Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Heart of Attachment Parenting

I’ve been pondering parenting a lot, lately.  There’s the mom guilt that’s crept into a few areas of life here and there...but which I haven't dealt with lately (well, except for when I do utterly fail, which happens often enough), except thinking sometimes I should be feeling guilty.  And I’m reading Spirit-Led Parenting, which has been a really excellent book.  Very encouraging for moms of all walks….good encouragement to leave behind pressure and criticism on all sides of the mommy wars.  Then I read this really excellent article, The Face of Attachment Parenting.  And it all sort of clicked again for me….in a crystal-clear, slightly new way.

Attachment parenting isn’t about the methods.  Attachment parenting is a heart thing.  It’s the way my heart is in-tune with my children’s hearts.  It’s the way we’re…ahem….attached.  It’s about meeting each of my kids’ individual needs.  It’s about being involved in their lives.

Co-sleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding, and many other practices connected to attachment parenting help me achieve that.  But they just aren’t it.  That revelation brings a bit of freedom with it….freedom to parent the way each of my kids need – freedom to be imperfect and still make it through this journey – freedom to give my kids my very best, even though that isn’t perfection. 


Sometimes, knowing too much can feel overwhelming.  I’ve read the research and I know how good babywearing is for my babies.  So….I wear them a lot- and for other reasons as well.  I wear them while we do housework and cook and go on walks….basically, anytime I’m moving.  But sometimes, I’m exhausted…like during our 2-day zoo trip when I had a few points of being quite happy to let him ride in the stroller or pass him to Ben and let Vivi walk.  He recently growth-spurted, bringing him up to 25 lbs.  I think my back’s finally starting to catch up, but it’s taken a while….I need to start working on some exercises to strengthen my core so I can keep up- but I said that several days ago, and it’s still just a thought.  Or there’s the way some activities are becoming difficult (dare I say impossible?) with him on the front….or that some days I feel like just wearing him takes all my energy and combining that with caring for a tired toddler and getting anything done feels like torture.  So I put Timothy on the floor to play while I’m cooking, or in his saucer.  And while the one side of me feels like it’s working for all of us because he knows I’m right there, he’s having a good time, and Vivi’s enjoying either playing with him or being worn….there’s another side of me that knows just how good babywearing is for babies.  I race the research through my mind, recalling how good every extra hour of physical contact is for baby. 

But then I remember….the articles are written to a hands-off culture.  A culture where baby goes from one contraption to the next, and sometimes doesn’t even get held for feedings.  It really isn’t addressing a situation where baby is worn several hours a day and held/played with for a good many more.  And truly- I haven’t felt guilty lately.  Only like maybe I should feel guilty because, well- remember what the research says?!    

And then it all came full circle as I started piecing together my thoughts on AP and I realized- babywearing is a special and helpful tool.  But it isn’t attachment parenting itself.  I use it to meet my baby and toddler’s needs….but if they don’t need it around the clock and I need a break, that’s okay.  Phew.  I’m not a failure on that account, at least.


Or there’s breastfeeding.  And mom’s who don’t breastfeed can still be attachment parents.  I still clearly remember being super excited to meet a new friend with the common ground of babywearing.  She came over and we shared carriers and swapped stories.  And then her son got hungry….so she pulled out a bottle.  And my mind started pursuing a lot of less-than-graceful thoughts.  I mean, really….I thought she was an attachment mom; she’s so into babywearing.  Lucky for me, I didn’t voice my thoughts….and soon, I was repenting them.  And wondering all over again why I can’t just have grace for people.  Because she started to share….her 9 month, hellish journey of trying everything to be able to nurse her little guy….with no success.  The doctor visits, the lactation consultants, the herbs, drugs and oatmeal.  And it still wasn’t working.  She shared her joy in the fact that he still enjoyed comfort nursing at home….and the pain of not being able to do something she’d dreamed of doing.  (if you’re reading this…I’m truly sorry for my initial thoughts.  And I’m beyond grateful for you and our friendship!  I admire you, and the love you give your babies, more than you can imagine!)  And I couldn’t help but think about how much more pain I could’ve heaped on a mom who was just doing what was best for her baby given the circumstances.  A good and beautiful mom, fully attached to her baby.  She’s given me a totally different perspective on breastfeeding….helped me to remember, when I meet a bottle-feeding mom that maybe it wasn’t her choice.  And that even if it was….I don’t know the whole story.  I've learned to wait and listen before assessing.   


