Is it possible to parent without shame?

pixabay-shame-child“Parenting without shame” is a hot topic on search engines. Google pulled up more than 5 pages for me of links with this search term. It seems that many parents are looking for ways to raise their children without shame.

But is this possible?

Shame is among the myriad normal emotions felt by humans in certain social situations. It is borne of a feeling that one has violated the standards of their social group. With this in mind, it would be nearly impossible to eliminate shame from a child’s emotional repertoire.

No, I don’t think it’s shame in and of itself that we parents fear. We understand that, as an emotion, shame is an uncomfortable feeling. But denying the feeling of shame completely is like denying anger as an emotion. It’s neither practical nor healthy.

Actually, what we parents fear is inadvertently raising our children with an identity shaped by shame. And this is a valid concern. Past generations used shame pervasively as a discipline technique, and many of us can identify parts of ourselves still tied to a shame-based self-image years and decades later. We do not want our children to grow up in a family environment where shame is promoted.

But we must still value discipline. Our children thrive with warmth, sensitive responsiveness, empathy, trust, nurturing, and boundaries. Boundaries on behavior guide children toward the family values we hope to pass down. Boundaries are healthy. They keep the child’s developing mind knowing the parameters of what is safe in the world and what is not, what is expected by his social group or not, how she can gain a feeling of contentment or not. Children need the structure provided by boundaries.

So, therein lies the question: How do we teach our children boundaries in their behavior without instilling a shame-based self-image? The seventh of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of ParentingProvide Positive Discipline — is how. Being consistent and firm, yet not harsh or punishment-based, positive discipline creates an environment that specifies the boundaries of behaviors for a developing child without relying on physically hurtful or emotionally manipulative tactics to control and coerce children. The goal of positive discipline is instead to teach and guide. And it works.

shame-cover-v2This latest issue of Attached Family, “Parenting Without Shame,” explores and examines shame at its core — what is it, how does it differ from guilt, when does it cross the line from a normal to unhealthy emotion, the effects of toxic stress, and the great difficulty it is to heal a shame-based self-image. It’s an in-depth look at a rather scary emotion, but it gets to the heart of an often-misunderstood topic, and it affirms how positive discipline and Attachment Parenting is protective of our children’s self-worth in a shame-based world.

Click here to access the online magazine and be inspired in your parenting,

Rita Brhel, Executive Editor of Attachment Parenting International

Parental presence: A compromised human right

free images com - Sona PsotovaA little more than half of all babies in the United States — 53% — are born into families that income-qualify for WIC, a federal supplemental nutrition program that serves low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women and their children from birth to age 5 in the United States.

Think about that for a second: Half of all U.S. babies are born into low-income families, the population segment least likely to be able to take parental leave of any type — paid or unpaid — after the birth of a baby.

We like to think that the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers all families so that even if a couple does not get paid maternity and paternity leave, they can at least take off some time from work without losing their jobs. This isn’t remotely true.

Unless you work for an employer with more than 50 employees within 75 miles of the company, you are not even guaranteed leave under FMLA after the birth of your baby — even unpaid. (There are some state laws that do guarantee maternity and paternity leave, usually unpaid, for companies with fewer employees, but there is nothing consistent from state to state.)  That means that millions of moms, if they are not employed by large companies, risk losing their jobs if they stay home for the medically recommended 6 to 8 weeks following childbirth.

I’ve known moms who’ve been forced by their circumstances to go back to work at 1 week postpartum, or even sooner.

This is a tragedy of human rights in itself, but what does this do to the mother-baby bond?

Bonding time with a newborn in the early months isn’t just a “nice thing” to have or for a mom to get to do if she’s privileged enough. That mother-baby bond — whether secure, shaky or absent — has a significant impact on the trajectory of that child’s life…not only through childhood and in school, but who that child will grow up to be, what socioeconomic status he or she will have, and how he or she will be as a parent, employee and fellow member of society. Just think of what the future may hold for any of those 53% of U.S. babies born to mothers who are not even guaranteed time off from their jobs for even a week after childbirth — let alone the minimally acceptable 6 weeks that is still woefully short of what research shows to be the key bonding time during the newborn months.

