I am obsessed with learning about various parenting styles, mostly because as a parent, I don't believe in following a specific ideology; instead, I prefer to pick and choose from different methods and figure out what works best. So when I heard about the Waldorf parenting philosophy, I had two questions: 1) was this in reference to the Waldorf salad, and 2) what, exactly, is Waldorf parenting? I started reading about it and learned that Waldorf parenting is based on German pedagogue Rudolf Steiner's theory of interdisciplinary education, which encourages creativity and free play while simultaneously enforcing routine for your kids.
For the most part, Waldorf parenting seemed to line up with my own parenting values: I try to be firm with my kids, but I also try to be mindful and aware of their emotions. So I set out to try Waldorf parenting, thinking it couldn't be all that difficult.
I set out to implement the Waldorf style of parenting for one week, and I asked my husband and mom to remind me to apply these parenting techniques if I started to fall back into my traditional parenting style (a.k.a. "honestly, whatever works").
Day 1: Sticking to My Guns
According to Waldorf parenting expert the Waldorf mom, one of the primary rules of Waldorf parenting is "I am the authority, not them." I started the experiment by repeating this mantra to myself when I prepared to take my daughters on a Target run.
Most of the time, my girls are really good at listening to me. If they ask for a toy and I say no, they usually understand. But there are days when I can just feel myself caving into their demands.
One of the rules of Waldorf parenting is that children learn by imitation. If I wasn't going to buy my girls a present, then I sure as hell couldn't buy one for myself.
Today, I knew they didn't need anything from Target, so I reminded them that I would not be purchasing anything except for the items on our shopping list. Of course, they did try to get me to buy a doll, some slip on shoes, and a mini-shopping cart, but I reminded them in a calm but firm voice that we would not be bringing anything home. It worked, and we walked out of that store with only the items on the list. I even bypassed the nail polish aisle even though I really, really wanted one, because one of the rules of Waldorf parenting is that children learn by imitation. If I wasn't going to buy my girls a present, then I sure as hell couldn't buy one for myself.
Day 2: Leading By Action
One of the main disciplinary actions practiced by those who embrace Waldorf parenting is leading by action, because it is thought that children learn from their parents' behavior. This definitely applies to my household, because my girls constantly mimic my behavior. (It’s not uncommon for the younger one to place a hand on a hip and loudly instruct her sister to put her toys away.)
At bedtime, when all hell typically breaks loose, I decided to lead by action. Usually, the girls will do anything to not go to bed on time, which usually ends up with me totally stressing out. But this time, instead of jumping into stressed-out-mom mode, I took a few cleansing breaths and reminded myself that I really had to try to stay calm. Then I walked into the bathroom, pulled up a stool, and silently started brushing my teeth, which is how my kids usually start their bedtime routine.
We limit the amount of TV the girls watch on a daily basis, but we're not all that concerned that putting on Moana will somehow hinder their development.
Without a word, my 4-year-old stood on the stool, picked up her toothbrush, and started to brush her own teeth. My youngest, who didn't want to be left out, retrieved her stool from my closet and started to brush her teeth as well. I was shocked. This method actually worked. It also made for a much calmer evening.
Day 2 was also the day when we broke the "no screen time" rule of Waldorf parenting. (Waldorf schools don't allow kids to use screens until they turn 12.) We limit the amount of TV the girls watch on a daily basis, but we're not all that concerned that putting on Moana will somehow hinder their development. No judgement for those parents who prefer no screen time, but it’s just not our thing.
Day 3: When Words Work Best
We are big talkers in our family. We talk about feelings and make up jokes and discuss experiences we had throughout the day. We talk a lot. In fact, I’m really proud of how verbal my daughters are, even if it means they're just chatting about why the moon disappears in the morning, or trying to understand why they can't go to Target in a diaper. Talking through things helps my daughter calm down after a frustrating experience, like when her sister takes her Shopkins.
I know that the Waldorf way is to use actions instead of words. I agree with this in some circumstances, but not when my daughters are fighting over a motorized Minion car. I tried to steer them away from the car by distracting them with bubbles, but they both were hell-bent on using that car. So instead of resorting to the Waldorf way, I went back to my usual method of talking it out with them.
Days 4 & 5: Some Rules Were Meant to Be Broken
On Sunday, we usually set aside some time to stay in the house and relax. But this time, I really needed to get the kids out of the house. (Sorry, not sorry.) It was too hot, they had way too much energy, and I was low on patience. Although the Waldorf philosophy reminds parents to think before bringing change into their children's lives, because disruption of a daily routine can lead to bad behavior, sometimes families need to deviate from the norm. So we packed up the car and headed over to a concert in the park.
By taking the kids out and disrupting their weekend routine, we knew that meant potentially over-stimulating them. But as their mom, I also suspected they'd probably be fine — and they were. They played with other kids and danced to live music, and my husband and I got some fresh air with our girls. It was the perfect lazy Sunday.
Days 6 & 7: Being Consistently Inconsistent
Okay, so here’s the thing. I appreciate how much Waldorf parenting emphasizes routine and consistency, but sometimes I bend the rules. Not on big things, like telling my kids they have to eat what’s on their plate or that they're only allowed one scoop of ice cream after dinner. But if it's bedtime and my girls ask me to read one more book, I'm OK with that, even if I promised I'd just read them two.
Today, my daughter asked if Porkchop (our Boston Terrier) could spend time with her in her bedroom. Usually, I’m a stickler for not letting Porkchop near anything with a pillow because he literally takes it over and claims it as his own, but she was being well-behaved that day, so I said yes. Maybe that set a bad precedent, but I don’t think having our dog in the kids’ bedrooms every now and then is such a bad thing.
Going with my gut and doing what’s best for my girls is the right thing to do, even if that means not sticking to a routine or a specific ideology.
The Results: Am I A Waldorf Parent Now?
After one week of putting a few tenets of the Waldorf parenting philosophy into practice, I’ve learned that there are a few Waldorfian beliefs that I hope to adopt in my own parenting. I strive to practice conscious parenting on a daily basis, because kids know when you're paying attention to them and when you’re just phoning it in. I also plan to stick to being firm while disciplining my kids.
But I do think the Waldorf parenting philosophy is a bit rigid for my taste. I respect parents who stick to various parenting styles, the Waldorf philosophy included, but I still prefer to pick and choose a few elements of each method rather than following just one. It took me some time to realize that going with my gut and doing what’s best for my girls is the right thing to do, even if that means not sticking to a routine or a specific ideology. It’s OK to do things our way, if our way is what works.