The examples and specific scenarios could go on.  You know all the pet attachment parenting stuff….no pacifiers, co-sleeping, etc., etc.  Most (maybe all J) of them we adhere to more or less….we probably “model” AP pretty well, because it works well for us and it’s meeting our babies’ needs …but I’m not touching my babies all day.  They play together and I even enjoy bathroom trips semi-alone on occasion.  We balance it to make it work for us.  Which means at most meals, Timothy sits in his saucer next to us now, because he’s become impossibly grabby….and it’s even kind of fun eating with two hands. 

I’ve learned we can hold too tightly to our pre-conceived ideas on both extremes of the spectrum.  Just as an “Ezzoite” may hold so tightly to what they’ve been taught they can’t see how much harm they’re dishing their baby….I too, could be in danger of holding too tightly to the ideals I’ve built.  If the ideals are the idol- if I’m not carefully weighing what each baby needs, but rather how does this line up with AP?, my perspective isn’t in the right place, and I could be harming my babies just as much as I would via Ezzo.  I want to be an extreme mom….but rather than being the perfect AP mom, I want to be extreme in the realm of seeking our kids’ needs, each individually, taking into account what’s best for each individual.  It’ll mean different newborn parenting, different training, different discipline for each child.  Because my kids are more important than being able to be a perfect APer. 

As Ben compared it so well….it’s the same way Christianity isn’t about going to church.  And if it is- we have a big problem.  If attachment parenting is about the methods….we have a problem.  AP should give us the freedom to abundantly meet our children’s needs.  The freedom to be attached and engaged with our children.  It’ll look different with each baby/child.  I love this line from the above mentioned article: “Attachment parenting grows up. And that doesn't mean nursing while standing on a stool. It means that mother and child grow together. It means that when it's not so simple anymore and all their needs can't be met by stopping to nurse, we still listen. And listen. And listen. We watch over three hundred dances because somewhere in there, our teenager is in three of them and she cares about the other 297.”

The thing is, my babies and I and Ben are very attached to and in tune with each other.  As Vivi’s grown older and more exploratory, I’m still the home base she comes to when the world’s just too much for her.  We love and understand each other.  Ben plays a key role in all our lives.  And while it is, in large part, attachment parenting and its tools that’s brought us here, the fact we love, understand and are attached to each other is what counts.  It’s who I am and how I’m defined….much as I love babywearing and all the other works. 


  1. Just want to say quickly in regards to your thoughts on breastfeeding... I EP and every.single.time. my daughter receives a bottle in front of someone that doesn't know our story, I feel embarrassed, judged. (I know some of it is my own self-consciousness...) I started out EBFing my daughter but was hospitalized (without her) for 3 of her first five weeks of life. By the time I came home for good, she had developed a preference for the bottle. She's 5 months old now and though we still try to breastfeed, she is a primarly bottle-fed baby. She gets exclusive breastmilk and is always held close while she is fed but the bottle is there. I could never adequately express how painful this is for me... I just remember the time we did have (our last "successful" nursing session was at 5 weeks old) and try to forgive myself for circumstances that were ultimately out of my control...
    Like you, I sometimes find myself thinking less than kind thoughts about another mother's choices. It's then that I try to remember my own story and give her the benefit of the doubt. :)
    Thank you for sharing and for your honesty.

    1. Carrie, thanks for stopping by! Fun to see you somewhere else, too...and enjoyed briefly hopping over to your blog.

      Sadly, when we do things, whatever they might be, that are in the best interest of our baby in different circumstances, we probably often feel judged, whether it's happening or not, b/c we know all too well that we used to judge women in the same shoes. At least....it helps us to grow on the journey of grace.

      And wow....what a rocky start for you and your baby. She's so blessed to have a mama who's persevered to find what's best for her in spite of imperfect circumstances! I don't know...but I can imagine how painful it would be to want to breastfeed and not be able to. And women like you, and the friend mentioned above, who put SO much work into making the best thing for your baby happen, amaze me...you're a beautiful mom!

      BTW- lovin' my Boba!

  2. I see the correlation well with what Ben said. Christianity isn't about going to church! In a way, that's just a "method" or routine.