API Leader Wisdom: How to respond to other parents punishing their children in public?

Q: My family went to a restaurant the other night, and there was another family there with a toddler who was crying. The father roughly took the boy outside and came back a few minutes later. I assume the boy was punished in some way, as he was very upset and crying loudly that he wanted his mother, but the father didn’t allow him to do so. Our own children didn’t seem to notice, but the scenario was very upsetting to me and my husband. We didn’t know what to do, so we didn’t do anything. I worry about the example our lack of response sets for our children, and what — if anything — we could have said or done?

Q: My family went to the park recently, and there was a father yelling at his preteen son. The father then grabbed the boy’s wrist. They boy was yelling at his father to let go, and his father then twisted the boy’s arm in a way that we thought it might break. I stepped in and told the man he had to stop, and the man became very angry with me, telling me to stay out of his business and that he can parent however he likes. I was so scared that it was going to escalate, but thankfully after that, the man walked off. The boy with him was very quiet. Did I act inappropriately? I worry whether this was a wake-up call to that man, or if his son would be punished later for it.

A: We have all been in public and seen an overwhelmed parent losing her temper with her child — and many of us have been in that position ourselves!

It is tough to know how to respond when we witness this happening with another parent. In both of these situations, the parent losing his cool was the father. It may be most helpful that the person responding to another father is a father himself.

Mothers responding to other overwhelmed mothers often goes well — we have been there, and we know intuitively what to say to be both compassionate toward the mother and toward the child. But think about if the parent approaching you in your overwhelmed moment was a man. You may be thinking, what does he know about being in a mother’s shoes?

If your husband or another man was able to, he could respond in a way that would be both non-confrontational and effective. In the first scenario, the other family’s father took his son outside. It could’ve been very timely if your husband needed to go out to the car to grab something at the same time. Many parents who hit their children won’t do it if they’re around other people, and it might have given the man a moment to calm down and see the situation in a different light. Your partner could also offer an encouraging word if given the opportunity.

It doesn’t seem life-changing, but these kinds of subtle actions and words can be seeds of change that may cause others to think twice or pique their interest into other parenting approaches.

Likewise, in the second scenario, it may have helped if your husband was the person to approach the father, although we understand the urgency of the situation. This is a tougher situation, because the boy could’ve been badly injured. It should be addressed in a more direct manner. Depending on this situation, it may have been appropriate to report to authorities — as what you witnessed could be categorized as overt abuse. However, sadly, even this situation will likely fall under “none of your business” in the United States where corporal punishment is legal.

It is awful to watch, and while you definitely want to talk to your children witnessing it — and perhaps talking to your children about how your family does not do that and how you want to help other parents to find other ways to teach their children, may just prick the other father’s ears — the best response may be just offering your presence and the opportunity for the other parent to calm down his immediate response.

Many parents have found that even in these tough situations where the other parent is not open to support, we can still offer support to the child. Making eye contact with the child, which a child often can’t do with their angry parent if they feel shamed, can be empowering to the child. Another idea is to involve the child, if you’re given the chance, such as through a compliment, which can help the other parent regain perspective.

A mom once shared with Attachment Parenting International (API) about how an older couple offered her children a quarter each because “they were working so hard on being patient waiting for their food.” At the time of this unexpected compliment, their mom begged to differ, and she was struggling to keep her cool, but the older couple’s actions gave her encouragement and helped her remember that her children were acting their age and she needed to adjust her expectations.

It was a turning point for her that helped her see her children’s behavior for what it was and started her on the way to eventually find and gain support on how to relate to her children appropriately for their normal child development expectations, rather than how she herself was raised.

It just goes to show that even the seemingly smallest gesture toward a stressed-out parent can have an incredible ripple effect for her family.

Have a parenting question? Contact your local API Support Group to speak with an API Leader, or if you’re not located near a parenting group, submit your question through the API Warmline.

Want to help parents discover and find support in attachment parenting? Consider becoming an API Leader.

Have guilt? Find your parenting anchor point

pixabay-anchorGuilt seems to be inherent in parenting. It doesn’t really matter how you parent, it’s so tempting to compare ourselves to others and how they are relating to and raising up their children.

