Taking Attachment Parenting to School

My firstborn Hannah is now 5 years old, and we have decided to enroll her in our local public school for kindergarten. We made this decision for a number of reasons, but mostly what it comes down to is that this is what works best for our family. We all have to make our own choices when it comes to school and separating from our children (or not).

As I write this, school has already started, but Hannah is still at home. At our school new kindergartners attend the first day to take attendance and get assigned their classes. Then their parents meet one-on-one with the kindergarten teacher before class gets underway. Once those meetings are all complete there will be a gradual entry process before we get into the full swing of things. We are still very much in the preparation stages before starting kindergarten.

So far, I have been quite impressed by our interactions with the school. Hannah’s teacher is caring and compassionate. She looks at the students as whole people, and at this stage she is focused more on social and emotional skills, rather than academic milestones. The kindergarten classroom contains a variety of toys and materials, including spaces for imaginative and dramatic play.

Even though I am confident in our choice of school, I still have fears as we embark on this journey. I think this is normal. I wonder how will things turn out, and what will Hannah think of school. My own school experiences played a large role in my childhood, and I know they will in Hannah’s, too. As her mother, I hope that her experiences are as positive as possible.

Outside the school
Hannah outside of the school on the first day of kindergarten

To help make the transition into public school gentle for Hannah, I’m looking for ways to remain connected. I believe that a secure attachment can make a big difference to children, even as they grow older and naturally move towards greater independence. And so I’m developing an attachment parenting style for my school-aged child. Here’s what it looks like so far:

  • I involve Hannah in choosing school snacks, school clothes, school supplies and so on. I want her to have a say in the decisions I make surrounding school.
  • My husband and I both attended the welcoming conversation with her teacher, and agreed on some goals for Hannah’s entry into school. We want to all be on the same page.
  • I am volunteering as a Girl Guide leader with Hannah’s unit, and I plan to volunteer in her classroom as I am able. I want to be involved with Hannah’s education and extra-curricular activities, while still maintaining a personal balance of my own.
  • I am helping Hannah work through her emotions surrounding the new school. She is very excited but also a little bit nervous, and I am doing my best to listen to her, validate her feelings and empower her to handle this transition.
  • We have visited the school playground and had some playdates with the children who will be in Hannah’s class, so that she has some familiarity with the school and children before starting.

I am confident that with a little bit of nurturing, we can maintain a strong attachment throughout Hannah’s school years. This is a big change for us, but also an exciting one. Parenting is never short of adventures, and now we’re starting on a new one together.

Do you have school-age children? How have you helped them to handle the transition into school? What worked, and what didn’t? I could use more tips, if you have them!

You can catch up with Amber’s adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.

Involving Children in Food

I breastfed both of my babies. Once we got the hang of things, it was easy. When they were hungry, or wanted comfort, they nursed. Simple. Then I introduced solid foods, and the world changed. Feeding with love and respect took on new meaning. Food altogether took on new meaning. Suddenly, there was a question of what and how much to offer. Suddenly, I could see exactly how much my child did (or didn’t) eat. And frequently, I worried.

Thankfully, I found a lot of gentle and common-sense wisdom on feeding kids. I realized that just as at the breast, I could trust my children to set their own pace and schedule with solid foods as well. As long as I generally offered them healthy food, I could leave the rest to them.

Hannah and her seed packets

Even after making this realization, I am still not as zen about my kids’ eating habits as I would like to be. Sometimes when they’re being really picky I still sweat it. And sometimes they really chafe against the healthy options presented. I decided that presenting healthy options wasn’t enough — I needed to get them involved in the food they ate.

After all, I am raising people who will hopefully feed themselves one day. I want them to know where their food comes from. I want them to appreciate the impact of their choices on their own health and the health of the planet. And I want them to have basic food preparation skills. And I think that steps I can take now can help.

I grow children, too

I involve my children in food a few ways:

  • They help me prepare meals. This doesn’t always go smoothly, but most of the time I can find tasks that are age-appropriate and fun. Sticking fruit on skewers, stirring and pouring are 3 favourite food prep activities for my preschoolers.
  • We work in the garden together. No food tastes better than the food you’ve picked fresh yourself. And growing your own fruit and veggies provides the ideal window into where food actually comes from.
  • We visit farmer’s markets and buy fresh, local, whole foods. I chat with the growers, sample heirloom tomatoes, and give my kids a window into a world where food doesn’t come in boxes with cartoon characters on the front.
  • We visit farms. Our home is in the suburbs, so my kids don’t get to see chickens or cows in their daily life. By heading out to the country they can see where their milk and eggs come from, and how the animals live.

