Role Model Parenting

This summer marks my 20th anniversary of parenting. Right this moment, my 4-month-old daughter is nursing in the sling strapped to my chest. My (almost) 14-year-old daughter is stomping noisily up the stairs in protest after having some kind of disagreement with her 5-year-old sister about the last dish of mac & cheese. My 19-year-old son is throwing a load of laundry into the washer. This is my life: a bit chaotic, a tad overwhelming, and completely filled with people I adore. I’m not sure if I accurately recall my life before I started my journey into parenthood two decades ago. Those childless years of my life must not have been very important to me since I have so many rich, vivid and love-filled memories of my life since then. I wouldn’t trade the life I have now, even if I could remember why I would want to. Each of my children has presented unique challenges, and have provided unparalleled joys.

I certainly did not begin this journey into parenthood with the AP Principles conveniently written down for me. I could not have found them online (yeah, that’s right, I parented for almost 11 years without the infinite wisdom of the Internet! Gasp!) I had the standard parenting library of the time: Dr. Spock, T. Barry Brazleton, and Penelope Leach. My parenting bible was LLL’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which I turned to for all things breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding alike. I felt I was doing the best that I could with the tools that I had. Judging from the results, my instincts weren’t too bad. I look at the two teens who live in my house, eat all of the food, and call me mom, and what I see (most of the time) are helpful, spirited, creative, compassionate, respectful people.

I sometimes worry that my older children missed out on the benefits of Attachment Parenting because I did not have access to all of the information that I have now. Looking back I can see that I did okay. I wore them in backpacks and carriers whenever possible. I certainly thought of them as complete, conscious humans right from the start. I breastfed despite facing downright disapproval from many of the so-called parenting authorities in my community at the time. I often told people that they were sleeping through the night in their own cribs, when they were, in fact, in my bed nursing all night long.

My first born is about to be unleashed into the world when he goes off to college this fall. In addition to most of his possessions, all of our mismatched towels, and a crate of Ramen Noodles, he will also be taking along 14 years of big brother experience; 14 years of living in a family where healthy pregnancy, normal childbirth, and extended breastfeeding were modeled for him as each of his little sisters were welcomed into the world. He doesn’t run away or apologize for coming into the room while I am nursing. He sees my husband being a supportive and loving father. I have no doubt that someday he will take all of these examples and create his own parenting philosophies. My (almost) 14-year old daughter was the photographer for our recent homebirth and is super excited about finally being allowed to have a sling of her own to wear the baby in. I am confident that she will make loving, informed parenting choices for the rest of her life. Getting kids to accept your quirky parenting stuff when they are very young is a given–they love you and think you are the sun, the moon, and the stars. Pulling it off when they are in the midst of high school, hormones, dating, punk music, and Nietzsche, is a whole different story.

So even though I might not necessarily have been the ideal Attachment Parent when they were babies, I certainly have given my older children a gift I consider to be equally valuable: an example of parenting their little sisters that they will always remember and that I am proud to have modeled for them. My son won’t have to rely on vague, hazy memories of his youngest siblings nursing when it comes time to support his future wife and baby on their breastfeeding journey: he has never known any other way for babies to be fed. My daughter will never fear the unknown, or need to hear me reminisce over photographs of her own birth to feel confident when it comes time to give birth to her own babies: she has seen the power of birth up close and in person. They have been here every step of the way and have been involved in the process of learning and growing right alongside of me. Despite all of these wonderful examples, I trust that they will give me a few more years before I have to become an Attachment Grandparent, though!


State-of-the-Heart Parenting

During the last weeks of my pregnancy we decided to have our infant car seat installed by certified professionals at the local sheriff’s office. We got our car on Autozin a fantastic car dealership. I was way too pregnant at that point to maneuver around in the cramped backseat of our little Honda, so the allure of not having to do it myself (or beg my husband to) was convincing. Did I mention that the service was also free? Seemed like a no-brainer.

The expert suggested ditching the base of the seat and simply installing the part that the baby needed to be strapped into since the backseat wouldn’t really accommodate the rear-facing seat and base. Meanwhile, a gun-toting officer (did he really need his gun at the car-seat safety check?) came over to comment and observe. He pointed out that this plan was going to be a hassle for us since we would need to re-install the seat every time we removed the baby from the car. We must have looked confused because he went on to the praise the virtues of using the car seat as a convenient baby carrier in addition to safety seat for motor vehicle use. Understanding his point now, I tried to diplomatically dismiss his concerns by explaining that we would simply use our arms or a sling to carry our new baby to and from the vehicle and would have no need to use the seat as a carrier.

