The Power of Connection – Guest Post by Nancy Massotto

This year’s Attachment Parenting Month theme is “Relax, Relate, Rejuvenate: Renewed with Parent Support.” We are delighted to kick off AP Month with a guest post about the importance of support by Nancy Massotto, Founder and Director of Holistic Moms Network.

 

We live in a virtual world.  We connect online, spend hours in front of screens, and “friend” people we hardly know.  But deep inside, intuitively, and especially as parents, we know in our hearts that in-person, face-to-face connection matters.  We know it for our children and carry them, wear them, share sleep with them.  But we seem to be forgetting that in real connection is just as important for adults.  In real life connection and community matter holistically – for physical health, emotional wellness, stress reduction, and spiritual growth.

Yes, in recent years, we have seen a remarkable decline in the social and civic engagement of Americans. Over the past 25 years there has been a 58% drop in attendance to club or group meetings, a 43% decline in family dinners, and a 35% reduction in simply having friends over. Oh, sure, we’re busy. We have other things to do. So what’s the big deal? The problem is that a decline in connection reduces “social capital” or the collective value of our social networks which help build trust and cooperation. A reduction in social capital has been linked to decreased worker productivity, rising rates of depression, higher rates of crime, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and child abuse. Social capital is also what makes governments more accountable and responsive to their populace. And, on an individual level, a lack of social capital leads not only to loneliness, but also to a lack of trust among people and an unwillingness to help others. In 1960 55% of American adults believed that others could or should be trusted most of the time while by 1998, only 30% agreed. “By virtually every measure, today’s Americans are more disconnected from one another and from the institutions of civic life than at any time since statistics have been kept. Whether as family members, neighbors, friends, or citizens, we are tuning out,” argues the researchers of the Better Together Report.

Reconnecting through social groups by being part of community, serving on a town committee, organizing a neighborhood block party, supporting local businesses and farms, or singing in a choir can help rebuild our social capital, reaping benefits on individual, group, and national levels (click here for more ideas on building social capital). Being part of supportive parenting group is another way to help recreate community and play an active role in strengthening not only social capital, but your own personal health and well-being. It matters for all of us and for the sustainability of future generations!  In fact, joining a community group could actually cut your risk of dying next year in half.   According to political scientist and author Robert Putnam, being part of a social network has a significant impact on your health. “Joining a group boosts your life expectancy as much as quitting smoking” according to the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America published by Harvard University.

One of the biggest challenges – and frustrations – that we have at organizations such as Attachment Parenting International and at the Holistic Moms Network is that we believe in the power of building community. We understand how valuable community is, not only in crisis, but every single day. We recognize the power of connection, the energy behind being supported, and the difference that we can make collectively. We believe that communities are what make our culture successful – and that apathy and a lack of participation is what destroys it. And we see far too much of the latter. Online communities don’t cut it. Facebook friends can’t help you care for a sick child, run an errand for you, or give you a shoulder to cry on. Virtual forums can’t give you a hug, watch your kids while you clean up a mess, or cook you a hot meal in your time of need.

Real people can. Real communities can. And some of our proudest moments come during these times. Whether in illness or injury, or a life-changing event like having a new baby, real life communities rise up to support their members. Members encourage each other through the rough times – the sleepless nights, the breastfeeding challenges, the teen rebellions.

Overcoming apathy is an uphill battle. Constantly encouraging people to participate, to get involved, and to be active is not always easy. We are so insular in our daily lives that we forget how wonderful it is to have that group connection – not only when a crisis hits, but even in the good times. A simple conversation, a shared experience, or a helping hand can make the difference.  I encourage you to be part of it, in real life, in real time, every day.  Find the time, create the opportunity, and be part of a community.  Feed your soul, help another, and make a difference.  It’s up to you.  If we all stop participating, we have no one but ourselves to blame when the communities we depend upon no longer exist.

 

holistic moms networkNancy Massotto is the Founder and Executive Director of the Holistic Moms Network and mother to two boys. She founded the Holistic Moms Network to meet other parents who shared her passions for living healthy and living sustainably, and to help raise awareness about natural living options

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.

Enough with the ‘mom enough’ stuff…Can we just talk?

There’s little more demoralizing than being told what we’re doing is wrong, or that there’s a better way, or worse – that we’re in some way harming or damaging our children. We take it very personally, especially when the criticism centers around our parenting.

That’s why the TIME cover and tagline, “Are You Mom Enough” exploded over the media as it did. Their job was to get attention and ultimately sell copies. Unfortunately, to do so, they resorted to playing on mothers’ emotions and spotlighting the negative, competitive vibe around a conversation that should be supportive, encouraging and helpful.

pathways magazine fall 2012The Fall 2012 issue of Pathways magazine features the cover mom herself, Jamie Lynne Grumet, sharing her thoughts and clearing the air about the TIME cover photo and the media storm surrounding it all. Grumet tells Pathways, “I think the hate that comes from some mothers is from defensiveness and that they believe what we are saying is that what they do is less or they are hurting their child, which is totally untrue. There are so many ways to parent.”

It’s not just TIME. It happens all too often. Some parenting practice is framed as an us vs. them, a red team against the blue team, a this-way-wins-over-that-way or this-group-is-better-than-that-group issue. Then we, as parents, end up divided.

Sadly, when this is the arena we’re given, we’re left with little choice. We either risk getting into a debate, or we stay hush-hush about how we parent. Parenting becomes one of those off-limits topics, like religion and politics. We don’t want to offend anyone, fuel the mommy wars, or create guilt. As a result, we miss out on conversations that inform us, ease our fears and give us new ideas or perspectives.

It’s a shame, because we want to reach out, to get support. To give support. Instead, we miss out on the kinds of discussions that benefit our children.

We can’t control what the big media outlets will do. All we can do is try to create an environment for healthy conversation within our own circles. When you find yourself discussing parenting, here are some things to keep in mind to keep it friendly and supportive:

Remember, the AP principles are adaptable. For example, “feed with love and respect” applies to parents who breastfeed as well as parents who bottle-nurse. “Respond with sensitivity” is about as non-specific as it gets and applies to all kinds of interactions. Each of the principles is written very broadly and can be adapted to every family situation.

We never know the whole story. So we can’t possibly judge without all of the details.

We all make mistakes and are doing our best. We all want what is best for our kids and we’re working with what we’ve got. Nobody can be faulted for that.

Change the subject if you must. Some people just want to be right. And that’s okay. When the conversation takes a turn toward competitiveness and winning or losing, and that uncomfortable feeling sets in, it may be time to move to another topic.

Respond with sensitivity (sound familiar?). Always assume the other person’s feelings are easily hurt. This is advice my husband and I were given right before we got married, and it applies well here. If you assume the other person is sensitive, you won’t say anything wrong.

Want to open up a discussion with other parents who share your goals? API Support Groups provide a nice, level playing field that encourages helpful discussion and avoids judgment and competition. Find a support group in your area.

Also, coming soon: Jamie Lynne Grumet and her family will be featured in the next issue of The Attached Family!

Toddlers at War: Sibling Rivalry

“My eldest daughter stalks the younger one, trips her up, hits her, bites her, takes her toys, scratches and pushes her. Yesterday she put a pillow on her sister’s face and every time I jump to intervene, she tries to be nasty on a daily basis. Only my intervention or having them separately will prevent actual injuries,” my friend complained to me recently. Her daughters are two and one years old.

I, myself, have two boys under three, and scratching, biting, hitting and spitting are part of our daily routine at the moment. At times it gets so bad that I can’t even turn away my head; leaving the room was simply life-threatening for the baby.

Whose Fault Is It?

I wondered if we as parents could do something to stop the rivalry or even if it is our fault that our kids don’t feel loved enough. May be it is our behavior that sets the jealousy off and promotes rivalry among our children?

“No, absolutely not! Parents take too much on,” assured me Dr. Jane Nelsen, the founder of the Positive Discipline program, when I phoned her up. “You can’t control a child’s perceptions or what a child decides or what a child believes because two children can see the same event and make different decisions. So, that’s why we can’t take all the credit or blame.”

Parents can’t stop the rivalry from happening but they can do a lot to minimize its impact. “First of all when parents agree on how to parent, that creates an atmosphere of cooperation and energy. And when parents have opposite opinions, which they most of the time have, that increases the rivalry.”

Jane came up with a great example on how to handle rivalry in toddlers. At first I found it somewhat counterintuitive. “Let’s say a toddler takes a toy away from his younger sibling – what do most mothers do?”

“Well, they punish the older one, the aggressor,” I mumble, puzzled about what would be wrong with that approach.

“Exactly. So what you are doing when you swoop in and protect the younger and punish the older child? You are increasing sibling rivalry because you are doing bully-victim training. You are teaching the older one to be a bully by punishing him. So then he learns – oh I can punish someone who’s smaller than me and they are training the younger one to be a victim. That smart little guy or girl is going to learn so quickly: Oh the way to feel special around here, all I need to do is to annoy the older one so that mummy and daddy won’t see it and so they will always think it’s the others fault.”

Dr. Nelsen continued, “what helps a lot in improving behavior is when the older sees that they are both treated the same. It’s hard to do, I’m not saying it’s easy to do but it’s so important to do if we possibly can.”

