The Struggles of Being Attached: Is It Worth It?

by Camille on October 7, 2009

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Is being an attachment parent worth it? Let’s face it, it can be tough.

I co-slept – with kicking kids who woke up repeatedly during the night, all night long. One night my youngest kicked me in the breast so hard that I developed a massive lump and had to get an emergency mammogram to make sure it wasn’t going to explode or fall off. But the worst thing? I was so sleep deprived that I didn’t even wake up when it happened….
… Our friends who Ferberized their kids boasted about what great sleepers their kids were. “Little Johnny sleeps through the night and doesn’t wake until 8:00. Sometimes I have to wake him up for breakfast!”

I nursed – when my breasts were so sore that I’d have cut them off and hung them on the wall if I’d had the option. Breastfeeding hurt so bad with my middle child that I would start crying as soon as she woke up hungry, even before she latched on…
… My friends would pull out a little bottle, shake some sticky powder into it, and pop a plastic nipple into Little Suzy’s mouth, who happily gulped it down. I even had a friend who had one of those bottles with the long tube attached to the nipple, since she couldn’t even be bothered with holding her baby to eat.

I carried them — my newborns, my toddlers, and my preschoolers for a thousand miles, sometimes more than one kid at a time (thank goodness they were small!). Sometimes one would be in a backpack, one would be in a sling, and one would be on my hip or holding my hand….
… My friends would be (choose one) dragging their kids along by the hand because they didn’t want to cooperate, lugging immensely heavy carseats, or pushing them apathetically along in a stroller.

I responded with sensitivity — well, that is, pretended to be patient, endlessly giving words of reassurance or encouraging mediation, while my inner voice was screaming behind my ears, “Just stop it, already!”…
… My friends would pull their kids behind a fence and give them a swat or two, or maybe put them in time out. Problem solved.

My friends — wonderful, loving, committed, but decidedly non-AP friends — would look at me with a sorry mixture of pity, confusion, and something bordering embarrassment as I stuck to my guns, refusing to spank my kids, punish them, or demean them.

Clearly, some of my friends thought that I was coddling my children, perhaps even dooming them to a life of feeling entitled and being unfulfilled.

But I tried my best to treat my kids with the same respect that I would want. They had just as much value and deserved just as much respect as I did. Why would I want to teach them that the world doesn’t respond to their needs (that is, CIO)? What would be the point of saving myself some discomfort now (okay, let’s admit it, a lot of discomfort) by bottle-feeding when I was perfectly capable of breastfeeding, especially at the expense of their health? How could I tell them to stand up for themselves and not let the world take advantage of them if I treated them like “less than” or if I demeaned or humiliated them? And did I really want my kids to think that I was the absolute authority on everything, so much so that they needed to jump to my every command, lest they be punished?

Nope. I wanted my kids to think for themselves; to know that their parents always had their best interests at heart, even when it wasn’t convenient; to be able to count on their parents to be there when they needed us; and to know without a doubt that their thoughts and opinions were just as valid as mine or their dad’s – or any adult’s.

Was it easy? No, not always, especially at the beginning, especially when what I was doing was so different from my mainstream friends’ strategies.

Now, though, I must say that it’s the easiest and most natural thing imaginable. Today my children know that they’re valued and worthwhile and that they’re the equal of every person on the planet, no matter their age. They’re secure, they enjoy spending time with my husband and me, they enjoy each other, and they’re just plain fun to be around.

My kids, attached to each other ... and their guitars.

My kids, attached to each other ... and their guitars.

And what about my friends’ children? Are they easy? Well adjusted? Self-confident? Still connected to their parents? Some certainly seem to be. But, well … not all of them are. I see many (most?) of them turn to their peers for validation. Some put up a good front at being cooperative and “good” while investing a lot of effort in “getting away” with things behind their parents’ backs. And others bow to authority simply because of the authority’s age or position.

That’s not what I want for my kids. I like to think that the “work” I put into being an attachment parent in the early years is paying off now. After the thousands of hours and hours of effort I spent cosleeping, nursing, playing, talking, listening, comforting, mediating, and just being, I’m seeing the rewards.

