So last weekend I had a great discussion here and on Facebook with a friend about attachment parenting and whether it is actually good for the child. It goes without saying that I think it is good for the child - why would I parent this way otherwise? But the discussion did spur a lot more introspection on my part. (Is that even possible - *more* introspection??)
I came to some really big conclusions. First of all, when talking about topics like these it needs to be clear in your mind what your core values are and what you are trying to achieve (I use the word "achieve" very loosely, because I am actually way more about the "journey" than the "destination" - but I also recognize that I choose the methods I do because I *believe* they will foster certain tendencies or trends in myself, my family, and our lives).
So I am going to lay out my core beliefs and where I see them leading me and my family.
Definitely the overriding principle governing my life is PEACE. It has been a guidepost for me for quite some time - since before having children. One of my favorite books that I read while I was still teaching was, "I'd Rather Teach Peace" by Colman McCarthy. I also read several other books about nonviolence. This of course directs my approach to parenting. I see parenting my children as the most powerful thing I can do to help promote peace, in my immediate environment, and, by the ripples that inevitably extend outwards, to the world. In fact when choosing my Hypnobabies business name I chose Hypnobabies4Peace and my motto is "Peaceful births, Peaceful parenting, Peaceful world." Here is a paragraph from my website explaining my motto:
Do you really believe your motto? Can Hypnobabies actually have an impact on world peace?
Another excellent question! You are really on top of things :-) I will try to answer it the best way I can. I've already had several people close to me wonder out loud, "Hypnobabies4Peace? What does that mean?" or "so if I had been a 'Hypnobaby' I would be more peaceful?" I laughed with them because honestly I believe it is a good thing to keep a sense of humor and not take oneself too seriously. And it would be so nice if World Peace were so easy to attain, kind of like when people wonder, "Can't we all just get along??" But I do believe that there is a very real connection between birth, parenting, and peace in the world. During pregnancy and birth parents are making decisions that affect their children. Right now there are a lot of practices out there that are the "norm" but not necessarily best for mom or baby. Everyone knows that it is not always easy to make the right choice or the one that is different. How we treat our children is a very real and important way that we can begin to create more peace in our immediate world. This begins from the time our children are growing inside of their mothers. Even decisions that only seem to affect very few people can have ripple effects. It can be that simple. So yes, I do really believe in my motto. Thanks for asking :-)
To me, choosing Peace means choosing love, trust, and compassion over fear, control, and judgment. It is promoting partnership with someone instead of trying to using power over them.
Some other core beliefs that I have about humanity in general are 1) we cannot control others and 2) at our core we want to be good.
Through some challenging past experiences with loved ones I really came to understand that one person can NEVER control another. It is up for each individual to decide what they want and need, how to get it, and if they want to change, it will only happen when it comes from them, internally. There may be an illusion of control - encouraged by punishments, rewards, and other types of coercion, but at the end of the day eventually a person is going to be "out of your control" - if it is a child, when they are older (or out of sight!).
When I say that we are good at our core I do not mean that we never make mistakes or hurt others. I just mean that we *want* to be good and that is what feels right. Unfortunately, in our society we don't often trust kids enough or give them sufficient time (by which I mean short and long term) to show us that this is true.
So you can see that if you do not share these core beliefs then you will probably have a very different parenting (and life) philosophy. This is part of my purpose in writing here - to show you how in my daily life I see these beliefs confirmed every day.
So it's time for me to stop being so wishy-washy (what can I say, I'm a Gemini? Remember: I see both)
I'm just going to come right out and say it:
Yes, I believe that Attachment Parenting is the best way to raise children.
Why do I believe this? Well, first of all because I believe in changing our world for the better and trying to make it a better, more peaceful place I want to parent in the way I believe will best achieve that reality. Attachment parenting has the best chance of starting our littlest people out on a path guiding them towards these ideals. To me, attachment parenting fits perfectly with the ideal of *being* the change I want to see in the world.
I also believe that when we look at our evolutionary background, Attachment Parenting addresses the very real needs of a baby and young child best. And when we meet their needs they grow and develop at the rate and in a way that is best for each individual. Because our society has changed so drastically and at lightning speed, our children's brains, bodies, and spirits still have needs that evolved in very different times and circumstances. Take crying, for example. In Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' book, The Old Way, she says, "The danger of predators explains why the Ju/wa women virtually never went gathering alone and why their babies did not cry. A baby's crying, after all, is a distress signal, telling the world that it needs help. (emphasis mine) Prolonged crying suggest that the baby has been abandoned, that no one is there to defend it. What predator would not prick up its ears at an invitation like that?"
In today's world we generally do not have a threat of predators, nor does prolonged crying necessarily mean that the baby has been abandoned (or does it?) but I do believe that the cry is still for help; the baby's way of communicating. When babies are not responded to their bodies are flooded with the adrenaline and other stress hormones. You only need to search "stress hormones baby crying" to find many more articles and research on the topic.
This is one example of how our current culture is not a great fit for most babies' normal makeup. Attachment parenting is the response to this mismatch - Doctors and parents trying to define what works and makes sense to help their babies be healthy and happy - thriving, NOT merely surviving.
So why do I say Attachment parenting is the best? Why not just continue to say, it's best for my kids, my family, and other families who choose this lifestyle?
