I enjoy tending to my children.
I like to organize their socks, hang up their shirts, and cut up their apples just right. I’ll make their bed and tie their shoes and bake cookies just so they can lick the spoons clean. I don’t mind another book or another song at bedtime, and I’ll rub their back, tuck them in once more, and give them all the last-minute drinks of water they need. (Ok, I’d cut them off after two glasses. Come on.)
Because of this aim to please, it was difficult for me to first learn about Montessori. Although I was enthralled with the empowerment and freedom it could unleash onto my children, I felt anxious and melancholy, too. Motherhood is so fleeting and priceless, would I be losing even more time with my sons? If I were to help them pursue their own paths of independence beginning at birth, would we disconnect along the way? Would they not need me?
As I dramatically grieved all this devotion I wanted to give them, I realized that my parenting was distorted. I was tending to them, sure, and that still matters, but it was all for me.
I continued down this consideration of selfishness, and it only became more clear. When I made the beds and folded the laundry and put the socks just where they needed to be, did that please my child, or did it please me? When I sang another song or baked a double batch of cookies, did that make them a happier child or me a happier me?
To love our children looks many, many different ways, all of which belong to me and to you and to all families across the world. That kind of love is sacred, and if you fold the socks and snuggle a bit longer, that is yours to judge or not to judge at all. It simply is your love, and thank goodness for that. But if I am to follow my child, to liberate him and free all the capabilities within his body and his life, then I must include him in my own thoughts of my own well-being. I must ask myself, “In the long run, will this benefit my child, too?”
I also realized in this dramatic consciousness that much of my parenting was immediate gratification. It pleased me to help my child zip up his coat and get us out the door in time. It pleased me to squeeze out the toothpaste or pour the milk instead — at least I’d avoid a mess that I’d only have to clean up later. But did it please my son? Does that kind of servanthood help him thrive?
To be a parent is like a servant, tending to a child’s needs and assisting whenever we see something is amiss. But not to serve can be exhausting! It is easier for the parent to step in and take care of the messes and write the thank-you letters ourselves, for we can ensure it will be done and it will be done as we see fit, but I believe this is where we lose the child for all he is able. This is where the child will feel inadequate, and only the parent will win.
Montessori speaks to the valiant importance of observing our children so patiently that we forego the intense desire to step in. “Like the astronomer who watches the stars swirl by,” she says, “it is necessary to observe and understand it without intervening.” As the adult, we know the answers and we can fix it and let’s just move on here — but because Montessori remained so connected to children in silence and in faith over 100 years ago, we have children today who believe in themselves more fully than many adults ever have. We have adults who are patient and understanding, humble in their work and giving to others, because someone like Montessori believed in them when they were two years old.
Because of Montessori, we have hope.
And so I try to think about my parenting with my child actually in mind. We don’t rear children because it makes us feel better about ourselves; we raise families because we have faith in humanity and desire for our children to affect positive change and help people and live a beautiful and happy life, right? So, will making my child’s bed make my house look cleaner and make me feel like a better parent? Sure, and there’s concession in that, too. But would inviting my child to participate in his own life instead be an opportunity to foster a growing independence that will help him serve a bigger picture? Could it strengthen who he will someday become?
Yes. The answer is always yes.
About the Author
Angela Tewalt is a writer and mother to two boys. She shares parenting stories and Montessori inspiration at Guidepost Parent.
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