The Importance of Siblings Rivalry

“I think that sibling rivalry is important,” Dr. Nelsen continues. “I don’t think we should try to eliminate all of it. But I think it is detrimental if parents are always jumping in and taking sides. Then it has long lasting negative effect on children’s’ relationship. If a parent intervenes to take the side of one and not the other, then that’s not a good socialization. But if they say, ‘I’ll take this toy until you guys can figure out a way to share or you can go to separate areas until you are ready to try it again,’ that’s great socialization.”

To finish our conversation, Jane gave me a great rule of thumb for the toddler years and beyond.

“Treat your kids the same. It is like you talk to both of them even if the youngest one can’t understand. They understand the energy. They understand the actions, even if they don’t understand the words”.

 

Own Two Hands

By Deanna Spangler, API Leader in Roseville, California

 

So life in my house is busy with three girls ages 7, 5, and 2.  Not only am I a stay-at-home mom but I started homeschooling my oldest this year.  Busy doing the same tasks grossly repetitively I clean, teach, change diapers, laundry, errands – we all have our own version of the grind.

At the library the other day Melany picked a CD off the shelf of the library, I brought it home to find the audio CD from the cartoon movie Curious George of all things.  I can’t stop playing it.  Most of the songs are really great but the one in particular I heard while driving and thinking.  Sappy it may be, but it is one of those songs that stopped me and the noise in my head and spoke to my soul in a way that it made me be totally present.

“With My Own Two Hands” is about changing the world and making it a better place to live (yes, touchy-feely, I know).  But, for me, it is about doing divine work here on earth.  Doing what I can with my hands, my body, my heart to help, give, and to love and teach.  It is my obligation to teach my kids to do the same.  Making the world a better place for all is a great goal but is an idealistic, removed way of saying we will fulfill our obligation to each other.  But, at that moment I realized practically, realistically what does it mean? How do I REALLY change the world with MY OWN two hands?

 

 

The answer is to do all you can to produce quality humans in the world.  In other words, do exactly what you are already doing, being the best parent possible.  It doesn’t mean being perfect or being everything to everybody.  It means being present when your little one looks at you.  You are changing the world in your house and in your communities, in your states, in this world.  You do this all while you make a house a home and make family dinners.  By dropping all your plans and caretaking your little one that needs to see a doctor, or by folding the 8th load of the laundry for the day. You change the world for better when you cancel meetings to make it to the soccer games after school.

As parents we are responsible for SO much.  We attend to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our kids but let’s not forget ALL the other things like instilling magic, role modeling, striving for balance, grinding out daily rituals, keeping up holiday traditions, juggling vacations, teaching finances, and the importance of voting…the list is endless.  But all this work of molding these small humans does not get noticed with paychecks or praise but with moments that reflect what quality human beings they are turning out to be.  These small moments are you prize for changing the world.

Congratulations!

Life-long Attachment Parenting

There will be another day and another chance to get it right.

When I was a little girl, I hated my father as much as I could. He was the most unloving, torturing, awful person in the whole wide world, and so was my self-talk 30 years ago.

At the same time, I adored my mother. She was the center of my universe. She was warm, caring, loving but strict; a strong woman who profoundly formed my idea of a perfect woman I wanted to be.

As time passed and my rebellious teen years came down on us – my relationship with both parents changed dramatically.

Now, in my very late thirties, I have to admit that my father became my very good friend and my relationship to my mum turned somewhat sour.

A few years ago I’ve asked my dad how being a parent felt for him when I was very young. He confessed that he felt lost; he didn’t know what to do with a young child. Between the lines I could hear that he was bored and frustrated. There was nothing he could have shared with a “baby-me” that was of interested to him.

My mum, on the other hand, enjoyed her role as a perfect mother. I was her world and she was mine.

As children grow, their needs of emotional and physical intensity of their relationship to parents evolve. None of my parents have changed their parenting style or attitude over the time. But I, as a child and as an adult, have changed. My needs are now met by my somewhat distant and overly-intellectual father much better than by my overbearing mother.

There is a lesson for me to learn here: even if you didn’t start on the right foot you still will get a chance to get it right and to enjoy a deep, loving relationship with your children.

Nowadays, somewhat wiser and more in control of my emotions, I work to re-build my loving relationship with my mum. I know there is a chance. There is always a chance to build it up again. The beauty of close relationships is that we can start over and over again. The beauty is in the endless possibilities to get it right if we so wish.

Attachment is not something that happens to newborns and toddlers – attachment is something that we all take care of throughout our lives. We are attached to our children; our children are attached to each other and to their parents, grandparents and nannies, preschool teachers and best friends.

If one of these many relationships stops working there will be a multitude of others to pick up and heal the broken pieces. Long after we are gone our children will have siblings, friends and spouses to feel connected to.

And so, every time I plague myself with my next “guilty mama” thought I remind myself that there will be another day and another chance to get it right. I remind myself that my children need many relationships that work and that as long as they have someone they love and trust they will be fine, just fine!

