Becoming a parent makes us part of one of the world’s largest fraternities. Suddenly, we have something in common with most of the adults we ever meet, which can be a wonderful way to establish bonds with a wide range of people.
The potential down side is that since so many people have experience as parents, they often also have advice and opinions for us. Of course, many times more experienced parents may have valuable insights, reassurance, and support to offer. But we are often also faced with suggestions that aren’t in line with our values and beliefs.
It is especially difficult to maintain the courage of our convictions when something we are doing as parents doesn’t appear to be working. Perhaps the early days of nursing have been painful and frustrating, or we are exhausted because our baby is waking up every hour during the night. When someone suggests giving the baby a bottle, or letting him cry for a while to see if he’ll settle down, it can be harder to stick with our personal ideal of exclusive nursing or being responsive to our baby’s cries because the course we’ve laid out for ourselves isn’t going as smoothly as we’d like.
In cases like this, we need to remember that parenting is really about long-term goals. It’s about who our children turn out to be when they’re 30, not about how easy they make our lives today. As attachment parents, we believe that the relationship we have with our children is critical to this objective, and we choose not to use parenting techniques that might damage that relationship — even when it might be more convenient, easier, or more in line with the views of others.
One of the big challenges I’ve been facing in my own parenting is dealing with my 18-month-old son’s hair pulling, biting, shoving, and hitting. He’s been a hair puller for about a year. I’ve intervened every single time. I’ve told him at least a thousand times that hair pulling hurts, and that it’s not OK to hurt people. I’ve tried everything I could think of to change the behavior.
I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law thinks I should spank him, though she has too strong a sense of boundaries about what it’s appropriate to say to her daughter-in-law to actually say so. This idea, and other parenting techniques I wouldn’t normally engage in, are a lot more tempting precisely because what I’m doing now doesn’t appear to be working.
In the end, I have realized that this is a behavior I cannot change. My son can change it — when he acquires enough impulse control. But right now, I know he doesn’t have it. If there’s something he wants to do badly enough, he’ll do it even though he got hurt the last time he tried it, and the time before, and the time before that…
And so, I know that my job right now is to respond to this situation in a way that minimizes his ability to hurt other people, makes clear that the behavior is not acceptable, and teaches him skills he will some day (soon, I hope!) be able to use instead of hurting people. In the mean time, I need to maintain my commitment to positive discipline, irrespective of conflicting advice I may receive from the vast fraternity of parents.