired sometimes of parenting by the "rules"? Wouldn't you just like sometimes to just do what feels natural to you? Just trying to understand, not trying to say anything negative about your style. :)

Ann Boyd said...

I happened upon your blog recently and I am really enjoying it! I'm expecting my first child any day now (due date: April 16, we'll see what happens). I've been reading "Montessori From the Start" and "You Are Your Child's First Teacher," and I'm finding it interesting to sort through various philosophies. If I am really honest, I just can't stand all the super-brightly-colored (and, IMHO, ugly) baby gear that is out there, and I'm trying to find an excuse to tell people to only buy wooden and natural-fiber things for our baby girl.

Anyway, here is a question: I think I would have a difficult time with the "no praise" thing that Montessori rules of engagement advocate, especially when the child gets older. In all the babysitting and child-care I've always done, the only thing that works is praising them for good behavior. So, how do you get them to "obey" if life isn't about obeying you?

Here's our blog, if you are interested: