Before my children go to sleep at night, I have 3 questions that I ask them:
What did you learn today?
What was your favorite part of the day?
What are you grateful for?
These questions have become a ritual for us as we have been doing it for years. We continue to do so even as we navigate the middle school days for my youngest and now are moving into the high school years for my oldest. I know we all look forward to this time of connection as it opens up a conversation that goes beyond the simple responses to those questions.
I have been surprised to find that the topic about gratitude is often the one that is discussed the most. There is an appreciation for all of us when we take the time to offer our thanks for something that happened during the day. My girls’ answers may be about a material item they received or a favorite food that they were able to eat — especially if it is a dessert — and I have found that is a practice for me to listen to their responses without judgement.
It is a gift for each of us to pay attention to one another in a way that offers a willingness to receive whatever the other person has to offer. I am thankful for this opportunity to connect with my kids and for us to grow in our understanding that often it is the simple things in life that we are most grateful for.
Sometimes my girls give me the same answer for all 3 questions, and I am fine with this as I recognize that maybe being tired overcomes the desire to engage in conversation. I trust that they are offering what they can in the moment and that on a different day I may hear much more when they are ready to share. It is also possible that one event was the highlight of their day and the one thing that does answer all 3 of the questions. When I realize this, I am excited that they were able to engage in an activity that was filled with joy.
The time just before we fall asleep is one of my favorite moments of the day. I know that this can be a magical time when both girls are willing to open up with me and express what they are thinking or how they are feeling, which they might not do during any other time of the day. Every once and awhile, I have tried to get them to answer the questions over dinner only to be confronted with the comment that the day is not yet complete so I will just have to wait until later in the evening.
Over the years, I have grown to realize that this simple time with my kids is one of the best ways to engage in peaceful parenting as it reminds us what we are thankful for and encourages a dialogue that may not have taken place. I am amazed at all the events that they encounter in a day without me. I trust that they are navigating each experience with grace even when it is not so easy. I know that they will talk to me when needed.
As we move into a season where many families are expressing gratitude, I am reminded of how lovely it is for me and my kids to share our thanksgivings on a nightly basis.
I called my friend, Javaughn in a panic on my way home from work (I started a part-time job as a teacher recently). “I have a post due for APtly Said tomorrow and I have not written anything. What should I write about?”
Then she began talking about her own experience with co-sleeping and how it has made a positive impact on her family’s nighttime parenting routine. Javaughn Renee’s beautiful essay (she is such a gifted writer and artist) illustrates that Attachment Parenting can be adapted to meet individual families’ needs. Take what you like and leave the rest. There is not a checklist, only a core belief that connection and love works to build stronger relationships with children and their parents.
Without further ado — here is Javaughn Renee. She has three beautiful adopted daughters and a multi-racial family.
I let off a ‘holier than thou,’ sigh when I got off the phone with a tired friend practicing Attachment Parenting principles.
“That’s crazy, “ I judged, and promptly placed my three year old in her crib and shut the door. Two years and two more adopted children later, I hear myself saying, “…hold on Meg, I have to put the girls to bed, I’ll call you back.”
This time, “put to bed,” means co-sleep. Co-sleeping became a solution to predictable, yet unpreventable, nighttime screaming matches. I got the idea not from a parent but from the last of a stream of behavior and adoption experts and my own desire to be a peaceful parent.
I never wanted screaming matches, sarcasm, or baths of tears to be part of my parental script. I wanted organic babies, who ate organic food and breastmilk, while I decorated their rooms with leaves, pinecones and non-violent paraphernalia. What I was blessed with, was three super strong-willed, attention-seeking, trauma survivors. These include a five-year-old who will eat a shoe if she believes it is made of sugar, a three-year-old who will sacrifice her body to concrete before she uses her words and a 15-year-old who will silently suffer an ingrown toenail for two weeks but cry buckets if she does not receive an Easter egg with the same amount of candy as her younger siblings.
And me? My locks evolved into a very chicken like hair-do, my natural deodorant left me smelling like an ape and instead of counting my (three) blessings, I fell asleep nightly wondering what did I do wrong. Then I heard about oxytocin, the miracle hormone for my badass kids. A hormone their pre-adoption circumstances deprived them of and a substance I was not nurturing. Though, I discovered, I could.
“When they [children with difficult behaviors] receive attuned and attentive care, children can begin to have a healthy oxytocin response and engage in healthy social and emotional relationships,” says author B. Byron Post.
