Giving thanks through presence and connection

SnowingI am grateful to be an Attachment Parent.

I don’t feel that we need to be labeled in order to define our type of parenting; however, being a part of a community with like-minded parents reminds me that I am not alone.

Yes, we are all different. We all choose to parent differently. The families we come from and the families we are raising conjure up many things around the holiday season. At least for me.

My favorite time of year is upon us, and yet, so much about it feels different. We spent Thanksgiving as a small group, and the missing pieces magnified the reality of what family looks like and what it has evolved into over time.

We all define and experience family differently.

As we come into this world, we are innocent, wide-eyed and unsuspicious. The world is uncontaminated, and our canvases are bare. We don’t know anything about pain, resentment, sadness, loss, judgement, hate. We don’t know what a label is or why anyone must define us by one. We come into this world needing and seeking a few simple things. We want to be loved, nurtured and heard.

We spend our lives wanting and needing to be heard and understood.

From the moment we first lay eyes upon our mother’s face, we feel we belong. We feel safe. We are home. From that point forward, through each experience, through all the light, through all the darkness, the ways in which we experience love and family evolve and take on lives of their own.

Decisions are made for us, separations disconnect us, rules and regulations attempt to govern us, facades deceive us, and choices divide us. Love runs through, and yet, something always seems to be missing. As we grow into adults, the need to be heard only grows stronger. We are often misunderstood and those feelings we are left with emerge into deeper cries for answers, for clarity, for truth.

Our innocence shifts at a certain point as we are exposed to the sometimes harsh realities of the world. Something happened, and we no longer felt good enough. Something else happened, and we thought we needed to be something or someone else in order to gain acceptance. We thought we needed to please and obey and squeeze ourselves into molds that the masses set before us. If you stray from that, you are different, you are weird, you are wrong.

Yes, this is what we are told and led to believe by the people who simply can’t bear the fact that we are not conforming to what makes everyone else comfortable. You are out of place, and you are displacing the system. Please get back in the queue and follow the leader, they say.

Although I never allowed myself to succumb to society’s desperate plight to mass-produce me, I was still greatly affected. I still am affected, and I know that this contributes to my quest for what this life is all about on a daily basis. Human, honest, loving, kind and meaningful connection is all I’ve ever wanted. It’s what I am most open to and in search of. In my journey through this life, thus far, I can tell you that it is through presence and connection that I experience the purest and truest love.

I am often discouraged by the highly opinionated, judgmental, divided, jump-on-the-Twitter-trend bandwagon mentality we are surrounded by. I find it difficult to even hear my own voice through all of the noise. I find it difficult to remain centered as I witness the constant debates telling you what’s right and wrong, black and white, acceptable and unacceptable. If we allow, the social media machines will infiltrate our lives with more stimulation than we can possibly process, and our connections to ourselves and those around us will be left with mere shadows and caricatures of who and what they once were.

Much research is taking place in the world of psychology and how it pertains to social media. In addition, many opinions are being shared these days, revealing narcissism as an epidemic based on those seeking acceptance via likes and feedback as they broadcast their points of view and selfies through the social network media megaphone.

I find it sad, even if data reveals it’s accuracy, that the Millennial Generation — although I don’t feel it’s limited to them — is now being labeled in this way, which only further instills the deep-seated insecurity and underlying feelings of inadequacy that so many of us struggle with.

The internet provides a stage and an audience at our daily disposal. Sadly, the constant need to be seen as the best, and the portrayal of a life that others envy and dream of, is a full-time job for many. Not much is private anymore, and nothing can really shock us. The praise and approval one thinks they are seeking often lead to emptiness and more insecurity.

This cycle continues, masked in a different face, and breeds more of what most of us struggled with growing up. We’re still working through the disharmony of it all.

There are certainly many benefits to social media. I just feel we need to take the time to encourage our youth to connect to what is true and real around us and allow for our own minds and voices to be clear amongst it all.

I love my boys with all of my heart. I am present to them, to their needs and to who they truly are as individuals and human beings. It is this presence that allows me to support, guide and nurture them along the paths they are meant to pave in their own lives. We spend a lot of time in nature, and it is there that I find we all gain the best education and connection with ourselves. We love exploring. We love adventures. Their imaginations are endless. We are free.

I believe it is every human’s right to be given the freedom to be themselves — to fully express and shine as their unique being, whatever that looks like. You are beautiful. You are enough. You are you.

I choose to exist in a world where personal relating and human connection are more prevalent than the fabricated, manufactured images we mistake for reality.

I sat down to write a piece about the holidays and what I am thankful for. This is what came out.

I believe the holidays can be a time of wonderful joy and togetherness, and they can also magnify the imperfections within your own family and the world around us. I am filled with love and gratitude, yet the lack of unity saddens me. It triggers the facts of my existence and inspires me to initiate change again. I wish things were different in certain areas. I wish we were all closer.

I am thankful for my life. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my husband and the greatest gift and honor of being a mother to our two sons. I am thankful for the food I eat and the roof over my head. I am thankful for my health and each breath I take. I am thankful for the depth of love and compassion I feel and am connected to. I am thankful to be a source of love for others. I am thankful for the service my family and I provide to those in need.

I am thankful for connection and for the many advantages the internet provides us with each day. Through this medium, I am able to relate openly and honestly. As I often say: When you hear me, I feel understood. I feel connected to the world. I believe this is all any of us want.

The name-calling, the labels, the fear instilled upon us, the animosity. Through it all, we will only grow stronger and continue to evolve into who and what we are meant to. I choose love and truth. Today and always.

Wishing you a delightful and compassionate holiday season.

sandy-signature

Cloth

Cloth NewJ

As I carefully held you, my little parcel, I remember wishing the cloth away, wishing that there was nothing between us. You see, we had been linked your whole life. I had felt every hiccup and every stretch.

As soon as I had the strength to sit up, I threaded you gently in between the lines attached to my IV sites and pressed you against my chest. But the clean crisp cloth felt like thick cold walls between us.

As the weeks went on, I wrapped you in cloths of many different colours and custom ties. You were fashionable, cute and cuddly. You were pink, blue and green. Yet amid the colours and patterns, I saw only your eyes, the soft sweep of your brow and the curl of first smiles.

Then we found stretchy cloth and it seemed never-ending. It took a hundred times of wrapping and unwrapping, tightening and loosening, before one day, I caught a glimpse of us in the mirror and realised that I hadn’t even noticed completing our cloth origami. And that is where you stayed. Snuggled into me and listening to my pulse, just as you had from your very first heartbeat.

In time, I could wrap you against me with my eyes closed…with both of our eyes closed.

We would face the winter like this, snuggled together, cosy and warm.

We would breeze through outings, walks and errands in exactly this position.  You, me and our cloth.

As you grew, the stretch seemed to shrink and new cotton was bought. This cloth was bright and strong…more supportive for a sleepy head to rest in. This was the first cloth that you asked for, that you spoke about and that you wrapped around your teddies.

What was once a barrier, cold and unknown, has become a link between us. It is handlebars for our journey, a shawl for warmth. It is easy. It is fun. It joins us as one, even though we are now separate, little one.

When you were born, they wrapped you in cloth, but you’ll be wrapped in my love forever.

 

Why Attachment Parenting Promotes a More Connected Society

My family and I spent most of the day yesterday in the Federal Building updating passports. It was a very long day in a crowded space and what else does one do, other than watch your kids play superheroes with other kids in their common language, except people watch.

I’ve always enjoyed people watching as a way of understanding the world and people more. It’s so easy to let the little gifts pass us by unless we take the time to look for them. Today we were surrounded by newborns. There must have been at least 20-30 of them with their parents in line and in the waiting area. At first my heart just melted and I had to ask how old they were. Most were only a week or two weeks old. Then my boys and I just stared as we viewed the miraculous sightings of these precious little angels.

I watched the mothers and fathers and it took me back to those first days and weeks. I remembered the magic, the LOVE, the fragility, the fatigue…all of it. I saw first borns, twins and siblings with their new little sidekicks. It made the day go by and I truly enjoyed being around and interacting with such a diverse group of people and witnessing my boys doing the same.

What surprised me the most in this very large crowd was the fact that not one person was wearing their baby in a wrap or carrier. It actually made me sad but I also felt fortunate as I reflected on the years I wore both of my boys in wraps and carriers. I wanted to stand up and tell everyone the joy that comes from wearing your child. The room was filled with strollers and car seats. I watched the babies drink from their bottles, get burped and then placed back into their seats, then repeat….over the course of several hours. My wish is that one day soon, I will walk into a waiting room or public setting and see a room full of parents holding and wearing their babies.

I am not judging those who bottle feed, nor am I judging you if your baby is in a car seat or stroller. What I am saying however, is that I feel our society has become and continues to promote and encourage detachment from our children. They go from car seats, to strollers to walkers, to play pens to cribs. I know they get fed and cuddled somewhere in between but I can’t help but to wish we could all connect even more. We all need to know we are loved and our babies are completely dependent on us for everything. If we are able to give them as much love, contact and warmth as possible, I believe they will feel more secure and safe which will only make them thrive even more.

In other societies and cultures throughout the world, it is normal and commonplace to wear your baby all day, sleep with your baby and spend as much time skin to skin as possible. Especially in the first year of life. I think about newborns. I imagine their world before they were delivered into this one. They are tucked in, warm, cozy, safe and comfortable within the womb of their Mother. When they enter this new realm, they are no longer tucked in tightly. The stimulation must be overwhelming and the warmth and basic necessities are all they require. Sleep, eat, burp, poop, repeat.

I know as a first time parent the responsibility of it all can be intimidating and taking care of the basics makes you feel like you made it through the day successfully.

Again, I want to make it clear that I understand we all do our best. At least I hope so. Not everyone was born to be a babywearing, cosleeping, breastfeeding parent. I get it. Not everyone will agree with me and in fact I realize many will disagree with me and my ways. That is okay also.

My need to express here isn’t about you or me or how we parent. It’s about the most fundamental principal in all of life. LOVE. If you aren’t wearing your baby in a wrap or carrier, I’m not saying you don’t love the same way a babywearing parent does. I’m saying, let’s do it more. All I thought about in that room all day was how happy those little babies would have been if they were wrapped up close against their Mothers.

I saw people getting frustrated and annoyed that their babies were crying. Babies cry. Don’t ever feel embarrassed or ashamed when yours does. To me though, the quickest way to ease them once you tend to their needs, is to hold them close. Let them feel your heartbeat. Let them smell your skin. Let them hear your voice. Let them feel the thousands of kisses on their little heads as you carry them throughout your day.

Yes, I support babywearing. Yes, I am an attachment parent. I am not saying I’m better. I am not saying it is all easy. What I am saying is this. This time goes by so fast. These moments need to be cherished. The sacrifices we make are worth it. I promise. The love, security, stability, warmth and connection you offer will make a difference. My wish for the New Year is for all of us to Love more. To connect more. To Accept more. To Attach more. That is my wish.

Congratulations to all of you who have already experienced the extraordinary gift of giving birth. I wish those of you expecting to have safe and healthy deliveries. Being a mother is the greatest gift and role of my life. I am so thankful for my boys and for my family and I will love with all of my heart each and every minute I am breathing.

Much Love and Support,

Examples

When I was in college, way back in the day, I stumbled across a teacher who was getting into this ‘new style’ of parenting. I was the only parent in the entire class besides the teacher, even so, by the end of her second class, the majority of the students were like me and totally interested in this ‘natural parenting’.  Our first big assignment was to do a short study of a parent and then make a comparison of their parenting to natural parenting. I chose one of my older sisters as my subject, the fact that she lived around the corner and that my niece would play with my 5-month-old for two hours had no bearing on my choice…really.

Donna was in her late 20s, married and had two children, a daughter and a son, a little over five years apart. Her daughter was Little Miss Happy Pants, always eager to help (and play with babies) and her son was an impish explorer (read: cute troublemaker-he once walked past mama on the phone, smiling as he pulled a loaded-with-dark-paint paintbrush along the newly white wall). She took care of several kids during the day for extra money. We didn’t have the best example of parenting growing up, something that greatly affected all of us, but especially Donna. Our two older sisters were good moms, but Donna just had this connection to kids. This soft-spoken empathy that we all seemed to lack. Where we would nod in a rushed agreement and then move along with a child showing us a prized possession, Donna would get down to their level, ask questions and really listen to their response. In her eyes, children really were people, too.

I wish I could remember all of my observations from that day…find the paper I wrote. Thankfully, I can easily recall most of my conclusions. In class, we had watched segments of an ABC show, ‘The Home Show‘, with a doctor who was talking about this little practiced parenting style, Dr. Jay Gordon. We read articles from a ‘extreme’ parenting magazine called ‘Mothering‘ and listened to our teacher talk about parenting in other parts of the world. In the couple of weeks we had to work on our papers, I started to realize that this stuff wasn’t so foreign to me after all. I saw it in practice nearly everyday, in my sister. I slowly realized that it was pretty obvious what I had personally lived, with my parents, wasn’t ‘right’. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like home should feel. I wanted more for my son and my future kids. I evolved, over time and certainly never to what I thought was ideal. But messy house be dammed, all eight kids knew to their very soul that they could crawl up on mama, anytime, anywhere and be home.

Donna and SeannYears later, Donna’s life changed drastically. She was divorced, had hard times and luckily, ended up marrying her true love. They tried so hard for a baby of their own. She desperately wanted a child with her husband, so much so that she asked me if I would be a surrogate. Soon after asking, she got pregnant with her miracle baby and she couldn’t have been happier.  Oh, how she loved that baby boy!  They went through some tragic times, the demons of her childhood just wouldn’t leave her. She had rough times with her older kids and just her life in general. But that little boy…I would hear family members say things…”Can you believe he still crawls in bed with her and sleeps? He’s 10-years-old!” I would just smile and nod cause my own little ones and teens would ‘still’ crawl into bed with me!

Our parents died, we all moved apart and Donna made her own world with her husband and son, nearly isolating herself from everyone. When we came together for her funeral a few weeks ago, everyone was stunned at the quiet strength of her ‘baby boy’, 17-year-old Seann. He lost his best friend, the person he could confide in, trust and crawl into bed with if things got tough…for him or her. I sat on the ground outside of Burger King with him at 2:00 AM the night before the service and told him the story of why I was ‘just like’ his mom. How I didn’t realize just how important it was to pick up a crying baby, to kneel down and listen, to nurture and respect and to let the people you love more than anything in the world crawl into bed with you. We have all cried a lot since then, about a woman who gave so much of herself while suffering so badly. I was blessed to have thanked her many times, the last time just minutes before we had to let her go. Blessed to tell her that people do learn from your example. In our case, solely because of her, eight lives attached to a mom who almost didn’t know better. Thank you, Donna.

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.

Self-portrait

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?

Mommy’s here

preparation for blood draw
flickr/SharonaGott

Just after my daughter’s second birthday, she had a prescription to get blood drawn. I told myself it would be okay and I decided that it would be easier for her if she watched me do it first.

We went to the local hospital. I had gone there many, many times during the past year for blood counts as I had been receiving treatment for cancer. A treatment that left me so weak, I was unable to pick her up for most of that past year.

The technicians greeted us.

“This is my daughter Kaylee.” I turn to the side so they could see her, perched on my back in the Mei Tai. It was only a few months since treatment ended, and it was the first time I had worn her in over a year.

