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, ConnectionParenting.com, 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!

- Justine

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justine (21 Posts)


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole May 4, 2008 at 6:03 pm

I’m glad babywearing worked so well for you and your family.

That said, the anti- baby device rhetoric bugs me.

I’m an AP mom. I wear my babies. I love my babies. I do the best I can for them. AND I’m really grateful for my “baby bucket” car seat and my swing. I don’t happen to have 4 adults to hold my baby. Sometimes my baby is happier in a device than in my arms.

More than anything I resent the idea that being a good parent or an AP parent means following some set of rules…like if you ever leave your sleeping baby in their car seat then OOPS! you lose your AP designation!

I agree with you that slinging is wonderful and yet I feel that flexibility and acceptance of the many different parenting choices out there is also wonderful. There are lots of choices that we can make and still be attached to our kids. I feel we should be taking down barriers to parents becoming connected with their kids, rather than making AP look so rigid that only perfect moms can do it.

I’m a proud AP mom and I love my slings, and I love my car seat and the ability to bring a sleeping baby in the house without waking them as well.

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justine May 4, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Nicole,
Thank you for your comment. I totally agree with you. As I stated in my post, AP is more than a set of rules for our family, too.

…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?

Thanks for sharing your unique parenting experience! That is why API Speaks is here–so that we can share the many different styles of AP–those of us who follow all of the principles, those of us who follow a few of them, and those of us who make up new ways of doing things which work best for their family!

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Theresa May 4, 2008 at 11:03 pm

Like Nicole, I don’t have the advantage of other adults around during the day to help when I need to do things that can’t be done with my baby in her sling… like cooking or changing the kitty litter.

I felt guilty at first for putting her down, and I do try to leave most of these chores for after she goes to sleep, but sometimes it cant be helped.

One thing Dr. Sears says is that balance is important. And trying to be too perfect can lead to burnout. I agree with your ”rule” Justine.

I also find it helpful to keep coming back to the websites that started me on my AP journey on a regular basis… like when i’ve had a not-too-comfy-night baking between my little one on one side and hubby on the other. Reminding myself of why I chose this route makes the little bumps smoother.

After nights like that, I also think about the fact that I sleep completely surrounded by love… something that not everybody is lucky enough to have.

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pixie May 5, 2008 at 12:41 am

Good rule!

When my daughter was a newborn she was only happy up in arms, I hadn’t much sling experience then. But she would sleep in anyone’s arms so I used to draft in any random family member that visited to help!

In terms of car seats, I am truly concerned with the number of strollers these days which consist of a carseat on a wheeled frame. There is a mall near us which is full of these at weekends, assuming most of these people drove there and drive back and spend an hour or two malling, this means that the babies are spending well over the maximum 1.5hrs that is recommended in carseats, that’s a bit worrying!

We’re carfree, so Littlepixie is rarely in a car seat, but I’ve found that with no car, her stroller has become our car! I can often be seen pottering around town with Littlepixie in her sling and the stroller full of grooceries. So I am very glad I got a stroller or my little arms would have fallen off!

You know, she’s 18 months old now and I would be lost without my ringsling, it is absolutely our best buy :)

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Kelley May 5, 2008 at 6:52 am

In reading this, I can’t help being very strongly reminded of Harlow’s infamous maternal deprivation experiments with the baby rhesus monkeys. He found that parenting isn’t the mere satisfaction of biological needs such as hunger and thirst. There is a huge emotional component to it, and a real need for intense touch and interaction. Is it possible to get that level of touch and interaction as a non-attached parent? I’m sure it is – we don’t have a society of deranged sociopaths, after all, and plenty of us spent lots of time in baby buckets or playpens. However, I think that both mamas and babies have an easier time when baby is a priority, rather than an accessory to toss in the bucket and go. This doesn’t necessarily require babywearing, but I think it does require a rearrangement of priorities from what is “convenient” to what is important to a baby’s entire well being.

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Sonja May 5, 2008 at 8:43 am

I think the whole infant car seat issue is a really touchy one, in large part because carrying the baby to and from the house inside the car seat can be so genuinely helpful, even for hard-core babywearers like me. (We didn’t even own a stroller until our oldest child was 18 months old, and we’ve never owned a swing or bouncy seat.)

It seems to me that the key with infant car seats, just like any other device that creates separation between caregivers and children, is to use them with care. Both of my children were winter babies, so it was really a wonderful thing to be able to carefully strap them into the car seat inside the house at a comfortable angle, cover the whole car seat with a warm cover, and then take the car seat out to the car. And although my babies generally woke up within minutes when the car stopped moving, I have always envied parents who could take their sleeping baby inside in the car seat and have them stay asleep! I wouldn’t personally leave an awake baby sitting in their car seat, but you better believe I’d let a sleeping baby sleep!

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justine May 5, 2008 at 9:04 am

JulianArts – Promoting Family Friendly Maternity, Childbirth, and … – Apr 28
JulianARTS is thrilled to announce the new blog spot for Attachment Parenting: API Speaks. API’s mission is to “capture the real stories of life as an AP …

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API Speaks May 5, 2008 at 10:40 am

I agree with you, Sonja, this is a touchy issue. I, too, am a dedicated babywearer, but I also continue to have major sleep issues with my daughter, who will be 2 in a few days, and when she was an infant, there was no way I was going to wake her up to pull her out of the car seat!

Getting her to sleep was something that I spent hours a day working very hard on, and if given the opportunity for a “freebie” because she fell asleep in the swing or car seat, I took it as a mini-vacation and tried to reconnect with my son or spouse (or just wash my hair or drink a cup of tea!) during that time.

Although I can’t speak for the AP community as a whole, I can speak for API, and I know that it is not API’s intention to take tools like the swing or infant car seat away from parents, but to add things like slings to parents’ toolboxes for creating an attached relationship with their child(ren). I happen to love my sling, but I also know it’s just one of many attachment-promoting tools that I have at my disposal :)

From the Introduction to the Eight Principles:
“Attachment Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all recipe for raising children, therefore API recommends parents use their own judgment and intuition to create a parenting style that fosters attachment and works for their family.”

Thanks, Justine, for sharing you beautiful maternity photo and for describing how you’ve used babywearing to create a strong attachment with your children. And thanks to everyone for their comments, this is exactly the type of discussion I’d hoped we’d have here on API Speaks.

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Gypsy May 11, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Great post and interesting comments! I have a friend who might not be unAP but never used her ‘capsule’ because her daughter would resettle to sleep in her stroller when they were going out. While with Munchkin, if we took her out of the capsule and into the sling, we were asking for trouble – so we were very pleased to have all the options! What made me laugh though was the image of guntoting law enforcers installing carseats!
Here is NZ there is a huge thing about SIDS and car seats capsules- so we are warned constantly about not letting babies sleep in them outside of the car anyway, unless they are directly supervised.

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