And those rewards will last a lifetime.

Camille is an attached mom of a teen, a preteen, and a tween and writes about parenting, homeschooling, and chaotic living at TheEclecticMom.blogspot.com.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

justine October 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm

As the momma to a 20 year old, a 15 year old, a 6 year old, a 18 month old and a new baby on the way, I can attest to the fact that AP is totally worth it!

Some days, it seems that I should just give up and MAKE my young ones BEHAVE in all of the sanctioned and traditional ways. Why, oh why, can’t they just take the darn nap NOW? Why can’t they say “Please” to the cranky lady at the bakery who is waiting for the magic word before she gives them the cookies?

But, I look at my older kids, who are brave enough to make unpopular choices with their peers–who are confident enough to respectfully question the status quo–who are secure enough to turn to me when they have screwed up and ask for my guidance. Yes, i will gladly deal with the normal baby/toddler/preschooler behaviors if the payoff is not having to engage in useless power struggles to ensure that my grown children are safe, happy, productive, and emotionally intact :)

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Megan@SortaCrunchy October 7, 2009 at 3:46 pm

This really got me: “I must say that it’s the easiest and most natural thing imaginable.” Is it always the easiest choice at the time. Many times, it’s not the most CONVENIENT approach to parenting, but for me, it is the most NATURAL way to parent my girls. When I try to force myself to conform to mainstream parenting practices, it feels so wrong from the inside out.

Thank you for this. Important words of truth. Thanks for sharing this!

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Desiree Fawn October 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Thank you for sharing!
Sometimes I just need to read/hear that what I’m experiencing with AP happens to others as well — I know it’s right for my babe, but yes, it can be a rougher trail to walk!
Merci!

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Katie October 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Thank you so much for this. My husband and I are in our early twenties and have a 6 month old son. I have thought on so many occasions, usually when I’m kicked in the head in the middle of the night, “is this really worth it?” I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has wondered, and I really appreciate knowing that it will pay off. There is certainly a lot of pressure to bow to the norms, especially from well meaning family members, but your writing encourages me to keep sleeping, wearing, responding, etc in the way that feels best – the attached way.

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Paige October 8, 2009 at 8:11 am

I think the message here is a bit more dogmatic than it needs to be. You paint a pretty black and white picture, don’t you think? Like it’s either total martyrdom attachment parenting or else “mainstream” and “apathetic” parenting. I guess this is fine if you’re just preaching to the choir. I homebirthed, nursed (for a long time!), carried, etc. both my kids. I’ve never spanked them. But I have no problem putting them in time out if I think it’s necessary, or pulling rank on them. I don’t think this makes me lazy, authoritarian, or “disrespectful”. Also, I loved my stroller! My boys were big and I am small and when the sling started hurting my back I got them cozy in the stroller so we could have adventures that didn’t leave me needing a chiropractor at the end. I don’t think there was anything “apathetic” about that decision. Also…I used a pacifier with my second kid. It made both of us significantly happier, even if it goes against the tenets of attachment parenting. It gave my nipples a break, him some comfort, and the two of us a much more peaceful nursing relationship than I had had the first time around. Not trying to rag on this article…I just found it slightly self righteous.

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Linda Wyatt October 8, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Wow.
Attachment parenting, and responding with sensitivity, is NOT “PRETENDING to be patient” (emphasis mine, not the author’s) “while my inner voice was screaming behind my ears, “Just stop it, already!”” It is about learning to actually be patient.

I can’t just let that comment sit there, uncontested. As if attachment parents are all pretending to be something they are not, in order to promote some sort of image of perfect parenting. Or that pretending to be sensitive is appropriate, at all.

And much of this does not sound respectful to me, of anyone. Not the children, and not the writer of the article herself.

I didn’t (and still don’t) find attachment parenting to be a sacrifice.
Difficult, at times, but I didn’t just suffer through it. It works much better to find solutions to difficulties, rather than grinning and bearing it, and being resentful. That resentment builds up, and shows- and your kids will know it, eventually.