“I had no idea you had a daughter! She is so beautiful. Its so nice to meet her.” With each sentence the tech’s voice became more melancholy. As if she were connecting the memories of seeing me ill to the new knowledge that I had a young child.

“She needs to get blood taken. Is my perscription still on file? I think it will be easier for her if she sees me do it first.”

“Its not going to work. Every toddler needs to be held down.”

“I still want to try.” I told them and asked them again to check for the prescription. The nurse found it and I sat down in the chair with Kaylee in my lap.

“I’m pulling up my sleeve so they can take blood.” I said as I rolled up my sleeve and placed my arm on the table.

“Now she’s tying a band around my arm. It doesn’t hurt, but it feels kind of funny. Its not very comfortable and sometimes it pinches my skin.” The tech was not amused. I could only assume she thought that by validating any fear, I would be instilling greater resistance. And nobody wants to hold down a toddler to take blood.

“Next she is going to put a needle in my arm. I am a little nervous because it sometimes hurts.”

“Don’t be nervous.” Kids aren’t the only ones who are told “no” to their emotions.

“Its okay to be nervous.” I tell both the tech and Kaylee.

“How could I not be?” I thought to myself, remembering all the times my veins were difficult to find. Remembering how my blood counts would dictate if I could continue treatment on schedule. The fear I had experienced when they were too low to begin a new cycle of chemo, my fate seemed to be resting in the hands of a single missed week of treatment.

“But you are always so calm when you get blood taken.” I was glad to be pulled out of those memories and back into the room.

Back to that moment. To my daughter.

“I am nervous, you just can’t see it.”

The needle went into my arm with ease.

“Now we can watch the blood.” I said, relieved.

The nurse untied the band and removed the needle.

“Now they are going to wrap up my arm, so I don’t get a bruise.”

“And that’s it. Are you ready?”

She shook her head no.

“You need a minute?”

She nodded.

“You can do this.” I told her with certainty.

She rolled up her sleeve. One of the nurses held her hand to keep her arm still and the other began the process.

I talked her through the steps just as I had done moments before.

I held her tight.

So very tight.

“I am here. Mommy’s here.” I repeated in her ear, over and over.

Just saying those words were empowering. I had been away for much of that past year.

A part of me was fearful in these words, scared cancer could return and take me away again. And I was grateful Kaylee wasn’t wondering the same thing.

I could see her bottom lip puffed out in a frown. Her mouth was quivering. There was no fighting or screams, though she was clearly upset.

“She is so sad. She’s going to make me cry.” Tears filled the tech’s eyes.

When it was completed, we were all amazed.

Amazed at the courage and strength of my little girl.

And so very thankful.

To have been able to tell her “mommy’s here.”

To have had the strength to wear her that day.

To have had the tools to help her through this challenge.

That she had felt safe and confident in her emotions. That she expressed herself.

That despite being weaned overnight and separated from me for almost a year, we still had an incredible connection. That all the principles we had practiced since birth had given us the ability to work through the challenges we experienced. That she had every reason to be a bratty toddler and she was anything but.

After that experience, it was so clear that attachment parenting worked. It worked wonders.

Pushing through the resistance and challenges that came along with AP had become a wonderful gift for our family.

And it was a wonderful gift to see the results in action, too.

A few months after this experience, she came with me to a doctor’s visit. She sat on my lap as I had blood drawn.

When it was over, she pulled up her sleeve and wanted a band-aid.

What is Attachment Parenting? Guest Post by Peggy O’Mara

We are thrilled to feature a guest post by Peggy O’Mara, mother, author, editor and owner of Mothering magazine. Here, she explores the foundations and history of Attachment Parenting, showing how AP became what it is today.

What is Attachment Parenting?

by Peggy O’Mara

Baby slinger
flickr/happykatie

The recent furor in the press over attachment parenting stems from an inherent misunderstanding. Attachment parenting is not permissive parenting. It is not about abdicating authority as a parent, but about responding to the legitimate biological needs of a baby. It is firmly based in the sciences of anthropology and psychology and specifically on the theory of attachment.

