An array of Montessori bloggers posted about their Montessori routines and rhythms this week, which gave me an invitation to reflect on how we structure our days. Having one child, and a child newly one year old, our Montessori days for this past year seem to have revolved around two things: rest and food. And Eli has always been given the freedom to determine when both of these needs are met.
Rest. Ah, sleep. I’m not sure why something so natural became such an early stresser for us as parents, but Brian, my husband, and I had more conversations about Eli and sleep when he was a newborn than I could possibly ever count. I think a lot of the problem stems from the many parenting books and parenting bloggers and, well, parents who want to talk about a baby’s sleep, who want to help you “fix” your baby’s sleep.
Brian and I decided we were either going to trust our child or we weren’t. And we decided to trust. What that meant in regards to sleep was that we were not going to put Eli on a sleep schedule. He slept when he wanted, and he was awake when he wanted. We used the word “rest” and used the ASL sign for “sleep,” and in the meantime, we learned his language and cues. We also aided his falling asleep when he asked for help. Every time. And we tried our best to be patient, which is challenging, for sure, when you are also needing sleep.
When Eli is ready for a nap, he signs “rest” (before signing, he would nuzzle into my neck), and we lie together on his floor bed, and he nurses and falls asleep. Sometimes, he unlatches before he falls asleep and rolls over to finish settling himself. Sometimes, he doesn’t. I have never fought with Eli when it comes to naps. If he decides he isn’t ready to nap, then we work in his room, read books, go explore outside, or whatever else he chooses. And, when he decides he is ready to try and rest again, he tries again. I try my best to be emotionally neutral, to not have a personal stake in whether he sleeps or not. Otherwise, this process has a lot of unhelpful stress.
The same is true for bedtime. We will be working and playing, and he will turn to me and tell me he is ready to rest. Brian and I will then ask him if he would like a bath, which is the first step of our nightly routine. If Eli says “yes,” we go from there: bath with Daddy, pajamas and teeth brushing with Daddy, and milk and cuddles with Mommy. Occasionally, he will climb out of his bed and leave his room to go find Brian, but once his daddy sits in his bedroom with us, he is usually ready to try to settle again. Just like naps, sometimes, he unlatches before falling asleep (at bedtime, he especially likes to “halfway” lie on top of me to fall asleep–ha!), and sometimes, he falls asleep still nursing. I let him choose. I help when he asks for it, but he is given the freedom to understand “I am sleepy” and the autonomy to take action to “fix” his own sleepiness.
Giving Eli this freedom to choose when he is ready to rest creates challenges for sure. For one, it can be challenging to schedule outings and visits. However, Eli creates somewhat predictable rhythms for himself in regards to when he will want to sleep. Those rhythms just change frequently as he grows and develops. We have been criticized for being strict when it comes to Eli’s bedtime, which is actually quite comical to us because never once have we told Eli that it was time for bed. To be honest, he chooses to go to bed earlier than I would choose for him. We do, however, want to be home when he decides he is ready for bed because we respect he will have this need and want to provide the appropriate environment for this need to be met.
Food. We have also always given Eli the freedom to choose when he wanted milk or solid food. He eats when he wants and until he is full, and we move on. Babies don’t nurse unless they are hungry, thirsty, or in need of comfort. I have tried to joyfully fulfill any and all those nursing needs since his birth. Again, not easy. Hello, cluster feeding at 2:00 a.m.! Now that his primary source of nourishment is solid foods, if he doesn’t eat something on his plate, if food gets tossed to the floor, if he signs “all done” before I would’ve guessed he was all done, oh, well. We don’t want food to be a battle.
Again, there are challenges when giving an infant this freedom. We now eat dinner at 5:30 p.m. because we want to eat dinner as a family, and Eli is ready for dinner then. Family does not always understand why you have to pause and nurse a baby. (Although, I now have some amazing ninja-skilled breastfeeding friends who nurse and walk around with ease. I’m determined to learn their secret, wax-on-wax-off ways for baby #2.) But, to us, these challenges seem minor in comparison to the joy of seeing your under 12 month old voice his needs and knowing we will do everything in our power to aid in these needs being met.
“Follow the child” encompasses far more than I realized before having Eli. It means allowing this small human to have a voice, not a voice that silences yours, but a voice that is strong, important, and full, a voice that feels heard. It means actively seeking and catching a wave that your whole family can ride, not your neighbor, not your extended family, but a wave your little, growing family can ride all on their own. It means creating a burrow of safety and peace for your child to take refuge, hopefully for the rest of their lives, when the world seems just a little too big, too silencing, and too chaotic.
Every child is different, and we are following our child. That is our Montessori rhythm.