Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Attachment Parenting Month: Here's how I came to attachment parenting

Attachment Parenting International month 160x600 bannerSo, granted that it's more than halfway over, but October is Attachment Parenting Month, and it's never a bad time to give some love to Attachment Parenting International!

Every day, API is suggesting a fun activity to help you and your little ones connect as a family, so you can check back at this link through the end of the month.

I thought I'd share with you how I came to attachment parenting, because I think it's a slightly amusing and hopefully interesting story. I didn't grow up in a house that practiced attachment parenting as a philosophy, though my parents in general are loving people and did practice some of the tenets of attachment parenting, but not in an intentional or encompassing way. For instance, my mom breastfed all of her kids for varying lengths of time, although she also supplemented with formula and weaned us fairly early. My parents believe in letting babies "cry it out" so that they'd be independent and sleep through the night, but my mom recently admitted to me that I used to scream so much that she just couldn't set me down for the first several months of my life. Sounds like enforced babywearing to me! Ha ha.

I was able to witness my parents' parenting style for infants first-hand, which is maybe not often the case, because my younger brother was a much younger "surprise." I know they let him cry it out, because his crib and my bed shared a room and I got to listen to him, with strict instructions not to talk to him or pick him up. I know they supplemented with formula, because I was taught how to measure out the powder and make a bottle to feed him.

When my little brother became a toddler, he became what my parents called "strong willed." They had a row of books on their bookshelf about how to parent such a challenging child, one who didn't respond to positive reinforcement (aka bribes) or negative reinforcement (aka spanking). He could throw tantrums that made eyebrows raise three counties over, and he was the only very young child I knew who could hold grudges for days without forgetting why and with whom he was angry.

I set up this background just to explain the history behind me when I found myself, in my early twenties, in a used bookstore on a family trip. Sam and I, newly married and exceedingly poor, joined my parents and little brother (now no longer quite so little or so angry) on several vacations that my parents graciously paid for. I forget where we were on this particular trip, just that we ended up, as we often did, at a bookstore, and I disappeared into the basement, where there were rows and rows of books that seemed to be the remainders: like a used bookstore within a used bookstore, the tattered paperbacks that weren't selling in the more atmospheric sections above. I had the basement to myself, so I browsed the shelf and a title caught my eye.

It was the words "high-need child" that did it. I immediately thought back to my brother and my parents' row of books on how to manage him. Their books had been things on discipline and coercion, and I sort of assumed this must be the same thing. I believe, but can't be sure, that it was in fact Parenting the Fussy Baby and High-Need Child, by William and Martha Sears. You'll see if you follow this link that it has since been repackaged and retitled as The Fussy Baby Book, but if you look at the customer-submitted image from Pinehill Books, you'll see what I imagine was the cover of the book that ended up in the basement of that used book store.

I opened the book fully expecting to find ways to "deal" with children who were too demanding, skills I thought I might need if Sam and I had children in the future as we planned, and if those children ended up being as challenging as my brother had been for my parents. I was shocked to find that the interior of the book blew my expectations apart.

This wasn't a guidebook for what to do to children. It was what to do for children — our obligations as parents, as the adults in this situation, to care in appropriate ways for the children dependent on us, even the seemingly annoying ones, and starting from the moment of birth (or even before, planning-wise). I settled in on a dingy couch and began to read as much as I could fit in before someone came looking for me.

The authors told me that I should consider bonding with my baby immediately after birth, that I should breastfeed on cue and exclusively for the first six months and thereafter as needed and desired, that I should wear my baby close to me so that he or she could hear my heartbeat and be soothed by my motions, that I should keep my baby close at night so that crying it out wasn't even necessary. I learned, indeed, that crying in babies was always meant to give the parents a message, and that I should respond quickly and compassionately to my baby's cries. In fact, I learned all the Baby Bs of attachment parenting.

