Having a baby is one huge learning-on-the-job gig, isn’t it? And while there are a few bits you can prepare for (hello 30+ home-cooked meals we had in our chest freezer before Ari was born 😆), you can’t really prepare for what life will be like once this new little person joins your family.
As soon as the frantic googling of the early days abates, the searches become deeper, a bit more introspective, and a little less instantly google-able. Think less “how many wet nappies should a newborn have” and more “how do I help my kid become a decent, kind, human being… who leads a happy, fulfilled life… eats their greens, doesn’t litter and generally leaves the world a little better than they found it?” Yeah.
And while searching for answers to those questions (tell me if you have them 😂), there’s also the practical day-to-day to consider. How do we want to spend our days? What do we want to play with, read, explore? How do we best support Ari and his development? How do we introduce him to the world, to our values? How do we help him get to know himself? Are those multi-coloured sensory balls worth it? (I kid on the last one, but you get the idea!).
There are thousands of parenting books filled with authoritative-sounding expert advice and so much of it seems to fold back on itself until you feel a little dizzy trying to make sense of it all.
But slowly, a picture starts to emerge. For me, most of it has been led by instinct and curiosity. It was fascinating to discover that there were things I was instinctively was drawn to: The idea of giving Ari a childhood that was gentle and slow. An urge to keep things simple and meaningful. Predictable rhythms to our days, with plenty of time for open-ended play, silliness, art and running around in nature.
Exploring what a beautiful childhood might look like for us has led me to some brilliant books, mags and blogs. The below is some of what Ben and I are enjoying, mulling over, talking about, highlighting and saving.
I think I’m going to return to this book again and again; I can see myself reading it every year, if not more often. The ideas are deceptively simple; this book doesn’t really tell you to do anything. In fact, it’s all about doing less. It’s a comforting, reassuring read that doesn’t lecture or judge, but rather shares simple, practical ways to infuse your days with connection and security.
Even though this was written by a seasoned homeschooling expert, it’s less about that and more about how to create a home environment that “naturally moves learning forward”. The author’s enthusiasm is infectious – it’s warm and fun and filled with tons of brilliant ideas. Another one I can see myself dipping in and out of a lot.
Another approach that resonated deeply with me is outlined in this insightful book. It makes for grim reading at the start – the author delves into a lot of research that backs up that kids are getting weaker, sicker and unhappier thanks to a scarcity of free time, especially outdoors. Definitely one that got me thinking about my habits and trying to make sure that regular outdoor time is a part of our daily routine (something that I’ve found surprisingly hard sometimes, between feeds and naps and clean ups – and hey, is that the rain?).
Ben and I both loved many of the ideas in this book and have already played with putting some – like regular “artist’s dates” and going over the day’s highlights – into action. It’s not as well written as the others (the case studies seem a little one-note) but it is filled with some lovely suggestions.
One of the downsides of being a new mum in a country where you’re not great at the language is not having easy access to a crew of fellow mammas with babies at roughly the same age. I’ve watched enviously from afar as friends in Dublin joined breastfeeding groups, or made new mom friends at swimming classes or just in the neighbourhood (Dublin seems to be having a bit of a baby boom!). Maria’s book – which I’m about halfway through – was like chatting over tea with a fellow new mum, going over the ups and the downs in the kind of detail only another new parent could relate to. It’s warm and authentic and had me laughing out loud within the first few pages. Anyone who follows Maria on Twitter or Instagram will know she is incredibly sharp and funny, but the book is that and more; it’s an honest, at times raw look at new parenthood and how it changes you, your life and your relationships. I’m loving it.
I love everything about this mag – the recipes, the design, the interviews. Just a lovely, beautifully put together publication that’s genuinely inspiring.
Ideas and approaches inspired by Montessori kept coming up again and again, and so we dipped a tentative toe in when Ari was around three months old. Though much of the approach seemed a bit daunting at first, and very different to how both Ben and I grew up (neither of us attended a Montessori school of any kind), the more we read, the more we loved and it’s safe to say we feel committed to setting up a Montessori-inspired home.
While it can’t really be summed up in just a few sentences, I loved this explanation, from the fab blog Frida Be Mighty: “At the heart of Montessori is a deep respect for the child, a trust in their desire and ability to learn, be independent, and make good choices, and a desire for peace and cooperation, in the home and in the world at large.”
Above: Palmer and Pincer grasping blocks by Mondo Montessori on Etsy
And even though Maria Montessori’s methods are over 100 years old and have been practised around the world, they are also very aligned with more contemporary approaches I see amongst my peers; think things like baby-led weaning, peaceful discipline and a renewed focus on simple toys and open-ended play.
Practically, it means giving Ari opportunities for independence whenever we can, even at this young age (using a weaning glass instead of a sippy cup, for example). It has meant being very intentional with his toy selection and play areas, re-examining our apartment and looking at how we can make it his home too, especially as he grows.
Luckily for me, there are no shortage of incredible blogs sharing so much of their expertise and experience. If you’re curious about how Montessori can be practised at home, check out any of these: Montessori in Real Life | How We Montessori | The Kavanaugh Report | Fred, Ted and Co (based in Northern Ireland!) | The Montessori Notebook. You can also browse the #montessorifrombirth and #montessoriathome hashtags on Insta. I’m currently reading Montessori from the Start as well, and have pre-ordered a copy of The Montessori Toddler.
Online courses and guides
I’m (slowly!) working my way through a few different online courses and guides at the moment; the first is The Montessori Guide, a handy monthly guide to different activities, tailored to Ari’s age and stage. It’s proven great, with simple instructions and fun, doable ideas.
And kind of not related but also kind of related to parenting stuff is Xanthe Berkeley’s Make Films course. I’m using it as motivation to properly collate and edit all those little snippets and clips I collect on my phone and mix them with dSLR and GoPro footage. I can’t imagine Ari is going to fancy going through terabytes of jpegs and .mov files – it would be nice to have some mini movies and proper albums to give him!
Finally, I’m also currently in the middle of Rhythm in the Home, a wonderful course about finding your flow as a family. I adore Eloise’s blog, Frida Be Mighty, which is focused on the concept of peaceful parenting. This resonated: “I believe that parenting can be a truly radical act. The way in which we raise our children can have a profound positive impact on our families, our communities, and our world.”
Of course, if only it was as easy as simply following the roadmap we’re currently making!
Now that Ari is very much in a new phase – eating solids, moving more, taking more in – we’ve been really putting some of these ideas into practice. There are days when we come home flushed and happy tired after an afternoon in the woods and everything clicks and it feels like pure magic. Then there are days when we’re exhausted and overly busy, barely dragging ourselves from meal to nappy change to clean up to nap before feeling like it’s all repeated again.
When we can, Ben and I try to carve out time to reflect on what’s working at what isn’t and make a plan for the week (with Ben using Notion to track and log our ideas – yes we are that nerdy 🤓). But often these micro adjustments happen on the fly throughout the day. It’s very much a fluid, evolving thing, and involves renewing our commitment every day, tweaking and changing as we go.
We’re still learning and there are mistakes aplenty, stops and starts, u-turns and fresh attempts. But it’s fun and exciting and we’re honestly loving every minute of it.