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?

Normalizing Extended Breastfeeding

The Momosphere is all atwitter over Time Magazine’s cover story: “Are You Mom Enough?” From its “shocking” cover photo to its provocative title, it’s obvious Time was shooting for “mommy war” controversy (something I work hard to stay away from).

If I shy away from controversy, why would I ever agree to the possibility of being on the cover of Time? Because I want to normalize breastfeeding past infancy. Extended does not equal extreme.

People have said that my son (and moreso Jaime’s son, who is on the cover) will be upset or embarrassed someday by this article. But that is the attitude we are trying to change – we do not want the sight of an older nursling to cause a stir ten years from now. By agreeing to be a part of this photo shoot, we wanted to create opportunities for conversation and education about how normal and natural it is to nurture our little ones by nursing past infancy. We want our children to never bat an eye at the sight of a mother breastfeeding past infancy.

So how can one photo stir up such controversy and negativity? And why would any mother choose to nurse for longer than a year?

The Decision to Breastfeed – For Three Months or Three Years – Is Culturally Influenced

Western culture tends to focus on the sexual aspect of the female breast much more than on its biological role of breastfeeding, despite the fact that we are mammals. The word “mammal” is derived from mammary glands. Mammary glands are those amazing parts of our breasts, the primary purpose of which is to feed our young. So while we often hear about nursing moms being asked to leave or cover up, you rarely hear about petitions to have Victoria Secret ads removed from evening television or city billboards. Go figure, eh?

In addition to our culture’s fascination with breasts as sexual objects, breastfeeding is also “modified by a wide variety of [cultural] beliefs, not only about infant health and nutrition, but also about the nature of human infancy and the proper relationships between mother and child, and between mother and father1.”

That must explain many of the objections I’ve read whenever there is an article about nursing past infancy. There are vague complaints about it being “too sexual.” That it encourages children to be overly dependent on mothers. That it is somehow at odds with a child’s development (ever heard the one about children old enough to “ask” should not be nursing?).

Nursing older children, however, is not a new thing. Not only is there evidence that mothers have nursed past toddlerhood throughout human history (and have been recommended to by physicians!), but cultures around the world continue to nurse to three years or beyond today2. If nursing past infancy were a harmful practice, the human race would not have flourished so.

And so while the “median age of weaning throughout the world is between ages three and five[,]” here in North America we are weaning our children when they are far younger.

Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy Benefits Children and Mothers

The biologically normal benefits of breastfeeding do not magically disappear once a baby turns a year old. Breastmilk still provides nutrition that is far superior to cow milk. It contains an abundance of antibodies. “In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process3.”
Think about it like this:

Suppose you have an oil well in your back yard. Like all oil wells, its yield is highest in the first year. You get a check for $100,000 dollars. Great! So now do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for only $10,000. Do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for $1,000. Do you cap the well? The next year you get a check for $100. Do you cap the well? [The] point [is], the well will *always* yield a benefit. . .

Breastfeeding works something like that. Its nutritional and immunological importance wanes over time. But there’s never, never a time when it’s not a good food or a good source of antinfectives. And, of course, this analogy doesn’t address the emotional value, the place breastfeeding has in the mother-child relationship4.

For the record, the American Academy of Family Physicians has said: “As recommended by the WHO, breastfeeding should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is not the cultural norm in the United States and requires ongoing support and encouragement. It has been estimated that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years.

So this idea of a mother breastfeeding her three or four year old as unnatural? It’s incorrect.

Breastfeeding can continue to be a normal, healthy part of your relationship with your child into toddlerhood and beyond. It has been one reason that my son counts my embrace as the most secure, loving place he knows. (He told me!)

Did you breastfeed past infancy? Why or why not?

References, and for more information

1. Jen Davis, <a href=”http://www.lalecheleague.org/nb/nbsepoct07p196.html”>Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: exploring benefits, cultural influences, and more</a> quoting Dettwyler, K.A. “A Time to Wean” in Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995.

2. For more on these studies, check out Breastfeeding Beyond a Year and the studies cited therein (along with the reference to physicians recommending extended breastfeeding), A Natural Age of Weaning by Kathryn Dettwyler, Natural Weaning by Norma Jane Bumgarner, and ChildInfo.org.

3. Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citing Goldman AS. et al., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During Weaning, Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman, A., Goldblum R.M., Garza C., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During the Second Year of Lactation, Acta Paediatr Scand 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Hamosh M, Dewey, Garza C, et al: Nutrition During Lactation. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 133-140)] The longer you breastfeed, the less risk you have of developing breast cancer, endometrial cancer, or ovarian cancer.[6. See Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet and citations therein, and 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child and citations therein.

4. Nursing Past a Year at The Compleat Mother

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