Monday, November 29, 2010

Isn't That Just Good Parenting?

My last post sparked an interesting, and very good, conversation about the implications of the attachment parenting label. It was pointed out that, if attachment parenting really is what I described, then it’s simply what good parents do and it doesn’t need the “attachment” label. It’s just parenting.

I agree with that statement-- but I would be hesitant to say it without first attempting to clear up the common misunderstandings of what is meant by "attachment" parenting in the first place. Here's why:

Suppose you have been given the impression that attachment parenting is breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping, and then you heard me say, “Attachment parenting is really just what good parents do, and it doesn’t even need the label. Just call it parenting.” If you hear that statement with an inaccurate understanding of what attachment parenting is, that would be an incredibly hurtful statement! What you would actually “hear” me saying is that people who don’t breastfeed, baby-wear, or co-sleep are bad parents. And, if you read my last post, you know that’s not what I believe at all.

At the same time, though, I concede that the label itself can cause confusion, but I would say that part of that confusion does stem from not knowing what is actually meant by the term. When you hear “attachment parenting,” it is logical to assume that anything that isn’t described as attachment parenting would be described as detachment parenting. So, if you think that attachment parenting is about outward actions, then you would assume that people who don’t breastfeed, baby-wear, or co-sleep are being called detached. And if you read my last post, you know I don’t believe that either!

Hence the clarification of what, exactly, the point of attachment parenting is. It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to have an honest conversation about the label itself if you think it is implying something it isn’t. This misunderstanding of what the actual goal of attachment parenting is contributes to a lot of the confusion about it.

As I stated in my last post, the heart of attachment parenting is relationship. It’s about forming a healthy parent-child attachment by being responsive and sensitive to your children and parenting them as individuals. Sure, things like co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and babywearing are common ways to help foster attachment, but you are not a “detachment” parent if you don’t do them! Attachment has been one of my main goals with both of my children. Yet one of them hardly ever slept in our room, only nursed for a couple weeks, and was never worn in a sling (I didn't even know they existed!), while the other has co-slept since he was born (now only part of the time), is starting the weaning process at the age of 2, and has been worn in a sling some (but not frequently because of back problems that I have). And I have a very healthy attachment with both of them!

Attachment parenting emphasizes having plenty of nurturing physical contact with your child, breastfeeding (when possible) both for nourishment and comfort, being within close proximity at night (not necessarily in the same bed), and continuing to respond promptly and sensitively to a baby’s needs at night. In all honesty, these are things that are biologically appropriate. Mothers have God-given instincts to hold our babies, to comfort them when they cry, to nurse them, and to be responsive no matter the time of day. However, in recent history, there have been parenting books that promote the author's "methods" rather than encouraging mothers to trust and follow their natural mothering instincts. Here are some common examples: Don’t hold the baby so much; you’ll spoil him. Don’t nurse him whenever he cues that he wants to; put him on a strict schedule. Don’t ever put him in your bed; he may never leave. Don’t respond to his nighttime cries; he needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping.

Could it be that attachment parenting has to be qualified with the “attachment” label to distinguish it from this attitude of parenting that has honestly become quite common in our culture? I agree that responsive, sensitive parenting shouldn’t need a label; it should just be “parenting.” But in our culture, maybe the label serves a purpose.

I also want to talk about why I think many parents are so eager to identify themselves with various labels and methods, and the pros and cons of labels in general (not just in parenting), but those topics will have to be for future posts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Is "Attachment Parenting" Anyway?

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about this thing known as "attachment parenting.” Some of the misconceptions are perpetuated by authors who are trying to "sell" their particular method, so it isn't surprising that many times they negatively characterize parenting styles that differ from whatever they’re selling. Attachment parenting, then, gets unfairly labeled as permissive, child-controlled, spoiling children, and so on. While I’m sure that those things could be true of some people who claim to be attachment parents, I definitely don’t think it’s true for the majority.

But some of the misunderstandings of attachment parenting stem from the AP community itself. As with anything, there can be a tendency to become so caught up in the "rules" of what you're doing that you lose focus of the heart of it. That’s human nature. Unfortunately, because of this tendency, many people have a negative impression of attachment parents as self-righteous and judgmental of others who do things differently. And, again, this may indeed be true of some people who practice attachment parenting, but it’s not true of the majority.

Nevertheless, there's this idea out there that attachment parenting is all about breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and looking down our noses at people who don't do these things. I'm going to go on record as saying that, actually, attachment parenting isn't about any of those things.

