The following is one in a series of essays written by Catherine McTamaney about how to be a Montessori parent.
Lost in Translation
Most children are blessed with a number of different adults who care for them across their lives: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, friends’ parents, sitters, and others. And while all these different people may share a beneficent intent for the child, they likely show it in many different ways. The more people who care for a child, the more voices of caring the child must learn to translate.
This may be particularly troubling for Montessori parents, who often find the ways they want to communicate with their children contrary to the traditional ways their own parents may have communicated with them. Parenting in a different style from your own history requires courage and grace, a holding-fast to your own beliefs and the ability to do so without alienating those people who likely love you as much as you love your child. Of all the people who will tell you that you’re wrong to trust your child, or listen to your child, or follow his or her development rather than some set of rules in a book somewhere, the hardest ones to debate may be the ones with the greatest interest in proving you wrong.
Just as we look to the child to understand why his or her behavior is challenging, we should look to other adults with the same compassion and curiosity. Presume first that the end goals are the same: to support children as they develop into healthy adults. After all, if the caregivers weren’t so deeply invested in the child, they wouldn’t bother to offer their opinions about parenting so generously. Then, from that place of compassion, try to identify the which and whys of the conflict. What does support mean to different caregivers? What is the model of healthy adults to which we aspire? If we can understand which elements of parenting are so important to our naysayers, and why those elements carry such importance, we can better understand the differences in values or presumptions that lead to different styles. In other words, unless we know why someone disagrees with our parenting choices, we’re unlikely to get them to change their minds. Maybe a difference in opinion about a toileting technique isn’t because our mothers think we’re unprepared. Maybe it’s because they have a different belief about the effectiveness of punishment and rewards than we do. Maybe the insistence that children not speak until spoken to is not be because our fathers are controlling and don’t want to be bothered. Maybe it’s because they believe children should learn self-restraint in order to master the give-and-take of thoughtful dialogue. Or, maybe it really is because other caregivers don’t believe children to be as engaging or positive or productive or kind or filled-with-promised as we do. We’re still not going to convince them by arguing about it.
Empathetic conversations among the many voices of caregivers who support our children can be difficult to pull off, but they are certainly worth the effort. We model peaceful resolution when we speak calmly, ask questions in an earnest effort to understand another’s perspective, or phrase our concerns in terms of the love we know other adults share for our child. And while the long history of family dynamics and our own complicated relationships with our parents may interfere with resolving the differences, we are nonetheless better off for having raised the questions in accepting and loving ways. We are unlikely to convince our doubtful parents to offer a compassionate ear to our children if we are not offering the same to them. Compassion begets compassion, between parents and children and parents again.