You Made Me a Mom

Attachment Parenting International wishes mothers everywhere a Happy Mother’s Day!


I was chatting with a very pregnant friend the other day. After we discussed logistics and baby boy clothes she said. “I just want my daughter to know that she is still special to me.”

My friend got tears in her eyes and I remembered so clearly feeling the same way when expecting my second child. “Tell her she made you a mom,” I said remembering a recent moment with my first born when this idea occurred to me. I’d been trying to figure out how to let her know that she and I have something special without making comparisons or diminishing my bond with her little sister.

“You made me a mom,” I said to my older daughter that evening at bedtime. She snuggled into my hug and looked at me with a quiet smile. “I was waiting for you for a long time,” I continued. “And I couldn’t wait to meet you.”

“Tell me about when I was born,” she said and I repeated the well worn story of how she was feet down head up because she wanted to run into the world. She laughed as she always does. I told her again how I could feel her head tucked up against my ribs and she placed her hand on the spot.

I sang her the lullaby I learned in the hospital and she melted.

“I’m so glad to see you, I’m so glad to hear you, I love you, I love you.” Her breathing became deep and regular and I kissed the top of her head. “Thank you,” I whispered, “for making me a mom.”

Take a day off from the world

I guess I’m a pretty typical parent. I am busy and my family is busy. We do lots of fun things and we do lots of things that just need to get done. When it all adds up, we are stretched a little thin. We are tired and we need some down time.

My husband and I have recently started turning one day of the weekend into our own Day Off From the World. We spend time together with our daughters. That is the only agenda. We don’t schedule anything. We leave all screens off. We get outside. We cook a lot. We read a lot. We listen to music. We dance and play. We nap. We bake things. We paint and create things. We make a mess. We chase each other. We hide and we seek. We build forts and snuggle in them. We spend one day of the weekend just being together.

When we started this practice we saw our daughters transform from their tired cranky end of the week selves into their energized joyous selves. They love having us present and participating with them all day. Time does not rush or push. There is no “have to, must, or should.” Their creativity astounds me every time.

Today my three year old handed me a ball of yarn and said, “hold on and go hide.” She held on to the end and I let the yarn spool out behind me as I walked to my hiding place. After finishing her counting she began collecting the yarn, slowly making her way to me in my hiding place. “I found you!” she announced. “Next time hide better.”

Meanwhile, my six year old and my husband were snuggled in the blanket fort we had constructed earlier that morning. He is telling her about his adventures as a child riding his blue bike. Her questions come one after another asking for more and more detail.

These games and moments of connection need time to come about. They need unstructured non rushing time. Children have fantastic imaginations and they are naturally inquisitive. What if they were not always on their way somewhere to do something? What if the doing was just being together? Helpful for us grownups too maybe?

After our day off we feel rested. Our emotional cups are full. We have connected and reconnected. We have talked and hugged and told stories from our week. Each of us has spent time with each other member of the family. As we head into another week we are full with the feeling that we belong to this family, to these people we love.

So take a hint from ancient traditions and modern wisdom. Whether it is observing the Sabbath or listening to the advice in the book Simplicity Parenting: take a day off. Connect with your people. The world will be there when you get back.

I love you when you are angry

I love you when you’re angry, you know,” I said and pulled her close. She looked at me with disbelief. “I love you when you are angry, I love you when you are happy, sad, mad, glad, board, excited, sleeping, awake, home or at school. I love you, no matter what.

I never felt like I could get angry as a child. My parents sure did, but I got the message loud and clear that I was supposed to keep the peace, be good and above all never ever loose my cool. As a parent I found myself getting angry at my child for being angry.

Hmm, that was a red flag. I felt helpless when she was upset. I wanted to fix it, fix her, just make it better. I felt resentful. How could she be unhappy, when I’m working so hard to make her world wonderful? And I heard myself using words to try and shut down her anger. I gave lectures, I offered new activities, I reminded her of good things, fun things. And yes, sometimes I got angry back.

So I guessed it was time to do some work. . . on myself. I’ve found the API community so valuable for this kind of support. There is always someone who can share a book, an experience or a shoulder.

The book and surrounding conversation that hit the spot this time was Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham. What if I let my daughter be angry? What if I just listened, empathised but didn’t try and fix it? Oh, this was going to be tough. But I made a commitment to try something new.

And the last time my daughter got angry because it was time to turn off the TV, I just stayed still. It felt very strange. In the past her anger was my call to jump into action. But I just watched.

