My family loves watching the Olympics, and we marvel at how these athletes are able to get to such a high level of performance, often at very young ages—a 15-year-old ice-skating gold medalist, an 18-year-old skiing medalist and so on. When my children ask how these athletes get so good, I reply that it took them a lot of time and practice.
No doubt there was also a lot of support from their parents.
As parents, we all want our children to succeed in life and part of that is mastering some skill that they can call their own. So we help our children explore their natural talents and personal interests, and we guide them as they develop their skills set.
It can be confusing learning how to be supportive of our children’s pursuits without becoming overbearing, which can actually have the opposite effect of helping our children grow into their potential, because certainly we don’t want to appear to not be proud of our children’s accomplishments.
There is a widespread belief that to be a good Attachment Parenting (AP) family, one parent must stay at home with the children full-time and that parent should be the mother. To be sure, this is a myth.
Some parents are mistaken in thinking that “real” AP families don’t choose to put their children in daycare.
However, parents need to look beyond the specific practices to realize the true goal in Attachment Parenting: Whether or not parents stay at home with their children is not as important as being sure to raise their children with secure attachments. If a dual-income family strives to maintain a strong parent-child emotional bond, this family is just as AP as one in which the mother or father stays at home full-time.
We often hear the cornerstone of healthy parenting quoted as consistently “responding with sensitivity” to our infants’ and children’s emotional and physical needs in relation to their biological-developmental stage. And while I agree this overarching idea is at the core of healthy parenting, I do not feel that it is necessarily as instinctual as many authors and parenting experts claim.
Before parents can even fathom relying on their gut feelings in how to approach their parent-child relationships in a healthy, sensitive way, it is my firm belief that they must first address and heal from any childhood emotional wounds they may be carrying around, often without their realization until they bring a new child into the world, and even sometimes not even then.
Depending on life circumstances, our individual attachment quality, the patterns of our relationships from childhood on, communication style, coping skills picked up along the way and other factors, even the most balanced people among us can still have areas in their emotional life needing attention. And every one of us always has room to improve, just because we humans are like that—if we’re not intentionally moving forward, we’ll slide backwards.
Very few parents can resist the urge to use television at least occasionally to entertain their children. And occasional TV viewing isn’t concerning. It’s when parents are relying on TV for frequent “babysitting” or, more likely, early educational opportunity that there’s a need for change.
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation in 1999 that no child under two years old should watch any TV, there have been a number of studies that have demonstrated that not only do so-called educational programming not have any effect on children’s learning, but they actually may be detrimental. For example, researchers from the University of Washington (USA) found that babies 8 to 16 months old who watched “educational” programming started talking later than peers who didn’t. There was a direct link between the more hours of TV viewing and the smaller the child’s vocabulary.
How much TV is too much? That depends on how much time parents are spending with their children. A researcher from Children’s Hospital Boston (USA) found that while an average of 1 hour of TV a day didn’t necessarily have any effect on cognitive development of babies and toddlers. What did was that the parents who are more likely to allow their children to watch TV are losing the opportunity to interact with their children, such as through conversation and reading, two important contributors to language development.
I attended a mother-and-tots group the other night. There were two babies in the corner, sitting in their car seats, one about two months old and the other closer to four months. The older baby was contently looking around, and the younger was sleeping, later waking to gaze out and only fussing when it was time to eat, afterwards being happy to lie on a blanket on the floor. I asked the mom of the younger baby how it was going at home, and she said that her baby is so quiet and calm that it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is a baby at home.
I can’t imagine. Each of my three children was impossible to forget as soon as they were delivered. Each craved touch and presence. Each protested loudly and violently at separation. Just riding around in the car was a trial, let alone sitting in a car seat at a community function. These were babies that refused to be put down.
I was tempted with my oldest child to “teach” independence by way of crying it out, but she sank into depression that took years to break through. With my younger two, I focused on creating and strengthening a secure attachment, and didn’t try to change them. I just loved them, and continue to love all three of them, as they are. And over time, they have conquered many of their fears and anxieties on their own and have blossomed into secure, confident, happy, competent children.
