Janet Lansbury’s Gospel of Less Anxious Parenting

Janet Lansbury’s Gospel of Less Anxious Parenting
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In the thirties in Budapest, a young mother struggles. “I was amazed at 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 in my upbringing someone forgot to tell me.” Then, one day, she watched in amazement as a pediatrician treating her four-year-old daughter. The doctor, a Viennese Jew named Emmi Pikler, did something incredible: she listened to her patient. Gerber was blown away by Pikler’s insistence that his daughter could speak for herself, that even the youngest children could be drafted into amazing feats of cooperation. “It made me feel like this was the answer to all of my questions and doubts,” Gerber wrote. She devoted the rest of her life to learning from Pikler and disseminating his ideas.

Pikler argued that babies, like the seeds that grow in plants, did not need any teaching to develop as nature intended; they would learn to walk, talk, sleep, calm down and interact perfectly, if only we got away from them. The problem, she writes in “Peaceful Babies — Contented Mothers”, is that “the child is seen as a toy or a ‘doll’ rather than a human being.” Babies are suffocated when they try to communicate, giggling like morons, tickled when sad, passed around like objects and crammed into high chairs in positions their bodies are not ready to assume. After getting used to this relentless and overwhelming attention, a child begins to believe that she needs it. “She will, over time, become more and more whiny and cling to adults,” Pikler warned. The result is a child so desperate for attention that his parents desperately need peace.

In 1946, the city of Budapest enlisted Pikler to establish an orphanage for children who had lost their families in World War II. Pikler quickly fired the nurses, who seemed unable to relinquish their overbearing focus on efficiency, and replaced them with young women from local villages, whom she trained to treat infants with “ceremonial slowness.” Over time, Pikler has codified a philosophy, built around showing babies the same respect that adults give each other by reflex. Magda Gerber emigrated in 1957, settling in California, where she spread the message in the sun, with a program soberly called Resources for Infant Educarers, or RIE.

On a recent blustery morning, Janet Lansbury, a 62-year-old protégé of Gerber, was leading a class in a backyard in Los Angeles. Seven wives and a few of their husbands sat by a sandbox, trying not to give in to the whining demands of their toddlers. “Outside!” moaned Jasmine, a two-year-old girl with a pigtail. “Daddy, get out! She was on the second rung of a climbing structure she had set up moments earlier.

Her mother and father were watching with concern. “You can tell I’m hovering,” the mother said, to everyone’s sympathy. Many adults struggled with the urge to become parents like helicopters (circling their children, keeping watch) or, worse, bulldozers (clearing every obstacle before their children encountered a moment of difficulty). Rather, Lansbury and Gerber urge people to be a “stable base” to which children leave and return – an idea that many modern parents find extremely difficult to apply.

“My instinct is to go to her,” Jasmine’s father said apologetically. “It’s a bit of a weird place.”

“Usually, if they can get there, they can get off from there,” Lansbury told him. She knelt down next to Jasmine and said, “Do you feel like you want your daddy to help you?” He’s right there. He listens to you. (This is a key part of the RIE approach: you recognize everything your child wants, even if you are To do none of that.)

“I’m curious to see what she’s doing,” Jasmine’s father said, with what sounded more like anxiety.

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

Lansbury feels a special affinity for toddlers. “There’s something I really understand about them,” she says. “I think I have my own personal reasons for stopping development.”Photography by Annie Tritt for The New Yorker

Her mother seemed relieved. “Jazzy, can I have a kiss?” “

“Uh, no,” Jasmine replied, waddling.