As a working mother in a conservative area, I feel this tug of parenting guilt from time to time. A common scenario in the small, farming community where my family lives is for a mother to stay at home with her children when they are young and then get a job at the school when her youngest child enters kindergarten. It sounds like a great gig!

But that is not my choice. I did work, both from home and outside the home some days, when my children were small and continue to work year-round now that my children are in school. I love what I do and feel that I make a meaningful impact through my career. I know my stay-at-home friends don’t mean to, but sometimes I hear — whether real or perceived — overtones that what’s best for children in general is for the mother to stay at home full time, without a paycheck-yielding job.

I suspect my guilty feelings are largely perceived than actual. I trust that even if other mothers don’t agree with my career-oriented lifestyle, that they are mature enough to allow me the freedom to parent my way. Unfortunately, like all of us, I am sometimes the target of others wanting to pressure me into their way of looking at the world.

I am a stalwart proponent of informed choice. While I do believe that every child deserves to be raised in a home with secure, healthy family attachments, I know that my own “brand” of attachment parenting is not the “be all, end all.” We, all of us parents, make the best decisions at any one time with the knowledge, support, and resources we have available. Every family is unique, and even among families with the same values and goals, mannerisms and lifestyle will vary — because just as every individual is different, so is every family.

All children, all parents, all families — everyone deserves healthy, secure attachment bonds within their social groups. For parent-child relationships, API’s Eight Principles of Parenting provide 8 areas of family life, with a variety of ideas within each, as to how to form and strengthen attachment bonds within families. But that doesn’t mean we all do things the same way.

Like with nurturing touch, I didn’t do much babywearing but holding my baby and cuddling with my children is definitely my thing! Or with childbirth, I had an epidural, a cesarean, and a VBAC, and while my unmedicated birth experience definitely made it easier to bond with my newborn, the high-intervention births didn’t hinder what has turned out to be a very secure attachment with those children. I also have experience with both breastfeeding and bottle-nursing, cosleeping and crib use, and all kinds of childcare situations.

pixabay-family-supportParenting, like everything else, has different seasons. We have to change, almost constantly sometimes, it seems, to keep up with our growing infants and children — in how to match their development with our guidance and passing down of our family values, as well as renew techniques of maintaining warm, sensitive, and appropriate ways of interacting with, relating to, and staying attached with our ever-changing little ones as they mature into adolescents and finally fledged on their own.

We are all on our own parenting journeys of exactly how we will do this in our individual family. But like all parents, since probably the beginning of history — since we are all unique and so are our children and our partners — are also learning “on the job.” There are no handbooks that apply to every situation.

My home library is full of books on family relationship theory, research, and advice. Yet, my personal approach to parenting is a mix that goes well beyond the bits and pieces of these books that I found helpful — among the bits and pieces that I feel don’t apply to my family but certainly they may apply to another family — and include bits and pieces of how I was raised, the lessons learned reflecting on years of parenting already behind me, thoughts from friends and family members, my instincts, the reality of unavoidable challenges, scientific studies, blogs and websites, parenting classes and support groups, teleseminars, conferences, and so much more.

We are all doing this: gathering information from the world within and around us to figure out the best way of parenting our children and nurturing our families. Because its learning-as-we-go, there are ample opportunities for doubt to creep in. When we are stumped by our child’s behavior, especially if we are trying something new — such as breastfeeding our baby rather than resort to formula — it’s easy to think that maybe we’re doing something wrong or not good enough.

Unresolved doubt can grow into guilt. “What if…?” may fill our heads, as we compare ourselves and our children and our families to others, when those other families are likely doing the same kind of comparison maybe even to yours.

I’d like to get away from the thought that guilt is somehow unnatural and shouldn’t be felt. There are whole books written on the topic of “mothering guilt,” and there is a lot of blame being thrown around toward specific parenting approaches. But guilt is a natural human emotion, something that comes out of normal social interaction. As social beings, we will naturally feel guilt if we engage in a behavior that we perceive to have compromised our own standards.

Guilt can be helpful in that it motivates us to do better — though if unchecked, guilt can definitely be unhealthy and lead to anxiety conditions. The absence of guilt in a person, however, can be just as unhealthy: A lack of this emotion is implicated in individuals with a high degree of psychopathy.