THE THEORY OF ATTACHMENT

The theory of attachment originated with psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907-1990) whose influential 1951 report to the World Health Organization set the first standard for infant and child care:

“The infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.”

Bowlby and others identified the first three years of life as a critical period during which the foundation is set for attachment to self and others. Qualities secured during this period include: trust, empathy, dependency, affection, conscience and optimism. According to Maggie Scharf in Unfinished Business (Ballantine: 1981)

“The ancients well knew that the experience of being in love recapitulates the mother-child relationship in its intimate physical attachment, trust and dependency. It has been shown even in the animal realm that adequate sexual functioning in adulthood depends on satisfactory relations with the mother in infancy.”

LOOKING FOR SCIENTIFIC SUPPORT

When breastfeeding rates doubled between 1972 and 1982, mothers were looking for ways to reconcile the needs of their babies with the popular wisdom of the day. Breastfeeding moms were finding, for example, that their babies wanted to be held a lot while popular wisdom warned that holding was spoiling. Attachment theory reassured these early breastfeeding pioneers that touching and holding were good for babies.

John Bowlby, for example, observed during WWI that babies in orphanages died if they were neither touched or talked to.

Eric Ericksen identified the first year of life as a stage during which we learn to have faith in other people and in the environment. During this time of total dependency, if we receive adequate physical care that is warm, loving and demonstrative, we will learn to trust. On the other hand, if our care is cold, indifferent and rejecting we will learn to mistrust.

Margaret Mead, whose seminal book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) informed the sexual revolution, observed in her field studies as an anthropologist that the most violent tribes were those that withheld touch in infancy.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, was a medical researcher who observed that the indulgence of early dependency needs leads to independence and self-reliance. According to Ainsworth, it is the sensitive responsiveness of the mother that enables the child to explore the environment.

Adult social behavior is related to early experiences in significant ways, according to neurologist Richard Restak. Restak says:

“Physical holding and carrying of the infant turns out to be the most important factor responsible for the infant’s normal mental and social development”

THE CONTINUUM CONCEPT

Further evidence that touch is good for babies came in 1975, from Jean Leidloff’s book The Continuum Concept. In the international best seller, Leidloff describes her expedition to the South American jungle, where she observed the way of life of indigenous natives.

She noticed, for example, that the mothers maintain nearly 24-hour-a-day bodily contact with their young infants, as they go about their daily tasks. Leidloff also observed that the native children are unusually self-possessed and secure and concluded that close physical contact in infancy is beneficial.

DR. BILL SEARS

While doing research for his book The Fussy Baby, Bill Sears, MD, discovered that the more babies were carried, the less they cried. He also found that carrying babies eases breastfeeding and high-need situations.

Sears tells the story of how his wife, Martha, instinctively tried to fashion a baby carrier from a piece of cloth in order to soothe one of their babies. Sears went on to design a baby carrier of his own, The Original Baby Sling.

In response to concerns that holding your baby can lead to an overly dependent child, Sears says that it’s the opposite:

“On the contrary, in our experience and that of others, carried babies actually turn out to be more secure and more independent. Because they have grown through early infancy with a secure home base, these children learn to separate more easily than others and with little separation anxiety.”

ATTACHMENT PARENTING, INTERNATIONAL

Sears published his book, The Fussy Baby, with La Leche League (LLL) in 1985, at a time when he was the most well known of LLL’s physician supporters. He is widely credited with coining the term attachment parenting and wrote a book on the subject in 2001. But, Dr. Sears did not invent attachment parenting.

Two young La Leche League Leaders, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, were influenced by Dr. Sears and fascinated with attachment theory. In 1987, they heard psychiatrist Elliott T. Barker give a keynote address on “The Critical Importance of Mothering” in which he linked adult psychopathic behavior to extreme disruptions in attachment.