Lansbury is a Californian from California. She has blonde hair and blue eyes and was a model and actress in her youth. She practices Transcendental Meditation and jogs on the beach. She wears a small necklace with a starfish on it. But she is not bland with children. Strict limits, enforced with confidence, are what allow them to relax, she advises. It is our ambivalence with regard to the rules that forces children to “explore” them. Children are fascinated by anything that confuses their overlords, so they will continue to act as long as we continue to get on our nerves. “They are asking a question with this behavior,” Lansbury says. “‘Am I allowed to do this? What about when you are really tired? ‘ “

In the back yard, a mother told Lansbury that her two-year-old had temper tantrums every time he said no to her, banging his head on the ground. Lansbury looked at the little culprit. “Sometimes you collapse on the floor because you don’t like it when someone says no to you? ” she asked. Turning to his mother, she suggested that he put a blanket under his head so he wouldn’t hurt himself. “He has the right to oppose,” she continued. “It’s so healthy for them! “

Lansbury has become a parenting guru, offering slightly surprising advice in a reassuring tone. “Try to pretend that whatever you say to your kid, every decision you make, is absolutely perfect, for a day,” she suggests in an episode of her “Unruffled” podcast, which counts nearly a day. million listeners per month. “Trust your child” is a frequent refrain. The title of his most recent book is “No Bad Kids”. Emmi Pikler put it in a less calming way: “If an otherwise healthy infant is bored, cranky, or tense (as it is called), these tendencies are always a result of the behavior. of the environment – or, to be more precise, of educational errors. The good news is, there are no bad kids. The bad news is that there are a lot of bad parents.

Until relatively recently, “parent” was a noun. Caring for children is something you learned from your extended family. But, in the second half of the 20th century, as more Americans moved to cities and had smaller families, fewer people were absorbing these skills from loved ones. The famous opening of Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” testifies to the insecurity that gripped American parents from 1946: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think. Obviously, we still don’t trust each other enough: Spock’s book has sold some fifty million copies and spawned a multibillion dollar industry of books, courses, podcasts, websites. and social media feeds, all teaching people how to care for their own offspring.

“The rise of parenthood is a lot like what happened to food,” writes developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik. People raised children as they made kugel or meatballs: according to the traditions of their culture, choosing from the slight variations they observed in their cousins, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. “What was once a matter of experience has become a matter of expertise,” continues Gopnik. The trend, she argues, has been exacerbated by the fact that Americans are having children later in life: “Most middle-class parents spend years in education and pursuing careers before they have children. It is therefore not surprising that going to school and working are the models for parents today in caring for children. We have goals to achieve. We study.

Parents who have the urge – and the time – to consider their approach to raising children have difficult decisions to make. For a generation, the reigning guru has been the pediatrician William Sears, an advocate of “attachment parenting”. Mothers who follow her advice will find themselves sleeping with their babies in bed, carrying them as much as possible in a sling or sling, and breastfeeding whenever they cry. Such a mother, writes Sears, “will not feel complete until she is with her baby.” She has become a kangaroo. Or, perhaps, a caricature of a liberal: no need is too trivial to require the intervention of its breast.

This contrasts with the top-down, conservative parenting style that tells kids to scream and shoot themselves by their boots. Achievement is rewarded (“If you’re good, you can have ice cream”), hierarchy is unchallenged (“Because I said so”), and personal responsibility is imposed with the threat of consequences ( “I’ll give you something to cry about”). RIE could be compared to a kind of strangely amorous libertarianism: children are expected to solve their own problems; parents are expected to assert even the ugliest feelings of their children. “As counterintuitive as it may be to most of us, it works,” Lansbury writes. “How can your child keep fighting when you keep agreeing with her?” “

Lansbury’s style is inclusive; the tagline for his podcast is “We Can Do It”. But, while we need expert advice, many of us still don’t like the idea that what we are doing with our children is wrong. “Janet is Generation Y’s Martha Stewart – she’s everywhere, I can’t get away from her,” Tori Barnes, 34, a mother of three in a Denver suburb, told me. “When I was in college my mom loved Martha, watched her all the time on the Home Garden Network, read all of her books. Then one day my mom slammed her book shut and said, “That’s it. Martha Stewart just told me to go 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 connect with her baby. RIE adherents believe that parents should provide uncompromising care and care so that diaper changing, breastfeeding and bathing become moments of relationship building. Lansbury suggests performing diaper changes with exquisite slowness, describing each action, and seeking the child’s participation by asking questions such as “Would you like to put your legs up now, so I can wipe you off?” “

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