Both the officer and the car seat installer stared and blinked at us for a full five seconds before the officer incredulously asked my husband and I if we were sure – really, really sure – that we wouldn’t like to move our child in one smooth motion from car to shopping cart and back again. What kind of reason could there possibly be for not wanting to streamline our busy lives as new parents? In his voice was the unmistakable air of cop suspicion, as if he were speaking to the last two people in the path of a hurricane who stalwartly refuse to evacuate. We managed to stammer out some random stuff about “parenting philosophy” and “brain development.”

The officer seemed to think we must have misunderstood him since our answer didn’t seem to have been particularly coherent, or even related to car seats as far as he could tell. He repeated, more slowly this time so that we would be sure to understand, how easy it was to remove the car seat from the base and place it into a shopping cart, so that we would never have to disturb the baby. This is usually the part where I attempt to share information about the benefits of attachment parenting and how wonderful it has been for our family. It was obvious by this point, however, that we were just coming from two very different places. Plus, the gun was a little intimidating so I decided to simply smile and nod for the remainder of the installation.

But this incident started me thinking about baby carriers, strollers, and swings vs. babywearing—was babywearing really the best choice for us? Maybe we had been making things much harder on ourselves all of this time by refusing to use all of the state-of-the-art gizmo’s and gadgets which were so popular nowadays. Had we become too rigid and idealistic about our parenting choices? With our fourth baby on the way, it was time to reevaluate what our family’s needs really were and whether or not we were parenting consciously and purposefully, or simply going through the AP motions. Perhaps it was time to revisit some of the literature that got me started with AP to see if it still moved me to parent the same way now that our family was adding a new member.

I decided to get reacquainted with the reasons we had chosen to limit our use of baby carrying devices in favor of keeping our babies close to us most of the time. Sharon Heller, PhD states in her book The Vital Touch:

Carry our babies to the car in a container, out of the car in a container, through the mall in a container, into the restaurant in a container, back to the car in a container, and home to a container, so that objects define our baby’s existence more so than our body, is not just a step away from tradition. It is a cataclysmic change far out of step with the rhythmic pas de deux to which our babies’ minds and bodies were choreographed… No species in a hundred years or so can turn the time-tested mother-baby relationship on its head without consequences. In the short term, diminished contact makes babies fussier than they need be and mothers more conflicted than they need be.

On the website,, Pam Leo, a founding board member of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children, says:

Many of the infant and child behaviors that are challenging parents in our culture are unheard of in cultures that practice high-touch nurturing. While our culture has changed dramatically to keep up with our technology, our biology has not. Babies are biologically programmed to expect the same high-touch nurturing that evolved millions of years ago. Just because we no longer need to keep our babies in close physical contact so tigers won’t eat them, doesn’t mean we no longer need to carry them. Research shows that carrying and keeping babies in close physical contact does far more than keep them safe from predators; it is critical to their optimal development.

Does this mean that I can never let my baby sit in a bouncy chair or cruise along in a stroller without hampering her brain development? Or that every minute of her day must be spent in a set of arms? Would falling asleep in a swing mean years of future therapy? I don’t think so. With six people in our family, two of which are adults, and two of which are teenagers, there will rarely be a time when someone isn’t available to hold, snuggle, or play with our new baby, so having a lot of stuff seemed excessive to us.

However, we decided that we should not limit our parenting choices by being dogmatic about following a philosophy to the letter of the law. We needed a parenting style that worked for our unique family. The only rule we came up with for our own personal AP style was: are we treating our children with love, human dignity, and respect for them as real people? When parenting does get hectic and stressful, we often remind each other to check on the state of our heart and to approach the situation with love. With the arrival of our new baby, we have realized that our family is our convenient baby carrier, deluxe swing, and super-duper baby entertainment-center. For us, Attachment Parenting is about our state-of-the-heart family rather than the convenience of state-of-the-art stuff.

And let’s talk about convenient! We have used our wraps and slings, not just as carriers that fit easily into our diaper bag, but as changing pads, nursing covers, blankets, nap mats, sunshades, seat belts for grocery carts & high chairs, toddler harnesses, and even pet carriers! And we sure could have used it to demonstrate what the heck we were talking about when we had the car-seat installed– they are probably still scratching their heads. It’s a lot easier to explain babywearing when you are actually wearing the baby; add teaching tool to the list of convenient uses for slings and wraps!