Reflections of AP fatherhood

By Jim Parker

Mr Parker and LaylaFirst, let me give you a little background on how I was raised, so you will have some idea why I believe Attachment Parenting (AP) has spared my family from another generation of physical and verbal abuse.

It gives me pause to consider the upbringing of this Texas latchkey kid, who was thrust into daily chaos with an absent, alcoholic father, a workaholic mother and an older, controlling sister. Are you getting the picture?

Though my mom was the primary caregiver, she had to work long hours to compensate for my father spending our rent and food money on his bad habits. She was exhausted most of the time, and it seemed my sister and I were more of an inconvenience to her at the end of the day.

In spite of all that, we must have had enough nurturing to instill a sense of right from wrong and to feel compassion for others. Fortunately, neither my sister nor I became career criminals.

Mom was raised with a razor strap and perpetuated her parenting model with us. Somewhere along the way, my sister reluctantly had to take over as primary caregiver. She was only 17 months older than I was and was usually angry and abusive to her little brother, who constantly sought love, attention and validation. As we grew to school age, she ignored me at school and told me she would deny it if I told anyone she was my sister.

That sounds humorous and fairly typical to most of you who have brothers or sisters, but to me it was a kick in the stomach. Had I had some stability at home–with someone–it may not have been so hurtful, but it was just another abandonment issue for me to deal with.

I was a performing musician when I met and fell in love with Lysa, who would eventually co-found Attachment Parenting International (API) with Barbara Nicholson, who together coauthored Attached at the Heart.

Our first son, Jesse, was about 2 years old when I began traveling on the road for long periods of time. He loved coming to the big bus to see where Daddy slept and to say goodbye.

One night, the band was in Fort Worth, Texas, USA, when I called home to say hello. When I told him I was bringing him a surprise, he tearfully exclaimed, “I don’t want a surprise. I want you!” That was the moment when I truly understood the purpose of Attachment Parenting.

Since I had had little interaction with my own father, I was taken aback by his need for me, having blocked the need for my own father out of necessity. It was at that moment when everything in the universe was altered that allowed me to be the father I never had.

Within a year, I was a full-time real estate agent with a good opportunity to start being a father who could be home every day. As the children grew older, I showed property during the day and made it a point to be there when the boys came home from school. I didn’t want them to feel the emptiness that I had experienced, with no one to talk to about their exciting moments of the day.

My propensities to spank and verbally abuse were very strong due to my upbringing. It was a struggle to stop the urge to lash out as we had done in my family. Even today, as an adult, the slightest irritation can sometimes thrust me into “fight or flight” because of how I was treated by my family when I was an innocent, needy child.

I realized what terrible effects this had on me as a child. I understood that verbal and physical abuse is not the way to make a positive impression on a tender psyche. Yet only through my loving wife’s persistence, learning from her work with API and many years of teaching special education, have I been able to work through some of my issues to be a more loving, nurturing father.

I have to admit, I was a little resistant to Attachment Parenting at first, especially when it came to sharing our bed. However, I trusted my wife’s instincts and surrendered. Now I wouldn’t trade a thing for all the wonderful memories we have of our children sleeping with us.

I have seen the results of Attachment Parenting first hand. Attachment Parenting has been critically important in helping me develop strong emotional bonds with my sons. Because of those strong bonds, I learned a more empathic way of disciplining that doesn’t require yelling or hitting.

jim parker and familyAttachment Parenting has made a profound, positive change in me as a father and a person.

It hurts me to watch how some of my clients interact with their children. I try to model respectful behavior to all children, especially those who receive little respect from their parents. I also make a point of talking about Attachment Parenting every chance I get. In some small way, I know I’m making a difference.

Parenting as a Spiritual Path

mother kissing babyRaising children is hard work. It’s deeply trying, physically and emotionally. Many studies have confirmed the drudgery of parenting, finding that the work itself is more tiring than chores or paid work . For those of us who have little ones, whether we care for them all week long or after hours, that’s no mystery.

Parenting is an all-in occupation, with every bit of us being needed for the job, including those parts of us we’d rather forget about. Parenting pushes all of our buttons on purpose. It’s our second chance to dig up and heal all of those old traumas we’ve buried. And depending upon how many kids we have, it’s also our 3rd chance, 4th chance, etc., because with each new character in our brood those feelings emerge as freshly as we experienced them in childhood.

How do you react when you hear your child screaming? It hits you deep down, right? And you’d do anything to make it stop. And that’s by design. By observing how you handle that feeling, and your reaction to your child as they get bigger and push your buttons, we get a unique window into our own childhood, into our parents’ experience, and theirs before them.

We are the inheritors of a unique legacy. All of us come out of childhood with some form of baggage. And we spend an outsize amount of our lives burying it so that we can “function normally.” But normal functioning isn’t dancing on top of a garbage mound and pretending we’re at a beauty pageant. It’s digging down and finding out who we are under all that garbage. It’s allowing and even welcoming all the experiences of life, and all the messy emotions that come with them. And if we have children, we’ve signed up for the messiest of those duties.

Childcare is physically challenging, but as babies turn into children, we find that the emotional challenges feel far more difficult than those early months when our bodies ached from constant carrying and personal hygiene fell low on our priority list.

Parenthood holds up a huge mirror that helps us see our stuffed feelings, our ideas about what’s wrong with us and our beliefs about who it’s acceptable to be in the world. Dealing with that gracefully is difficult on a good day, much less when your charge has smeared peanut butter in your hair and peed on the carpet.

Here are three ideas to get you through:

  1. Laugh! A sense of humor can get you through just about anything. Another benefit is that laughter is healing, in that it lets us release tension and it tells our brain to celebrate. And celebrating is definitely the correct response to useful information that will help you to free your inner child so that you can actually enjoy watching your kid splash in the puddles while wearing her sneakers. Or better yet, join in!
  2. Take notes. I know it’s difficult to find time to journal when you have a kid, but some of us somehow find ways to send texts. So text yourself when you notice a pattern, when you’ve caught a glimpse of yourself (good, bad or ugly) or when you find something you’d like to ponder later. These truths about ourselves are gems, and it’s worth taking a few minutes to jot it down if you can.
  3. Roll with it… Yes it’s difficult. And it’s hysterical. And it’s sad. And every other emotion you can imagine. When we open ourselves to our inner experience, we can be present to what’s happening in this moment with our child, which is all there ever is.
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