RIE Parenting: Where A Kid Can’t Be A Kid


If I wanted to give birth to a tiny adult, I would have adopted a 60-year-old man. I don’t know what it is about hot parenting philosophies today, but some of them seem so”¦ Oppressive? Restrictive? Over the top?

Enter RIE. You know that if Vanity Fair wrote a piece on it, then RIE must be on the horizon as a fancy-schmancy, celeb-friendly parenting trend. The RIE parenting philosophy Vanity Fair speaks of takes place in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue””but of course.

Here’s what Hollywood-style RIE might look like, according to Vanity Fair:

On a recent afternoon in the heart of Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue, a small group of one-year-olds gather around a table. Not a normal-size table, mind you, but a teeny-tiny one, with teeny-tiny stools that they sit on for lunch. They wear clean bibs. Their food remains on plates and not on the floor. They drink juice out of real glasses, not plastic baby bottles or weirdly shaped sippy cups. ”If you set limits around mealtime,” says the adult acting as master of ceremonies, ”it is possible for babies to eat in a dignified way.”

In theory, this sounds like a great idea. But the more time I spend as a parent, the more I realize how much I don’t want to stifle the person my child actually is””and how I have been guilty of it.

When my first son was a baby, I was totally obsessed with doing everything right. I was crazy about his perfect “sleep schedule” so that he would be the super baby that slept through the night at just the right time. Sleep training did work for us, and now both of my sons are good sleepers. But we were much more lax in sleep training my second son, using a looser interpretation of the all-important schedule.

All that is to say that in the early days of parenting, I felt like a total failure if my baby didn’t do exactly what I thought he should do. I felt like it reflected poorly on me as a parent. While there is importance in discipline and boundaries for a young child, I often see parents in my social circle getting all bent out of shape because their kid is acting like a kid.

The parenting practice of RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers. I have heard some positive things about the RIE philosophy, but the Hollywood-ized version described in Vanity Fair seems a bit much. Very strict RIE practices are described a little something like this:

Parents are instructed to carry on long, adult conversations””no baby talk!””with their pre-verbal charges. ”Take the telephone off the hook before you intend to feed, bathe, or diaper your baby,” Gerber wrote, ”and tell your infant, ”˜I’m going to take the phone off the hook so nobody will disturb us, because now I really want to be just with you.’ ”

I do think it’s great to pay attention to and talk to your kid. But again, isn’t this a bit much? There’s more to the picture. RIE is “philosophically opposed to anything that disrespects the baby.” What does this mean exactly? I’ll tell you””no sippy cups, no highchairs, no baby gyms, no baby carriers, and no baby walkers (also called “moving prisons”).

There’s more:

”Children don’t need toys,” says Solomon. ”Almost all of the toys at RIE can be found in somebody’s cupboard.” No rattles either. According to Gerber, ”Rattles are an adult idea: you pick up something, and it makes noise. Why does it make noise? Because some adult put something into something.”

If this is the RIE credo, then I’m totally screwed. My house is full of this crap, and it’s the only way I can get through the day with my eight month old baby. I love spending time with my baby (and toddler), but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with throwing a sippy cup in his hand and tossing him into the baby gym for a few minutes””so he can work on his fitness, and I can get some dishes done.

In the RIE Facebook group, parents are getting their panties in a knot about child-rearing issues I have never given a second thought to. One woman wants to revamp her two-year-old’s daycare structure into an “alternative playspace” and “natural playscape” that is RIE-friendly.

As I read through these RIE parenting posts, I am exhausted. I am definitely an over-thinker and a worrier as a parent, but something about RIE seems over-worked to me. Why does parenting have to be this hard, and why is there so much pressure on the parent?

I am speaking from personal experience when I say that I had a hard time feeling comfortable being myself as a child because many times my parents wanted me to act a certain way to make their lives easier. I got that message loud and clear and am still learning how to be myself today. Even if my toddler still prefers a sippy cup and my baby plays with a rattle, I’m fine with them being energetic, messy kids””as long as they can be themselves.

(photo: Getty Images)

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