As Nicholson and Parker became increasingly steeped in research on the critical attachment period, they wanted to educate others, and, in 1995 they formed Attachment Parenting International (API).

API’s “principal goal is to heighten global awareness of the profound significance of secure attachment” through education, support and advocacy.

Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing all foster secure attachment because they respond to the baby’s need to be touched and held.

But these are not the practices of attachment parenting and attachment parenting itself is not a practice. It is a philosophy.

There are no rules to Attachment Parenting. It’s simply about acknowledging the legitimate needs of the human baby and trying to meet them as best one can.

JUST INFORMATION

While the roots of attachment parenting are in ancient tribal society and modern science, attachment parenting has no script. It’s about trusting the baby and being responsive. It’s practical and personal. It’s not a contest. It’s just information.

 

Peggy O'MaraPeggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

Dr. Sears Comments on TIME Magazine’s Attachment Parenting Cover Article

Guest blogger Dr. Bill Sears shares his thoughts on the much talked about TIME Magazine Attachment Parenting Article, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood.”

Hello parents!  The cover was risky but a brilliant hook by Time Magazine to attract readers, and they achieved their goal.  The writer, Kate Pickert, herself a new mother and one of Time’s most diligent writers, sincerely wanted to increase awareness of the Sears’ family contribution to parenting and family health.  She lived with our family for two days, followed me in the office, and spent hours with me on the phone in an attempt to be factual.  While the cover photo is not what I or even cover-mom Jamie would have chosen, it accomplished the magazine’s purpose.  And, as some attachment dads observed, finally a magazine displays a woman’s breast for the real purpose for which they were designed – to nurture a child, not to sell cars and beer.  Cover-mom Jamie is a super-nice person and highly-educated in anthropology, nutrition and theology.  I enjoyed the several hours I spent with her family and her kids shined with the social effects of attachment parenting.

Even though I’m used to being misunderstood and misquoted, as is attachment parenting (AP), I had a few concerns.  AP is not extreme.  It’s very natural and instinctual.  It’s the oldest parenting style in the world.  Nor is breastfeeding three years extreme, at least throughout the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for optimal health children be breastfed for at least two years and sometimes recommends three years.

Another misconception was AP is difficult for the mother who works outside the home.  It’s just the opposite.  Women are the greatest multi-taskers in the world.  AP, modified to the parents’ work schedule, helps busy parents reconnect with their child, which actually makes working and parenting easier.  It’s attachment moms that forged the long overdue workplace-friendly breastfeeding-pumping stations and laws which respect and value the ability of a working mother to continue part-time breastfeeding.

Regarding the science criticism, it’s impossible to scientifically prove by a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study (the gold standard in science) that AP works better than a more distant style of parenting.  You would have to take a thousand mothers who practice AP and another thousand who don’t, and see how their kids turn out.  What parent would sign up for such a study?   Yet there is one long-term effect that science does agree on: The more securely-attached an infant is, the more securely independent the child becomes.

I’m disappointed the article did not pay more attention to the bottom-line of attachment parenting: how AP children turn out – and that’s where this style of parenting really shines.  In my 40 years of studying the long-term effects of what parents do to help their children turn out well, AP kids generally are more: empathetic and compassionate, relate better to people, are easier to discipline, and are just nicer to be around.  When I walk into an exam room in my office, an AP baby, like a little sunflower, naturally turns toward my face and lights up.  I’ve yet to see an AP child be a school bully.  On the contrary, they are the ones who try to comfort a hurting child.

Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation.

Over my years of mentoring attachment parents, the main two words of feedback I have heard is empowering and validating.  My “helper’s high” file is filled with thank you letters such as: “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for validating what my heart and gut tell me is right.”  “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for empowering us new parents with your personal experience to help us enjoy our children more.”

As an investment banker dad once told me: “AP is one of the best long-term investments you can make in giving your child a greater chance of growing up happier, healthier, and smarter.”  Aren’t those the three main qualities we all want for our children?

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