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!

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.

Gently and Sensitively Separating for Drop-off Activities

Today, guest blogger Ariadne Brill shares how she gently and sensitively transitioned her children to their first drop-off activity. 

Gently and Sensitively Separating for Drop-off Activities

Lap Pool
flickr/jmamelia

by Ariadne Brill

Drop off activities can be such a fun and rewarding experience for preschoolers and school children. From dance camp to cooking class to swim team, most children love such activities.  Yet, sometimes children feel some anxiety surrounding the drop off and the time away from mom and/or dad.  The anticipation of separating from a parent can sometimes lead children to resist the transition time from home to the drop off activity, making the simple tasks like putting on shoes, to entering the building really difficult.  Some children are very verbal and may yell, others may cry, others may simply plant themselves stiff as a tree and simply not budge!

So what to do? I was once told to take the Band-Aid approach, set them off and walk away no matter what, but that just did not sit right with us as a family. So it got me thinking, how can I help my children gently but confidently transition from home to a drop off activity?

Listen

When my children were about ready to start swimming classes they were a bit apprehensive.   During our regular special time we had a chat to prepare for this new activity. In this time both boys told me some things they were worried about.  They didn’t know the pool, didn’t know the teacher, didn’t know where I was going to be and they were pretty sure they were going to be “way too hungry” when the class is over.  Armed with this information we made a plan and this is how it worked:

Preview

Knowing my children really wanted a chance to see what this pool was all about I set up a preview day with the swim center. We were able to see the locker room, the showers, the swimming pools, meet the teachers and just calmly take our time to see the place. In having a chance to look around, both boys were able to become familiar with the pool and on the first day of class it wasn’t all new and scary.

Meet-and–Greet

Aside from having a preview of the actual location, I made sure to set up a quick meet and greet with the swim teacher. Often for school and preschool students have a chance to meet their teacher ahead of time or use some sort of transition time attending school with mom/dad a few hours before braving it alone. Yet with drop off activities it’s often the case that children are expected to dive right in. I knew it would be important for us to trust and know the teacher before walking away from me. I explained this to the teacher who was very accommodating and more than happy to meet with us.

Make a Deal

Needing to know exactly where I was going to be was really important to my younger son. Having just turned four, he just needed some extra re-assurance that I would be nearby and definitely there at the end of class. We found a spot in the swim center that overlooks the pool where his class is and we made a deal. We would do hugs and kisses and he would go to his teacher. Then I would go to a spot watching over his class where he could see me. Over time, we have progressed to where I can wave to him at that spot and leave and return in time to watch “jumping” time at the end of the lesson.

Reconnect

When class is over, I make sure to be at the pick-up location right away where both boys can see me.  Even though it is evening and technically we should be in a hurry to head home, I try to make sure to greet each boy with a hug and asked them “How was class?” I like to keep the question open so they can feel comfortable telling me whatever they really think of the class. Once we have had a chance to re-connect I support the boys with whatever help they may need getting dressed (although unless there is a tricky button they do this on their own) and packing up.

Favorite Moments

One really empowering tool for both boys has been recalling favorite moments on the way to swim class.  After the first class the boys were generally happy but a bit shaky about the whole process.  We talked about how the class was and what if anything they had really liked about the class. The following week on the way to class I asked them if they remembered their favorites from the week before.  We started singing about them in the car “splashing, splashing, kicking, kicking, hello pool noodle” As the weeks progressed, the list of favorites got longer and longer and we review these in some fun way on the drive over each week.

Listening to the boys, being patient, giving the boys a chance to get to know and trust their new surroundings and new teacher has worked really well for us.  Oh, remember that the boys were worried about being hungry after class? We always make sure to bring a snack along!

So, have you tried any drop off activities with your child? How has the transition worked for your family?
Ariadne has three children, she practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne is a Certified Parenting Educator and the creator of The Positive Parenting Connection <http://positiveparentingconnection.net> She believes parents and children should try to have fun everyday and love life.

The Importance of Volunteering

We have a familiar face guest blogging for us today – former Managing Editor of the blog of Attachment Parenting International, Melissa Hincha-Ownby! She talks about what volunteering has meant for her family and how volunteering can benefit yours. 

The Importance of Volunteering

by Melissa Hincha-Ownby

The parenting journey starts with giving birth, breastfeeding and attending to your infant’s every need.  As your children get older these decisions change – homeschool, public school or private school?  Sports, the arts or both?  One activity that isn’t as common, but should be, is volunteering.  In my opinion, every child should have the opportunity to volunteer their time with an organization they feel passionate about.

According to the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, there are many benefits to children serving as volunteers including:

Volunteering promotes healthy lifestyle and choices – children that volunteer are less likely to use drugs, drink alcohol or participate in other at-risk behaviors

Volunteering enhances development – psychological, social and intellectual development growth is enhanced through volunteerism

Volunteering teaches life skills – children that volunteer learn the importance of task completion, reliability, getting along well with others and more

Volunteering improves the community – when children volunteer, they become active and positive participants in their community

Volunteering encourages a lifelong service ethic – children that volunteer grow up to be adults that volunteer

The best way to encourage volunteerism in our children, especially those of us with older children, is to model the behavior.  So much of parenting is about modeling the behavior we want our children to emulate and this holds true for volunteerism.

