Saturday, April 19, 2008

A distaste for dependence

Sometimes I find the justification of attachment parenting contradictory. In an effort to appeal to Americans or the general Western mindset, I always sense a desperateness as proponents assure parents that babies who are breastfed and allowed to cosleep will become even more independent than other babies. But, in the same breath, they say not to worry -- they'll also be very attached to you (hence the term).

I think that's because the point of attachment parenting is to raise attached children, but Americans would too often equate attachment with dependence, and neediness is so unattractive to a Western mindset. I further think that it's not really a contradiction to say attached and independent, because independence in the attachment-parenting sense means something like confident, capable, and able to attach to others. (For an example of this AP discussion point, see #4 here.)

But it brings up the same contradictions that exist inside me. I want my children to need and want me, while at the same time I fear that they'll need and want me too much. It's perhaps an irrational fear that they'll never be self-sufficient, and that they'll end up shaming me with their incompetence and clinginess.

I was raised to be independent. I remember my mother pushing the virtues of self-reliance whenever one of us fell sick. She'd suggest that staying home short of pneumonia smacked of self-indulgence. "Do you think your father or I get to stay home from work for a cold?" she'd ask rhetorically. Now, in hindsight, I can see that staying home when contagious, even if not incapacitated, would actually be a good thing. But I've yet to get over guilt for not pushing through minor illnesses and continuing with life as usual, never asking to be babied. Once, when I was 5, I had a sore throat, and my mother turned to me and asked, "Did you want to stay home from school today?" And I said, "No, I can go." Even at 5, I knew what was expected of me. I'll tell you, I kicked myself for years afterward that I didn't jump at the chance to stay home (granted, from kindergarten). My mother actually offered me the out, and I turned it down! One time in junior high I agreed to cat sit for friends of my parents, checking in on the cat once daily for food and attention while the couple were on vacation. I caught some horrible bug and was throwing up, had a fever, felt run over, the works. I hinted to my mom that maybe she could fill in for me for a day. "You took on the responsibility...," she said. Off I dragged myself.

Sam, in contrast, was raised to be dependent. Being sick meant being coddled. His stay-at-home mother routinely helped with schoolwork and typed his and his siblings' papers for them through high school, as well as college applications. Sam had an epiphany when his parents were out of town and he was forced to complete a school project on his own -- and got a middling grade. Suddenly, he realized that his academic excellence was not his to boast about, and he resolved right then, in seventh grade, to stand on his own two feet. Sam's sister, on the other hand, ate up the attention and has continued to rely on others to do things for her and baby her into adulthood.

What I'm looking for in my parenting is a happy -- and healthy -- medium between the two styles. What I find myself tempted toward, perhaps understandably, is the example I had set for me: to push my baby out of the nest rather than nurturing him. I find myself disgusted with Sam's sister's ineffectiveness and lack of self-sufficiency. I have a horror of having children who will never grow up and leave me alone. (Sam's older brother still lives in his parents' basement, fyi.)

But the thing is, I know it's completely unreasonable to fault a 10-month-old for being clingy, or preferring the company of his mother. But every time Mikko wails because I've left the room (while he's in his father's arms, no less) or wrenches his body toward me to pick him up when there isn't anything in particular he wants from me (read: he's not hungry), I have to steel myself against feeling annoyed.

Is it hopeless? Can I raise an attached baby and child when I feel like I missed out on some attachment myself? When Sam coddles me now, I eat it up, as if I expect it to be short-lived. And then I turn on my own child (and my cat, too, come to think of it, whenever she's whiny) for requesting my attention and care.

This is one of those posts where I just have the questions, not the answers. It's something I still need to think about. Sometimes I hate taking a hard look at myself.

I'm unclear about the copyrights involved here, so to illustrate this article with some humor, just click this link: Cling Film and this one: Clingy


Arwyn said...

Again, old, sorry if this is now totally irrelevant, but...:

I prefer the idea of interdependence; neither wholly dependent on others, nor pretending to exist solely independently, but rather recognizing that we exist as individuals within a web of others, who support us and whom we support, who depend on us and whom we depend on; which I find a particularly apt metaphor for babyhood, since it is not just the baby's physiology that is dependent on the mother's, but the mother's is also dependent on the baby (to drain and stimulate her breasts, to be an object for her affections, etc). "Independence" is an illusion, that is at least as pathological taken to extremes as "dependence" is. I wish for my child(ren) to know and recognize and embrace their interdependence with the whole of creation.

And two Hathor comics:

Betsy B. Honest said...

I think back in the olden days mothers were thought entirely competent if their children were alive AND wearing shoes.

We put too much pressure on ourselves now to be perfect parents -- like "on" all the time fostering attachment and stimulating mental and emotional development, etc. etc. but of course we get tired and exhausted. This is normal.

The trick I think is to forgive yourself -- like we forgive our children for being children, we've got to forgive ourselves for being moms.

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