Montessori Motherhood: Letting Go When It's Time

Photo of me and my daughter taken in 1977

"We then become witness to the development of the human soul; the emergence of the New Man (Woman), who will no longer be the victim of events but, thanks to this clarity of vision, will become able to direct and to mould the future of humankind."(Maria Montessori, from The Absorbent Mind, p. 8)


Being a parent is very different from being a teacher. As a parent, I haven't been very well prepared for the changes that have happened to my own children. For the hole that has formed in my own heart.

My son passed away in 2010, after his deployment to the Persian Gulf. A young man, father, and husband who traveled the world, loved to write, and most of all, put his family first in all he did.

My son-in-law, my daughter's husband, passed away just 3 weeks ago. Cancer took this vibrant man who had a memorable career in the film industry, loved his morning work-out, and most of all, put his family first in all he did. 

These are the parts of parenthood that you don't plan for...seeing your child go before you do. Being helpless to protect your child from the deep sorrow of losing her man. I didn't get training for these occurrences in my journey as a parent.

When I am wearing my "teacher hat", I virtually always know what to do in any given moment. Following the foundational  principles of the Montessori Method, has helped me immeasurably in my teaching career. Yes, I've made mistakes in my professional life, but mostly, my Montessori training gave me the rationale for just about every action I have taken when working with children. And, they have usually been the right actions. Having that rationale to fall back upon makes being a Montessori educator almost effortless at times, very challenging at other times, and always deeply satisfying.


If you happen to find yourself completely at a loss for what to do in a particular situation in your Montessori teacher role you can always step back for a moment and observe.  Then, you will likely see what you can effectively do about the situation. Observation is the basis of how Dr. Montessori developed her method. A big part of Montessori teacher training is observing: learning the art of observing children and, even more importantly, observing yourself.


Once you've begun to get the hang of observing, you will naturally begin to see the child's need for being in motion, for exploring sensorially, and eventually for mastering the environment. This happens organically when your studies to become a Montessori teacher bring you fully into that real Montessori learning environment with real children. 

So, next, you will begin to create that famous "prepared environment" that hallmarks an authentic Montessori classroom. There are the child-sized tools, the natural wood furnishings, the orderly display of engaging activities, and the preparation of the teacher; the most important of all. As a well-trained Montessori teacher you carefully prepare...and then, you let go. 

You trust that the child will respond well and be guided by his/her inner spirit. The order in this prepared environment will nurture the need for order and predictability in the young child. Then, the child will be able to move and explore so that s/he develops those skills of concentration and coordination that are needed to gain mastery in social, academic, cultural, and every kind of "learning domain" that life presents. 


Before your very eyes, the children in your Montessori environment become more and more independent. The goal of every dedicated educator. (and every parent, as well)

These Montessori children begin to read, write, and add numbers, to appreciate and care for the natural world, to enjoy sharing their home language and the customs of their families, to see the world and the universe as a friendly place filled with so much to discover and comprehend. And, best of all, they begin to learn how to solve problems, negotiate with others, and creatively approach challenging situations.


With all the experience I've had teaching thousands of children over my long career as a Montessori educator, I still feel very unskilled when it comes to being a parent.

I've made so many mistakes in this world of parenting. I went to parenting classes as a young mother, and I had courses in child psychology during my college years. These were all helpful, along with my Montessori training after my children were born. Yet, I feel unprepared for the letting go that comes with being a parent.


As a Montessori music specialist, I sing and play music with young children nearly every day of the week. Every moment I am doing that work, my heart feels normal again. Even in the face of my grief. 

It's all the other times of the day that my heart doesn't feel normal. As a parent (and teacher), I know it is important to be a good example to my children. After all, there are three fatherless grandchildren now, with their beautiful and strong mothers...grieving widows...yet they carry on.

They carry on because these women, like their husbands, put their families first in all that they do.

At the recent funeral we all attended, my daughter-in-law, who studies alternative medicine, gave me a necklace made of garnet to wear around my neck to aid in strengthening my heart. Her 16 yr old son, my grandson, spoke during the minyan  at the Shiva for his uncle. My son's children went to Montessori school when they were young and now they are both compassionate teenagers who face life with courage and intelligence.

This boy/man, my dear grandson, who had traveled all the way from Japan,  spoke of how his uncle had really meant a lot to him by shouldering him at his own dad's funeral 7 years earlier. 

My daughter, in the midst of her grief, delivered a truly eloquent and heartfelt eulogy for her husband at his funeral. She has been doing her very best to give her toddler all the extra love he needs right now, since he was very attached to his "Da-da". On her role as a CEO and a mother, she said the following in an interview in "The Tot" about a year ago:
"I’m very lucky, I have people around me who are incredibly helpful – at work and at home.
My mom was a Montessori school teacher, so that has really shaped me. I want to raise Jules in a similar way. I think humour is a big part of parenting – I want to be able to laugh with Jules, and I think it’s important that parents can find the humour in the weirdness of parenting! I think the best thing you can do as a parent is be consistent. Jules’s life is very predictable, and I think that’s really important. And as he grows older, it’ll be important to be consistent with the way we discipline him.
The best thing about having Jules has been that I’ve become aware of just how much love you can have for someone." (Cassandra Grey, "Being Mama" The Tot  8/2016)

As for me, I'm back at work, singing happy songs with little children all day. Yet, the big gash in my heart seems overwhelming at this time. 

I know that my spirit will gradually revive in the coming months and years, especially with these strong women who are in my life. These daughters of mine who seem so gracefully prepared for life with all its joys and tragedies. 

They show me the deeper roots of the principles of the Montessori method. Their equanimity in the most challenging of situations. Their studied certainty of exactly what to give their children to fulfill their needs at each stage of life, no matter how difficult the obstacles. And, most of all, how these two strong mothers have devoted time to observing not only their children, but more importantly, observing themselves. Observing and taking care. They face life with a mastery much like what we, as Montessori teachers, strive for in the children we work with in our daily lives. 

For now, I am taking time to reorganize my newest new normal once again. My heart has the stamina to continue my classroom music work; however, I'll be taking a break for a while from writing posts here at my blog. Taking time for my own self observation, for healing, and for deepening the ties with my daughters and grandchildren.

I want to thank you all for visiting my blog today and for all the nice feedback I've received here over the years. It is amazing how personal our on-line relationships can become, especially within the Montessori community. 

I look forward to returning to the world of Montessori bloggers in the not-so-far future...with renewed energy and wisdom. 

In the meantime, you may have noticed some of the references in the above links for a few of my favorite Montessori sites:
You'll find lots of resources at these other favorite sites:
After my son passed away in 2010, I had lots of support from family and friends. I also had professional support from these very helpful sources:
And, for making contributions to cancer research and support groups for families:
The journey goes on...
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