She stomped around the house. She yelled, she scowled and she yelled some more.

I tried some empathy. “It sounds like you are very frustrated that we have to turn off the TV now.”

“It’s not FAIR!!!” she yelled.

I tried again, “I know you don’t like that the TV is going off but we had an agreement about how long you can watch.”

Again, she screamed, “It’s just not FAIR!!”

And here is where I did something really new, I gave her some space, just let her be. I walked to the other side of the room and started puttering. I have to admit my heart was pounding and I really really really just wanted to turn the TV back on, give her ice cream, or yell. But I just kept organizing the crayons.

After a time she picked up a book. I puttered for a while longer and then sat down next to her with my own book. We sat side by side for a long time just breathing.

“I love you when you’re angry, you know,” I said and pulled her close. She looked at me with disbelief. “I love you when you are angry, I love you when you are happy, sad, mad, glad, board, excited, sleeping, awake, home or at school. I love you, no matter what.”

Our kids give us such opportunites to heal, and to do things differently, but the old patterns are strong, and we have to work, not on them, but on ourselves.

Eating the Rainbow

I have not had an easy relationship with food. My childhood food experience could be summed up by the phrase, “nothing in moderation.” No that is not a typo, I lived in a home of extremes, NO sugar!  NO salt! Handfuls of vitamins! to name a few of my most vivid memories. I know that my parents really were trying to be their version of healthy, but it wasn’t very healthy for me. And it was not just the food itself, but the attitude around it. We had no set meal times or rituals and food was talked about mostly in the negative.

And so like we all do, I was set on doing things differently when it was my turn to create the food culture of my own family. And for the most part I am happy with our rituals, our group cooking projects, our meals shared with conversation and love. BUT. . . I also noticed that my children were becoming “Carbovours” more or less. I have always been very encouraging of their making their own food choices and have offered lots of healthy variety. BUT, the crackers were winning! What about fruits and vegetables? How could I even begin to think about “controlling” or limiting what they eat after having had such a negative experience myself?

My husband was raised with the complete opposite food experience from me. He is Italian, like grew up there Italian.  His family grows food, loves food, spends lots and lots of time preparing and eating and talking about food. And they are fit, healthy and have low cholesterol! Ah, how much I have learned from him. In the beginning things like, “wouldn’t you like to come over here and sit next to me while we eat dinner?” gently mentioned as I wandered around the house with a plate of food. What, sit and have a meal? together? Hmm, might be nice.

Then I began watching him cook. He starts by thinking about what is in season. How many times have I heard him suggest we get a big bunch of something and cook it up in some wonderful way.  He takes his time, sometimes a long time, and eventually there is a dish on the table for us all full of flavor, love and health. And he has such a good attitude about it all: food is supposed to be delicious and make you feel good. Food is supposed to be enjoyed and prepared with care.

It was from his example of being thoughtful and positive about good food that I came up with a plan. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t want them to eat so much of, I would use a little imagination to get  them excited about enjoying fruits and vegetables. I remembered reading  about “eating the rainbow” in a Dr. Sears nutrition book for kids.

And so we created our own Eating the Rainbow chart. I know, a chart, ugh, but this is a rainbow! More of an eating related art project. I sat down with my six year old and reminded her how important it is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.  We talked about what she likes to do when she feels strong and healthy. I then asked her if she thought that she could eat the rainbow. She looked at me with big eyes and I clarified, “Could you eat a fruit or vegetable from every color in the rainbow?” And so we decided to try. We have a chart to keep track of the colors we are eating and as the week progresses our rainbow grows.

Here is how it works, she tells me the fruits and vegetables that she likes or is willing to try. We come up with a color code for each food. Our goal is at least six servings a day (ideally two fruit and four vegetable). But the quantity is not the focus, the variety and the colors are the focus.

Our chart gets reviewed each week and foods can enter and exit. We added olives and removed squash this week. There are lots of green items so we got creative with the color key: dark green= spinach, light green=green beans, aquamarine= peas. Looks beautiful. At the end of the week we look at our rainbow and talk about what we notice. “I ate ALL the colors!” my daughter said at the end of the first week. Beautiful, I thought as I contemplated more ways to eat purple.

Download Leyani’s Eating the Rainbow chart here!


