State-of-the-Heart Parenting

by justine on May 4, 2008

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During the last weeks of my pregnancy we decided to have our infant car seat installed by certified professionals at the local sheriff’s office. I was way too pregnant at that point to maneuver around in the cramped backseat of our little Honda, so the allure of not having to do it myself (or beg my husband to) was convincing. Did I mention that the service was also free? Seemed like a no-brainer.

The expert suggested ditching the base of the seat and simply installing the part that the baby needed to be strapped into since the backseat wouldn’t really accommodate the rear-facing seat and base. Meanwhile, a gun-toting officer (did he really need his gun at the car-seat safety check?) came over to comment and observe. He pointed out that this plan was going to be a hassle for us since we would need to re-install the seat every time we removed the baby from the car. We must have looked confused because he went on to the praise the virtues of using the car seat as a convenient baby carrier in addition to safety seat for motor vehicle use. Understanding his point now, I tried to diplomatically dismiss his concerns by explaining that we would simply use our arms or a sling to carry our new baby to and from the vehicle and would have no need to use the seat as a carrier.

Both the officer and the car seat installer stared and blinked at us for a full five seconds before the officer incredulously asked my husband and I if we were sure – really, really sure – that we wouldn’t like to move our child in one smooth motion from car to shopping cart and back again. What kind of reason could there possibly be for not wanting to streamline our busy lives as new parents? In his voice was the unmistakable air of cop suspicion, as if he were speaking to the last two people in the path of a hurricane who stalwartly refuse to evacuate. We managed to stammer out some random stuff about “parenting philosophy” and “brain development.”

The officer seemed to think we must have misunderstood him since our answer didn’t seem to have been particularly coherent, or even related to car seats as far as he could tell. He repeated, more slowly this time so that we would be sure to understand, how easy it was to remove the car seat from the base and place it into a shopping cart, so that we would never have to disturb the baby. This is usually the part where I attempt to share information about the benefits of attachment parenting and how wonderful it has been for our family. It was obvious by this point, however, that we were just coming from two very different places. Plus, the gun was a little intimidating so I decided to simply smile and nod for the remainder of the installation.

But this incident started me thinking about baby carriers, strollers, and swings vs. babywearing—was babywearing really the best choice for us? Maybe we had been making things much harder on ourselves all of this time by refusing to use all of the state-of-the-art gizmo’s and gadgets which were so popular nowadays. Had we become too rigid and idealistic about our parenting choices? With our fourth baby on the way, it was time to reevaluate what our family’s needs really were and whether or not we were parenting consciously and purposefully, or simply going through the AP motions. Perhaps it was time to revisit some of the literature that got me started with AP to see if it still moved me to parent the same way now that our family was adding a new member.

I decided to get reacquainted with the reasons we had chosen to limit our use of baby carrying devices in favor of keeping our babies close to us most of the time. Sharon Heller, PhD states in her book The Vital Touch:

Carry our babies to the car in a container, out of the car in a container, through the mall in a container, into the restaurant in a container, back to the car in a container, and home to a container, so that objects define our baby’s existence more so than our body, is not just a step away from tradition. It is a cataclysmic change far out of step with the rhythmic pas de deux to which our babies’ minds and bodies were choreographed… No species in a hundred years or so can turn the time-tested mother-baby relationship on its head without consequences. In the short term, diminished contact makes babies fussier than they need be and mothers more conflicted than they need be.

On the website,, Pam Leo, a founding board member of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children, says:

Many of the infant and child behaviors that are challenging parents in our culture are unheard of in cultures that practice high-touch nurturing. While our culture has changed dramatically to keep up with our technology, our biology has not. Babies are biologically programmed to expect the same high-touch nurturing that evolved millions of years ago. Just because we no longer need to keep our babies in close physical contact so tigers won’t eat them, doesn’t mean we no longer need to carry them. Research shows that carrying and keeping babies in close physical contact does far more than keep them safe from predators; it is critical to their optimal development.

Does this mean that I can never let my baby sit in a bouncy chair or cruise along in a stroller without hampering her brain development? Or that every minute of her day must be spent in a set of arms? Would falling asleep in a swing mean years of future therapy? I don’t think so. With six people in our family, two of which are adults, and two of which are teenagers, there will rarely be a time when someone isn’t available to hold, snuggle, or play with our new baby, so having a lot of stuff seemed excessive to us.

However, we decided that we should not limit our parenting choices by being dogmatic about following a philosophy to the letter of the law. We needed a parenting style that worked for our unique family. The only rule we came up with for our own personal AP style was: are we treating our children with love, human dignity, and respect for them as real people? When parenting does get hectic and stressful, we often remind each other to check on the state of our heart and to approach the situation with love. With the arrival of our new baby, we have realized that our family is our convenient baby carrier, deluxe swing, and super-duper baby entertainment-center. For us, Attachment Parenting is about our state-of-the-heart family rather than the convenience of state-of-the-art stuff.

And let’s talk about convenient! We have used our wraps and slings, not just as carriers that fit easily into our diaper bag, but as changing pads, nursing covers, blankets, nap mats, sunshades, seat belts for grocery carts & high chairs, toddler harnesses, and even pet carriers! And we sure could have used it to demonstrate what the heck we were talking about when we had the car-seat installed– they are probably still scratching their heads. It’s a lot easier to explain babywearing when you are actually wearing the baby; add teaching tool to the list of convenient uses for slings and wraps!


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justine (21 Posts)

Justine Julian blogs at State of the Heart. Learn more about her work as a doula at JulianArts.

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