January 10, 2022


by: admin


Tags: Anxious, Gospel, Janet, Lansburys, Parenting


Categories: Special Needs Parenting

Janet Lansbury’s Gospel of Much less Anxious Parenting


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In the 1930s a young mother was fighting in Budapest. “I was amazed how difficult it was to be a parent. I was angry, ”wrote Magda Gerber later. “I thought I was the only one who didn’t know what to do with babies, and somehow someone in my education forgot to tell me.” Then one day she watched in amazement as a pediatrician treated her four-year-old daughter. The doctor, a Viennese Jew named Emmi Pikler, did something unheard of: she listened to her patient. Gerber was blinded by Pikler’s insistence that her daughter could speak for herself – that even the youngest children could be obliged to amazing collaborative efforts. “I felt that this was the answer to all of my questions and doubts,” wrote Gerber. She devoted the rest of her life to learning from Pikler and spreading her ideas.

Pikler argued that like seeds growing into plants, babies do not require teaching in order to develop as nature intended; they would learn to walk, speak, sleep, calm themselves, and interact perfectly if we just avoided them. The problem, she writes in Peaceful Babies – Happy Mothers, is that “the child is seen as a toy or ‘doll’ rather than a human being”. Babies are silenced when trying to communicate, cackling like idiots, tickling when sad, passed around like objects and crammed into high chairs in positions their bodies cannot sculpt. After a child gets used to this relentless, invasive attention, they begin to believe that they need it. “She will become increasingly weepy over time and cling to adults,” warned Pikler. The result is a child who is just as desperate for attention as his parents are for peace.

In 1946 the city of Budapest commissioned Pikler to build an orphanage for children who had lost their families in World War II. Pikler soon fired the sisters who could not give up their authoritarian focus on efficiency and replaced them with young women from the surrounding villages who trained them to treat infants with “ceremonial slowness”. Over time, Pikler has codified a philosophy based on showing babies the same respect that adults reflexively show one another. Magda Gerber emigrated in 1957 and settled in California, where she spread the word in the sunshine with a program soberly called Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE).

One breezy morning, Janet Lansbury, a 62-year-old Gerber’s protégé, was leading a class in a Los Angeles backyard. Seven wives and a couple of their husbands sat by a sandpit, trying not to give in to their toddlers’ whining demands. “Out!” a pigtailed two year old named Jasmine moaned. “Dad, out!” She was on the second rung of a climbing frame that she had recently climbed.

Her mother and father watched with concern. “You can tell that I’m a hover,” said the mother to general sympathy. Many of the adults struggled against the urge to become parents, like helicopters (which circled their children, constantly monitored) or, worse, bulldozers (which plowed aside any obstacle before their children had a moment’s trouble). Instead, Lansbury and Gerber urge people to be a “stable base” that children leave and return to – an idea that many modern parents find difficult to apply.

“My feeling is to go to her,” said Jasmine’s father apologetically. “It’s kind of a strange place.”

“Usually when they get there they can get down from there,” Lansbury told him. She knelt next to Jasmine and said, “You want your daddy to help? He will be there soon. He listens to you. ”(This is a key element of the RIE approach: you recognize whatever your child wants, even if you don’t do any of it.)

“I’m excited to see what she’s doing,” said Jasmin’s father, with what sounded more like fear.

Jasmine said, “Owie.” Then she climbed down.

Lansbury has a special bond with young children. “You have something I really understand,” she says. “I think I have my own personal reasons for arresting the development.”Photo by Annie Tritt for The New Yorker

Her mother looked relieved. “Jazzy, can I get a kiss?”

“Uh, no,” Jasmine replied, waddling away.

Lansbury is a Californian. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and was a model and actress in her teens. She practices Transcendental Meditation and jogs on the beach. She wears a small necklace with a starfish on it. But it is not washed out with children. Strict boundaries, confidently enforced, allow them to relax, she advises. It is our ambivalence towards rules that forces children to “explore” them. Children are fascinated by anything that unsettles their overlords, so they will act as long as we get upset. “You are asking a question with that behavior,” says Lansbury. “’May I do that? What if you are really tired? ‘ ”

In the back yard, a mother told Lansbury that every time her two-year-old says no, he has tantrums and hits his head on the floor. Lansbury looked at the little culprit. “Sometimes you go down because you don’t like it when someone says no?” She asked. She turned to his mother and suggested that he put a blanket under his head so that he wouldn’t be injured. “He has the right to object,” she continued. “It’s so healthy for you!”