By following my children’s own hunger and thirst cues, I am teaching them that I love and respect them. By providing them with healthy options I am trying to ensure that they eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet. And by involving my children in the food that the eat, I’m teaching them that there is a whole lot of backstory to every bite they take. I hope that by knowing that backstory, they will come to appreciate their food much more.

How do you involve your children in their food? I would love to hear!

You can catch up with Amber’s regular adventures in food on her blog at Strocel.com.

Wearing a Toddler

My son Jacob is 22 months old. He loves to run and climb and jump and throw balls and all those things that toddlers do. He is no longer the babe in arms that he was for the first months of my life, carried from place to place by others. Today, he motors under his own steam and heads in his own direction.

I have been practicing babywearing with Jacob since he was a few days old. He is my second child – his big sister Hannah is 3 1/2 years older than he is. Babywearing was one of the tricks in my parenting toolbag that helped me meet the needs of both children. When Jacob was small he was frequently worn in a sling or mei tai as I took Hannah to the library or to the park. He came along for the ride wherever we went and I was like a walking billboard for babywearing.

Hannah trying the BecoI still wear Jacob regularly. It’s not the same as when he was little, of course. These days he’s not content to nap on my back while his big sister plays on the playground. He wants to get down and engage with the world. But when he’s having a hard time falling asleep, or when he needs to nap while I do other things, babywearing saves the day. Secure in the carrier he sleeps better than most anywhere else. And I know exactly where he is, and feel confident that he is safe and comfortable.

There are some tricks to wearing a toddler. Having a sturdy baby carrier that will safely bear your child’s weight is always important, but your options change as your child gets bigger. An exuberant toddler can really wiggle, so you have to make sure they’re secure enough that they won’t fall out when they suddenly decide to throw themselves to the left. You’re also working around a much bigger child, not a small bundle curled up in a sling – which is why I usually put Jacob on my back.

Babywearing hasn’t become uncomfortable for me as Jacob’s grown bigger. Sure, carrying 25 extra pounds around can be tiring. I feel it in my legs when I crouch down and stand back up. But with a good carrier that distributes weight well and fits me properly, I don’t find it painful. My back and shoulders don’t hurt, and I am able to wear Jacob far more easily than I could carry him in my arms.

As my daughter Hannah moved through toddlerhood, she drifted away from babywearing and returned several times. Just when I thought we were really and truly done, she’d pull out her favorite carrier and ask me to put her in it. I expect the same thing may happen with Jacob, as well. Some days he may want to walk, some days he may want to be worn, some days he won’t be able to make up his mind. But as long as he needs me and I am able I will be here, ready to wear him.

Have you worn a toddler? How did you make it work – or not? I’d love to hear your tips, tricks and stories!

You can catch up with Amber’s adventures in parenting and babywearing on her blog at Strocel.com.

What Makes for a Positive Birth Experience?

My two children were both born in midwife-attended hospital births. I opted against using epidural anesthesia for a number of reasons. But the biggest factor, for me, was that with excellent support and relatively short labors I found the discomfort manageable. I trusted my husband and the midwives who were there with me. Looking back, I feel quite satisfied with my birth experiences.

Recently, a study was released comparing several indicators of childbirth in Canada. One of the findings showed that my home province of British Columbia has one of the lowest epidural rates in the country, at just 30% of vaginal births. There were varying reactions to this statistic. Some people suggested it indicates a shortage of anesthesiologists, and others were concerned that women who requested epidurals were being denied. The truth is, we don’t really know. Epidural rates vary for many reasons, including local economic and education levels.

Smiling between contractions
Smiling in between contractions during my second birth

In the absence of a clear reason, it can be tempting to conjecture. I have my own ideas as to what might be up, too. But I really think that is beside the point. What is most interesting to me is not how many women opt for epidurals – it’s how women feel about their birth experience.

One study reviewed of 137 factors affecting women’s satisfaction with childbirth, and 4 stood out: personal expectations, the amount of support from caregivers, the quality of the caregiver-patient relationship and involvement in decision making. These factors overrode age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, childbirth preparation, the physical birth environment, pain, immobility, medical interventions and continuity of care. It seems most mothers are more concerned with having people around us who we like, who involve us in decisions, honor our preferences and support us through the process than the epidural rate, specifically.

Baby Jacob
The first photo of baby Jacob, approximately 30 minutes later

One of the principles of Attachment Parenting International is “Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting.” This includes exploring different types of healthcare providers and birthing options, including natural birth and home birth. It includes being alert and physically active during birth, and trusting in your body’s ability to birth. It includes being involved in decisions surrounding birth, and possibly hiring a birth doula. All of these recommendations can help to ensure that we can make informed decisions, and find the support that we need to honor those decisions.

We can’t really say exactly how any birth will go. But if we take the time to prepare ourselves, and find good support, we can maximize our chances of having a positive birth experience, while still ensuring that both mother and baby are safe and healthy.

