RIE parenting and mindfulness

The girls call this their “hot tub” ! See more photos at the bottom of this article.

Raising kids is the greatest of joys, and frankly, also a big challenge for mental sanity! Here are thoughts on maintaining sanity with twins on a boat.

When the girls lost their cribs & pacifiers, on their second birthday, they had a big cry for an hour. It’s understandable. So it was easy to stay supportive. But oftentimes they cry desperately and it’s NOT understandable. All that’s in my mind is, what is going on, how do I fix this, and make the chaos stop??

Personally, I have found that a crying baby can completely short-circuit my brain. The wailing noise at high pitch is like crashing thunder: a force of nature. I can’t think, I can’t do anything! My default response is to immediately try to “fix” the situation. Hungry? Thirsty? Poopy diaper? Tired? What do you want??

If they are upset enough, even if you give them what they want, it doesn’t resolve anything. They are simply upset about being upset! Unfortunately, this just makes me more frustrated and mad because I feel out of control, and I can’t make the situation better. Try holding an over-tired baby at 2am wailing their head off, when sleep deprivation is devastating your brain, and you’ll understand what I mean by this being “kryptonite for calmness” (!)

The RIE parenting philosophy has been the guiding light to help me navigate these tough moments. 

The RIE approach is to constantly describe to the babies what is happening, which is referred as ‘broadcasting’.  In simple situations, describe out loud what is happening (the facts). Don’t just put on the baby’s shoe while mindlessly talking about breakfast. Instead, broadcast the facts by saying, “I’m putting on your shoe on your left foot, now your right foot. After this, we will have breakfast.” This helps the babies understand what is happening right now, and what to expect soon. This helps them stay calm and empowered. If they don’t know what’s going on, they will feel insecure.

When a difficult situation comes up, RIE recommends doing the exact same thing. Don’t try to resolve the problem right away. Just keep describing, out loud, what is happening (broadcasting the facts); and ask them about their action/emotions with genuine curiosity. If they suddenly start crying, the tendency as parents is to say “Oh it’s OK, you’re OK! You need some food? Here’s some food,” In the baby’s mind, though, it’s not OK! So why are you saying that?! Instead, RIE encourages us to say it how it is: “Wow, sounds like you are upset. You must be really bothered, I wonder if you are hungry. Is that it?” This is more in alignment with the baby’s actual experience.

By broadcasting the facts (and asking non-judgmental questions) this paints a picture of shared reality between parent and baby. You clearly see each other. This is compassionate connection: the babies feel like they are being heard, which is actually the first step to resolving any issue they have. It also helps the babies understand, because they don’t actually know why they feel terrible. 

Importantly, this RIE approach helps me as a parent stay calm. When my brain is short-circuiting with crying babies when I’m tired, logic doesn’t work, and I just get frustrated & upset that I can’t resolve the situation.

But awareness always works. By broadcasting the facts, speaking calmly about what is happening, there is no charge, I can remain calm. I just describe what I see and what I’m doing. Of course I want to help ease their pain, and I try things like checking diapers or offering milk/water. My logic has shifted to the background. My awareness is now in the foreground. The peculiar side-effect of this is my brain doesn’t short-circuit. It is busy expressing what is happening.

I am no longer in default “fix it” mode. I am in “observation” mode. I don’t take the situation personally any longer, it is what it is. The wonderful benefit is that I’m more effective at resolving the situation. By being unattached to the outcome, ironically, the outcome can become more favorable. Most importantly, I don’t get angry and upset, which I really try to avoid as it’s completely counter-productive.

After running a sailboat across 9 countries with countless visitors, I thought I had refined the “art of staying cool” when things are going wrong. Parenting has taught me I still have much to learn. Babies are so vulnerable, with fast emotional spikes of energy. The effort of managing daily life is constantly de-railed. Not to mention with twins, it’s more than double the fun! Usually in normal life, uncomfortable situations happen every so often, where you need to work at “staying cool”. With babies, it’s quite frequent, so it makes for excellent practice 😉

The RIE philosophy is based on the principle of Mindfulness: observation without judgment. Just as this approach is effective between parent and baby, it is effective elsewhere in life. It allows me to stay grounded in what is happening, instead of trying to logically change things and make “the pain stop”. After all, the tragedy of trying to stop the pain, is that the pain just keeps morphing; it is then fed by power struggles and damaging emotions.

The only thing that stops that cycle of pain is awareness. RIE uses “broadcasting”. We are also big fans of Non-violent Communication, which is basically the same thing, but for more complex adult interactions. For example, NVC teaches us to express and understand the facts and the others’ perspective before trying to change the situation. Both these excellent tools are gateways to mindfulness and harmony in relationships.

For the opportunity to practice this, I’m grateful for my babies and the RIE philosophy for showing me this new approach to awareness.

Sailing with 15 knots of wind, soap bubbles flying in their eyes as Kaiana (left) and Naiyah (right) bathe in Rubbermaid bins in the cockpit.
A glorious dinner sunset with the whole crew (minus photographer Ian). See video of Napoleon wrasse, a big fish in Fakarava we befriended during this trip.
Why the towel?? Our cockpit has a hard roof and side windows that is pretty much sheltered from most rain storms… except when the wind is howling and rain dumping. Then a towel is needed to shield from the rain sprinkling in sideways!
Sabrina super momma paddling the girls to the beach in Tikehau. Check out our Manta Feeding video from this atoll.

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