Simply stated, the heart of attachment parenting is about knowing your children, fostering a healthy attachment with them, and responding sensitively to their needs. It's not about following a list of rules; it's about knowing your children as individuals and choosing to do things that are in their best interest. And it's definitely not about being self-effacing and being controlled by your children; there is a lot to be said for balance. Consider everyone's needs and find what works for your individual family. For example, in some families, co-sleeping is a great solution. In others, it's just not. And that's okay! We don’t need to judge others or ourselves against some imaginary list of AP rules.

When my oldest was a baby, I knew just a little about attachment parenting and I was convinced that I couldn't possibly be considered “AP” because I wasn't breastfeeding my son. Years later, I realized that wasn't true. You can be an attached parent whether you breastfeed or formula feed, co-sleep or sleep separately, use a sling or not, stay home or work, homeschool or school away from home. Because it's not about checking certain things off a list; it's about relationship, sensitivity, and nurturing. I can't see how making certain choices "just because" you think they're on the list of proper AP things is all that different from making certain choices "just because" that's what mainstream culture does. In both of those cases, you'd just be adhering to something without actually thinking it through for yourself and making an active choice.

In the end, it comes back to the same thing I always seem to come back to in posts like this. Don't do anything "just because." Do the research, think about your own family's needs and your own child's needs, and make the choices that fit best with your individual situation. Make informed, educated decisions and confidently own your choices.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Busy Restaurant, Tired Toddler

It was 6:00 on a Friday evening, and our family was circling the parking lot of the crowded restaurant, hoping to find an empty spot. When we were finally unloaded and we met up with the rest of our group, we found out that it was going to be about an hour before we'd have a table.

I looked at my already-tired toddler and thought, "Oh no. This is going to be a disaster." We were having dinner with several members of Clark's family, a couple of whom were visiting from out of state. It was one of those times where I desperately hoped my children would be well-behaved, and I was starting to realize that may not work out as well as I'd hoped.

As we waited outside, we all took turns playing with Isaac. Eventually, our table was ready and we all went inside. Isaac was uninterested in sitting in a highchair, so I let him sit with me and he had a great time trying to crack peanut shells. When the food arrived, he happily moved to the highchair and began eating. Once he was finished with his food, he returned to our laps and the peanuts. A few minutes before we were all ready to leave, he did begin to get restless, which was easily remedied by allowing him to walk around to the other side of the table and crunch the shells under his feet. (Don't worry, this was one of those restaurants where it's fine to put the peanut shells in the floor!)

At the end of the night, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had worried that the combination of crowded restaurant and tired toddler would be disastrous, but it actually went quite well. We stayed patient with him, gave him things to do, and set him up for success as much as possible in a situation that was challenging. I thought back on advice I've heard from other parents and even from books, about training children to behave in restaurants by using physical punishment. Yet I have never done this with Isaac, and he is learning to behave in restaurants anyway. It was a good reminder-- and I need those as much as any parent sometimes!-- that many of the frustrating behaviors present at certain ages/stages are simply grown out of as the child matures and as the parents model and teach the appropriate behaviors, no punishment necessary. Very, very cool!

Just a few days later, my friend Ashley mentioned this very same concept in the guest post she wrote:

One last point: It helps to remember that a lot of the annoying behaviors that come with certain ages and phases are just that: phases. Children generally mature out of them, just by maturing and consistent, gentle reinforcement of boundaries. (Really, they do. It's like magic.)

I was encouraged by these reminders-- both the real-life experience we had at the restaurant and Ashley's post. Sometimes when you're in the midst of challenging stages in a child's development, it's hard to remember that they will eventually grow out of those behaviors with time and patience. But they do! And it's such a neat thing to see.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let's Talk Toddlers (Guest Post)

This guest post was written by Ashley Van Otterloo. She's a good friend of mine and is the mom of three children. I hope her words speak to you as much as they spoke to me!

So. Let's talk toddlers.

It's really common, as the parent of a budding toddler, to feel a little "duped" by any easy-parenting fantasies you held previously, or completely steamrolled by the realization that gentle parenting (and ANY parenting) is really long, really hard, often thankless work.

While creating a loving bond with our tiny babies, it's easy to imagine that our little one and ourselves will enjoy the euphoria of "togetherness" forever, and that baby will seamlessly become an equally agreeable child, in sync with our every idea. Even if a baby has been high needs or cried a lot, we might look forward to easier time of it once they get older and less colicky/clingy.

