Being Compassionate with Yourself

toddlerYesterday evening, my family got together with another family for dinner. While my own kids are now 9 and 6, the kids in the other family are 4 and 2.

Dining with a 2 year old, especially, was a walk down memory lane for me and my husband. While my kids are still working on some of the finer details of proper etiquette, they no longer drink from a sippy cup, require a bib or throw their food on the floor. And when my kids aren’t at the table, I don’t need to keep my eyes on them at every moment. They know not to climb up on the stove or run out of the front door into traffic.

As children grow, it’s very easy to forget what life was like a few short years ago. Kids always keep us hopping as they move on to new adventures and challenges. I feel like all of my parental brain space is taken up with what I’m dealing with right now. There just isn’t much mental energy left to recall in fine detail what it was like to parent a toddler.

When I spend time with someone else’s toddler, though, it all comes back to me.

As I look back over my children’s early years, one of the things I wish is that I had been gentler with myself. From this side of the fence, I can see that parenting a busy toddler is a lot of work. Parenting a busy toddler and a baby at the same time is even more work.

It’s no wonder that, when my children were small, my house wasn’t as clean as I wanted it to be all the time — that I was so tired in the evenings, that I sometimes struggled to stay in touch with my friends or run errands or find time to get my hair cut.


One of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting is Respond with Sensitivity. The idea is that we build a bond of trust and lay the foundations for empathy by understanding our children’s needs and responding appropriately. In the process, we nurture a secure attachment with our children. They learn that they can count on us to be there when they need us, and this helps them to develop the confidence to venture off into the world independently when they’re ready.

Our children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from sensitivity. We can benefit from responding sensitively to our own needs. When we’re really busy with life and work and parenting young children, our own needs often take a backseat to everything else that is going on. In fact, we may even beat up ourselves, because we can’t do everything perfectly all the time. I think that’s too bad.

Now that my children are a little older, I can say with confidence that while life is hectic during those infant and toddler years, they don’t last forever and things do get easier. By being as gentle as possible with yourself while you’re in the thick of things, taking care of little ones who need a lot of your attention and energy, you’re demonstrating sensitivity and empathy to your children.

We want our kids to grow into caring and compassionate people. One of the ways we encourage that is by being caring and compassionate toward our children. Another way that we do that is by being caring and compassionate with ourselves. When you cut yourself slack, you teach your children how to recognize and take care of their own needs.

Achieving balance is hard, and it requires us to constantly re-assess and re-evaluate what’s happening in our lives. As children grow and change, the balance changes, too. At every stage, though, compassion is a great tool. Whether that means dragging yourself out of sleep in the middle of the night to respond sensitively to a teething baby or being gentle with yourself because the vacuuming didn’t get done (again), the compassion is the same.

And those lessons in sensitivity and compassion will last long after the toddler years are over.

Attachment Parenting and School Age Children

Last week the second of my two children, my son, turned 6. I can hardly believe it, to be honest. Six! He’s not a baby anymore, or a toddler, or a preschooler. He’s not even a kindergartner. He’s looking forward to starting first grade in a couple of weeks. His big sister will be starting fourth grade at the same time.

attachment parenting school ageI was just looking back over some of the other posts I’ve written here at APtly Said, which date back to 2009. Over the past five years, my parenting style has shifted as my children have grown. Their needs have changed, so the way I relate to them has also changed. However, one thing that hasn’t changed is my commitment to maintaining a secure attachment. The way I go about it may be a little bit different these days, but the reasons are much the same.

I want my kids to know that I am here for them, no matter what. Because we have created and nurtured a strong bond, they know that I am in their corner, and they always have a safe space to return to after their adventures in the world. Today I have happy, independent, resilient kids. Is it all due to our Attachment Parenting practices? I have no way of knowing for sure, but this parenting approach has worked well for our family. And when my kids bowl me over with their awesomeness, it’s like payback for the time I invested in them when they were younger.

