By Tavish Becker
Valentine’s Day: Heart-shaped chocolates. Candles. Red Roses. Sexy negligee. Babygrows. Burp clothes. Nappies. Bottles. Tantrums. Discipline. Sleep deprivation. Things are slightly different after children burst into our lives. There are still moments of profound romance, but they are tightly wound in and out of changing dirty nappies, waking at 2am for a feed, and then dragging yourself to the kitchen at 4.30am to get the day started.
I attended a workshop with RIE associate Janet Lansbury in June 2014 in New York City. Whilst I brought Rosie (2) with me, I spoke most of the time I had with her about my son (4). I felt out of control, dis-connected, mystified by his intensity. Her advice was simple: ‘Fall in love with your baby again.’
You wake when they wake. You feed and diaper them. You talk to them and try to sense their character from the way their little body responds to your touch. You watch the sky lighting up the world at 4.30am together and experience the quiet of the sleeping world.
But how to fall in love with your tempestuous 4 year old again?
I tried a 2 step connection strategy based on my understanding of RIE.
- Connect through care-giving
- Connect through conflict
In the beginning, care-giving is mostly concerned with diapering, dressing and feeding. Magda Gerber advises using these times to connect with your child – to fill their ‘love tanks’. For a 4 year old, these care-giving moments are harder to identify. I looked at our interactions closely. Everything I did for him I decided to do with the most love I could muster!
He wakes up early. So I decided not to groan and moan about getting up at the crack of dawn but be ready to enjoy this time together. We would sit quietly in the living room waiting for the rest of the family to join us. Not necessarily talking unless he initiated it. Just absorbing the quiet.
Every meal I would serve it to him with loving eye contact. I would stay with him whilst he ate, instead of starting up another task. Whilst he can mostly manage dressing himself, I decided to make sure that I was quietly with him whilst he did this to assist when he needed help. Otherwise just to observe his choices and trustingly support him through this task.
The second step was to connect through conflict. This was very hard for me. I usually run a mile from conflict of any sort. But I watched Janet Lansbury deal with a few tantrums at the workshop and tried to implement her strategies. I gave each tantrum and crying fit as much time as it needed. I did not get distracted by another drama happening elsewhere in the house, but sat with him as he cried, absorbing the intensity of his emotions. I tried to show him that this was an important time for us, that I was there with him until the end. I needed him to see that I was big enough and strong enough to handle his rage without quaking. I would nod. Sometimes I would say quietly ‘You seem very upset.’ Or ‘You wanted to tear up that picture.’ And I would wait. Slowly the storm would pass. My son, who did not let me touch him for months on end without screaming, would crawl into my lap and lay his head in the crook of my arm. And I fell in love all over again.