The book applies what I recognized as (some) Attachment Parenting principles to adoptive parents who’ve turned into screaming zealots. Although, the book does not spell out API principles, Post’s (and others’) parental paradigm suggests that love, not fear will reduce stress and help children and parents regulate their emotions and behaviors.
So, “to hell with it,” I thought. “I’ll try this love, thing. ” Every other expert trick or response was out and sleeping with my kids was in.
It was weird. Then it worked. So far, we’ve generally had months of nighttime peace. Even nights of, even-though-we’re-mad-we’re-still-sleeping-here kind of peace. Soon after, I was homeschooling the Sugarmonster and we became oddly calmer and happily closer. We snuggle for stories and even for discipline. Our three-year-old is trying to talk up a storm and we read devotionals and give kisses to our teen rugby player.
I can’t lie to the readers of this site and have you all believe I never resort to consequences or power struggles– because it happens. Yet, API and other new parenting paradigms will remain a part of my skill set as a parent. All three of my children have to play catch up when it comes to love, nurture, and bonding, and Attachment Parenting will now play a part.
Javaughn Renee is a 43 year old writer and artist currently living in South Bend, Indiana but missing sunny California. She is a nature loving, yoga teaching, parent, striving to live simply and with love. In 2010, she completed a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. Her research focuses on images of African Americans and nature and their effects on stereotypes. She has written for regional and national publications and blogs for other unique families at Mezclados.wordpress.com. Javaughn continues to write, practice yoga and parent while watching her daughters grow to be sensitive and strong.
I don’t know how Bob got the name. Something about Bob wanting to break up with Ben, my son. I said it in jest and it just took. During the times I didn’t want to breastfeed, somewhere between a meltdown and bad day, I would say to myself or maybe even out loud, “Ben — Bob wants to break-up with you.” Some days I will be honest, I hated breastfeeding. I wanted to slip out the back Jack, make a new plan, Stan…” but I continued breastfeeding because I finally got to a place where I trusted my instinct and my choices. I knew that Ben would decide when it was time to end breastfeeding. I dropped the worry. I dropped the internal criticism. I just followed my heart.
I had a hard time with breastfeeding at first. It was awful. Nipple scabs. Bloody nipples. Pain. PAIN. And more pain. I remember being determined to make it work, but it was awful. Those first weeks of breastfeeding were some form of torture. When my son latched on, it was so painful. I felt like my nipples were rocks with the sensitivity of an ocean full of neurotransmitters right to my breasts and nipples.
We got through it. I called La Leche League. I called friends. I called my mom. But I felt like a failure. Nobody had told me it would be this hard. Nobody mentioned my nipples would have scabs and bleed. My husband came home with four different bags of candy on a particularly hard day. In his hands, he held two bags of candy, creams, Soothies (gel like cooling pads you place over your nipples) — and kindness that can not be measured. He was also draped in some sort of patience suit — he had to have been because I was not at my best those early weeks of breastfeeding. He hugged me. He kissed me. He knew this was something he could not empathize with, but he did offer sympathy. I devoured the bags of candy. Then I put on the cream and placed the Soothies over my breasts. I had a sense of relief for about fifteen minutes, until the next time my son wanted to breastfeed.
I did it all wrong. I had no clue what I was doing. I had never heard of Attachment Parenting. The lactation consultant that the hospital sent over to do a check-in at the home made a ten minute stop at my house. I stumbled to the door and managed to say hello. She gave me a hand held breast pump, quickly explained how to use it and sat with me on the couch for five minutes watching me breastfeed. I was desperate for information.
“Is this the right position?” I asked impatiently.
“Yes,” she offered.
“Are you sure?” I was so desperate — so clueless. So hormonal. OK — I was crazy. I hadn’t slept in a week. As they say in the South, I was a hot mess!
“Is this the easiest way to breastfeed?” I asked, hoping to dig an answer out of her.
“Yes,” she offered again, this time checking something off on her clipboard.
“Can you please show me an easier way to breastfeed? I feel like I am doing it wrong.”
“You’re doing it right.”
She showed me the football hold, telling me this may be easier for me. As my son fumbled in my arms, I felt foreign in my own body. I felt clumsy, unsure, and awful.
Why does it feel like I am doing it wrong? Why does it hurt so much? I wanted to ask.