When we think of Attachment Parenting, we often think of practices like cosleeping, breastfeeding and babywearing. With a 9 year old and a 6 year old, I don’t do any of those things. So what does Attachment Parenting look like at this stage? Here’s how I incorporate Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting into my daily parenting:

  • Feed with Love and Respect — For my kids, this means offering a variety of healthy foods, and then respecting their choices. Of course we have the occasional treat, but because I know that they generally choose from food that I am comfortable with, I don’t sweat that too much. At this point, my kids are also preparing more of their own snacks, so they are taking even more charge over what they eat, choosing from the foods I offer. They especially love to use the toaster.
  • Respond with Sensitivity — Today I give my kids more space to work through their own emotions and solve some of their own problems. I let them know that I’m available if they need help or comfort, but I offer a hug rather than just scooping them up. Sometimes when my kids are upset, they don’t want me around and that’s okay. Almost always, they will come to me and share their anger or sadness — or their happiness, for that matter — when they’re ready. When that happens, I do my best to be available and offer them both support and guidance.
  • Use Nurturing Touch — While I don’t babywear anymore, and I respect my children’s wishes around physical contact, we do spend a lot of time cuddling and playing together. My son likes to play a game he calls “huggy mommy” in which I lavish him with hugs and kisses and he tries to get away, laughing all the while. My daughter periodically comes to me and says she just needs a hug. This physical connection seems to help ground my kids and let them know I’m there.
  • Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally — There are a number of steps I take to help my kids feel safe and secure at night. My son has a night light and special blanket, and both of my children have favorite stuffed animals. We have bedtime routines with stories and lullabies to help prepare them for sleep. My kids also know that if they need me at night, they can come to me for a snuggle. Sometimes I will tuck them back in their own beds; other times — if they’re really upset by a bad dream, for instance — I’ll bring them into bed with me for a while or for the rest of the night.
  • Provide Consistent and Loving Care — These days, time away from me is mostly spent at school. This works well for our family. I love our neighborhood school, and my kids enjoy it as well. I realize that school is much more than childcare, but for many working parents it serves that purpose, and it’s pretty fantastic. If the neighborhood school hadn’t been a good fit for my kids, I would have considered alternatives. Many of my friends chose alternative paths within the public school system, or opted for private school or homeschool. I think you’ve got to choose what works for your family, whether it’s daycare or school, so that both parents and kids feel secure in the choice. In my case, I chose the PreK-12 Independent School in Raleigh because I figured it was the right for me and my kids. 
  • Practice Positive Discipline — With school-age children, a lot of our discipline is really problem-solving. I do my best to listen to my children, validate their emotions and meet their needs. Then we work together to come up with positive solutions to problems. When there are issues at school, I make sure I understand exactly what happened from the teacher, and as adults, we craft a basic approach so that my kids are getting consistent messages and they understand what is expected of them. It’s hard to follow the rules if you don’t understand them or the reasoning behind them.
  • Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life — With school-age children, I have much more free time than I did when I had babies and toddlers. While my kids still require adult supervision, they can be trusted to take care of their own basic needs and I even give them a bit of freedom to play at the park across from our house. Also, the time spent in school is time I can use for other tasks outside of parenting. This freedom has allowed me to do things like go back to school myself.

How do you practice Attachment Parenting with your school age children?

Slowing Down

I have a confession to make: I am constantly in a rush. In fact, the more I think I about it, the more that I can see how much of my life is spent hurrying. I hurry through my morning shower, through my breakfast, through my work, through my homework, through my shopping, through my cooking and through my cleaning. Often, as I rush around, I have my 9-year-old and 5-year-old in tow, which means I’m hurrying them along.

hurrying rushing time slowing down alarm clockWhen my first child was born, my hurrying habit was temporarily broken. I went from spending most of my time at work to spending all of my time, day and night, with my newborn. Infants don’t understand concepts like schedules, so there was simply no point to hurrying. Any parent can tell you, though, that children grow quickly. My babies turned into toddlers and preschoolers and school-aged children. I went back to work, first in an office and then at home as a writer and editor. My kids started daycare and school and a extra-curricular activities. I went back to school myself. Gradually, almost without me noticing, my life sped up again. I returned to my old habit of hurrying through my days.