Lansbury rose to be the parenting guru by providing slightly startling advice in a calming tone. “Try to pretend for a day that everything you say to your child is absolutely perfect every decision you make,” she suggests in an episode of her podcast “Unruffled,” which runs nearly a million a month Listener has. “Trust your child” is a common refrain. The title of her latest book is “No Bad Kids”. Emmi Pikler put it in a less reassuring way: “If an otherwise healthy child is ‘boring’, ‘bad’ or ‘excited’ (as it is called), these tendencies are always the result of the behavior of the environment – or, more precisely, of poor upbringing . “The good news is that there are no bad children. The bad news is that there are a lot of bad parents out there.

Until recently, “parent” was a noun. You learned how to look after children from your extended family. But in the second half of the twentieth century, as more Americans moved to the cities and had smaller families, fewer people picked up these skills from relatives. The famous opening of Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” speaks for the insecurity that American parents already felt in 1946: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think. ”Obviously, we still don’t trust each other enough: Spock’s book has sold around fifty million copies and has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry of books, courses, podcasts, websites, and social media feeds that appeal to people teach them how to deal with their own offspring.

“The rise of parenthood is very similar to what happened to food,” writes developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik. In the past, people raised their children the way they made balls or meatballs: in accordance with the traditions of their culture, choosing and choosing from the slight variations they saw in their cousins, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. “What was once a matter of experience is now a matter of experts,” Gopnik continues. The trend, she argues, is exacerbated by the fact that Americans have children later in life: “Most middle-class parents spend years taking classes and building careers before they have children. It is therefore not surprising that school and work are today the role models for parents to look after their children. ”We have goals to achieve. We are studying.

Parents with the inclination – and the time – to ponder their approach to parenting have some serious choices to make. For a generation the incumbent guru has been pediatrician William Sears, an advocate of “attachment education.” Mothers who follow his advice will find that they sleep with their babies in their beds, carry them in a sling or sling as often as possible, and breastfeed when they cry. Such a mother, writes Sears, “will only feel complete when she is with her baby.” She has become a kangaroo. Or maybe a caricature of a liberal: No necessity is too trivial to require breast intervention.

This is in contrast to the top-down, conservative parenting style that tells kids to scream and pull themselves up by their boots. Achievement is rewarded (“If you are good, you can eat ice cream”), hierarchy is not questioned (“Because I said it”) and personal responsibility is enforced with the threat of consequences (“I will make you cry”). RIE could be compared to some kind of strangely loving libertarianism: children are expected to solve their own problems; Parents are expected to acknowledge their children’s feelings, even ugly ones. “While this is completely counter-intuitive to most of us, it works,” writes Lansbury. “How can your child keep fighting if you don’t stop agreeing?”

Lansbury’s style is inclusive; The slogan of their podcast is “We can do it”. But as much as we crave expert guidance, many of us still resent any suggestion that what we are doing to our children is wrong. “Janet is the Millennial Martha Stewart – she’s ubiquitous, I can’t escape her,” said Tori Barnes, a thirty-four-year-old mother of three in suburban Denver. “When I was in middle school, my mother loved Martha – she watched her all the time on the Home Garden Network, read all of her books. Then one day my mother closed her book and said, ‘That’s it. Martha Stewart just told me to pick dandelions and make dandelion wine. I don’t have time for this shit. ‘ “Barnes had her dandelion-wine moment when she heard Lansbury describe diaper changes as an opportunity to socialize with their baby. RIE supporters believe parents should give undivided attention to care so that diapering, breastfeeding, and bathing become a relationship-building time. Lansbury suggests doing diaper changes with exquisite slowness, describing each action and seeking the child’s involvement by asking questions like, “Are you now lifting your legs so I can wipe you?”


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