Monday, April 13, 2009

More Incoherent Parenting Thoughts

Otherwise entitle: I am feeling philosphical lately so bear with me

Attachment parenting (AP) with a new baby is easy. Now before some of you AP mommas throw things at me, hear me out. In the midst of it, especially with your first child, it can feel anything but easy. Trust me, I know. But think about it. As a new momma, attachment parenting seemed to me to be pretty straightforward. Babywear, Breastfeed, Bed close to baby (otherise known as cosleeping) on through the list of what Dr. Sears called the Seven Baby B's. It's a neat and orderly checklist. If you are ever feeling doubtful, or guilty, or overwhelemed, or any other "mom" emotion, you can just review the list...

Am I nursing my baby on demand... check
Am I cosleeping.... check
Do I wear my baby... check

Whew! You can begin to relax into a sort of self-satisfied state. Your guilt eases just a bit as you remember that even if you are messing things up, you're still doing better than the mom's who aren't trying.

WHAT?!?!?! Did I just say that out loud? In those days of newborn-induced sleep deprivation, thoughts like these can be all that keep you going (or maybe it really is just me... I could totally be projecting here)

Gosh, there are so many issues wrapped up in that whole scenario. First, when did mothering become a competitive sport? I was the most obnoxious first time mom... completely convinced that I knew the way and completely intolerant of anyone who disagreed with me. The good thing was, folks seldom disagreed with me. No one wants to pick a fight with someone as passionate as I was about any number of hot topics... extended nursing, cosleeping, etc.

I was a total control freak about my baby...
I didn't want other people to hold him. I was never going to let the evil chemicals of a disposable diaper touch his pristine baby bottom. Nothing but organic, whole foods would ever be good enough for him. My child would never cry himself to sleep alone in his own room. I was never going to let him cry or hurt, and certainly never at my hands. And of course, I knew the way. I had the list!

Now, before I get hate mail, I do still value all of those things. I now have three children, and we are still a cloth diapering, cosleeping, extended nursing, babywearing family. I still try hard to feed my kids organic healthy whole foods. I struggle every day to be the gentle parent I believe they deserve. I am pretty sure I am still just as passionate about all of those things. I am just much less obnoxious and much more tolerant (for those of you just meeting me, YES... this IS the less obnoxious version... consider yourself lucky). And I do realize that there is a whole lot more to AP than "the list" (see APIs 8 Principles)... all about being responsive and reading your baby and all... but with a new baby... it really seemed to me that "the list" held the magic key to doing those things.

But really, my original point was meant to be that, while I think attachment parenting with a small baby is (relatively) easy, it feels dang near impossible with my older kids. And that is partly because there is no list. It is much harder to me to meet the needs of a six year old than of a baby. A six year old's cries can't always be solved with a cuddle or a clean diaper or something to fill his belly. Sometimes his cries are because the boy that he looked up to at the playground told him, "I hate you". Sometimes his cries are because he is worried about war, or strangers, or death. I feel woefully unprepared for this. And now, wants and needs are no longer the same. A baby is hungry and wants milk. This is a need. My four year old is hungry, and wants candy for dinner. This is not a need. But maybe it feels like that.

I have had to venture out from "the list". I have had to step away from the neat and orderly checklist to a place where I have to rely on my own instincts. I am now working in the realm of faith, where I have to believe that I am doing the best job I can to connect with my children; Where one solution does not apply to all children, or even to the same child all the time; Where I can no longer check boxes but have to check my heart and be honest about whether or not I am really doing what I believe in.

Because I believe that my children are people, that their feelings matter, that they have value. I believe in creating a family-centered, rather than a child-centered environment. I believe in a child's inherent dignity as a spiritual being. I believe that peaceful, non-coercive parenting is possible. I believe that it is really hard, and that I may never really reach that point. I believe that my struggle to reach that point is valuable. I believe that my children are worth that struggle.


  1. Thank you for this post. I think you make an excellent and exactly-right point about the ease of meeting a baby's wants because they = needs and the difficulty in meeting an older child's wants which don't always = needs. Yes, you ARE a thoughtful momma.

  2. Oh, I needed this post. It would be so nice if all my kids responded to one parenting method. But they don't. Some days I've feel like I'm failing them, and there are days when that bright light shines down on us all (along with that glorious background music). Thank you for your insight!