Archives for May, 2012
My six-year-old daughter announced today that she had a made a rule and that Daddy wasn’t following it. He was "supposed to" wait inside for her before going outside to play with our other children. She had just finished her breakfast but wasn’t yet changed out of her pajamas and needed to brush her teeth and comb her hair, morning tasks the other children had already finished. Daddy had told her that she could come outside when she was done and that they would delay going on a walk until she came. But she was angry because he wasn’t doing as she wanted and she ran to me to tell me so, in hopes that I would back her up. What would you do? Some parents would say that in no uncertain terms should this little girl be getting her way, or talking with disrespect toward her father, or tattling on Daddy to the other parent. That she was being manipulative and should be punished. What did I do?
Parenting with attachment, whichever label you choose to use (I use Attachment Parenting), comes in all shades. Just because some parents use techniques that you wouldn’t necessarily use doesn’t mean that they aren’t creating a secure parent-child attachment. The truth is, the majority of parents do at least a little attachment parenting already. They just don’t call it that. Parenting advice, for the most part, is slowly evolving to include more attachment-minded principles. For example, years ago, the mantra for caring for babies was scheduled feedings, cry-it-out sleep training, and warnings that holding a baby too much would spoil him. It’s well accepted now that babies should be fed when they’re hungry, it’s OK if you want to hold your baby, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends rooming in with baby so that parents can attend to them quickly. These are all ways parents use attachment parenting without even thinking about it!
There is a myth that parenting with attachment can be outgrown, that families “graduate” sometime in the toddler or preschool years. This thought usually crosses parents’ minds when their once-sweet baby who was content to be carried and cuddled and cooed at begins to assert herself – and not sweetly. Parenting with attachment in mind is not limited to the baby or toddler or early childhood years. The goal is secure parent-child attachment, and the thing about attachment bonds is that they’re able to change over time depending on the influence. This is good when a child or person does not have a secure attachment history, but this also means that if a parent decides that enough is enough, and begins treating his son’s toddler tantrums in a way that does not promote attachment, the parent can actually go backwards in terms of attachment quality.
Sigh. Have you seen the latest Time Magazine’s coverage of the Attachment Parenting Movement? I just about spit out my cereal when I saw the cover. Having a background in print journalism, I understand a publication’s temptation to sensationalize a story, but even I couldn’t have fathomed such a cover. It's not so much that she's breastfeeding, but the way it's portrayed -- very disrespectful not only to her but all breastfeeding mothers and all mothers who now question whether they're "enough." And many of the articles going into the package featuring attachment parenting, as well as the parenting examples they pulled from, are just as judgmental. This is not what parenting with attachment is about. It’s not about having petty differences over specific parenting techniques. Breastfeeding toddlers versus not. Natural birth versus not. Homeschooling versus not. Not vaccinating, not circumcising, cloth diapering. None of that matters. Really, truly. It is not a requirement of parenting with attachment. Certainly, the point of the Time Magazine package is to provide an overview of “extreme parenting,” but attachment parenting doesn’t have to be extreme. It can be mainstream parenting. Soccer moms and working parents and women who started out motherhood with a C-section can do it.
There is a lot of discussion about whether different parenting approaches are child-centered or parent-centered, and there is great contention about which is better for both children and parents. Child-centered, critics say, seriously compromises a parent’s sense of balance and may lead to children feeling entitlement. Parent-centered, critics say, seriously compromises a child’s need for parental attention and attunement. But is this polarization, this black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, reality? Should we be debating for which is the better of the two “evils”? The fear centered on parenting with attachment – common terms used for this parenting approach are Attachment Parenting, Connection Parenting, Empathetic Parenting, and others – is that, because it involves a parent to be attuned to her child around the clock, that it must be synonymous with or at least bordering on permissive parenting. Scary music please… Permissive parenting is that style of parenting that conjures thoughts of dread in as many parents as abusive parenting does. Permissive parenting indicates a seriously imbalanced, child-centered parenting style where parents bend to the will of the child in everything, perhaps out of fear of rejection or out of pure indifference, without setting behavioral limits. It can lead to the parent having no rights to her own sense of self, because the parent will forgo her own needs to satisfy her child’s wants.
Even with the healthiest attachment bonds, conflict will arise in our relationships. Healthy conflict resolution -- which keeps the attachment bond intact -- is done in a gentle, positive manner that promotes influence, guidance, and teaching rather than control. Much of the root of conflict resolution resides in our own selves – in dealing with our own unresolved hurts and biases, as well as finding personal balance, so that we can control the urge to jump to conclusions and react without thinking. And so that we can have the courage to stop in the moment, take a deep breath, and think about how to control our default thinking to be able to react with compassion instead of anger and defensiveness. Another important piece of this puzzle is understanding how personality differences play into both conflict and conflict resolution. Think about what is most likely to create conflict between you and your spouse or partner: Often, isn’t it because you two do the same thing in different ways? My husband and I encounter this all the time. I am much more detail-oriented than my husband and sometimes don’t understand why he doesn’t see the crumbs on the table, while he wonders why I care so much about the crumbs. The same situation can happen between you and a child who doesn’t see the world in the same way.
My almost six-year-old daughter, my oldest of three children, came to my bedroom in the middle of last night to retell her scary dream and seek reassurance. This may not seem to be that big of a deal to you, but it’s monumental for us and our relationship. See, I wasn’t always attachment-minded in my parenting. I started off that way, but when my oldest child was about 10 months old, I bent to cultural pressure. For the next year, secure attachment wasn’t my goal as much as early independence. It was a vulnerable time for me – I had no support as my husband struggled to stabilize his newly diagnosed bipolar disorder, and I lived in a very rural area with no parenting resources. When my oldest daughter was 22 months old, at about the time that I found Attachment Parenting International, I was finally able to break out of that cultural hold and I’ve never looked back. But the damage to our relationship was profound.