Regardless, guilt is an uncomfortable feeling and one that no one wants to be immersed in for long. Being emotionally uncomfortable, such as with guilt, can keep us from being free to parent how we want to, bogging us down into doubt and even despair, and preventing us from the joy we seek in our parent-child relationships.

The idea that certain parenting approaches create more guilt in parents than others is, I believe, unfounded. Rather, from what I have found in my experience of providing parent support in a variety of settings for more than a decade is that what creates guilt is fear — namely, fear for their child’s well-being. I have seen this in many parents, no matter their child-rearing approach — attachment parenting or no — and most often in new parents or in parents trying something new that they hope will create better results but, they realize, stepping out from the familiar carries risk and with that risk comes fear. So where does fear come from? From what I find, it’s often a lack of parent support.

Regardless of what child-rearing approach parents choose, its incredibly — crucially — important that they find support. API offers both online and local, in-person support through a variety of resources, though research finds that the most valuable support for parents is through in-person support groups — of which API has across the United States and around the world.

It’s so important to find like-minded parents who can offer their “been there, done that” stories, emotional scaffolding, and specific suggestions for when you feel confused as to what to do about your child’s behavior, or when you question whether this new thing you’re trying, like positive discipline instead of spanking, for example, is going to work out in the long term, or how exactly to keep those family attachment bonds strong as your children grow, or how to move forward when your family encounters challenging life circumstances.

pixabay-apples-and-orangesAttempting to find support among parents who do not share the same approach to child-raising is like comparing apples to oranges, and the advice you receive is likely to deepen the sense of doubt being felt, and therefore create guilt — not to mention conflict with your personal values system, which creates its own set of uncomfortable emotions.

All parents want to feel validated in their decisions, and even if they do not intentionally seek out support, unsolicited advice will come their way — from family, friends, pediatricians, teachers, strangers, and others. But without having that anchor in a group of like-minded parents to act as your sounding board, to help guide you to make parenting choices that are in line with your values, you may find yourself swaying with the advice like a bottle cork in the ocean tide.

It’s very difficult to get grounded in your self-confidence as a parent without an anchor point. I cannot overemphasize the value of parent support.

A fire in my heart

kendra godfrey 1I came upon Attachment Parenting by accident.

While 8 months pregnant, I searched the Internet for ideas on how to clean cloth diapers by hand. Yes, you read correctly — by hand. We had no washer or dryer and felt too cheap to pay the 75 cents required to wash them.

During my search, I discovered Attachment Parenting, Attachment Theory, the history of breastfeeding, and the vitality of human touch. I was sold.

Attachment Parenting — unlike washing diapers by hand — spoke to me.

No, it actually shook my core and lit my fire.

Upon discovery of Attachment Theory, I defended my master’s research thesis and graduated with a degree in marriage and family therapy. My daughter was born 2 days later. Four weeks after her birth, we were stocked with $20 worth of quarters at a time.

I soon began to see Attachment Theory everywhere. I saw it in my adult client whose mother abandoned her as a child. I saw it in my children clients whose parents suffered greatly.

I also saw it within myself.

My passion for Attachment Parenting grew stronger after my daughter was born. I was fortunate to discover 2 new moms who also shared my passion. We met every week. We supported each other by exchanging ideas and stories, read books such as Vital Touch by Sharon Heller, and dreamed of bringing an API Support Group to Long Beach, California, USA — an urban city crawling with people eager for support and education.

These women understood firsthand the importance of attachment. Like me, they lacked a secure attachment with their own mothers.

We needed Attachment Parenting International (API) to lead the way for us. We needed API to validate what we felt in our hearts, yet had no model of our own. We needed API to give us permission to trust ourselves.

But even more, we needed each other. These women were my lifeline. Their presence provided a cushion for me to land on and a sounding board for my heart. Their support proved to me the importance of interacting with other parents who could relate to my experience.

When my daughter turned 1, we moved to Iowa City, Iowa, USA, in order for my husband to attend medical school. I said “bye” to my tribe, and this proved heavy on my heart.

