I have always wanted to raise my children in a Montessori manner. I want them to attend a Montessori school and even created a Montessori-inspired home environment. Taking the Assistants to Infancy course was not an option for me before having children, so I did the next best thing by reading books such as Montessori from the Start for guidance. I am far from perfect, but I l think I have done an OK job of weaving the Montessori philosophy into my parenting style.
Since my first son’s birth 3 years ago, I have also gravitated towards Attachment Parenting. Yet, I have started to question: are these two philosophies compatible?
The Montessori Method and Attachment Parenting do share many commonalities. For example, both stress treating children as individuals worthy of respect and try to meet their needs in a loving way so that are secure enough to explore their world as independent beings. Both also aspire to raise children in a natural manner, from a gentle birth to using non-toxic products in the home. Both also encourage breastfeeding and cloth diapering.
However, there are also differences. Attachment Parenting tends to support extended breastfeeding, nursing children well past the first year until both mother and child feel ready to stop. When I read the section in Montessori from the Start about breastfeeding, I was surprised at the suggestion to begin weaning the child off the breast at 6-9 months of age in order to encourage independence. This seemed strange to me, as most global health organizations encourage breastfeeding for at least the full first year. How would mother and child feel about weaning so early on? Is it unnatural?
“Babywearing”, or using slings or wraps to carry the child on the mother’s body, is another issue as it has become a trend among Attachment Parents. The goal is to provide security and contact comfort for the child. Newborns who spend time skin-to-skin with the mother tend to breathe better and control their body temperature more easily. One can find many resources online about the benefits of babywearing, for both mother and child.
Yet, some Montessorians react negatively to the subject of babywearing. Slings and wraps constrict baby’s movement, they argue, and should not be used because the baby cannot move his body to develop coordination. A passage in Montessori from the Startconjures up the image of carrying a kitten in a sling to highlight how terrible the idea is.
Not all Montessorians feel this way – I know a handful who breastfed their children past the first year and/or carried them in slings. Online research demonstrates that I am not alone. I breastfed my first son for 15 months and have worn both my babies. Although I enjoy the snuggling aspect of babywearing, I admit the main appeal is utilitarian more than anything. I gave birth to my second son 3 months ago and he does not take kindly to being set down. I give him as much “floor time” as possible, but after 5 to 10 minutes he gets upset and needs to be held (or fed) again. Wearing him in a carrier is a matter of necessity for us, as I can’t simply hold him all day long, especially with a 3-year-old to care for as well. And, more importantly, it does make him happier.
I was resigned to the fact that these two sides of my parenting style would simply have to coexist; I thought I would be a Montessori parent who happens to also wear my baby, and breastfeed him for as long as he (and I) felt was right. I admit that I was tempted to attend the recent Montessori Refresher Course in Long Beach with my newborn strapped to my chest, just to see the reaction!
But not too long ago I came across a very interesting blog post from a parent who discovered a passage in The Absorbent Mind that addressed these very topics. In it, Dr. Montessori references cultures in which mothers nurse their children for several years and carry them on their bodies all day. She noted how these children rarely cry compared to those from Western cultures and how they learn about the world in the most natural way possible, because they are with their mothers all day; the children become a natural part of the mother’s day-to-day life as she does work both inside and outside the home.
Huh. Well, perhaps Dr. Montessori did approve of Attachment Parenting after all!
So what about you fellow Montessori parents? Are you drawn to the Attachment Parenting style? Do you think Montessori philosophy and Attachment Parenting are compatible?