Separation Parenting?

Sometimes when folks learn we co-sleep with our kids, they suggest, not too subtly, that we do so in order to meet *our* needs, not those of our kids. While there is something incredibly special about cuddling our kids in the middle of the night, after five years of co-sleeping, I assure you that Ann and I dream of one day reclaiming our bed. It’s not for our needs that we co-sleep. It is, rather, for our children’s need for attachment.

But what of our needs as parents? What of our needs for occasional separation? And, perhaps most confusing for me, what do we make of situations where we aren’t sure who is most concerned about separation—us or our children?

I have been home full time with my kids for four years—since Olivia was born and her prematurity and brain injury necessitated either Ann or I quit our jobs. Ann and I both loved our jobs and felt invigorated by them. We felt competent and capable as working-outside-the-home attachment-parenting moms. For a variety of reasons, I was the one who became the SAHP. It was not an easy adjustment for me. I work hard at it and believe I do a good job.

Yet, I continue to deeply miss teaching and working with adolescents. (I was a teacher then a principal of an alternative high school for at-risk teens.) I am honored to witness my own children’s first steps and their daily changes, but I also miss engaging with the energy of teenagers, of facilitating insightful discussions and witnessing children transform into young adults.

I know that choosing to be a SAHP was the right choice for Olivia. There is no question that her consistent therapy appointments, doctor appointments, access to school-based intervention programs, practicing what we learned from her OTs, PTs, and speech pathologists, as well as creating a safe, secure attachment has helped make her progress possible.

The decision to become a SAHP was made nearly four years. Now, my eldest at home, Sophia, is in school all day. And Walker, who will turn two this summer, will thrive and maintain her attachment and sense of security in the world whether I am home with her or not. (Although I am confident that Walker benefits from our attachment parenting, she is the most mellow, easy ‘Zen’ Baby and I joke that she could be raised by cats.)

So if I return to working outside the home, both of my middle children will continue to blossom. But will Olivia?

I don’t know.

Olivia will be four this summer. Next year, she will continue attending her special needs pre-school. If I return to work, will she transition to a caregiver and develop new strength and confidence in that relationship? Will there be new gifts in that for Olivia? Or will she do okay, but not as well as if I continue to be at home during the day? Will I ever really know the answers?

Staying home, in addition to the medical and therapy expenses, means the financial well-being of our family is involved in this decision as well. But, as we did when Olivia was born, we will choose our children’s well-being over our financial well being.

But won’t our children’s well-being be enhanced by having two parents who feel balanced in their lives, rather than one who yearns to feel that way again? Am I attempting to make a decision that will either be good for Olivia but not for me, or vice versa? Or am I attempting to determine what path will lead to harmony for our family as a whole, balancing out each member’s needs as best we can?

I have an interview for a teaching position next week.

At the moment, I swing back and forth on a pendulum hoping one minute I am offered this position, and the next hoping I am not.

Next month, I’ll let you know where I jump off the pendulum and land.

– Diana Robinson

Follow the Leader

Although I think we would have ‘found’ attachment parenting eventually, it was our daughter Sophia, born in Guatemala and now 5.5, who showed us the way.

As Ann and I waited for the adoption process to move through its steps we kept busy preparing for her arrival. We blindly went out and bought her a crib, a high chair, and all of the other products whose makers work hard to persuade parents-to-be that they cannot possibly parent a baby without. I enjoy shopping far too much and was only too eager to buy adorable pint-sized clothing, furniture and accessories. When the waiting felt hard, I would look into the nursery and visualize her sleeping in her crib.

Then, when she was 2.5 months old, we traveled to Guatemala to meet her. Her foster mother brought Sophia to our hotel to stay with us. She showed us how to rock her to sleep–an intricate dance with specific moves! We were able to easily rock Sophia to sleep in this way. We then gently lay her inside the crib in the hotel room. And she promptly woke up and communicated to us with her cries, “No, thank you, crib!” We tried this several times, and finally let her just lay in our arms…she slept like the proverbial baby. We mused that Sophia must co-sleep with her foster family, as this was the only way she would sleep with us.

On our last night during that first visit, I enjoyed dinner at Sophia’s foster family’s home. Poor Ann was sick in the hotel. I got to see where Sophia was living and being loved until she would come home to our family. There was a pack-n-play in Sophia’s foster mom’s room and a king-sized bed. I asked if Sophia slept in the bed with her foster mom. She sheepishly answered yes. She was hesitant to share this as it was against ‘the rules’ of the facilitator who thought American adoptive parents would expect their children-to-be to sleep in a crib.

I assured her that we simply wanted Sophia to be happy and healthy and she clearly was.

Ann and I returned home from Guatemala and immediately began looking for a new bigger bed for when Sophia came home. (New sheets, new comforter…I was on board for more shopping!) We also began exploring thoughts and ideas about co-sleeping, which led us to explore attachment parenting. Prior to this, my focus in reading and preparation as a prospective adoptive parent had all centered on adoption and transracial adoption issues. Now, I turned my attention to parenting approaches and found that Sophia had led us to the only approach that made sense for adopted children.

Adopted children endure the loss and separation from at least one family prior to their adoption, if not more than one. Sophia experienced the separation from her birth mother as a newborn and then the loss of her foster family, and all that was familiar to her, again at age 7.5 months when she came home to our family. Our next daughter, Olivia, born in a traumatic birth at 29 weeks of gestation, endured many losses including the loss of her twin sister at their birth, the loss of her birth mother, the loss of gestational time (early eviction on a 9 month lease!) and then loss of oxygen directly prior to her arrival. Even our youngest child, Walker, whom we met upon her birth, had spent nine months with her birth mother and was very suddenly without her voice and her bodily rhythms. Attaching and bonding clearly needs to be the focus for any adoptive parent upon a child’s homecoming.

Co-sleeping creates a powerful opportunity for attachment and bonding on so many visceral and primal levels. Sophia slept sandwiched between us and thus between the rhythms of our bodies. She craved skin-to-skin contact and curled up against us each night. Our bed felt and smelled like the combination of her and us.

It is in this way, night after night of cuddling and breathing in each other, that we began not only to begin identifying as an attachment parerenting family, but also how we became a family. In listening to our new daughter’s needs, she led us to an approach and parenting community that continues to help our family not only to mindfully listen to our children’s needs, but also to strive to balance those needs and create family harmony.

– Diana Robinson

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