My point is this: it may be difficult, especially at the beginning, or if you have little support. If it is, you may need to make some changes. Not to be less attached, but to fine tune what you are doing so that it works better. You do NOT have to suffer and sacrifice for years. Really.

Perhaps some of this was intended to be light and humorous- but I did not find it to be so. Perhaps it was intended to connect with an audience who finds attachment parenting to be difficult, even painful- but it also encourages the belief that it is normal, and okay, for it to be that way, rather than to find ways that are not painful or uncomfortable.

I did not have to wait until after ” thousands of hours and hours of effort ” to find the rewards. The rewards have been there all along.

Please, if you are just starting out and finding it to be a sacrifice, talk to more experienced attachment parents, and look for ways to be truly happy and content with your choice. It may require a paradigm shift, so that you are not fighting against the dominant culture, or your own background, but are enjoying the choices you are making, and are comfortable and confident with them.

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Bunk October 9, 2009 at 10:51 am

you are so lucky to have gone through those challenges, embrace it. I never had time for my kids as much as I would have liked.

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anna kokoski October 10, 2009 at 10:39 am

think the Golden Rule has to apply. just ask yourself, if I was a child, would i want my mother to suffer a lot of pain & stress. hell no.

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andrea dalhouse October 11, 2009 at 8:28 am

Sometimes it has been hard to get the kicks in the night and be so sleep deprived. Sometimes I just want to be done with nursing because it can be inconvenient and overwhelming when the need is on the every half hour with a 2 year old. Sometimes it was hard to carry a heavy child when my back was hurting but i knew they needed that closeness. And sometimes I get angry and find that it takes every bit of strength and determination to respond to my children with sensitivty when all i want to do is scream and run away. I am an AP parent AND I am human. Sometimes it is really hard to be both. Especially in a mainstream parenting society with others shaking their heads at your methods. I love my children more than anything and AP parenting is the natural way for me. But on the hard days – and if you are a parent without them, then wow! aren’t you lucky!? – it is good and necessary to have a reassurance as this. My girls are still young and it’s hard to see the forest through the trees sometimes. Thanks you for the aerial view :)

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erin b white October 19, 2009 at 12:06 pm

i have to say that your comment about “sticky formula” is quite judgmental and ignorant. do you know why “those” mothers are using formula? before you judged, did you take a moment to ask them their story, because behind the bottle you just might find a really emotional story about why she can’t breastfeed. those that don’t and can’t breastfeed sure feel the scrutiny when pulling out a bottle which i feel is totally awful and unnecessary. because they bottle feed, are they not as devoted of a mother as you are? again, it leads me back to the story behind the bottle. she may have worked harder than you can even imagine to nurse her little one and the only result was a starving and very sad baby. the point of giving birth is to give life and to give love to that life – whatever it takes.

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Beth October 23, 2009 at 9:06 pm

I am a single mom of two kids, both of whom I coslept with when they were babies. I just felt more comfortable from birth knowing they were right there and nursing them as needed through the night. For about 6 months, that was wonderful. However, I did move them both into their own crib/room at around 8-10 months due to both of us just not getting enough sleep. With my son, I was working on my undergraduate degree and with my daughter I was in grad school, so sleep was vital.

Now, they are 2 and 4. They sleep in their own room but scream and cry at bedtime. Transitions for both of them have always been difficult, but I am finding myself being very frustrated and overwhelmed on a nightly basis. It is a battle that lasts for up to an hour every night. I know that when I have let them sleep in my bed in the past, they and I dont sleep well. We wake each other up and toss and turn all night (it doesnt help that I talk and sometimes walk in my sleep and my kids talk in their sleep).

I really want to get over this hump and start being a more loving caregiver at bedtime, but I have been finding myself yelling at them when they are injuring each other to get my attention (i.e. the two year old bites and the four year old punches) at night. I am now working full time as a social worker and only get to see them about 3-4 hours a day, tops, and every other weekend their dad has them. I really dont want this to keep up- I miss them so much when I am at work and when I get home to this defiance and struggle it just feels so defeating. Any advice would help- miriamebowman@gmail.com.

Thanks

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