Privilege shouldn’t have anything to do with parental leave — paid or unpaid. Because presence, or lack thereof, can have such great influence on the future of each baby born, parental leave is a human right that should be granted to every mother and father, and parental presence is a human right for every newborn baby.

So first the United States needs to work on guaranteeing that all parents have access to at least parental leave after the birth of a baby. But a very close second is to ensure that all parental leave is paid.

Right now, only 12% of U.S. workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This means that for the millions of moms whose jobs are protected under FMLA, they still likely cannot take off work for the 6 weeks to 3 months allowed because they cannot afford to do so. Their parental leave is not unprotected as is the case with many low-income parents whose jobs aren’t even covered by the FMLA, but it is still under-protected in that they cannot enjoy their full rights and their bonds with their infants may still suffer.

apm logoOur goal at Attachment Parenting International (API) is to keep the discussion on parental leave moving forward, while supporting mothers and fathers no matter whether they have access to paid or unpaid parental leave or even no leave. We were able to generate great momentum during our Attachment Parenting Month in October 2015 with activities centered on the theme of “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Societies.”

Leave-Presence cover - smallIn the latest issue of The Attached Family, we provide a recap of these AP Month editorial pieces as well as a few new articles, with features on:

We hope that this issue of The Attached Family will inspire you to find ways to balance your child’s attachment needs with your family’s financial needs, as well as to join in the national and international discussion on parental leave as a human right to be guaranteed to all families — no matter their employer size or personal financial resources.

donate buttonHelp API continue being able to offer The Attached Family free of charge as an online magazine to families around the world. API is a nonprofit organization and depends on your tax-deductible donations. Even $5 goes a long ways!


*Top photo source:ňa Psotová

What’s the harm in saying “there are starving kids in Africa” to get your child to eat his veggies?

Free Images com - milka huangYou know this saying since it’s pretty much a parenting cliché used to cajole children to eat their vegetables: “There are starving children in Africa. You should be grateful that you have this food to eat.”

I have never understood the logic that leads people to believe that mentioning such tragic information could motivate anyone to eat, let alone to develop a sudden appreciation for asparagus or rhubarb. If there are hungry children, then there is a serious situation that should be fixed, right? How could begrudgingly eating the last bites alleviate trouble of that magnitude?

The statement is meant to imply that the kids who are refusing the last bit of zucchini casserole are supposed to feel lucky. But — aside the frustration of the dinner table — if we are trying to raise compassionate human beings, it is not the best tactic to suggest to them that they be relieved that misfortune happens to other people.

Do we want their awareness to stop at feeling happy that they got skipped over when calamity was being dished out? Are we suggesting that the suffering of those other children is not important? Or is it possible that they might interpret it that we want them to be afraid that if they forget to eat, they will starve like the African children who can’t eat? It is a confusing piece of information at the best.

Let me share my own experience at 3 years old when I first heard about the frightening situation faced by those hungry kids:

It was a dinner guest who broke the news about their situation and told me that they lived in Africa. And though I searched the faces of my parents, no further details were offered. I froze in my chair, feet dangling above the floor. My mind raced to imagine children, maybe as many as 10, who were without food in a place that was probably so far away that it was beyond the city where my grandma lived!

How did it happen that they had no food in their house? Where were their parents? Were they going to die? It was very upsetting to consider their plight, the circumstances of which were beyond my ability to imagine.

I did not feel like eating.

I can still remember the sense of urgency I felt the next morning as I stood in my pajamas at our cupboard, searching for relief supplies. I took the bag of my favorite cookies over to my mom who was cooking breakfast. “We have to take these to them, the children.”

What my mother did next was inspired by pure mothering genius, and I will always be grateful to her for her insight. She looked at me, understood and said, “Okay, good idea.”

