I spend a lot of time writing and speaking to people about the values I hold as a person who practices attachment/responsive parenting. I try to use facts and logic to respectfully encourage others to research their parenting decisions and embrace ideas that might have been uncomfortable a generation ago, such as full-term breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public, leaving our sons intact, responding to our children with love and respect, and realizing the detrimental effects of physical discipline.
Looking through some recent pictures of my son (Kieran), I realized that we (as parents who share these values) might be doing more just by modeling these concepts to our children. Of course I will continue to extol the value of full-term breastfeeding, and I will defend every mother’s right to nurse in public when, where and how she wants to. But I take immense comfort in the fact that my son might not need to fight these same battles because we are normalizing it for his generation, simply by living.
Here are some examples of how the Eight API Principles are being normalized for my son every day:
My sister recently had a baby (this picture is of Kieran with my sister only weeks before she gave birth). Throughout her pregnancy, we talked with Kieran about how babies grow in their mama’s tummies. He loved feeling my sister’s stomach, and he often talked about the baby growing in his own belly.
Someday, I hope that he will experience the pregnancy of his own little brother or sister. I look forward to his thoughts on all of the changes that will occur in my body. We will prepare him for his sibling’s homebirth and allow him to participate as fully as is practical and comfortable for everyone.
Kieran is 25 months old and still loves his mama’s milk. He doesn’t see breastfeeding (at home or in public) as weird or aberrant. In fact he thinks exactly the opposite – he loves seeing a mother nursing. Any time we hear a child cry or see a child get hurt, he immediately turns to me with a very concerned expression and says, “baby get mama’s milk!”
When my sister stayed with us last week shortly after she had her baby, Kieran would often crawl into my lap to nurse when he saw my sister nursing. He smiled and said on more than one occasion, “two babies drink mama’s milk!” On the day that she left, he began carrying his heavy baby everywhere. He has since taken to nursing it frequently, changing its diaper, wearing it, and generally parenting it in a very loving way.
We have always believed in the value of Kieran’s cries (we never “cried it out”), and now that he is a toddler we make every effort to respect and respond to his often tumultuous emotions. Tantrums are not punished, they are weathered with love. I believe that Kieran will benefit from our responsiveness, and he will in turn be kind and empathetic to others.
In the picture above, Kieran is examining his new cousin’s tiny toes for toe jam. He also enjoyed gently stroking his cousin’s face and head. He really is gentle!
His gentleness is probably a result of the nurturing touch we try to provide Kieran. I often joke that I spent the first month of Kieran’s life topless, but it’s the truth. After a stay in the NICU, a bad latch, and problems with my lazy nurser, I believe that our extensive skin-to-skin contact had a lot to do with our eventual successful breastfeeding relationship.
We are also big fans of babywearing. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our Moby Wrap, ring sling, Ergo, and Action Baby Carrier. Kieran was excited to get a mei tai that is just his size, he uses it to transport his heavy baby around the house.
We have always co-slept – it works for our family. We have no plans to transition Kieran out of the family bed, in fact we just got a bigger bed in case we have #2 sometime soon. I am pleased that there are studies that demonstrate the many benefits of bedsharing, but I don’t need studies to confirm the fact that we are all well-rested!
We have worked hard to rearrange our priorities so that I can stay home full time with Kieran. It is important to us that Kieran have a parent for his primary caregiver. It has been such a blessing to have this time with him, and I hope that Kieran will grow up knowing that there are a whole host of ways that children can be lovingly cared for.
My husband and I practice responsive, gentle parenting. We do not believe in striking or withdrawing love in order to modify our child’s behavior. We model appropriate behavior and try to view specific instances as “teachable moments” rather than misbehavior that calls for consequences.
While we were making dinner a few days ago, Kieran brought up something that happened during a play date. Kieran had wanted a toy that another child was playing with, and instead of asking for a turn he pushed the child. The little girl fell and cried. At the time, I pulled Kieran into my lap and we talked for a minute about asking to take a turn and why we need to use gentle touches. I apologized to the little girl and the two continued playing.
Kieran recalled this incident out of the blue: “NeeNee [that's what he calls himself] push Molly. Molly cry.” I said “yes, Molly fell down and got hurt. She was sad.” Kieran said “NeeNee want toy!” I said, “when you want a toy, it helps to ask for a turn.” Kieran looked thoughtful for a moment and said “Take turn. Soft touch.”
If I had punished him for that incident – if I had spanked him or sent him to a corner or forced him to apologize – would he have been able to process it and discuss it later? I don’t know. But I do know that we are instilling values in him that will serve him well for the rest of his life, and we are doing it by respecting him as a person, not by trying to control his behavior.
We do strive for balance, although we sometimes fall short of getting enough mama & papa time. But we do give Kieran a variety of structured and unstructured activities, time with both parents, time away with friends (I swap child care with a close and trusted friend one day a week), time with extended family, etc. We do take care to talk with Kieran about the fact that mama and papa have needs too, and we are modeling empathy and concern for each other.
What AP principle are you normalizing for your children?
How can you tell that your children are internalizing these values?
Do you have pictures of your kids modeling an AP principle? Link to them in the comments!