What do you think makes for a positive birth experience? Please share!

You can read more about Amber’s daily adventures with the two children she birthed on her blog at Strocel.com.

Shopping at Toddler Pace

The grocery store is my parenting nemesis. Most, if not all, of my most stressful moments with my children have happened while shopping. From the parking lot, which makes me fear for my children’s safety, to the aisles filled with sugar-filled treats in colorful boxes at kid eye-level, to the disapproving glances of strangers, there is ample fodder for me to melt down while I attempt to buy food.

I have tried various tactics to ease shopping, like bringing along another adult as backup, taking advantage of the free cookies in the bakery and shopping while my older child was in preschool so that I only had one little one to care for. I babywear, I let my preschooler push a tiny cart of her own and I use the kid-friendly carts with the giant plastic car attached to the front. I time my trips to make sure that no one is hungry or tired and the store won’t be too busy. Some of these tactics worked better than others, but I have found no magic bullet, no miracle cure to my shopping with kid woes. Continue reading Shopping at Toddler Pace

Meeting the Needs of Multiple Children

When I was expecting my first child I worried about a lot of things. What kind of mother would I be? What would childbirth be like? Would breastfeeding work?

When I was expecting my second child, most of those questions had been answered. My children are 3 1/2 years apart, so by the time I was pregnant again I had some experience. I had honed a parenting philosophy and spent my time in the trenches. I still worried, of course, but I worried about different things.

This time my worries were about how I would meet the needs of a my preschool-aged daughter Hannah, my newborn and – dare I dream? – myself. Sometimes, when I was big and pregnant and my daughter wouldn’t sleep I panicked. How would I handle this with two little ones? I feared I would never sleep again.

Big sister Hannah meets newborn baby Jacob
My daughter Hannah meets her newborn baby brother Jacob

The good news is that second babies are almost always easier. At least it was that way for me. When baby Jacob arrived I had more perspective, and more experience in infant care. I didn’t sweat the newborn fussiness as much because I knew it would pass. After successfully breastfeeding one child I was able to avoid many of the struggles I’d encountered on my first go-around. I think many second-time parents share my experience.
Continue reading Meeting the Needs of Multiple Children

Overcoming Isolation When a Baby Arrives

Welcoming your first baby is a very overwhelming experience for many parents. In North American culture very few of us spend much time around newborns until we have our own. I probably clocked in about 17 minutes total holding other people’s new arrivals before my daughter was born. Most of us just don’t see a lot of babies in our daily lives.

Many of us live far away from our families of origin these days. This means that when our babies arrive, they often arrive to a largely empty house. Most fathers don’t get much (or any) time off following their child’s birth, so new moms find themselves at home alone with their babies pretty soon after giving birth. The adjustment came as a big shock to me, and I think it does to many working moms. I was accustomed to spending my days in an office environment. There was order and a schedule and treat time on Wednesdays. In the span of a few weeks it was just me and a tiny baby and I felt totally lost.

This experience of isolation with a newborn is pretty common, but I this is not the way it was meant to be. If we examine the postpartum practices of traditional cultures, for instance, we see a very different story. Most traditional societies held that in the first 30-40 days of life the mother and baby were vulnerable and required special protection. They stayed at home, in bed, and the mother ate special foods, prepared for her by other women. There were rites of passage, and special rituals marked the completion of this confinement period. Mothers were not alone with their newborns, struggling to find some lunch.

Family of three
My husband Jon and I with our newborn daughter, Hannah
Continue reading Overcoming Isolation When a Baby Arrives

Co-sleeping Outside the Family Bed

I love co-sleeping, and I have co-slept in one capacity or another with both of my children. There are few things sweeter than curling up to sleep with my toddler and sharing a good night’s rest. Co-sleeping has made breastfeeding easier, it has helped my babies to sleep better and it has meant that I don’t have to wake up as fully or as often.

In spite of my love of co-sleeping, I occasionally wonder whether co-sleeping loves me. There are the mornings that I wake up sore, contorted in some awkward position because that’s the only way my little one would sleep. There are the infrequent but jarring kicks to my head or fingers attempting to pry open my eyelid. And there is the amazing ability that my toddlers have both cultivated that allows them to take up 75% of a king sized mattress.

Hannah and Dorothy napping together
My daughter Hannah, napping in her parents’ bed

I am willing to sleep with my kids for as long as they need me, but with both of my children I found that at around 18 months the family bed stopped working so well. The space grew increasingly cramped, and our babies stopped sleeping as soundly. However, my little ones still needed me throughout the night for breastfeeding or just for comfort, and so we had to get creative.
Continue reading Co-sleeping Outside the Family Bed

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