Well. I was floored. This sounded great. Sure, it was only a sad, discarded book in a used bookstore, but I so resonated with the ideas. I flicked a glance at the cover. Too bad these Sears people never had their ideas catch on, I thought. I'd certainly never heard of them. I considered buying the book, but wasn't sure how to explain it to my parents. I wasn't having children soon, after all, and it went against all the parenting choices I'd been taught by example. I hoped I could maybe just remember the principles, and maybe there was a parent or two out there who subscribed to the same beliefs who could offer me a refresher when the time came.

Yes, poor William and Martha Sears, lost and forgotten... No, as I discovered when, a couple years later, I started researching parenting in earnest through books and online, attachment parenting was alive and well. Certainly it wasn't the mainstream parenting style, and my parents clearly wouldn't subscribe to it, but it was an entirely valid approach to parenting. The more I read, the more I liked. And when I realized that my local library carried a large selection of up-to-date Sears books, among others, I was a little embarrassed that I'd assumed the high-need baby book was a one-off that hadn't caught on.

But we all have to come to attachment parenting some way, right? Particularly if we haven't had someone in person showing us the way. The more I read about attachment parenting and hung out with the advocates and practitioners of this type of parenting, the more I changed my mind about other aspects of birth and parenting I had unthinkingly absorbed from my culture. I began to entertain thoughts of home birth, extended breastfeeding, and gentle discipline. Each door opened a new one, and there was always a community waiting for me there to welcome me in. Telling my story reminds me to be the one doing the welcoming when someone's taking those first steps through the door.

I'm curious now. How did you come to attachment parenting? Did you see it in action, or encounter it in a book or online, or both? Did you do a lot of research, or fall into it instinctually? Do tell.

8 comments:

molly said...

I'll just start out by saying that I hate labels, so as soon as I ran across the title "attachment parenting" I discarded it out of principle. However, ever since the birth of my daughter (she's 14 mo's now) I've spent hours online researching all things related to this wonderful, amazing, scary, thrilling, unknown universe of being a mommy.

My husband and I fiercely hold the belief that you should never let a baby cry. (Now that Eden is older, she will sometimes need to cry, when she's upset or tired or frustrated. When that happens I just hold her and be near her until she calms down...but, I don't have to explain myself here; you know what I mean by never letting a baby cry.) So chalk one up to attachment parenting there.

I also work full time, and was fortunate to be able to take almost 4 months off of work, but because I knew I was going to have to go back to work I cocooned myself up with Eden during those precious first few weeks at home and rarely put her down. We affectionately refer to our Moby Wrap as the "wrappy-wrap" and Eden has grown into a confident (albeit shy & watchful) expressive toddler. Score two for AP.

And I can't begin to say enough about the benefits of sleeping together, especially since we are apart so much during the day (she's with her dad or her grandma when she is not with me, but the three of us are not often together all at once). Landing in bed together for the precious nighttime hours has contributed more toward keeping our new little family unit intact than anything else I can think of. We cuddle, we nurse, we sleep, and it's perfect for us. (AP x 3 if you're still counting.)

The more I find out about AP the more I must admit that it's what I find natural and what we think is best for our baby. Right now we're leaning toward just having one, but if we do have another one I would do everything exactlly the same, except I wouldn't be second-guessing myself about it, and I would try to take 6 months off work instead of 4.

Thanks for all your posts, Hobomama! You are a constant encouragement to me.

cypress sun said...

I also came across an old book in a dusty bookstore - The Continuum Concept. I never read the book...but gave it to a friend 8 years ago when she had her first child. She became the most extreme attachment parent prototype I've ever witnessed! (I don't know how much the book had to do with that, but she would not put her child down for anything (not even to go to the bathroom). Her child would bite and scratch to get out of her bed, but she wouldn't let him... Anyway...this is a strange, I know, but her parenting style led me to research what might make sense to me. Attachment parenting it was, not because it is "best", etc. But because, intuitively, it feels right for me. I also keep in mind something that Sears says in The Baby Book about being flexible enough to see what is working best for your family. I found that book incredibly helpful in the first few months when everyone was encouraging me to let my "high needs" (yes, they called him that) baby CIO.

