Today I have a real treat for you: an interview with API Speaks contributing blogger Kelly Bartlett! Kelly is the first of our bloggers who are opening up and answering questions. I’ve been reading API Speaks for a long time now and am so excited to get to know all the contributors better. Read on to find out more about Kelly, her journey to AP through a “high needs” baby, and more about her gorgeous family of 4.
Tell us about your family.
I grew up in Chicago and my husband, John, is from Whitefish, Montana. We met at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, and now we love living in beautiful Portland, Oregon. I was a high school biology teacher before our 2 kids were born and I stopped working to stay home with them full-time ever since. Our son JJ is 4 1/2 and our daughter Elia is 6, and they are complete opposites! The phases we went through with one we didn’t go through with the other, and vice versa. Between the two of them we are learning first-hand just how different kids can be.
With you from Illinois and your husband from Montana, how did you end up in Portland? I hear that it is a very pro-AP city, do you find that to be true?
We moved out here several years ago for John’s job, and this city has been a great fit for us in many ways…the most recent being our parenting journey. There are lots of AP families here, which is so nice. Just going out in public it’s not uncommon to see several breastfeeding and baby-wearing moms & dads, so it’s easy to meet like-minded parents, even when we’re not at an API meeting! Although I wouldn’t say the majority of Portland parents practice AP, I think it’s more common here than in other places I’ve lived.
How do you balance your life in Portland with seeing family in other parts of the country?
We have a pretty good balance of seeing family who live out-of-state. We take about two trips a year to go visit them, and they take about two trips a year to come visit us. So we never go more than a few months without seeing family, and our kids are pros at traveling by car, train, and plane! Plus we have Skype, which has replaced all of our phone calls to each other. I feel fortunate to live in age where it’s possible for kids to grow up knowing their grandparents who live several states away!
What led you to Attachment Parenting?
Elia was an extremely high-needs baby. She rarely slept during the day, and the only time she wasn’t crying was when she was nursing, or if we were carrying her around. My husband and I struggled at first, conflicted with all the “shoulds”…what a baby “should” be doing and what we as parents “should” be doing. We just ended up doing what we needed to do for her, which involved A LOT of walks and pacing around the house with her in our arms. Needless to say we used our soft carrier a lot, so when I heard of a local meeting all about babywearing and different types of carriers, I made it a point to go. Only after I got there did I discover it was a parenting support group called API. Not surprisingly, I had a lot in common with the moms there. J
Also because of our very-high-needs baby, I read as many parenting and child-development books as I could get my hands on. I think I’ve read them all! Some were very insightful, while others should be taken off all bookshelves everywhere. Some of them really resonated with me, and I started to develop a new way of thinking of parenting. I threw out all of the rules of how I always thought parents were supposed to raise kids (all those “shoulds”) and I started over. Mainstream parenting just wasn’t a good fit for our unique kids; AP was a perfect fit for all of us.
I attended the local API support group as a member for about 2 years, and then got certified as a leader when ours retired. I led the group for another 2 years, before becoming a member of API headquarters staff. For HQ, I write resource materials for leaders to use in their support group meetings, and I’m also an assistant editor and contributing writer for The Attached Family magazine. As an extension of API leadership, I decided to get trained in positive discipline, so I’m also a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. I teach PD classes, as well as continue to lead our local API chapter, and keep up with my work with API staff & magazine.
How is Elia now? I know most moms of high needs babies hope that AP will help their child feel safe and secure and be smoother sailing, more relaxed children down the road.
Now, at 6 years old, I no longer consider Elia “high needs”. She is absolutely more relaxed and incredibly secure, though she is still highly sensitive and has also recently been identified as gifted. She started reading on her own the day she turned 3, and by the time she was 4 she was reading the Harry Potter series. She is extremely perceptive, and has impressive verbal skills. I’m not suggesting that all high-needs babies will be gifted, or that all gifted children were once high-needs babies, but I have no doubt that in our situation Elia’s giftedness is correlated to her fussiness as a baby. She is wise beyond her years, and as an infant she was constantly in a state of frustration.
Our challenge now is remembering that while her rational brain is functioning at a much higher level, she still has the emotions of a 6-year old. We have to remind ourselves of that often! One resource I’ve found very helpful is the SENG organization: Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted. They provide a lot of great information focusing on supporting gifted children and adults.
It sounds like you have read a ton of parenting books. Can you share your favorites or most recommended books?
Yes…a ton. There are so many great books on different aspects of positive parenting, but there are four that I consider the “cornerstones”. These are the ones I recommend to parents first and most often when they’re trying to understand the concepts of AP:
- Hold on to Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld
- Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn
- Nonviolent Communication, by Marshall Roseberg
- Attached at the Heart, by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker
API has an excellent resource list, but these are what I consider the essentials, as they illustrate the significance of family connection, unconditionality, communication, and general AP principals.
How do you deal with friends/family/strangers who don’t understand or who disagree with AP practices?
No one has ever been outright critical of our AP approach to parenting, so I’m thankful for that. Sometimes I “feel” the criticism, though, and I just have to turn away and focus on our family. I can see in my children’s health and well-being that what we are doing is working for us, and that’s all I need to know. Of course, I DO try and educate other parents about AP, but not as unsolicited advice. I use the API support group, teaching positive discipline classes, and writing positive parenting articles as the venues for that!
Also, right around the time I started realizing how different we were as parents is when I decided to start a blog. Along the lines of throwing out all the “rules” about parenting and starting fresh, I called it “Parenting From Scratch.” It was a way to communicate to everyone the thinking behind our family’s parenting philosophy in a non-confrontational way.
Have you ever had an affirming moment in your AP journey?
Rather than any specific AP technique, to me, a child’s emotional development is the most important aspect of AP as it sets them up for healthy relationships for life…how someone relates to others, the world, & themselves is at the core of their happiness.
So every time my kids express themselves honestly and openly, I think, “Aha…AP.” They are not afraid to cry. They are not afraid to tell me they’re mad at me. They’re not afraid to express anger, hurt, or sadness. They’re not afraid to share their mistakes with me. Every time they express themselves freely, we come closer together, and I realize that we have a relationship based on trust and understanding, not fear. That, to me, is huge.
What does 2011 hold for your family? What goals do you have for your kids/ family in the coming year?
This is the last year I will have a child at home full-time. Then my son will be in kindergarten and both of my kids will be in school for a significant portion of the day. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that! I hope to continue to spend as much time together as a family as we can. It gets hard in our neighborhood with the number of kids available to play with, especially as the weather gets nicer and everyone’s always outside, but it’s important that we carve out regular family time together. Fortunately, we do have a couple of vacations in mind that will help with that. J
Thanks so much to Kelly for letting us into her world. Check her out at Parenting From Scratch and look for more interviews in the coming weeks.