I first began volunteering with Attachment Parenting International as a new support group leader in 2004.  Now here it is eight years later and I’m still an active volunteer with the organization even though my role has changed over the years.

As I’ve worked on projects for API, I’ve explain to my children what I’m doing and why.  Now, when I take a phone call from a new mom that is worried that her child isn’t sleeping well, my children know that this is part of my volunteer work.  I’ve been volunteering for the majority of my children’s lives and so, for them, volunteerism is normal.

Now my oldest is nearing the age where he can go out and find an organization that he is passionate about and volunteer on his own.  I’m excited to guide him during this new chapter in his life.
For those of you with older children – do they volunteer their time with an organization they are passionate about?

 

 

Melissa is an Arizona-based freelance writer that is passionate about parenting, the environment and of course, volunteerism.  Find her at the Mother Nature Network.

 

The Importance of Empathizing with Children – Guest Post by Dionna Ford

We are delighted to feature a guest post by Dionna Ford of Codename: Mama. Here, she flips perspective from our viewpoint as parents to that of children, as a reminder that what they experience is not the same thing as what we observe.

 

The Importance of Empathizing with Children

by Dionna Ford

 

Let’s try a couple of exercises. Ready?

    1. Grab a mirror, a piece of paper, and a pen. Using your non-dominant hand (the hand that you usually do not write with), make a five item to do list. Here’s the catch: you are not allowed to look at your hand or the paper while writing – you may only look at the mirror.
    2. Try doing the same thing, but have someone standing over you telling you what you’re doing wrong. Or how to do it correctly. Or telling you that you only have five minutes to complete the task. Or demanding that you not be frustrated at your inability to complete the task.

No really – do it! Even if you just try to write with your non-dominant hand, you should be feeling a little frustrated, yes?

With thanks to The Artful Mama for the mirror writing idea.

Now, imagine this scene: your child is trying to master a new task. Her face is scrunched up in concentration, her fingers are fumbling to get it right, she tries again and again.

This goes on for days. Maybe she is trying to dress herself. Tie her own shoes. Hit a ball thrown to her.

child concentrating

With each new attempt that does not produce the results she wants, the frustration grows. Often, she dissolves into tears or tantrums, literally collapsing with heavy feelings of defeat and frustration.

And while your child is breaking down, you are there dealing with your own emotions. Perhaps you feel helpless, wishing you could deposit the necessary motor skills or knowledge into her brain. Sometimes you feel annoyed, because she’s taking so long and you have places to go. Often you just want to take over, to end the crying.

Grown-ups sometimes forget what it is like to be little. Children have to rely on us for so many things that they wish they could do themselves. And learning to do those things is often a tough process.

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that, too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

— Shel Silverstein

I find that whenever I am feeling frustrated with my child’s behavior or actions, it helps to put myself in his shoes – to think of a situation where I have felt similar emotions. Empathizing with my children is a key component to my practice of two of the API principles: Responding with Sensitivity and Practice Positive Discipline.

In his book, Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg describes empathy as “‘a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.’ Empathy is simply being with a person, non-judgmentally as they are without offering advice, validation, or solutions.”

The exercise above is meant to be one that facilitates empathy. To give you a concrete experience to reflect on the next time your child struggles to master a seemingly simple task. Having this memory tucked away will enable you to sit patiently with your child as a compassionate and supportive presence.

How do you practice empathy with your child?

How do your nurture empathy in your child?

___________________

Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of two amazing kids, Kieran and Ailia. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with little ones. Dionna is also cofounder of Natural Parents Network and NursingFreedom.org, and author of For My Children: A Mother’s Journal of Memories, Wishes, and Wisdom.

 

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.

Baby: from Other to Teacher

If you survey mainstream Western baby-care advice from the past two centuries, you’ll see a common theme: the perception that babies are wild beings who need to be tamed in order to be incorporated into family life.

The concept of “otherness” is familiar in the history of humankind – it’s a driving force behind the identification of the great family of people into distinct races, nationalities, religions, etc. While what makes us different is cause for learning and celebration, fear often prevails, and what’s different can be seen as a threat.

What happens when we see the baby as the “other”? Practices like seeking to tame the baby’s needs by delaying physical contact, feedings, and sleep. An effort to distance oneself from the child so as not to identify with him and be manipulated by him. Sadly, these practices, which begin at a time when the need for bonding (not just the baby’s, but equally important – the caretaker’s) is so crucial, can set up a family for a lifetime of “otherness” whether in subtle or more obvious ways.

On the flip side, what happens when we begin to view our babies as our teachers? After all, our babies are most in touch with their individual needs and temperaments, and know how best to meet their physical and emotional needs.

When we view our babies as our teachers, we allow ourselves to experience the world as students, whether having our first baby or our tenth. We can be fully in the moment, not judging our babies but flowing with them. We open our eyes and hearts to subtle cues we might otherwise miss. We lay a solid foundation for our relationship with our children, which allows for deeper levels of connection and intuition.

For me, attachment parenting was the path that allowed me to see my baby as my teacher, and not the other way around. Every day I gain greater insight about my own limitations, and use my reverence for my daughter to stretch myself, so that I can be the mother she deserves.

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.

© 2008-2022 Attachment Parenting International All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright