Saturday, April 14, 2012

My real reason for attachment parenting

I am so tired of reading articles complaining about "those awful attachment parenting moms" and how much pressure they're putting on "the rest of us" to fulfill a certain checklist of attachment parenting things. Apparently elimination communication and placentophagy have been added to the "list" because celebrities did them and now we all are being pressured to do them too.

Whatever. I just don't feel pressured by someone else's choices, least of all by some celebrity I never even heard of before reading the article.

So, for the record? I don't do this attachment parenting thing out of guilt, a sense of obligation, or fear that I'm going to raise a psychopath.

Scientific proof is hard to come by when it comes to analyzing parenting methods. I mean, say you co-slept, breastfed, spanked, and homeschooled, and your child grew up to be a criminal mastermind. Which of your parenting decisions is at fault? It's not like researchers can randomly assign parents to parent different ways. And you certainly can't placebo-control spanking ... guaranteed, if you're being spanked, you know you're being spanked.

Anyway, there tend to be two opinions that are generally supported by some kind of statistical evidence. One is that attachment parenting really does produce better kids. Breastfeeding makes them smarter, co-sleeping makes them more secure, not spanking makes them less aggressive. Every "attached" choice you make helps your kids later in life. The other opinion is that what you do doesn't really matter, it's all genetics, and your kids will probably turn out fine whatever you do.

So, there isn't really any scientific or statistical evidence that attachment parenting hurts anything.

But that isn't why I do it, really. Why I do it is quite simple. It helps me enjoy being a mother.

I mean, I could obsess over sleep training and nap schedules. Sometimes I do. And when I do, it takes away my peace and makes me obsessive about something stupid that really doesn't matter in the long term anyway. Someday, no matter what I do now, my kid will hug me goodnight and leave the room, and that will be the last I hear of him till morning. But meanwhile, I found I slept a lot better when I turned the clock to the wall and just nursed him back to sleep when he woke up. (I miss those days.)

There's a lot of touching in attachment parenting: nursing, cosleeping, babywearing all require a lot of touching. It seems you'd be touched out after awhile, and honestly I thought I would be, since I can be sort of picky about being touched. But in my experience, the touching was the key. Being physically close made me feel so much more emotionally in tune. The nursing hormones didn't hurt, either. Every time we coslept, I woke up feeling patient and loving. It really is a neat trick of human nature, the way touch makes us feel so connected and happy. Science shows it's good for babies, but I maintain it's just as important or more so for mothers.

Nowadays, the struggle is usually over discipline. Having a toddler is rough. They are so determined to do what you don't want them to. And yet, when I yell or threaten or get rough in any way, I feel angrier and angrier. It still doesn't work. But as an added bonus, now I feel like my son and I are adversaries and I seriously resent the fact that he's not knuckling under and accepting who's boss. When, on the other hand, I try to put myself in his shoes and just keep gently redirecting and redirecting and redirecting him, moving him to a new place and comforting him when he cries about it, I feel so much less frustrated. I'm able to see him as a little person who is having a really hard time doing what I ask, but it isn't his fault. And I see myself as his hero, the one who can help him to do what he needs to do. I feel like a Good Mom. And every mom needs things to make her feel like a Good Mom.

Trying to "train" my son, to rush him to grow past nursing or nightwaking or babywearing or snuggles, would just be an endless source of frustration to me. I would see him as broken, defective, because he didn't do these things on my timetable. So I do everything I can to skip that source of frustration and just go with the flow instead. He wants to eat? I feed him. He wants to be held? I hold him. He wants to spend an entire year potty-training, and still has accidents every day? I don't really sweat it. He'll grow up eventually. All kids do. When the time seems right, I gently suggest the new thing I'd like him to do, and slooooowly he learns it. But if it turns into too much of a battle, I back off and try later. I don't need battles in my life.

It's pretty much the same as the revelation I had as a teenager, babysitting my little brother. I used to spend the time surfing the internet, and then leaping up every few minutes to extricate him from danger or attend to some need of his. I would get more and more frustrated. And then I finally realized: the problem was not the kid. The kid was going to have needs, that couldn't be helped. The problem was that I was trying to do something else at the same time. So I logged off (yes, this was in the days of dial-up) and sat on the floor playing blocks with my little brother. I was a little bored, sure. But I felt so much more at peace, happy, connected. And I realized that it's so much easier to just give up your grown-up ideas of entertainment, getting stuff done, setting goals, if you're going to be taking care of a child. They demand that kind of dedication -- but it's okay, because when they receive it, they're happy and, surprisingly, you find that you're happy.

Sure, I do my own stuff too. I do kind of a lot of it, because for all I complain, Marko's pretty self-entertaining and does leave me plenty of time to "get stuff done" as well as monkey around on the internet half the day. But some days, he won't accept that. He whines and cries and has a million things he wants. It usually takes me quite awhile to realize how miserable multitasking is making me. But when I do, I leave the computer, scoop him up, take him to the couch, and read books. Within five minutes, peace returns -- not just to Marko, but to me. I stop feeling like the harried housewife with kids climbing all over her and start feeling like the earth mother welcoming children into her arms.

I have the feeling, too, that if I take the time to enjoy my children, I won't find myself offering them to the nearest bidder later on. (At least, not too often. I am positive there will be days.) I chose to have kids, I like having kids, and I mean to spend their childhoods enjoying my time with them. As the old ladies I run into like to remind me, it won't last. Someday I'll have plenty of time to clean the floor, buy groceries by myself, and sleep alone. This time in my life is for storing up love and memories to think of later.

It's worth reminding myself, as I continue to freak out about the new baby (due in three weeks now!). I'm so worried of being harried, hassled, stressed. I worry that my "me time" -- my gardening, my blog, my incessant Facebooking -- will be a thing of the past. And let's be honest, for awhile, it probably will be. But what will happen if I don't even try to reclaim it for awhile? What if I focus on the moment, filling my two children's "love buckets," and listening to their needs? Will I be totally overwhelmed and "lose myself"? Or will I find, as I found with my little brother and with Marko, that when I lose myself, that's when I find myself? My Self is not some single woman with all the time in the world on her hands to grow tomatoes and comment on everybody's blog. My Self is a mother, a mother of two, and the best way to find that new Self is to quietly listen ... probably while nursing a baby and reading endless books.

Do I think attachment parenting is the best and you should all totally try it, if you haven't already? Sure. But that's because I like it and think you might too. There's no "list" of things you have to do to be a good mom. If you love your kids more than life itself -- and who doesn't -- you're already a good mom. So as far as that goes, I don't care what your individual choices are. I just advertise mine because they make me so very happy.


Sarah said...

"I chose to have kids, I like having kids, and I mean to spend their childhoods enjoying my time with them."

Yes, Yes, YES!!! This, above all else, is why I LOVE staying home with the girls. I hated paying someone to do all the things I longed to do while I worked.

Maggie said...

Your paragraph about discipline and your toddler had me nodding and thinking, "Yep, totally" the whole way through.

Also, those documentaries I watched are Collapse, In Plane Site, End of America, and Inside Job. Let me know if you've seen any of them!

Momsomniac said...

We attachment parented our oldest because he gave us no choice - it was that or be constantly cranky, exhausted, and frustrated. We didn't even know there was a name for it at the time. We did what he seemed to need. After him, it was pretty much what we did.

Son 3 wanted less of that, in general, and we were tapped out as well, so it worked out okay. But I still spent nearly 2 years co-sleeping with him, night nursing him, and holding him as much he'd allow (I still do that!:).

I never felt any outside pressure to do it this way - though it was funny how the SAME people who told me I was 'coddling' son 1 were the ones who were upset with me when I let son 3 cry in his bassinette for 10-20 minutes while I ate or showered or tended to his brothers.