Looking back over my life recently, however, I’ve realized that I need to make a change. Our culture gives us the message that if we’re not busy, if we’re not rushing, if we don’t have too much on our plates, then there’s something wrong with us. I say that isn’t true. I want to enjoy the simple moments with my kids. I want to slow down and focus on my children as they are today, because I can never get this time back. Whether you have a baby, a toddler, or a teenager, your child will never be this age again. The big question is just how to take the time to enjoy them as they are right now. I’ve found a few things that help:

  1. Cut back on activities. Kids need free time to play, not tons of scheduled appointments to constantly be rushing off to.
  2. Learn to say No. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you have to do, it’s a sign that you may need to cut back.
  3. Take a moment to breathe. If you’re in the habit of hurrying, as I am, you may find yourself rushing when you really don’t have to. Taking a moment to breathe can break that cycle.
  4. Ask your kids for help. Older kids can provide you feedback and offer suggestions. They can point out when you’re rushing needlessly, and come up with solutions so that your family can get out the door on time.
  5. Let go of unrealistic expectations. As I said, our culture looks at busy-ness as a sign of value, which can lead many people to place unrealistic expectations on themselves of being able to do it all. Letting go of those expectations can make life better and help you take things more slowly.

It’s not easy to break the hurrying habit and take life more slowly. Like anything, though, if you practice you’ll get better. That’s what I’m telling myself, as I take aim at my own hurrying habit again.

What about you – how do you slow down when life gets too busy and you find yourself spending a lot of your time rushing around with your kids?

A Different Perspective

I returned to university to pursue a second degree this past January. I am now into my second semester as a mom of two school-age kids, and a student in my own right. While there are some other, ahem, mature students in my classes, on average I am much older than my classmates. Like, decades older. Like, old enough to be their mother older.

This has been interesting, as we have studied history I lived through, and I filled them in on what life was like in the olden days. I have a different perspective to offer. I am bringing different things to the table now than I did during my first degree.

When we talk about combining parenting with work or school or volunteering or pretty much anything else, we often think about the difficulty of juggling competing priorities. And it is hard — don’t get me wrong. Right now I’m working part-time from home, I’m taking two university classes and I’m juggling the end-of-the-year concerts and school commitments of two kids. I am busy, and I can’t always do it all as well as I would like. At the same time, my experiences as a parent have helped me to become a better multi-tasker, to keep my eyes on what really matters and to accept my own limitations. The perspective on life that being a parent has brought me enriches all of my experiences.

parents at school going back to schoolWhen I was 20 years old and a full-time student, having a bunch of schoolwork due at once sent me into a tizzy. I was easily overwhelmed, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. Today, I have a different perspective on what pressure means, and I’m not nearly as easily overwhelmed. I’ve experienced pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve been pooped on, peed on and puked on. I’ve sat up at night with babies who wouldn’t sleep, with babies who were sick, with babies who needed to nurse at all hours. I’ve put aside my own needs for the needs of two little people who depended on me completely. I’ve learned how to let go of my own stuff and deal with what needs to be dealt with in the moment.

These lessons I’ve learned as a parent — and perhaps, most especially, as an attachment parent — are actually gifts. They help me to keep going when I’m having a hard time. They remind me of just how much I actually can do. They also taught me how to take my rest where I can find it, and to live in the moment. While it is challenging to juggle parenting with work and school, my perspective as a parent is actually a tremendous boon, and I am incredibly grateful for it.

It is strange to be the oldest person in class, including the professor and teaching assistants. The perspective I have today thanks to my life experiences, though, is making this university experience much richer for me. Having children really does change your life, no matter what you go on to do. The good news is that this change, while hard, is ultimately for the better in so many ways.

Responding Differently: School, Work and Parenting

Even before my first child was born nine years ago, I knew Attachment Parenting was something that fit my personality and values. My own parents practiced many Attachment Parenting principles, so it came very naturally to me. When my children were very young, I especially took the principle respond with sensitivity to heart. I wanted to be there for them when they needed me … and as babies their needs were very urgent. A newborn simply doesn’t understand the concept of waiting.

Now that my children are older, the way that I respond to their needs and requests has changed. More and more, I encourage them to try things by themselves while offering my support and encouragement. I also balance their needs against my own in different ways. While it would be unreasonable to expect a newborn to wait 15 minutes for a meal, it’s not so unreasonable to expect the same thing from a five-year-old or a nine-year-old. Today when I hear, “Mom, I’m hungry,” I might say something along the lines of, “We have fruit and cheese in the fridge,” or , “Dinner will be ready soon.”

Last month I shared the post Mother / Student here on APtly Said, in which I explained my decision to return to school this past January. With my children now both in elementary school full-time, I decided the time was ripe to do something for myself. I started taking some classes at a local university, working towards the goal of becoming a math and science teacher.

