RIE and (the Curse of) the Servant’s Heart

An enthusiastic and unprompted, “I can help you!” is perhaps the most adorable thing a two year old can say to his baby sister.

Unless, of course, you’re a committed RIE parent and spend the majority of each day biting your tongue to hold back those very same words.

My constant prayer for the Bug, since even before he was born, was that he would have a servant’s heart. A feminist prayer, I suppose. An acknowledgment that our society encourages little girls to be “helpers,” while telling boys to be tough, independent, and strong. I want my son to be all of those things (and my daughter as well), but I also want him to see the needs of others and find joy in meeting them. So I prayed and asked family and friends to pray with me.

And now, I have a two year old who delights in making sure his sister never struggles. Sweet. Wonderful. A triumph of both parenting and prayer.

Unless, again, one of the cornerstones of your parenting is allowing your children to solve their own problems.

When she was learning to crawl, he was always right there to hand her the toy just beyond her reach (and then, typically, every other available toy he could find). When she’s troubleshooting his space ship, he opens the door with ease and hands her the astronaut from inside. When she drops a book over the edge of the sofa, he returns it before she has the chance to decide whether she feels capable of climbing down to get it herself. (And so on.)

This afternoon, Dad took the Bug out on an adventure while Babygirl and I stayed home. I should have utilized my vacation by folding the laundry but, instead, I spent the time captivated by her play, marveling at her focus and her joy as she played with her brother’s space shuttle, reveling in the opportunity to explore it on her own. She struggled with the doors, experimented with how to get the astronauts in and out, shook it and laughed at the way they rattled inside, sang them a song, and pretended to eat them.

As I smiled to myself, seeing her do the same after a particularly puzzling round of “how do I get the astronaut out through this tiny door?!,” I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt that she doesn’t have more of those moments. The quiet moments of, “I did it!” I tried to reassure myself that what my children are gaining in relationship is worth the trade of what my daughter would have learned in so many thwarted moments of struggle, that their collective gain was worth her personal sacrifice.

And then it hit me.

It was undeniable, watching the way she played without big brother, that she is still “getting it.” She is curious, persistent, and creative. She believes and delights in herself. She may have fewer moments of “I did it!” but, in between, her days are filled with moments of the person she admires and cherishes most, coming alongside her, joyfully, to support her.

Perhaps the Bug isn’t the lucky one after all.

(Also, I’m weeping.)

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