Pinkie Promise for Peace

My mother was a yeller. Yep, I grew up knowing that if I messed up she would yell. Or if she was upset, she would yell. I learned to read her pretty well, but sometimes I couldn’t predict what would set her off. Not so much fun as a kid. So when I became a parent, I swore I would never yell, never ever repeat that pattern! Oh, no not me. Weren’t the memories clear enough? The hurt, the feeling of helplessness and disconnect from my mother. And then my child grew into a toddler and I got tired, very very tired.

Suddenly, I found myself yelling. Snap, out came the harsh tone, the raised volume and the frustration. My child shrank in front of me, physically bending as though the words were weighing on her. And she began to cry. I stopped, stunned. Who was this person? Where did the yelling mom come from? I scooped up my daughter and soothed her, apologizing again and again.

I took this as a big sign that I needed to really look at my stress level. I spent several days contemplating my yelling self and realized that I had internalized yelling as a response to stress, tiredness, and frustration. Even though, being yelled at was such a terrible experience for me, I still had the response in me.

Oh boy, talk about a painful growth experience. And I realized I needed to take better care of myself, yep, the old advice, love yourself. I realized I was so focused on nurturing everyone around me that I had forgotten that I needed some care. . . and sleep. And yes, some help with the dishes would be nice.

I talked with my daughter and told her I don’t like to yell and that I will do better next time. I told her sometimes I get tired and feel grouchy. We talked about what we can do when we are feeling grouchy. She suggested giving each other a hug. I agreed this was a great idea. I told her that I would tell her when I started to feel frustrated and that I hoped she would tell me too. This all felt great. Our home returned to the happy, positive place it had always been.

But you know, it’s not usually that easy to fix something this deep. And so my tone started to get an edge every once in awhile. I was quick to stop and change course. But it was still there. “It sounds like you are yelling,” said my daughter. Reminding me that I had told her I was not going to yell. “Yes, you are right,” I said and recommitted to doing better.

And then one day my daughter now six, got very upset with her little sister and . . . yes, started yelling at her with the same tone and much of the same language that I use. And that is when something in me snapped. I was successfully recreating the pattern. I was yelled at and I yelled, she was yelled at, and she was yelling. This was my moment of truth. I thought that other moment was it but unfortunately not.

So what did I do? I asked my older daughter why she was so upset and found out her sister had hit her. I reminded my little one that hitting hurts. In a loving calm voice talked to my six year old about yelling and how it feels. I reminded her that her sister is learning from us. I asked her how she wants to be spoken to. And then she said to her sister, “Let’s have a pinkie promise, no more hitting and no more yelling.” They linked pinkies and promised. I quietly fought back tears. Maybe the pattern wasn’t going to repeat after all.

Nowadays, I hold myself to the pinkie promise. When I start to feel tired and grouchy I announce in a fake serious voice, “I’m getting grumpy,” and my daughter smiles and usually gives me a hug.

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!

Three Cheers for Dirt!

I have to sing the praises of letting your kids get dirty. I mean really filthy, covered from head to toe with muddy, wet, slippery glop. I, like many parents I know have a house too full of every cool, interesting, and trendy toy available. And yesterday my five year old said, “I’m bored.” Hmm, I thought I could get angry and tell her she’s ungrateful for all her toys or I could listen to her and think: what playtime do I remember the most? What did I spend hour after hour doing with great concentration and glee? Hose, dirt, bucket: endless joy.

So this afternoon we headed to the back yard. There were fresh piles of soil dumped around the yard from a landscaping project in progress. My girls ran to the piles and sunk their hands into the soft fresh dirt. No directions, no right way to play, do predetermined story line. They were so excited. One grabbed a leaf and started burying her treasure. The other made pile after pile and then pushed them down patting the dirt with hard satisfying slaps. And then they asked for the hose . . . we got a bucket and started making the most slathery gooey “soup” in the world. They mixed and molded the mud plunging their hands into the muck with abandon. Then my five year old started rubbing her body with mud singing a made up song. She was covered, arms, legs and most of her clothes. Such freedom, such a tactile experience.

I noticed it was going to be time to go inside in about twenty minutes and thought about how to maybe get some of the caked on mud off in a fun way. Onto the swings! They swung and I sprayed their feet as they passed. Then legs and arms were offered. They were soaking, soaring and shrieking with each spray of the hose.

We peeled off muddy clothes in the laundry room and trooped upstairs for a bath. As we lay in bed saying goodnight my five year old said, “I’m going to play in the mud tomorrow!” “Yea!” said her little sister and they drifted off to sleep.

Hooray for getting dirty, really really dirty.

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