There’s a lot of talk about the importance of secure attachment. We mostly hear of it in two circles: adult relationships and parenting, especially of adopted or foster children. We’re hearing more of it in parenting at large, mainly through organizations like Attachment Parenting International. But for the most part, the importance of individual attachment style continues to be downplayed. After all, we all grew up “just fine,” right?
As a breastfeeding educator, I am continually wowed by the progress made over the past several decades of not only promoting mothers to breastfeed their infants but also of encouraging the medical community to embrace the practice that was once touted by post-World War II doctors as the “poor woman’s way of feeding her children,” second to the “superiority” of “modernization,” of formula. It is now well known what nature has always known, that breast is indeed best when it comes to feeding our babies.
Breastfeeding is unique in that it not only delivers superior nutrition and health factors to our infants, as well as benefits mothers’ health in the long term, but also that it promotes a secure attachment relationship between mother and baby. We don’t hear about this much, because our medical community hasn’t yet completely acknowledged that how our brains work—the psychology of it all—is actually a biological, physical function of our body. And so, right now, the medical community is pretty much just interested in communicating the importance of the nutrition and health factors of breastmilk.
Attachment parenting is often perceived, at first glance, as permissive parenting or helicopter parenting. This is interesting, since the two latter styles of parenting are nearly opposites: permissive parenting is characterized by a high degree of warmth with few, if any, boundaries set by the parent; helicopter parenting, on the other hand, is illustrated by a parent who “hovers,” or becomes too involved, in the child’s decision-making.
Permissive parenting is seen with parent-child pairs in which the child’s behavior is always seen as OK by the parent, rarely warranting discipline. What limits are set are set inconsistently and may be harsh.
Helicopter parenting is seen when the parent continue to be overly involved in a child’s activities and peer relationships far after the child naturally seeks autonomy. The teen doesn’t feel able to make his or her own decisions and relies on the parent to do so.
Attachment parenting, rather, has two key components well-represented in more than 60 years of research: sensitive response by a consistent caregiver. So we’re looking at parents who are responding with age-appropriate sensitivity and striving to be as available and consistent as possible.
With my two girls, I don’t remember any terrible two’s or three’s. Actually, the hardest year of their early childhood was between their first and second birthdays, when they were walking and getting into everything but still not quite grasping the meaning of “no.” They either ignored my request altogether or smiled while they were doing whatever I told them not to do.
I can tell this is going to be very different with my son. This past year was a breeze. But as we neared his birthday, he has begun to furiously assert his independence. Completely normal, but two-year-olds can run a lot faster and throw a lot farther than one-year-olds and they can reach the door knob and maneuver kitchen chairs easier to climb up onto counters and can unscrew peanut butter jar lids. Plus, the default tricks for one-year-olds, substitution and redirection, don’t work nearly as well on two-year-olds whose memory and focus are more fine-tuned. And then, of course, we have to remember that he’s a little boy, with energy and large motor skills galore.
The core of healthy parenting is responding to our children with sensitivity. On this last day of World Breastfeeding Week, which runs annually from August 1-7, I wanted to spotlight this choice in infant feeding that is often taken for granted in how critical the act can be in getting motherhood–and babyhood–off to the best start. And I’m not talking about the nutritional aspects, but rather the basis of the mother-child relationship and the relationship skills that child will carry into adulthood.
Breastfeeding can be difficult in our society. It is hard to do something different than our family and friends, our social network prior to becoming parents, and to find a new support system for our choices. It is hard to navigate new motherhood relatively alone, compared to other cultures where family rallies together to give the mother a baby moon, a time when mom and baby can bond uninterrupted while housework and caring for other children are taken up by others in her life. It is hard to make the choice to return to work and then try to integrate a child care provider into our alternative way of parenting. It is hard to pump while away from baby. And it is hard to continue to push through difficulties, whether it be a poor latch or milk supply issues or teething or night-waking, when so many others in our lives are trying to convince us to just give a bottle of formula.
July is recognized as “Make a Difference Month to Children,” and many organizations and businesses took this opportunity to raise awareness of their causes or to ask for donations to a favorite child-centered charity. And that is wonderful.
But every individual is making a difference to children in the world every single day. We may not be teachers, childcare providers, parent educators or other professionals who work with children. You may not even be a parent, but yet, we all are still making a huge difference to our communities and society—through our relationships with the children we interact with, whether in our homes, in our professions, or in passing.