I used to be an expert on how babies should be. I knew that all babies who were raised the attachment parenting way never cried (they never needed to!), breastfed easily, coslept without a fuss for baby or parents, developed ahead of the pack, and became energetic, independent toddlers and preschoolers as they moved out of babyhood.
And then I actually had a child, and my expertise faltered.
Mikko as a baby challenged all my expectations for how attachment babies should behave. He cried more than not. He demanded constant motion. I had read in The Continuum Concept, and had bought into the idea, that babies who are worn are limp and content. We wore and carried Mikko everywhere — we had to. But he was shrieky and convulsive.
I also had this defense all ready to give to relatives who questioned our unusual insistence on cosleeping, breastfeeding past infancy, and unschooling — that giving our baby a base of attachment would make him that much more independent. Um … yeah … still waiting for that to happen.
It's not that perfect AP babies don't exist. If I'd had Alrik first, I would have believed the hype I'd told myself. Alrik is the so-called "good" baby (meaning he's convenient, meaning he's generally quiet in public, meaning he sleeps through the night already). If I'd had him first, I'd have pointed to him as being that way because of how we parented him. "He's so easygoing," I'd have been able to gloat, "because he knows we're here to meet all his needs!" Having had a non-easygoing child first, who was raised exactly the same way (or, to be honest, with even more responsiveness, because our poor second child sometimes has to play second fiddle…), I know now it's just not always so.
Now, I've said to friends, and I firmly believe, that Mikko would not have been better off if we'd been non-attachment-minded. I truly do think he'd have been even fussier as a baby, even more hesitant as a child. Breastfeeding and babywearing him in his colicky phases kept us all going until he could outlive them…and now that he's a child with a lot of social anxiety, being less patient and less nurturing would only force him into coping mechanisms that could ultimately do him lasting harm.
So don't think I'm taking back my support of attachment parenting. If anything, I love it all the more as I glimpse what could have been my child's fate if I'd had a different parenting plan in mind.
What I want to do is remove some of the parenting pride — and guilt — we subscribe to. When our babies are easy, when they go to sleep as we wish them to, when they grow and develop on our schedule, we tend to praise our own regimen, whether it's crying-it-out or high responsiveness. If our babies are not fitting into the convenient boxes we've made, people tend to look for what we as parents are doing "wrong," and we feel that judgment.
Maybe we should let it all go.
As I've blogged, I've been privileged and humbled to talk with parents riddled with guilt because cosleeping didn't work for them (no one was getting enough sleep), or because their plan for breastfeeding failed (for medical or support reasons), or whose babies or backs didn't take to babywearing. I've heard parents' stories of children who defy their best efforts at gentle discipline (not that they give up, but just the frustration of it), and of older kids who turn to paths that feel or truly are highly dangerous and disappointing.
Our kids are who they are. We can enhance how comfortable they feel in this world by respecting their needs, by trying to meet them, by acting and reacting in love. But we can't control them, either as wee infants or as strong-minded tots or as maturing tweens and teens. Our parenting is not the sum of their parts. They own their own souls and their own paths, and we can only come alongside them.
This is what I'm learning, daily, from parenting two very different, but very dear, boys.
What surprises have touched you? How have your kids challenged your parenting assumptions?