I feel sad for people who don't know how to enjoy having children. Being a parent is the best thing - ever.

Sheila said...

@Maggie, no, I haven't. Might keep an eye out for those!

@Momsomniac, just can't please everyone, can you? Some people are just determined to criticize no matter what you do!

the mommy psychologist said...

As a child psychologist and a mom, I must point out that the title attachment parenting is misleading. Attachment parenting is not the only theory of parenting which results in children developing a secure attachment with their parents or caregivers. Many other theories of parenting result in secure attachment relationships. The only reason attachment parenting is given this title is because it was based on the principles in attachment theory. There are multiple other theories available as well that are just as effective in developing well adjusted, loved, and happy children. I recently addressed some of the critiques of attachment parenting here if you are interested:

Sheila said...

Well, of course attachment parenting isn't the only way to raise attached kids. That's just what we call it because it's the central idea of the whole thing. As I've said when talking about the "working mom" vs. "full-time mom" question, using a name doesn't mean "no one else has anything implied in this name." It just means "I choose to call myself this because it explains what I am and do. I'm not talking about anyone else."

As I said in this post, I don't think you have to do everything on the attachment parenting "list." In fact, even Dr. Sears says you don't have to do every one of his "baby B's"! You just do what works and what your child needs. I usually call this responsiveness ... you try to read your child's needs, and when you figure them out, you do your best to fill them. My son wasn't into a lot of the attachment parenting stuff I thought I would do. But he has his own quirks that I've found my own ways of dealing with. The important thing is that I don't write off his needs as "fussiness" or "neediness" or "whining," but actually try to figure out where they're coming from. That makes me feel attached to him, and it works very well for him. But other parents do things differently and that's fine too.

Sarah Faith said...

The first question that comes to my mind is what the heck kind of stuff do you read?? LOL I have never seen any articles saying anything like what you describe. !? haha

'Akaterina said...

I have to laugh about the sleep issue. I have been asked HOW I got both my kids to sleep through the night (as in a full 12 hrs) by 6 months. To be honest, I didn't "do" anything except notice that for the most part when my kids fussed at night, it was usually between sleep cycles and only for about 30 seconds, then they fell back asleep. If they actually started crying I got them. (They slept next to the bed instead of in it by 3 months, just because I never slept with them in the bed. But it was easy enough to roll over, pick them up, nurse, and put them back.)

I think personality has a lot to do with it. Both my kids LOVE to sleep. They nap at least an hour a day and they are in bed no later than 7:30. We never did any sort of sleep training. We did try a "cio" with Evie all of one night. She is too strong willed for that sort of nonsense. ;-)

I think as you have said before, different parenting styles for different families. Do what works and develops a happy healthy child.

Sheila said...

I dream of having a kid who loves to sleep. Sadly, though, it's not in my genes. I am the only "good sleeper" in my whole family. My older brother gave up naps at six months old! And every time I hear about how my youngest brother sleeps, I want to run and hide. So I really am (relatively) pleased with how Marko sleeps. He has granted me occasional full nights of sleep since three months old, and if it hasn't been consistent, oh well. He seems to sleep a lot better in the summer, but in the winter he gets cold at night.

Maybe this baby will be a "good sleeper." Maybe. But in any event, I'm going to stress out about it a lot less this time around. Rather than stay up all night trying to "teach" him to sleep well, I'm going to do what helps me get the best sleep whether or not he sleeps well. For me, that's cosleeping with a sidecar crib. Someday he'll sleep through the night, but meanwhile, we all need to get our sleep, and he'll need to get his midnight snack, and I am NOT freezing my behind off in a rocking chair for an hour every few hours. No sir. ;)

Anonymous said...

Mostly, I wanted to hit a like button. But I do have a kid I co-slept with, nursed on demand, spanked,and homeschooled, and some days I can sort of picture him growing up to be a mastermind crimnal. Still, I don't actually blame it on any of these choices. A great deal, I think has to do with that child's own free will.

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