I longed for the company and support of like-minded moms and embarked on my API Leadership process. Almost 3 years later, I completed my training and started a new support group, API of Iowa City.

The women who embarked on my API journey with me remain close to my heart. We share a passion and fire that continues to drive me today.

This fire will not die — my heart will not let it. My fire is fueled by others who are burdened with the troubles of life and need tools to cope as a parent. My fire is fueled by parents seeking a better way, yet who feel at a loss for ideas and resources.

Mostly, my fire is fueled by families practicing Attachment Parenting. The closeness and security surrounding these families expands my heart and allows me to stretch even further to better myself as a mother and to continue to help others.

It is families such as yours that give me hope for this world, and hope for my daughter. Our hearts thank you.

I am a present father

thiago queiroz 1Attachment Parenting (AP) helps me every day to be a present father.

I am the father of 2 little boys: Dante, almost 3, and Gael, a 6-month-old baby. Right after my first son was born, I discovered Attachment Parenting. It made so much sense to me that it inspired me to not only become an API Leader and create an API Support Group here in Brazil — API Rio — but also to write and speak about Attachment Parenting.

Personally, the greatest thing about Attachment Parenting is that it helped me to find my way in my own parenthood. AP helped to show me how I could be the father I wanted to be. AP guided me to where I could find my place as an active and conscious father — an attached father.

I obviously can’t give birth or breastfeed, but I can foster the secure attachment I want to build with my sons through a whole lot of other actions. I can listen to my child’s cry and take his needs seriously, especially because a baby cries not only because he is hungry but also scared, too cold, too hot, tired, hurting or anything else. I can also carry my son in slings and sleep next to him at night.

Everything I learn about Attachment Parenting helps me understand my role as an involved father, not a mere helper. Being a father is way beyond just performing tasks and helping out. It is all about caregiving.

As kids grow, discipline starts taking a major place in our daily lives. I could do like other men and delegate the responsibility to the mothers and other caregivers, but Attachment Parenting shows me how I could take responsibility through positive discipline instead. I participate in understanding how the behavior of my kids reflect their needs and feelings. I get to genuinely help my older son get through frustration and temper tantrums. I get to be an empathic human being.

This is why I am so grateful to Attachment Parenting: It helps me to assume my real role and responsibilities as a father.

Velcro or Teflon?

The following is a guest post by our own Camille North, API Links Editor. API Links is a monthly e-newsletter to help keep parents, professionals, and others abreast of the latest news and research in Attachment Parenting and updates of API programs.

Anyone can receive API Links! Click here to subscribe.


Velcro or Teflon?

by Camille North

As images from Sandy – rescuers saving pets, power strips charging strangers’ phones, and NICU nurses whisking preemies to safety (causing my blood to run cold, realizing that that could have been my own two-pounder) – morph into mental images of Thanksgiving celebrations, visiting relatives, and holiday festivities (which also made my blood run cold when I realized that Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away), one thing became clear to me … they all share a common theme.

In line with that theme, I happened to run across an article that talks about stress and how we handle it, and how it affects our health decades down the road. Velcro People, who let stress stick to them, tend to have poorer health than Teflon People, who let stress roll off their backs.

What’s the common theme? No, not stress. Support! Which just so happened to be the topic, and fittingly so, of last month’s AP Month. The thought of facing a catastrophic storm, the inability to communicate with loved ones in harm’s way, or even something as non-life threatening as an extra, ahem, interesting relative at the Thanksgiving dinner table made me realize how much I rely on the people around me to see me through times that pump cortisol into my system.

I’ve been, most of my life, a Velcro Person, and I’m trying really hard now to be a Teflon Person. (Just ask my kids about the “hard” part.) I’m making progress, but I’m not there yet. But I wouldn’t be able to make any progress without support, and that’s what API is all about, whether we celebrate one month out of the year or rely on it all year long.

Before the chaos and craziness of the holidays truly sets in – oh wait, too late – think of API and your Support Group as that little bluebird of happiness (or maybe the bluebird of sanity, or even the bluebird of “pass the bean dip”) whispering in your ear.

When those “helpful,” well-intentioned relatives come to visit and tell you, “A little crying it out is good for them! It teaches them how to self-soothe!,” or “If you respond to his every whimper, you’re gonna spoil that baby,” or “A little smack will show ’em who’s boss. Spare the rod and spoil the child, I always say,” or even “Come on, Sis, Mom and Dad spanked us, and we’re fine,” just breathe and picture the face of your Support Group’s Leader. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Whether you want to get away from it all (“Sorry, Aunt Ethel, I simply must attend today’s meeting! We’ll talk about peregoric and colic when I get back.”), get suggestions for zippy retorts, or just vent, we’re here for you. If you don’t have a Support Group, run, do not walk – or at least run as fast as you can, with the double stroller, the dog on the leash, and the sippy cup the baby keeps tossing on the trail – to your closest computer and find one.

Maybe all you need is the little bird whispering in your ear to remind you that your proper response in trying situations might be, “Pass the bean dip.” Or, in this case, “Pass the cranberry sauce.”

Here’s wishing you a Teflon-inspired, stress-free holiday season.

Camille North,
API Links Editor

My First API Meeting: Finding My People

Welcome Sign Mosaic in Warm Tones
flickr/Nutmeg Designs

My daughter was weeks old when I realized I needed to get out of the house and find a community. The moment my daughter was born all the systems and strategies I’d read about flew out the window.  I realized that I knew what felt right and what my baby needed: closeness, love, attention, and safety. I also realized that I could not sleep unless I could feel her breathing next to me.

I walked into my first API meeting with my baby in arms. Around the room were seated moms chatting, playing with their children, nursing, and laughing. Is this some kind of parenting paradise, I thought. I had never been in a room with mothers nursing toddlers, babies happily asleep in slings amidst the din of happy conversation and so much care for little people.  “Welcome to our  Attachment Parenting group, we are glad you are here.” said the leader.  And so began my first API meeting. I had no idea what Attachment Parenting was when my first child was born. But I knew what felt right and made sense. I had no idea that there was a whole organization filled with people who felt the same and had such riches of experience and knowledge.

The meeting topic was Positive Discipline and I learned about the concept of Time In with a child vs. a Time Out. It made so much sense and yet was so counter to what I had heard my whole life. The idea that a child needs more time, attention, love and special concern when they are out of control made me immediately begin to rethink my preconceptions. Parents shared experiences and difficult situations and I heard over and over the idea that they were looking for what their children needed not how to control them.

And then there were the kids themselves. Babies and toddlers were playing on the floor in the middle of our discussion circle. Sometimes toys were snatched or thrown but I watched closely how mothers spoke to their children at these moments. Short, gentle sentences. Help for those in tears. Emphasis on empathy. But no forced sharing or robotic apologies. The older children orbited our group. Running, talking, laughing and then settling in to play in a fort they had invented under a table. Who is watching them, I kept thinking at first. But as the meeting progressed I noticed this little group of five to nine year olds was incredibly independent and very very kind to one another. I saw a moment when a little girl was trying to get into the fort and couldn’t fit. “Come on, let’s get another chair and put it here.” said another child. Hmm, I thought, this compassion idea isn’t just theory here.

What struck me most about my first API meeting was that I felt at home. I felt that I had a place where I could be open about my parenting questions without fearing that I would be berated with harsh advice. And just to see other parents in action, caring and being present for their children was priceless. I learned that I was not alone that day. I knew walking out that I now had a community: I had found my people!

AP Month Featured Blog Event – Finding the Support You Need

The 2012 AP Month Blog Event is here! Every Tuesday, we will select a blog to feature that best demonstrates this month’s theme: “Relax, Relate, Rejuvenate:  Renewed with Parent Support.” This week, Lara Kretler of lara-mom.com tells us how she built her parenting support network from scratch, starting soon after she learned she was was expecting.

Finding the Support You Need

by Lara Kretler

lara-mom pregnant friendsBecoming a first-time parent is so life-changing that you can find yourself needing support in ways you are not used to. Whether that’s education during pregnancy to learn more about the kind of birth you want to have, breastfeeding support immediately after your baby comes, family and friends who can help give you a much-needed break from time to time, or parenting advice and counsel as your baby transitions into toddlerhood – it’s good to have a network of fellow parents you can count on. Read more to find out where Lara found the support she needs…

The Power of Connection – Guest Post by Nancy Massotto

This year’s Attachment Parenting Month theme is “Relax, Relate, Rejuvenate: Renewed with Parent Support.” We are delighted to kick off AP Month with a guest post about the importance of support by Nancy Massotto, Founder and Director of Holistic Moms Network.