Studying (this was actually my history textbook)
Studying (this was actually my history textbook)
My return to school has also changed the way I respond to my children but thanks to it has been easier for me. Now that I’m balancing parenting with both paid employment and schoolwork, my time is stretched a little thinner. I’m spending more time working in the same room as my kids, while they play independently. I’m letting go of outside commitments, being gentle with myself when I don’t vacuum as often as I’d like, and explaining my time constraints to my kids. It’s not all work, though. Now that my first semester is over and I’m on break, we’re planning a family weekend away for some quality time. In short, I’m working to be present and responsive in a way that’s age-appropriate, and that balances the needs of everyone in our family.

The good news is that my kids are pretty resilient and independent little people. I credit Attachment Parenting for that – I believe that by responding to them consistently and compassionately as babies and toddlers, I helped them feel safe and confident. Of course I’ll never know how they would have turned out of I had parented them differently, but it’s safe to say this parenting style has worked for my family. It wasn’t always easy to get up in the middle of the night or to comfort a toddler mid-tantrum, but now that my kids are older I’m reaping the rewards. I’m still responding with sensitivity, but it looks different now, and that difference has allowed me greater freedom.

I’m happy to say that my first semester at school went well. My kids are proud of the work I’ve put in. My daughter, especially, loves to tell people about what I’m studying. It hasn’t been easy, but just like those sleepless nights in early parenting, I’m trusting that it will all pay off in the long run.

Mother / Student

Two months ago, I returned to school, some 14 years after completing my first degree. It was the first time I’d done anything more than a two-day workshop since I got married and had children. Right now I’m taking three classes at a local university, gathering prerequisites with the hope of eventually studying education and becoming a public school teacher. This has represented a big change not just for me, but for my entire family.

going back to school with kids
The quad on campus
One of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International is strive for balance in your personal and family life. In many ways, going back to school has been an exercise in upsetting the balance that I had attained. I work part-time from home as a writer. My children were eight and five years old when I attended my first class in January. With my son starting kindergarten this past fall, I’d managed to achieve a sense of equilibrium that hadn’t existed since I went into labour with my daughter in 2005. I was no longer working long into the night after the kids were asleep – I was able to do my work while they were at school, and spend my evenings with my husband. It was pretty sweet, to be honest.

This greater sense of equilibrium is what created space in my mind to ask myself some big questions – questions that I hadn’t really considered since before I got pregnant with my first child. I started asking myself what I really wanted for myself, rather than what I wanted for my children.

I’ve built much of my work life (and pretty much every other part of my life) around my kids since I became a mother. I did so willingly, as well. I know that children grow all too quickly, and you can’t get those early days back. I was thrilled to be able to find a job that allowed me more time with my little ones, and greater flexibility in general. I didn’t ask where I saw myself in 10 years, but rather where I saw my family. As someone who has found attachment parenting to be very fulfilling, this worked well for me.

With a little more time and mental space of my own, things changed. I had something of an Aha! moment last October, when I realized that I still hold the dream of becoming a teacher. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid, but I pursued my first degree in engineering because it seemed like the more practical choice. I left my engineering career behind some five years ago, though, and had spent the intervening years more focused on short-term goals.

My husband and I talked about the idea of going back to school, and I attended an info session and talked to my kids. In the end, I decided that there really was no better time, and went for it.

Going to school has upset the balance of my life in many ways, but I’ve worked hard to re-establish it under different conditions. I’ve had to say No a lot. I gave up the tap dancing class I loved. I called on my family to help. I also spent a lot of time explaining to my kids what I’m doing, and why. Think, “I have to do some homework right now, so I can’t read to you. I’ll come and find you when I’m finished and we’ll do some reading then.” Balancing my roles, and succeeding as a student, parent and employee, is taking help and support from almost everyone in my life.

I’m going to be sharing my experiences as a mother, writer and university student each month on this blog. I have a lot more to say, about how I’m providing my kids with consistent and loving care, how I’m trying to respond sensitively to my children and myself, and what our days look like. For today, however, I have to run. I have homework to do.

Have you spent any time at school since having children? If you have any tips or experiences to share, I’d love to hear them!

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

When my children were babies, I was with them almost constantly. I breastfed and co-slept and wore them. When they started to talk they learned to say “dada” ages before they learned to say “mama”. I joked with my husband that there was simply no reason to learn my name. I was just there, a constant figure in their daily lives. I was grateful for generous maternity leaves that allowed me to be there in that way. Even in the moments that I felt touched out and sleep deprived, I knew that I wouldn’t trade that time for the world.

