When I first learned about RIE, much about the philosophy seemed very similar to AP (Attachment Parenting), which I practiced with my first two children. They both focus on respect and stress the importance of bonding.
However, the more I learned about it, the more I understood how divergent the parenting philosophies are in spite of similar semantics. Janet Lansbury wrote a fantastic post breaking down the differences in the two approaches.
In practice, too, I found raising my third child following RIE instead of AP resulted in a very different lifestyle and a different kind of bond.
When my first two children were born, I spent the first days mostly skin-to-skin, with my babies either laying on my chest or wrapped next to me in a carrier. There were obviously times when I put them down, usually for feeding, changing, or when they seemed to be sleeping well and I wanted a break.
As they got older, they still spent quite a bit of time in the carrier. I used it to help rock them to sleep for naps and bedtime, and sometimes even in the middle of the night if they were fussy after a feeding and wouldn’t settle easily. Before they could crawl, I would put them in a seat in whatever room I was in so they could see me. If they got fussy I would often put them back in the carrier while I did things around the house. I would talk to them and tell them what I was doing if they were awake, but many times they would sleep.
I always used a carrier to take them with me on errands or other activities outside the house. I could go to the grocery store, the library, go to playgroups, or meet friends at the park and know my babies would be quiet because they were close to my heart in the carrier. It gave me the freedom to take care of all the things I wanted to do, and lots of opportunities to talk to my babies and tell them about the world.
My boys were with me most hours of the day for at least the first year of their lives because they weren’t happy with other people, including their dad, even for short periods of time. The boys and I slept in the same bed or at least the same room because that’s how we all got the most sleep.
I continued to use the carrier as my boys were in the second half of their first year and they began to crawl and walk. It was my go-to solution if my children were fussy or needing attention. It always seemed to soothe them, and it was a godsend in getting them to sleep at night.
I learned about RIE when my second son was about six months old. I slowly started incorporating its principles into our day-to-day living. When my third child, my daughter, was born two years later, I chose to practice RIE instead of Attachment Parenting.
The first week of her life was the most similar to her brothers. We spent quiet days in bed not doing much of anything but resting and getting to know each other. I put her down in a bassinet next to me when she slept instead of holding her. Instead of doing skin-to-skin, I watched her. I of course held her (because who could ever resist cuddling with their sweet newborn! Those are my most precious memories!), but when she started to fuss I assumed she was either hungry or tired so I fed her or put her down to sleep.
She slept very well the first few weeks. I still put her in a carrier sometimes, but I quickly noticed she had more difficulty falling asleep each successive night. I stopped using the carrier at bed time and let her fall asleep on her own.
As she got older, I had a warm thick blanket to put on the floor of whatever room her brothers and I were in. If she was awake, I would lay her on the blanket with a toy or two and just let her be with us. If she got fussy, I knew she was either hungry or tired, and I would feed her or put her in her bassinet (next to my bed) to sleep.
I spent a lot of time during the day just watching her and my sons. I would sit next to her blanket and watch as her brothers brought her toys, watch her eyes follow her brothers as they played together, watch her hands as they learned to touch each other and then reach for things around her. I would narrate (sportscast) what was happening in the room, or sometimes just sit quietly. I tried not to offer any stimulation by handing her toys or entertaining her. I let her explore and expand her world at her own pace.
I rarely used the baby carrier in the house because she was happy to be awake on the floor with us, and she could fall asleep on her own for naps and bedtime. I also rarely used the carrier outside the house because my daughter didn’t leave the house very much as an infant. I wanted to follow the RIE suggestion to keep a baby’s routine very simple, so I avoided unnecessary stimulation. I didn’t take her to the grocery store or to activities. I would sometimes use the carrier when I walked her brothers to and from school, but I used the stroller and also had someone watch her on some days so I wouldn’t have to disturb her routine.
I could do grocery shopping and other errands in the evening when my husband came back from work. My daughter was asleep by 6 or 6:30, and she would usually only wake up once before the morning. My husband and I were able to go on date nights and leave the kids with sitters because by this time they all had good evening routines and would go to bed easily.
Even as my life was simplified by following RIE with my third child, I wondered if my bond with my daughter would be as strong as it was with her brothers who I am extremely close with. I didn’t need to worry. For all her independence, my daughter is definitely firmly attached to me. There is no mistaking how her face lights up when she sees me, or how she gives me hugs and kisses, or how she crawls into my lap to play with a toy.
I also feel my daughter has confidence that my sons didn’t show until they were older. She has never had a fit of crying, nor thrown tantrums about being in the car or stroller the way her brothers did. While I know some of this can be attributed to personality, I think a lot of it has to do with how different the first years of their lives were.
Attachment Parenting and RIE have many similarities, especially in the intention of parents who practice them. I think parents who are drawn to AP and RIE want to create peaceful, respectful world for their children. What that looks like in practice, however, is very different, and in my experience creates different results.