We got into the family station wagon, the humanitarian aid cookies on my lap, and drove to our church. We found Father John who was wearing his priest-collar, so I knew he was still on the job even though it was not Sunday.

My mom explained to him on my behalf that we needed his help to get the cookies to the children who were starving in Africa. I searched his face to see if I could trust him with this urgent mission. Without missing a beat, he said that he would do that right away.

“Please, it’s very important,” I told him. I handed the bag of cookies up to him. We got in the car as he pointed to the cookies and waved goodbye.

We drove back to our house in silence, passing through neighborhoods of children on bikes who seemed to my searching eyes to be well-enough fed.

Peace coverRead this article in its entirety on Attachment Parenting International‘s “Nurturing Peace” issue of The Attached Family.







*First photo source: Huang

**Second photo source: Karstad

Attachment Parenting and siblings

Siblings cover for TAF.comI am often amazed at how well my children get along. They are 9, 7 and 3 years old and each have very close, warm, secure and unique bonds with one another that very much enhance our family.

My 9-year-old and 7-year-old daughters are 16 months apart. They are each others’ best friends, whether at home, softball practice, 4-H contests or school. They protect one another, tell each other secrets, share many of the same interests and respect each others’ differences.

Yet, neither ever leave their 3-year-old brother out of the mix. Though my 9-year-old tends to take more of a protective, teacher role in her relationship with her brother, she isn’t overbearing, letting him explore the world at his own pace. My 7-year-old daughter is as drawn to physical play, from playing tag and climbing trees to building forts and making tunnels in the sand, as her brother…while my 9 year old is more likely to be found reading books to her brother, guiding him on how to plant the beans in the garden or teaching him how to use the insect net.

Oh, my children still have conflict. This is inevitable in any relationship, but it is important to remember that conflict can be healthy. As children learn how to manage their strong emotions in an attachment-oriented way, conflict grows relationships. Through conflict resolution, each child’s needs can be met while each learns more about the other as well as how to accept differences without threatening the bond.

I am intentional through Attachment Parenting (AP) in raising my children to have strong attachments to one another, and I will continue to be intentional as they move into their teen years and eventually adulthood. It is my goal that when they leave my home, that they continue the friendships they are starting now in their early and middle childhoods — and have the skills to quickly re-establish their sibling relationships when strained by life changes — in order to enjoy secure sibling attachments lifelong.

In the latest issue of The Attached Family, we at Attachment Parenting International (API) explore “Attached Siblings” with features on:

We hope that this issue of The Attached Family will inspire your efforts in encouraging secure attachments among your children.

We welcome your stories of Attachment Parenting in your family, including the benefits and challenges in your children’s sibling relationships.

If you are seeking support in this area of parenting, begin by reading through API’s Sibling Bonding resource page and API Reads’ archived Siblings Without Rivalry discussion. Also, feel free to contact your local API Leader (or API Warmline for parents without a local API Support Group) or start a thread on the API Neighborhood forums.

How does Attachment Parenting inspire you?

Inspired Parents cover_Page_01Parenting is inspirational.

Our children motivate us to become better role models, to move past our childhood hurts and to find new ways to nurture and guide our children.

Mothers and fathers who have discovered Attachment Parenting (AP) find that their creative geniuses come alive as they question the status quo and dare to do something different than the cultural norm — to have warm, nurturing relationships centered on compassion and respect.

A boost of creativity is channeled directly into families, as parents strive to improve their relationships with their children, their spouses and partners, even their communities.

Just allowing themselves the freedom to think outside the box is enough for many parents to open new worlds of possibilities throughout their lives, within and beyond parenting. For many parents, this boost in creative energy spills over into a desire to reach out to other families to provide support and education about Attachment Parenting.

Many parents find their outlet in writing. Our journeys into motherhood and fatherhood, personal growth and change in perspective — not to mention, any of our individual interactions with our children — combine to make for some great writing material, as parenting bloggers can attest.