She left my house. I wanted to scream at her, “Get back over here. We’re not done here. In fact we have not even started. Cancel all your appointments — you are mine for the afternoon.” But I said goodbye and she went on to the next home, the next mom, who was probably just as afraid and insecure as I was.
I called La Leache League immediately after she left and was hysterical, gasping into the phone. I think I thought they too were the enemy and asked them a slue of questions, ending each one with, “You guys probably think I am doing it wrong.”
For some reason they were the enemy. My own breasts were the enemy. The nipples scabs were the shrapnel wounds. My own son, the heavy artillery.
So, what did work? How did we get to a happy healthy breastfeeding relationship? I worked at it. I suffered through the pain. I called my friend, Debra — who nursed all her children until they were three. She sat with me while I nursed. She watched me. She assured me I was doing it right. I finally allowed myself to believe her. She was very honest. She told me it would hurt until Ben and I got used to each other. She said it took time. It was something new for the both of us. He was learning how to breastfeed, just as much as I was learning to breastfeed.
I went to a local nursing mothers support group. We sat in a circle with our newborn babies — staring at each other and our babies. I broke the ice by saying, “My boobs feel like they are going to explode.” Then we all exchanged stories, fears, laughter, tears. A good friend of mine who was in my Lamaze class suggested I switch my nursing pillow. I ditched the one I was using and took her suggestion.
During the first few weeks, I used to set the alarm for every three hours, then take my Moses Basket filled with pillows, blankets, my safety pin (to remind me where I had nursed last), and the notebook where I wrote down every detail of how long my son nursed for. The basket held my pillows, the Boppy, and the nipple cream; it held my insecurity. I would slather on the cream, turn on the light to the living room, and arrange my pillows so I could start nursing. It was three AM might I add. And I insisted on turning on the living room light. I was so rigid. I was unable to let myself flow in this breastfeeding relationship. It had to be by the book, but I had no book to follow. I should have read more. I should have practiced. I should have…I should have…kept ringing in my ears. I had never heard of Attachment Parenting. I was determined to do it by the book. I even called a friend to ask her about using a pacifier. “I don’t want him to get nipple confusion.” We had an awkward conversation, filled with frantic questions, but answers seemed so far away. I felt alone and lost.
My friend, Debra, who came over and supported me with her smiles, tender looks, and approving nods, just said simply, “Why don’t you nurse him in your bed? Let’s try it. It is much easier lying down.”
I said, “No way, he is NOT coming into our bed. I might roll over him and crush him.”
She just smiled. I knew she knew something I didn’t. I was so determined to use the football hold and the across my chest hold.
Organically, Ben found his way into our bed and we co-slept as a family. I did not roll over him; I did not crush him. In fact, my husband commented on how protective I was of him when we slept, with my arm arching over him like a rainbow.
The truth is, I had to go back to work when my son was four months old; I was exhausted waking up in the middle of the night. I stopped setting my alarm every three hours and learned to trust the fact he would cry when he needed to be fed. He did. We figured it out. Along the way, I learned to trust my own instincts. I became the gardener in our organic garden of mother and son.
We learned together and found our way.
I told my friend, Debra, that there was no way my son would reference my breast by name. There was no way.
She told me a funny story about her three year old having a temper tantrum over wanting Ninny. Her daughter was eating spaghetti by the handful in her high chair. Messy red clumps of sauce on the floor, on the chair, on her hair. Her daughter called out, “Ninny, Ninny, Ninny. I want Ninny.”
Well, now that my son is two and half, he often would ask for the breast by name. In this case, “Bob.” He would say, “Bob inside. Can I have milk inside Bob?” Bob became his comfort, his nurturer, his friend. We decided that we would stop breastfeeding when Ben was ready. Ben has recently stopped. He sometimes lays his head on my breast, smiling and patting Bob.
This week someone got in touch with me to talk about a new study in the journal Pediatrics, which suggests that there’s no long-term harm associated with certain methods of sleep training. These methods use controlled crying in order to encourage babies to fall asleep on their own. They followed two groups of babies at seven months – one of which used sleep training techniques, and one of which didn’t. They followed up with these groups at six years old, and found no statistical differences. Their emotional health, behavior and sleep problems were the same. As well, the mothers’ levels of depression and anxiety were the same.
Many of the newspaper headlines around this article suggested that this means that sleep training is okay, or recommended. These two methods, when practiced with seven-month-olds, don’t appear to cause brain damage, so why not use them?
