I was trying so hard to follow the rules that I forgot to follow the child, which is a basic principle of Montessori.
When I first became a mom, I thought I didn’t have a parenting philosophy, and that was fine with me. I just wanted to do what came naturally to me, to watch my beautiful new baby, and build a relationship around love and trust.
I slowly realized, though, that all I had learned through my career as a Montessori teacher heavily influenced my parenting style. I love and believe in the Montessori philosophy and way of treating children, so naturally, it was how I wanted to parent my child too.
I’m certified as a Montessori teacher for children ages 3-6, but not for infants and toddlers, so I started to read. I read books and articles and blogs, all about Montessori parenting.
However, I realized that I wasn’t absorbing just the information, I was also absorbing guilt. Even as a Montessori teacher, I read about things I wasn’t doing the “Montessori way” and it made me feel guilty.
I realized I didn’t want to post certain things on my blog because they didn’t necessarily conform to the Montessori ideal. I questioned basic decisions I was making for my family. I resisted what I knew was best because it didn’t fit the perfect picture I had read about.
Things finally changed when I asked for help.
I tend to process things internally and don’t often talk about my struggles. I finally got so frustrated with how I was feeling that I had to reach out. I talked to both my own mother and my old boss and mentor and they both encouraged me to trust myself and reminded me that I know my son best, not a book and certainly not the internet.
Each time I made my own choice, whether or not it aligned with my “parenting philosophy,” and saw the positive results, I became a little more confident as a mother.
I want to share the Montessori parenting ideals that I “fail” to do well because it’s so important to sift through all of the information, all of the opinions, all of the noise, to find your own parenting style, to find what works for you and your family and your precious child. I never want to add to others’ feelings of failure or not doing enough and through sharing my failures, I hope it helps someone else to find her own voice.
1. Montessori floor bed
This was something I struggled with so much.
Traditionally, Montessori babies sleep on a floor bed (basically a mattress on the floor), rather than a crib. This allows them a more complete view of their environment, and also encourages freedom of movement and independence. We set up a floor bed for my son, and he started using it the first week we brought him home.
Fast forward six months when he became mobile, and everything changed.
He was able to roll off of his bed and roll around the room, but he could not yet get back into bed. While he had previously been falling asleep independently, I now needed to stay with him while he fell asleep or he would simply roll around the room and play. This wasn’t terrible but felt like a backward step in independence to me.
Most importantly, he was SO eager to play and explore, that he started only taking 30-minute naps. When his sleep cycle transitioned, he would simply wake up fully and start to explore.
Every time. For weeks.
I really tried to make the floor bed work. Trying something else felt like giving up to me because it wasn’t the “Montessori way.”
Eventually, not wanting to face the poor sleep situation in conjunction with travel, I decided to try this travel bed. It felt like a hybrid because it is still on the floor and I could leave it unzipped during the day so he could go in and out, or choose to rest. He started taking long naps again from the very first day in his new bed, and we’ve been using it ever since.
I was trying so hard to follow the rules that I forgot to “follow the child,” which is a basic principle of Montessori.
2. Montessori-specific toys
There are so many beautiful Montessori-specific toys for children, starting from birth.
For infants, this includes a beautiful progression of mobiles. They are specifically designed to appeal to an infant throughout his developmental stages and offer an early opportunity for building concentration.
I was gifted two lovely Montessori mobiles, but I did not make or purchase the rest because they are expensive and I am pretty much the worst at anything crafty.
Still, when I watched my son entranced by one of the mobiles or saw beautiful pictures on Instagram of Montessori nurseries with the mobiles we were missing, I felt guilty, like I had somehow failed my son.
This is so silly though. I let him observe the world without interrupting him to build concentration. I made sure he had beautiful and interesting things to look at, whether that was a sunny day through the window or a black and white image propped up nearby. There is no one-way to meet a developmental need, and I’ve tried to remember this as my son has grown.
There are many beautiful Montessori toys that I would love to get for him. However, I also need to consider how much they cost and how long he much he will realistically use them. His room doesn’t need to look like a page out of a Montessori catalog to meet his needs.
3. Anthropomorphic books
Montessori-friendly books for young children depict images and stories from the real world. This excludes things like talking animals or unicorns. It also excludes a lot of the classics like Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh.
The purpose of this is to aid children in discovering and understanding the world around them. Very young children are still figuring out what is real and what isn’t, so having books full of talking animals wearing clothes can be confusing.
I love books about nature and real people, but I also really love some of the classic children’s literature that isn’t so realistic. We read Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, despite the bunnies in clothes. I like to explain, saying something like “animals don’t really wear clothes, but this is a pretend story.”
I’ve become pretty confident about this balance, exposing my child to plenty of real images and descriptions, and also including the less Montessori-friendly classics. It may not be fully Montessori, but I love these books and want to share them with my child.
4. A fully Montessori home
I am pretty much in love with the beautiful Montessori kitchens that I see on Pinterest. These child-friendly setups have a child-sized workspace, a water source for children to get their own water, and low shelves with kitchen tools and snacks for children to prepare for themselves.
I very much want to create something like this in our own home, but simply haven’t had the time. That held me back for a while, but then I decided that there is no need to wait until we can craft the perfect setup.
Instead, I cleared out a low drawer for all of my son’s things (glasses, plates, forks and spoons, a sponge for cleaning, etc.). For now, he can get things from his drawer. It’s not beautiful or Pinterest-worthy, but it does encourage his independence.
Sometimes it’s okay to simplify and work with what you have, even if it doesn’t live up to the images on social media.
While each of these things felt like a failure to me, they’ve also helped me think more deeply about the kind of parent I want to be. I do consider myself a Montessori parent. But being a good parent to my specific child, in my specific family, means so much more to me.
No matter what your parenting philosophy, it can be hard to sift through all of the “shoulds” out there, but it’s okay to be a little bit brave and craft your own style, your own way of doing things, that is just right for you.