Today my children are seven and a half and four years old. I am no longer with them all the time. They go to school and go on playdates and even have sleepovers with their grandparents. Their need for me is no longer as strong as it was in infancy. They have long since weaned, and their weight exceeds the recommended maximum for most baby carriers. While I do still sometimes wake to find that one or both of them has crawled into bed with me in the night, neither of them co-sleep exclusively anymore.


And yet, even as my children gain in independence, I know that I am still their anchor. I am still providing consistent and loving care to them – it just looks different. Today we re-connect as we hold hands on the walk home from school, telling jokes and singing songs. Now, when they really need a cuddle, they pretend to be a baby and lie across my lap, gangly feet spilling out the end. After a brief snuggle they run off to play again, their need for connection fulfilled. And these days when things go badly I’m less of a savior than a resource person, mentoring them as they figure things out for themselves.

I like to think that in those early days I laid a solid foundation. I let my children know that they can count on me. I’ll be there when they need me, but I’ll also let them explore the world on their own as they become more capable and confident. And I’m not the only person who has done this for them, either. Their father has also worked hard to establish positive relationships, and so have the other people in their lives. Because they trust that they can count on us, they’re able to take on new challenges and seek out new adventures, knowing that they are not alone.

At Whatcom Falls

I try to build on that foundation as my children grow by fostering our attachment. Those little re-connections that happen are one way I do that. Taking time to get down on their level and look in their eyes when they have something important to say is another. Taking their ideas and opinions seriously is still another. The tools of attachment parenting look different with preschoolers and school aged kids than with babies, but the underlying fundamentals are always the same. I’m always working to build a strong bond of mutual trust and affection. Seeing it pay off has been an amazing journey.

How has your approach to attachment parenting changed as your children have grown, and how has it stayed the same?

Making the Best Sleep Choices for my Family

This week someone got in touch with me to talk about a new study in the journal Pediatrics, which suggests that there’s no long-term harm associated with certain methods of sleep training. These methods use controlled crying in order to encourage babies to fall asleep on their own. They followed two groups of babies at seven months – one of which used sleep training techniques, and one of which didn’t. They followed up with these groups at six years old, and found no statistical differences. Their emotional health, behavior and sleep problems were the same. As well, the mothers’ levels of depression and anxiety were the same.

Many of the newspaper headlines around this article suggested that this means that sleep training is okay, or recommended. These two methods, when practiced with seven-month-olds, don’t appear to cause brain damage, so why not use them?

I have two children, who are now four and seven years old. The days of being up all night with a baby are currently behind me. I remember them all too well, though. And I remember how I handled them. One of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. I tried to do that, by keeping my babies close to me at night, and responding to their needs. I didn’t do this because I was afraid of causing them brain damage, I did this because it’s what worked best for my family.

Day 16

The truth is that many, if not most, parents go through periods where they’re not getting enough sleep. We all handle this in different ways. This is as it should be, because every baby is different, and every family is different. Each child will learn to sleep independently on a different timeline. Even with my own two children, I’ve seen very different temperaments and developmental paths. As a result, I don’t believe there’s any single answer when your baby is keeping you up at night, including sleep training.

I also don’t believe that I should do something simply because it isn’t harmful. There are many things that simply aren’t right for my family, even though they’re safe. For example, I have rules about not eating food on the couch. This isn’t because my children will be damaged if they eat on the couch, it’s because I don’t want to clean it. In the same way, I have always known that I didn’t want to let my babies cry themselves to sleep. It’s not about avoiding harm, it’s about making the choice that I feel is best for my family. Listening to my babies cry wasn’t best for me, or my family.

As well, I think it’s important to point out something about this study. It looked at two very specific sleep training methods, used with seven month olds. It did not look at all methods, and it did not look at four month olds or two month olds or even younger babies. We can say that there aren’t any apparent negative long-term effects in this case, but this doesn’t mean that would be the case for any sleep training method with any baby.

There were hard nights as the parent of an infant, but looking back I can honestly say that I’m happy I didn’t let my babies cry it out. It wasn’t for my family. And one study can’t change that.

What methods have you found effective to help everyone in your family get enough sleep, other than using “cry it out”? And do the results of this study change your opinion on the method?

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