I believe the answer lies in all the stories of how mothers and families have been led back to this style of parenting, by their babies. Sarah Scott wrote an excellent piece for Mothering in reaction to the TIMES cover and article last week. But my favorite part was her biographical blurb at the end:
"While she was pregnant, Sarah envisioned working part time. Of collecting her smiling child from it's crib each morning after 8+ hours of sleep. Of watching her husband, Jake, jog off with their baby in the stroller so she could have some "me" time. But, baby Maren overheard that plan and decided she didn't like it. Nope, not one bit. And so, with a potent combination of ear-splitting cries, breastfeeding hormones and the sweetest face this side of the Mississipi, she introduced her parents to attachment parenting in a way no book ever could - through pure gut instinct and trial by fire. Soon they were hooked - er, attached? - and dove head first into the world of co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, cloth diapering and more."
This is what I meant when I said BABIES HAVE OPINIONS TOO. So many people seem to think that parents are choosing these strange practices for their own indulgement, instead of recognizing that they are really listening to the very real needs and voice of their child. I can relate to these stories - I didn't start out a breastfeeding fiend, or a co-sleeping fanatic, or a baby wearing guru. No, there was a very small, but strong, being who came into my life and made her needs explicitly clear. When I went for a walk I almost always ended up wearing Marisol in the sling and pushing an empty stroller. From the time she was about 4-6 months old I tried so hard to get her to sleep in her crib that I often ended up sleeping with her on the floor when we were both too exhausted to do anything else. And when I felt funny because I had "just" nursed her 20 minutes ago, I shrugged my shoulders and nursed her again because her body relaxed into mine, her eyes locked with mine, and we both knew it was the right thing to do. Looking back on these things I almost laugh at myself - from my view now it is so obvious what she needed and what I could do to meet her needs. But *I* needed to learn and she was my teacher.
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
I want to be clear that although I'm stating my belief that Attachment parenting is the best way, I am not judging choices that other parents or families are making and I'm NOT saying it's the "only right way". I also truly believe that the structure of our current society does not support parents in the best way to practice Attachment parenting if they want to. Too many of us live in cities of hundreds of thousands, yet are isolated in our own homes - young mothers caring for their babies all alone all day long. As pointed out here our country is one of the worst when it comes to maternity (or paternity) leave after a baby is born.
In Mayim Bialik's book "Beyond the Sling," she cites psychologist John Bowlby and his work on attachment in which he identified 4 main types of attachment: disorganized, avoidant, ambivalent, and secure. It is quite obvious that we are all trying to raise secure children who will grow up to be secure adults. And it is also true that Attachment Parenting is NOT the only way to achieve that goal. Many very well adjusted people come from homes where the practices were very "main-stream" or "conventional".
That is why I love this quote that I found on Facebook:
The question should not be, “Are You Mom Enough?” The questions should be:
-Are you responsively parenting your child in a timely way?
-Are you attuned to his or her individual needs?
-Are you providing a safe, protected and predictable environment?
-Do you understand and respond to the developmental differences between infants, toddlers and older verbal children?
-Are you available and empathetic when your child needs you or is under stress?
If the answer is “yes” to these questions, you are practicing attachment parenting. You can reasonably expect that your child will become emotionally secure, will be able to give and receive affection, and will lead a productive and successful life.
~Isabelle Fox, Ph.D., author of "Growing Up: Attachment Parenting from Kindergarten to College"
Because after babyhood comes toddlerhood, and after toddlerhood comes childhood, and then adolescence, and then young-adulthood... And then how do we identify "Attachment Parenting"? Not by our breasts or baby carriers, not by where we sleep or what our children poop in. Nope, eventually all of our children grow up. So to me the real question is, are you LISTENING to your child? Because that is what attachment parenting really comes down to. That is why it is true that NOT all children need to be in mama's arms 24/7 for their first year of life, or nurse till they're 3, or sleep with their parents till they're 7. Because each child is an individual. Just like each parent is an individual. If you and your child are happy and thriving you probably don't need to change anything. Attachment parenting is loved by so many because it helped parents and babies when things were *NOT* going well, when something wasn't right even though the parents were doing things "by the book." To me it is best because no matter what *kind* of baby you get, it's principles will work. I just love everything that Mayim Bialik and the Sears family are doing for babies everywhere. They were both recently on the show "The Doctors" and Mayim said the best advice she got was from Sears' "The Baby Book" which said that "There is no manual - the baby is the manual. Read the baby. The baby tells you exactly what they need - it's *ok* to listen."
Lately I'm realizing that the "mainstream" is really the myth. Attachment parenting is a solid reality. There are many, MANY families who follow some or all of the practices that define Attachment parenting. But what does "mainstream" parenting mean? Does it mean spanking or using time-outs? Does it mean using a bassinet or a crib, or letting your child crawl into bed with you in the middle of the night? Does it mean having a nanny or going to day-care or having a full time stay at home mom? I've realized that my reaction to the word "mainstream" is very negative because it has come to mean "unthinking" to me. But the truth is most of the parents I know are thinking about every little decision they make that involves their children. And I would say that they are all very attached to their children. We need to stop identifying ourselves as us and them and recognize that at our core we all have very real human needs. As the Dalai Lama said today on Facebook (he's so hip!):
"The many factors which divide us are actually much more superficial than those we share. Despite all of the things that differentiate us – race, language, religion, gender, wealth and so on – we are all equal concerning our fundamental humanity."
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.