We live in a virtual world.  We connect online, spend hours in front of screens, and “friend” people we hardly know.  But deep inside, intuitively, and especially as parents, we know in our hearts that in-person, face-to-face connection matters.  We know it for our children and carry them, wear them, share sleep with them.  But we seem to be forgetting that in real connection is just as important for adults.  In real life connection and community matter holistically – for physical health, emotional wellness, stress reduction, and spiritual growth.

Yes, in recent years, we have seen a remarkable decline in the social and civic engagement of Americans. Over the past 25 years there has been a 58% drop in attendance to club or group meetings, a 43% decline in family dinners, and a 35% reduction in simply having friends over. Oh, sure, we’re busy. We have other things to do. So what’s the big deal? The problem is that a decline in connection reduces “social capital” or the collective value of our social networks which help build trust and cooperation. A reduction in social capital has been linked to decreased worker productivity, rising rates of depression, higher rates of crime, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and child abuse. Social capital is also what makes governments more accountable and responsive to their populace. And, on an individual level, a lack of social capital leads not only to loneliness, but also to a lack of trust among people and an unwillingness to help others. In 1960 55% of American adults believed that others could or should be trusted most of the time while by 1998, only 30% agreed. “By virtually every measure, today’s Americans are more disconnected from one another and from the institutions of civic life than at any time since statistics have been kept. Whether as family members, neighbors, friends, or citizens, we are tuning out,” argues the researchers of the Better Together Report.

Reconnecting through social groups by being part of community, serving on a town committee, organizing a neighborhood block party, supporting local businesses and farms, or singing in a choir can help rebuild our social capital, reaping benefits on individual, group, and national levels (click here for more ideas on building social capital). Being part of supportive parenting group is another way to help recreate community and play an active role in strengthening not only social capital, but your own personal health and well-being. It matters for all of us and for the sustainability of future generations!  In fact, joining a community group could actually cut your risk of dying next year in half.   According to political scientist and author Robert Putnam, being part of a social network has a significant impact on your health. “Joining a group boosts your life expectancy as much as quitting smoking” according to the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America published by Harvard University.

One of the biggest challenges – and frustrations – that we have at organizations such as Attachment Parenting International and at the Holistic Moms Network is that we believe in the power of building community. We understand how valuable community is, not only in crisis, but every single day. We recognize the power of connection, the energy behind being supported, and the difference that we can make collectively. We believe that communities are what make our culture successful – and that apathy and a lack of participation is what destroys it. And we see far too much of the latter. Online communities don’t cut it. Facebook friends can’t help you care for a sick child, run an errand for you, or give you a shoulder to cry on. Virtual forums can’t give you a hug, watch your kids while you clean up a mess, or cook you a hot meal in your time of need.

Real people can. Real communities can. And some of our proudest moments come during these times. Whether in illness or injury, or a life-changing event like having a new baby, real life communities rise up to support their members. Members encourage each other through the rough times – the sleepless nights, the breastfeeding challenges, the teen rebellions.

Overcoming apathy is an uphill battle. Constantly encouraging people to participate, to get involved, and to be active is not always easy. We are so insular in our daily lives that we forget how wonderful it is to have that group connection – not only when a crisis hits, but even in the good times. A simple conversation, a shared experience, or a helping hand can make the difference.  I encourage you to be part of it, in real life, in real time, every day.  Find the time, create the opportunity, and be part of a community.  Feed your soul, help another, and make a difference.  It’s up to you.  If we all stop participating, we have no one but ourselves to blame when the communities we depend upon no longer exist.


holistic moms networkNancy Massotto is the Founder and Executive Director of the Holistic Moms Network and mother to two boys. She founded the Holistic Moms Network to meet other parents who shared her passions for living healthy and living sustainably, and to help raise awareness about natural living options