how montessori is helping me be a better parent

When I was asked if I’d like to help with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for the primary students at Evangeline’s school this year, I jumped at the chance. Childcare is always tricky but the other mom who is helping also has a two year old daughter, so each week we switch off entertaining the little ones, and the other gets to be in the Atrium (the room where CGS happens). I had my first turn in the Atrium yesterday and it was the highlight of my day. These are some of my observations from the time and how it’s interacting with the thoughts I’ve been having about parenting.

I re-read this book on the temperaments this week, looking for help dealing with Evangeline’s tantrums and some behavior issues (like, she locked the back door the other day to try to lock me out of the house, and I found a container of oats behind/under the couch that she had been secretly snacking on back there – what?) and was relieved and amused, because yes, she is definitely my conquering choleric child. And as easy going phlegmatics, Chris and I are often bewildered by her outbursts of passionate screaming. The girl is just so loud sometimes. She reacts quickly and intensely, and yes, we will have to continue to help her learn to control her emotions, but she’s also confident and loves to be helpful and independent, and fingers crossed, those qualities will serve her well through adolescence and beyond. Having the temperaments as a loose framework helps me to see when I am being worn down (or bullied lol) by her insistence (lately it’s been letting her watch an episode of a show, or two, after quiet time, because I need a longer break) – and putting my foot down to break habits I don’t want us in. It also helps me have more empathy and patience when she reacts so loudly. (She doesn’t do this at school, btw. She saves it all for us at home #blessed).

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Earlier this week, I went to a volunteer training at the school, and it was an unexpected, lovely reinforcement of how I want to be as a parent. A scientist, a saint. What are my buttons? Ask others for help. So good to think about. The principal of the school commented, “We don’t ask the child, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ We ask, ‘How will the universe be different because you are in it?'”  #CosmicEducation

I’m coming into all this Montessori stuff a total newbie. I didn’t know anything about it  when Evangeline started at a Catholic Montessori school that runs from preschool to junior high. I have slowly been picking up the philosophy, the lingo, and the planes of child development here and there, from different books and articles, in a haphazard way. And mostly from my homeschooling mom friends, who are incorporating aspects of it into their homes.

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So I’ve been on a kick with it this week, reading The Montessori Toddler and having fun arranging activities for the girls to discover and play with in our play room. Hiding toys to bring them out in rotation has left bare, minimal shelves which are easier to tidy at the end of the day. My MIL sent me this article a while ago and I’m finally putting some of these ideas into practice, and something about it is really fun for me. Thinking about what toys actually get used, or are part of a complete set, and eliminating whatever is random and excessive and not age-appropriate, is freeing. And thinking about what activities the girls would enjoy, and what items we have around the house or yard that would work, is using some creativity that is life-giving to me.

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in her fancy dress to move her frogs around the room all day 🙂

Anyway, bringing all that into the Atrium with me this week, I noticed some things.

  • The order, detail, and thoughtfulness of the materials in the room creates a peace and a beauty that feeds something in my soul.
  • Seeing other adults interact with 3-6 year children in a calm, respectful way helps my own struggle with patience when it’s just me at home, outnumbered by my three.
  • Children are still children in this beautiful space. They get silly and distracted by each other, they sometimes need redirection. But mostly, they are reverent, focused, and eager. And it is delightful to just stand back and watch.

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oh crap! potty training. my thoughts exactly.

No one prepared me for potty training!! I mean, I don’t know what preparation would have looked like exactly, but man, it was a PROCESS. Any new milestone that I approach with Evangeline (eating solids, sleep training, climbing out of the crib, etc) I go through this angst (CHANGE!). And potty training was no different.

In July, I made a friend who has a girl Evangeline’s age, like week apart. I noticed her taking Coral to the potty one day and was like WHAT! She’s POTTY TRAINED?! I didn’t know we could do that yet! And my friend said, yep, I trained her at 19 months.

MIND BLOWN.

She told me that she read this book and followed that method. I was intrigued because approaching any big change, a book is comforting. So I thought about it a lot, thought about how much it would suck to have to take the time to train Evangeline when right now it was just so easy to let her pee and poop in a diaper. And how would car trips work? How would I go anywhere? 

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But then I started listening to the book and was won over by the author pretty quickly. She’s funny and she frames it as a really cool milestone and “your first glimpse into how your child learns.” And I’m all about that. And then she started going through the steps and I was like wait, wait, slow down and Amazon Primed that book ASAP. Help me. 

Her intro and first couple chapters made me realize, Evangeline is totally ready to learn this. I am the limiting factor. So I braced myself, marked the start day on the calendar (September 1, just to give us a few days to calm down after her birthday, and nice clean start date) and cleared our schedule. Honestly, our schedule is going to the library, etc, little fun morning outings, but even letting go of this was hard. Totally home bound for several days? Yikes. 

A couple things were working in my favor with this venture.

1. Our 500 sq foot apartment set to be demolished in June. There’s always a potty within reach! There’s already years and years of pee soaked into this carpet and it’s going to be destroyed soon anyway!

2. Summertime. When I couldn’t keep her inside anymore, I let her go out to the playground with no pants on and brought a potty along. There were many accidents out there, and it was possibly a questionable parenting choice, but other moms were sympathetic.

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But still, the first week was SO HARD. Like, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Similar to childbirth, I think there is necessary amnesia associated with potty training. 6 months later, I’ve already forgotten some of how exhausting it was to strike the balance between complete focus and total casualness. I’m watching you super carefully to learn your pee pee dance, but it’s no big deal to me if you pee on the floor, you do you, gf, this is not a power struggle. But I do remember thinking at some point towards the end of that first week – Shoot, if I have more babies, I have to potty train them too. (I did not have that thought after giving birth, btw.)

One of our first trips out, on Day 9, was a walk to campus for a ND football tailgate with seminarians. Got one pee in the potty and one pair of wet pants. I called it a win.

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My friend also recommended this portable seat to make big toilets accessible and it was CLUTCH. Basically, all credit goes to Katherine. 🙂

Overall, I recommend Jamie’s method. It’s super intense, but it works. Potty training was all I thought about and talked about for 2 weeks, and then it got more normal. There were (and still are) accidents here and there, but I really liked not having to change her diapers anymore (just down to one baby) and not buying them (!) and throwing them into landfill any longer. After Christmas, when Evangeline had a total regression at Grandma’s house (my fault), we got home and got right back to it and she picked up again in no time.

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tricycle for her bday. a much less messy milestone.