I have two children, who are now four and seven years old. The days of being up all night with a baby are currently behind me. I remember them all too well, though. And I remember how I handled them. One of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. I tried to do that, by keeping my babies close to me at night, and responding to their needs. I didn’t do this because I was afraid of causing them brain damage, I did this because it’s what worked best for my family.
The truth is that many, if not most, parents go through periods where they’re not getting enough sleep. We all handle this in different ways. This is as it should be, because every baby is different, and every family is different. Each child will learn to sleep independently on a different timeline. Even with my own two children, I’ve seen very different temperaments and developmental paths. As a result, I don’t believe there’s any single answer when your baby is keeping you up at night, including sleep training.
I also don’t believe that I should do something simply because it isn’t harmful. There are many things that simply aren’t right for my family, even though they’re safe. For example, I have rules about not eating food on the couch. This isn’t because my children will be damaged if they eat on the couch, it’s because I don’t want to clean it. In the same way, I have always known that I didn’t want to let my babies cry themselves to sleep. It’s not about avoiding harm, it’s about making the choice that I feel is best for my family. Listening to my babies cry wasn’t best for me, or my family.
As well, I think it’s important to point out something about this study. It looked at two very specific sleep training methods, used with seven month olds. It did not look at all methods, and it did not look at four month olds or two month olds or even younger babies. We can say that there aren’t any apparent negative long-term effects in this case, but this doesn’t mean that would be the case for any sleep training method with any baby.
There were hard nights as the parent of an infant, but looking back I can honestly say that I’m happy I didn’t let my babies cry it out. It wasn’t for my family. And one study can’t change that.
What methods have you found effective to help everyone in your family get enough sleep, other than using “cry it out”? And do the results of this study change your opinion on the method?
Going back to school after the summer can be a difficult transition for kids.
It can be especially hard for a child who’s entering a full-day kindergarten after being in a part-time preschool program the year before. The first few weeks of school may be especially trying, as it is a new routine and children are getting used to a new environment and new set of rules, but parents can help ease the transition into school.
The school day is a long day for young children and they will likely have many emotional needs when they get home. Kids may come home acting moody or cranky. Often, they’re also tired from the long day or could be hungry. The change in routine is also difficult for some children, and being away from home all day can be stressful.
Many children hold in their emotions all day while at school, so when they get home into an environment that feels like a safe space for them, those emotions tend to come out in full force.
As we work to respond to our children’s needs in a way that strengthens our relationship with them, it’s important to try to be patient and understanding of these emotions and to recognize why children are feeling this way. If these emotions lead to misbehavior, we can stay connected by acknowledging the feelings, connecting with our children, and then setting respectful limits.
Children all have different needs upon returning home from school, and as parents we may have to work to figure out what will best help our own children. Some kids need alone time, some may need plenty of outside time to run around and having fun by riding toddler scooter from Thrill Appeal guide, and others may need a way to relax and decompress.
When my oldest son entered kindergarten 2 years ago, I initially thought that when he came home, he’d just want to play with his toys that he hadn’t had access to all day or that he’d want to be outside practicing on the skateboard we got him from www.myproscooter.com. But all he wanted to do was watch TV. The more I encouraged him to play or planned afterschool trips to the park, the more upset and frustrated he would be that afternoon. It was a struggle for me to understand that he didn’t want to play and that he needed a way to relax.
I had to remind myself that when I come home after a busy outing, I usually just want to relax with a book. Then, I was able to recognize that he’s very much the same way. We eventually figured out several ways to make that happen. I was OK with television being one of those ways, but I didn’t want it to be the only one or our everyday routine.
Practicing Attachment Parenting also makes me aware of my children’s needs for connection and one-on-one time with me. This can be difficult when children are away at school for the majority of their day. By the time they come home, I’m already feeling tired from playing with my younger child throughout the day and I am almost ready to make dinner. However, I’ve had to make a real point to find ways to connect with them and to set aside time where we can play together.
We also have a consistent bedtime routine where I read to my sons and spend time with them in their bedroom before they fall asleep. Some days are certainly easier than others to make this happen, but their behavior, attitudes, and relationship with each other definitely seems to be better when we can make a point to be as attached as possible.
I just used up a bag of flour that I’ve had in my pantry for the past couple of years.
I only had it for the occasional sauce thickening agent, or… uh… why did I have that bag of flour? I guess it’s just one those things that is expected. One must have flour or you cannot consider yourself a member of polite society, or something like that.
The point is, I used almost all of it in the last month.