For many mothers, including myself, 12mo-2.5 years is a HUGE reality check about what it means to be a parent. I discovered very fast that my daughter is and forever will be her own person, with her own ideas, her own hopes, her own God-given bent and personality...that is often in contrast/conflict with mine! What a RUDE awakening!

It was a time that I spent much time in prayer, realizing the weight of the task I was about to undertake: leading an individual gently and thoughtfully through childhood, and realizing that *I* was now the adult in her life that she looked to for protection, instruction and nurture. Despite any cranky moods, unfairness, and challenge that the commitment brought me, I was committed to being her mom! What a HUGE paradigm shift this was for me!

In light of what I've gleaned from my limited experience (this is our 3rd time around), and from observations of emotional trends that tend to happen at this age, I thought I'd compile a little list that might be helpful for a mama navigating this for the first (or second, third, fourth...) time!

Things that make this time unique:

Differentiation (Mama and me are different!): From 12 months, babies begin a fantastic journey of finding their own place in the world, as they no longer view themselves an extension of mommy! This means exploration; fuzzy, emotional opinions of their own; unique ideas; lots of experimenting with behaviors and words. This age can be charming, funny, busy and exhausting for parents!

New experimental expressions like the infamous "NO!!!" are healthy, but can take some adjusting to emotionally, especially if your background (like mine) was a punitive paradigm. It can take a while to find a balance between allowing for individual expression and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Need for reassurance: The flip side of differentiation is need for nurture! Babies this age often get overwhelmed by their own ability to stray from mama, and from the sheer new volume of stimulation and information at their fingertips! While they're struggling to get down and explore their world, they also need plenty of cuddling, loving, direction and reassurance!

Increased Mobility : If you have a child this age, this point is obvious. Childproofing, wise choices in playdate location, lots of redirecting and on-feet time for parents is a hallmark of this busy phase!

Changing lifestyle: Up until this point, it's easy enough to tote along little Rex or Regina in a stroller or sling, and friends are generally happy to see your little bundle of cuteness. Once toddling is reached, however, things like eating and the bowling alley become more challenging. (Sometimes challenging is a laughable understatement! ) You're now responsible for making sure the boundaries of others are honored, AND setting your little one up for successful behavior by providing appropriate place to explore. If your social life is mostly composed of single or childless friends, this experience will likely be even more obvious.

For extroverted or social couples, this can be especially challenging, and it may take time and patience to reinvent your social support system in a way that nurtures you and provides a safe, successful environment for your child. The work put into it is always satisfying! Don't give up, and be patient with yourself and your spouse as you navigate these new waters.

Changing sibling relationships: For toddlers with older siblings, this is often an age of discovering rivalry (and relationship!). Different children with different needs and opinions about things require lots of involvement and navigation of physical boundaries from parents (especially in the very early years! ) The baby is all of a sudden more interesting and, sometimes, more scary. The Mama Bear that is awoken when on child hurts another can leave you feeling wild and breathless sometimes.

If your toddler is the older child, this is often a very rattling emotional time for mama! Feelings of betraying your toddler with another pregnancy, worry that you won't have enough resources to go around, feelings of annoyance that they won't mature more quickly, feelings of being overwhelmed by the needs of TWO small people can be daunting. It's a great time to take a deep breath and ask yourself what your child is actually capable of (and not what you WISH he/she were capable of), and trouble-shoot from there.

Body changes for mama: Most women notice changes in their bodies or, at very least, the amount of time/energy that can be devoted to self-image or self care after the infant year! This can contribute to rattling of the way we view ourselves, and tends to lend an emotional intensity to our reactions to increasing demands on our energy and patience.

Remembering that people who feel good behave better will help. Pick a hobby or pursuit you love. Call a girlfriend. Hand your toddler off to your spouse or a trusted loved one for a couple of hours. Taking care of ourselves (even if it's just half an hour in the tub every week to unwind and soak out the stress) isn't selfish. It's prudent.

Need for increased body boundaries, but continued need for nurture: While being an attached parent, it's often healthy and useful to recognize that there are age-appropriate times to gradually set limits on our children's access to our bodies (nursing boundaries, need for personal space sometimes). This can look different for every parent/child, according to individual needs. It's also important to recognize that while setting boundaries and limits, we can honor the fact that our toddlers are still very small and very much babies who continue to need some level of physical reassurance. As in all things, a healthy balance for everyone can be struck.

Discipline choices take a central role: This is a sorting out time for most parents in the area of discipline philosophy. Toddlerhood is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. The realization that parenting and reinforcing the same boundary over and over can be HARD sets in, and many mothers previously delighted with Gentle Discipline can feel disillusioned. (It is, after all, a lot easier to imagine being gentle with a cooing baby than with a mobile baby who has their own set of needs and opinions! )

Parenting isn't easy. It takes committment, time, patience, repetition, and a commitment to strive for teaching and instilling of love for the long haul. It takes *time* and energy, and there are no easy solutions when cultivating compassion, kindness and character.

It's also an age where the decision has to be reached to become educated and confident in your OWN parenting choices, and to grow rather thick skin from the flurry of advice that's bound to come your way. Others often have strong opinions about how we should parent our own children. I've found that with family, it's good to take a no-nonsense approach, and simply "out" myself as a proactive, gentle mother, and make it clear that my parenting choices aren't up for discussion. I do the same with close friends. This isn't forceful or rude; it's taking on the appropriate role of authority and protector in your precious child's life, and making the boundary of your place as Parent clear.

Much of parenting is donning a flame-proof attitude about the decisions you prayerfully and thoughtfully make, and then standing your ground, and surrounding yourself with those who will at least be respectful of your choices. It's a time when you step out of a follower role yourself, and become a leader for your children.

One last point: It helps to remember that a lot of the annoying behaviors that come with certain ages and phases are just that: phases. Children generally mature out of them, just by maturing and consistent, gentle reinforcement of boundaries. (Really, they do. It's like magic.) To be sure, each new phase brings with it it's own set of unique and what often appear to be bizarre behaviors. Read up on ages and stages...Ames and Ilg's "Your Two Year Old" is a great place to start.

I challenge each mom to pray and ask God to help her to fall in love with THIS child that you've been given. Not the child you imagined you had, not the child you expected, not the child you wish you had. Ask the Holy Spirit to wind your heart around what it is that makes this specific child's personality fantastic and capable, and then commit to pouring your effort into nurturing that. It's a beautiful journey, if hectic and crazy sometimes, and one that's worth the walking!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In the middle of the night, he wakes. He stumbles bleary-eyed into my bedroom, calling, "Mama! Mama!" I welcome him into bed and he snuggles next to me, immediately comforted. His eyes close, his breathing steadies, and he is back to sleep.

But I'm awake, and I lie there looking at him. I remember sleeping with him beside me for the first time, opening my eyes over and over again just to peek at him, amazed that this little person was finally here, and amazed at the beautiful birth we had just experienced.

Almost two years have passed. He has grown and learned so much. He's becoming more independent every day. Yet, underneath it all, I still see my baby. He still needs me for comfort, and he comes to me in the night to cuddle. These are precious moments.

Monday, November 15, 2010


As we near bedtime, I go to the boys' room with Isaac, who is nearly 2. "It's time to pick up your toys," I say. "Let's start with your animals." I pick up the small red storage container we use to store his dinosaurs and zoo animals. "Pick up your animals and put them in here," I instruct him.

His reaction is predictable, especially if you're familiar with young children. He sees the toys, and he wants to play with them. Bedtime, schmedtime. It's playtime! And then, of course, he realizes that it is not playtime; Mom seriously wants him to pick up the toys. He feels a flood of disappointed and angry emotions, which team up with his sleepiness, and it all bursts out in the only word his limited vocabulary can come up with to describe what he's feeling:

"NOOOOOOOO!" he cries, as I demonstrate what I want him to do. I put a couple dinosaurs in the box. He grabs the other side of the box with his hands and tries desperately to pull it away, hoping to dump the toys back out and get just a few minutes of playtime.

I stand firm. "It's hard to pick up toys when you want to play. I know," I empathize. "It's time to pick up now. See the elephant over there? Put it in the box."

He has relinquished his grip on the storage bin but he is still protesting verbally. I reach over and get the elephant, making it "walk" to the box with exaggerated large movements. "Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp!" I'm providing sound effects for the elephant. "CRASH!" as it lands on the other animals in the box.

The tears have stopped, and there is a smile. There he is. Now he's with me.

"Can you find the giraffe?" I ask. He does. "Put it in the box." He does. We do the same thing with several other animals; I name one for him to find, then he finds it and puts it away. Soon we are done with the animals, but now there are cars. We approach the cars similarly, looking for red ones, yellow ones, motorcycles. Then we move on to putting away a few larger items that go in the closet. He works hard, following every instruction I give.

When we are finished, I look around at the tidy room and smile. "Look, your room is all clean!" I say. He nods his head in agreement. "You did it!" I say. He beams.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I'm Thinking...

I may resurrect the blog. :)

I think I'm finally starting to feel like writing regularly again. Yay!