In the latest issue of The Attached Family, we celebrate “Inspired Parents” with features on:

We hope that this issue of The Attached Family will inspire you to open up your potential for creative parenting problem-solving in your home. And perhaps if time and inspiration allow, you may choose share your experiences with APtly Said, API’s blog by parents for parents.

Writing not your thing?

AP parents may also find their creative outlet in becoming accredited in API Leadership and facilitating local API Support Groups. Others choose to volunteer with Attachment Parenting International (API) on national and international projects. Many become an API Member for free or donate a small amount to become involved as an AP Advocate. Like-minded professionals have the opportunity to join the API Professional Associate program. There are so many options to choose from when getting involved with API.

This week on The Attached Family

The Importance of Making Mistakes

So often, as parents, we try to prevent our kids from making mistakes. We issue warnings, reach out to help, or just do a job ourselves because we don’t want the hassle of fixing a mistake like a spill, fall, or ill-thought decision. But making mistakes is valuable and necessary for a child’s learning and development of self-confidence. How we handle mistakes can teach children that challenges are either threats to be avoided, or that they can be opportunities to learn and develop strong mastery skills. American parenting educator Kelly Bartlett explains on The Attached Family online magazine at

State of the World’s Mothers: More Qualified Health Care Workers Needed Worldwide

For women in our culture, pregnancy and childbirth represent a joyous time: enjoying a growing belly, fantasizing about how the baby will look, shopping for tiny layettes, and taking prenatal yoga classes. But for many women in developing countries, pregnancy and childbirth are risky and sometimes fatal for both mother and newborn. Pregnancy & Birth Editor Kathleen Mitchell-Askar continues this The Attached Family online magazine article at


The Use — and Abuse — of Attachment Research in Family Courts by American psychologist Peter Haiman

Spotlight On: Balboa Baby

Embracing Positive Discipline’s Challenges, Routines for Preschoolers, and The “See One, Teach One, Do One” Approach to Teaching by American parenting educator Kelly Bartlett

Teens and Sex from an Attachment Perspective by Israeli parenting educator Shoshana Hayman

Respectful Potty Training, When Daddy Goes Away, and What to Do When Children Demean Each Other by American parenting educator Naomi Aldort

How to Respond to the Most Frustrating Phrases Kids Say and Why It’s Important to Help Children Make Friends by editor Rita Brhel

The 3rd Step in Responding with Sensitivity by American parenting educator Dottie Stone Coleman

Healing Birth, The Second Time Around by American mother Heather Spergel

The Delicate Balance of Parenthood by American child development specialist Megan Kunze

Embracing Positive Discipline’s Challenges

Positive discipline doesn’t come instinctively for many people. In fact, that’s why most parents undertake positive discipline in the first place; they want to change their current instincts about raising children. They want to break the cycle of using traditional discipline methods that compromise the parent-child relationship, and they are forging their way in a new direction.

As opposed to parenting with strict control and scare tactics, when children are raised with kindness and respect, parents are instilling a new instinct for discipline. Children learn how to solve problems, manage difficult emotions, and make intrinsic decisions about what’s right and wrong. Positive discipline is a parenting approach that is based on connection and trust, rather than on longing and fear. American parenting educator Kelly Bartlett continues on The Attached Family online magazine.

10 Ways to Gently Respond When Children Say “I Can’t!”

Our son, Kieran, has been struggling with a bout of the “I cannot’s” lately.

“I cannot take my shirt off, you do it mama.”

“I cannot ride my scooter! I cannot!”

“I cannot glue the ribbon on.”

At first, I tried to isolate the problem:

Am I asking him to do too much? His “can’ts” are sometimes, but not always, in response to something I’ve asked him to do, so I don’t think they are the result of request overload or mere unwillingness. And they are usually in reference to a skill or activity that I know he can do, so they are not based on inability or even fear of failure.
Continue reading 10 Ways to Gently Respond When Children Say “I Can’t!”