Wednesday, September 15, 2010

attachment in an unattached society

So it's 9pm and all of the kids are mercifully, miraculously in bed. I should probably take a shower and climb into bed myself, but here I sit eating a bowl of Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream for my dinner and musing over a blog post. Life's been pretty challenging lately; with our recent move, and juggling four kids and homeschooling and all the crazy antics that go along with that, I have a full plate. Throw in some struggles with kids number 2 and 4, and I start feeling like I've reached my breaking point. But hey, at least he's cute, right? Nature's idea of self-preservation. The biggest troublemakers are always the cute ones. And *all* of my kids are cute.

see, I told you

I was lying on my bed this afternoon, nursing a headache (no pun intended!) and trying mightily, vainly to lull the baby to sleep. I started thinking about being an attached parent, and how it makes me feel and how easy and difficult it makes my life. We live in a society where being a smart, independent leader is of high value. Most of us want to see our kids grow up to be happy self-starters with successful, meaningful lives. So we steer them towards that goal from birth - sleeping in their own cribs, learning to master their own bottle or cup, baby playdates, sports and classes of every variety from 6 months old, preschool, and then suddenly there they are, five years old and graduating kindergarten writing paragraphs. I'm pretty sure *I* didn't even know what a paragraph was when I was five.

But sometimes I think that with all of our well-meaning intentions, we're actually pushing our kids away from us. Instead of fostering independence through a secure attachment to parents (knowing hey, mom and dad will always be here for me), we're terrified of spoiling our children so we keep them at a distance. We don't want to be the lady who can't leave her 9-month-old home with someone else, ever, because he'll cry frantically. We don't want the toddler who clings with a death grip to our legs every time we go someplace new. It's scary knowing that there's a little creature out there who is so reliant on you. We worry that our babies will become whiney, helpless children if we always cater to their every whim. But what's a healthy level of attachment?

Attachment parenting is one of the most misunderstood concepts I think I've ever seen in the parenting world. Attachment parenting is not a tactic used to spoil a child; it is not so-called "child led" parenting. It is not teaching your child that he is the center of the universe and all of the planets revolve around him. I like to think of it more in the terms of "instinctive parenting," because when you look at the principles of attachment parenting from their source, you'll see that they are pretty much how a "wild" human would parent. So easy a caveman could do it!

It actually has its origins in the likes of Dr. Sears. You can go on the Dr. Sears website and read a ton of great info on attachment parenting, including scientific research that backs it up. For a quick overview, the seven attachment tools are listed as follows:

1. birth bonding
2. breastfeeding
3. babywearing
4. bedding close to baby
5. belief in the value of baby's cry
6. beware of baby trainers
7. balance

If you look at the seven "Baby B's" as a whole, they really are just what you or I would do naturally if we were wild animals. If we were like any other creature out there, we would keep baby close after birth. We would breastfeed baby because that would be the only way baby would survive. We would wear or otherwise carry baby close to us, to keep baby safe from predators. We would likewise keep a sleeping baby right next to us. We wouldn't let baby's cries go unnoticed because that would attract predators. We certainly wouldn't follow a program that went against our natural instincts. And finally, as in the wild, we would maintain a balance in our lives. We wouldn't let ourselves starve or neglect our families for the sake of the baby.

So how do we cope as attachment parents in an unattached society? In a country where more babies are fed by bottle than breast and women are frequently too scared of public opinion to nurse; wearing a baby in a sling or even a Snugli often is admonished with cries from the older crowd of, "You're spoiling her, you'll never be able to put her down!" and babies are expected to sleep in their own cribs in their own rooms, and by some crowds peacefully through the night, at a young age; how do women even find the courage to be attached to their children?

When did everyone become such an expert over Mother Nature?


Nicole Montgomery said...

This is something I needed to read.
When my 1st was born, I was your typical "modern day mama." As my (number of) children grew, and I began to trust my instincts and children's feelings more, I realized just how unnatural "modern parenting" really is, compared to being an "attached parent".

I am so glad I care more for my children's well being than other's opinions and ridicule.

Crunchy Mom said...

This was very well stated - the challenge to parent instinctually in modern society is great.

You pose the question "How do women even find the courage to be attached to their children?" and I *have* to tell you where I found mine. It was in my "tribe" of like minded mamas through the Holistic Moms Network (

I had a natural birth with my first, but I had also filled the house with all the modern conveniences of baby: his own room with a nicely decorated nursery, pack and play, swing, jumperoo, exersaucer, bouncy seat... and then he arrived and the instinct to sleep within arms reach, keep him close (resulting in babywearing), etc rendered ALL those baby shower gifts useless.

It was then that I discovered my local HMN chapter and many other mamas who parent from the heart and not out of a book.

Thanks for your awesome post encouraging moms to parent instinctually :)

orangeymom said...

Funny that I just read this
and I was thinking about this too. I went to a birthday party today and there was a man with a 2 month old baby boy. The baby had fallen asleep in the grandma's arms and the dad was complaining about it. He said he did not like the baby to be held while sleeping and he preferred him to always sleep in his crib. His wife was disagreeing with him and I could see this was an issue with them. I wondered what he would think if he knew I used to hold my babies for HOURS at a time while they slept! I also co-slept with them until they were at least 2 years old. Now they are 10 and 7 and I sleep with them if they need me to!

Good job, Heidi. You are a great mom!

someonelsehasit said...

loved the nursing a headache and even a caveman could do it ;) much needed giggle!! ...and a good post too!

Sharina said...

Here, here, good article. I just moved from an area that had a lot of attachment parenting style support and "crunchy" lifestyles to a rural area where there are few who share that mind set and very few natural/organic choices. I thought it was hard before, but now... it is much, much harder. At least my husband shares my philosophies.