Cave Mother said...

I think my arrival at AP was all about ot wanting to leave my baby to cry. And the only way to avoid this as to carry her everywhere and sleep with her (just as generations of parents have done before me). I had no idea it was called "attachment parenting" until months later. In fact I was extremely relieved that other people had come to the same conclusions about babycare as I had.

Hobo Mama said...

I knew your responses would be interesting! So, Molly arrived at attachment parenting by default and despite her firm resistance to the label (I hear you!), and Cave Mother did it naturally and then found out some people had given it a name. And Cypress Sun researched after seeing another mother try an extreme form of attachment-esque parenting.

On that note, I've read The Continuum Concept, too, and at first had that same reaction of (this was several months into my baby's life), Oh, gosh, I have to hold him ALL.THE.TIME or he'll be RUINED. And then I joined the Continuum Forum and heard some more reasonable voices that filtered the book a bit, and I relaxed. (Good thing, since, as I said, Mikko was older and therefore already ruined otherwise!!)

I keep wondering how or if I would have come to attachment parenting if I hadn't happened across that Sears book. I don't think I would have to the same degree if I'd had children younger (I'm in my 30s), because waiting gave me some extra time to research and consider different paths. (I'm not suggesting younger moms don't do the same, just that I hadn't!) I like to think I would have come to an AP style regardless, just because it felt so wrong to me to hear a baby cry (my younger brother, for instance) and not pick him up and comfort him, and I knew from seeing my mother breastfeed that I was definitely going to give that a try. Who knows!

Anyway, thanks for your responses! I'm going to write some more on the topic, now that I've gotten going.

jorjedatoy said...

The ideas behind AP are simply what feel natural to me. That said, I remember being reinforced by something my husband heard on NPR - it was a study that found co-sleeping helped reduce the risk of SIDS. The idea was that if the baby did stop breathing, the mother's own breathing would sort of cue the baby to breathe.

I am almost at the end of my 6 week maternity leave and I am so dreading leaving my baby for 4 hours at a time (I'll be rushing home on lunch breaks!). I worry I'll be an absolute basket case without her! Thankfully, Daddy will be home with her, tending to her needs while I'm at work.

Olivia said...

I first heard of AP by running into it while searching for slings. At first, I hated the label (I also balked at the term babywearing, but now I find myself using it).

I didn't do much reading on AP, and I didn't set out to do attachment parenting per se, but I liked the idea of co-sleeping and using a sling. Well, it wasn't long after my daughter was born that I read about AP again and realized I was following the principles pretty closely. And my husband has been on board because of how women mother in Nigeria, where he is from (lots of babywearing, co-sleeping and breastfeeding).

I have since learned that my mother followed some of the principles instinctually with me, but when my sister was born, family influences pressered her to let my sis CIO.

molly said...

I am visiting my sisters right now and they both let their kids CIO. Last night my little Eden woke up around 11 for her nighttime feeding like she always does and I ran upstairs for a 10 minute cuddle nursing and we had to lie there together listening to everyone else screaming themselves to sleep. It was so hard! I don't say anything because my sisters are doing what they feel is best for their kids and I don't feel it's my place to intervene. But it's hard. Their kids cried for 40+ minutes before they fell asleep and Eden was asleep in 10.

*sigh*

I thought I'd post here for a little pep talk. :)

Hobo Mama said...

Molly: I meant to write a little pep talk for you but then forgot where you'd posted this. I'm so sad for your sisters' kids! I hate listening to the CIO screaming, too, when I used to babysit for my own brother or other people who used it. I'm glad Eden had someone to snuggle her down and that we're breaking the cycle in our own families.

jorjedatoy: Yes! The science behind it is also convincing. It's funny that it's come full circle that research is just now discovering that what mothers instinctively did for centuries was — duh! — protective of their infants. Sometimes it takes awhile to get back around to the beginning!

Olivia: Cool that your husband got to see attachment-like parenting firsthand and so was on board with it. I love that idea of passing on the culture here, too, as much as I can within my own little circle.

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