Fifteen years ago, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day. I was 25, a few years out of college and into my journalism career, and in my fifth month of pregnancy with my oldest daughter.
While parenting was a future goal, this pregnancy came a few years earlier than I was planning. Neither my husband nor I had given any thought about our parenting approach, or even that there were different approaches to raising a child. I figured it would come instinctively.
Oh, it came alright…about three months early. My daughter was born about a month after Mother’s Day 2006, and I was unceremoniously propelled into full-on motherhood without a clue of what to do when.
Today, my oldest daughter is a month shy of her 15th birthday. Her sister is 13, her brother is 9, and her angel sister has been in our hearts for three years. I have been a mother for 15 years. My children have grown leaps and bounds physically and in maturity, but more so have I.
API served as my foundation for learning how to be a mother, and motherhood served as my foundation for learning how to be the kind of person I always wanted to be.
I am a firm believer that women are meant to “grow up” as mothers at the same time that they are guiding their children to grow up as people. I know that I, at 40, am a long way from my 25-year-old self and feel that I owe most of my personal transformation to the life lessons learned through motherhood…with API as my own guide.
I’m excited to be back as Editor of API, to help parents by highlighting research-backed ideas as we nurture our children and youth for a more compassionate world. Check back often to API’s blog to get inspiration and support on your own parenting journey.
On occasion, we see a post circulating the Web about the cash-value of stay-at-home parents if they were paid the going rate for their hours “on the clock” and for the multiple, often-simultaneous roles they play, from “facilities manager” and “counselor” to “janitor” and “teacher.” According to one such post at Salary.com, the average stay-at-home parent is worth an annual salary of nearly $113,000.
These types of analyses are meant to raise awareness of all that stay-at-home parents do, but they can also undermine the value of parental presence by underlining the fact that being at home doesn’t pay — well, not in terms of a paycheck.
But what Salary.com and other articles completely miss out on when bringing to light the worth of parental presence is that a parent’s choice to balance working outside the home with prioritizing the child’s attachment needs — which very much includes presence — is not so much a choice in lifestyle as it is critical to a child’s healthy development.
The parents who choose creative — sometimes career-sacrificing — options to be able to stay at home longer with their baby, or children, are not making that choice lightly. They know and understand their child’s needs, the consequences of their choices and the alternatives, in every sense.
Whether working outside the home or not, these parents understand that a parent’s presence is not a privilege for that child — it’s a necessity.
Attachment is that important.
Parents who make the choice to stay at home with their baby longer — choosing not to work, flex time, part-time, from a home office, working opposite shifts of their partner, bringing their baby to work with them, changing jobs or even careers, and so many other possibilities — need support.
They need encouragement to continue with their personal goals of providing parental presence. They need validation of how hard their choices were and of the challenges they’ve encountered because of it — perhaps financially, but likely more socially as it can be difficult to find others who can relate. They need people who’ve been there, done that — and came out the other side for the better.
And we thank all of the partners and sponsors who — with Attachment Parenting International — are working every day to support parents who put their child’s attachment needs, their need for parental presence, as priority:
Just about every mother suffers from it, but there is no cure. It seems no matter how much we give, how hard we try, in our own minds it isn’t enough.
Some days I feel like a do a pretty good job of balancing my career, my family and myself. But other days, it feels like I’m falling desperately behind and failing on all three counts.
As a society, I often get the impression that we are slipping behind. That families have less and less time to spend together. It used to be that Sundays were sacred family time, and now some people work Sundays while others use it to get chores done. It used to be that mom was waiting at home with freshly baked cookies when the kids hopped off the school bus, and now kids are in after-school care programs while waiting for Mommy or Daddy to finish the work day and hurry off to collect the kids. But according to an article in the Washington Post, maybe we’re not doing as badly as we think:
In 1965, mothers spent 10.2 hours a week tending primarily to their children — feeding them, reading with them or playing games, for example — according to the study’s analysis of detailed time diaries kept by thousands of Americans. That number dipped in the 1970s and 1980s, rose in the 1990s and now is higher than ever, at nearly 14.1 hours a week.
So if we are spending more time than ever with our kids, why do we still feel so unbalanced? Why do we all feel like we’re not doing enough with our kids — or at work, or for ourselves?
I think part of it is that society tells us we need to achieve balance. We need to spend quality time with our kids. We need to get recognized and promoted at work. We need to be perfect wives. And we need to carve out time for ourselves. If we fail on any of those fronts, the guilt starts again.
I haven’t found a perfect solution, but I’ve learned a few things along the way that make it easier, that make me feel like I’m progressing in finding that balance and in particular in being more present for my kids, which is the most important element of the balance for me:
Finding a new job — When my son was born, I decided that I couldn’t let someone else set my priorities any more. So I started my own business, where I get to decide how to balance my family and my clients, I decide how much work to take on and I decide when enough is enough.
Taking advantage of the time we do have — There are things that are part of our daily routine where I could shut my kids out, but where possible, I try to bring them in. My son likes to help me bake and cook, so I try to get him involved in meal preparation. It helps him learn how to get around a kitchen and also gives us some extra special time together. I drive my son to school each day and pick him up, a total of about an hour in the car together each day. We have developed a repertoire of games and conversations that we have, and I really cherish this time. Instead of leaving my daughter at home with my husband while I do the grocery shopping, I take her with me and talk to her as we go through the aisles. Sometimes it makes these tasks take a little longer and makes it more hectic, but I think it is worth it in the end.
Cosleeping — I have heard so many working parents complain about how little time they have with their kids during the week. Some parents arrive home from work at 6 p.m. and have their little ones in bed by 7 p.m. We do manage to sneak in more than an hour of time together in the evenings. Usually I end up having close to three hours with my kids at home before bedtime. But being together doesn’t end there. I share a bed with one or the other of my kids every night. I find this time to be an essential way of staying close, even when we can’t spend as much waking time together as we would like. As I sit here and type, my daughter is sleeping on a boppy pillow on my lap.
Planning dates with my kids — I try to set aside some special dates with my kids. Sometimes my husband brings my daughter in to meet me for lunch. Every once in a while my son and I go out for an early dinner after school before going home. On weekends, I try to carve off half days to go out and do special activities like a walk or a visit to a museum with one or both of the kids. In the summer, I take Mondays off and often spend the day out and about with one kid or the other, going to the park, stopping at a cafe for a snack, visiting the bookstore, having an ice cream, etc. When we just stay home and hang out, we do get some time together but that is often combined with doing the laundry, checking e-mail, cooking meals, cleaning up and all the other things that get in the way of focusing on each other, and we definitely have no time for this and want to do other activities like going out, we better get the Cleaning Services Edmonton to help us with chores and have more time for other activities.
Reading, reading and reading some more — Reading is a way of sharing stories and ideas. Reading promotes literacy. Reading lets parents and children bond and gives them a stepping off point to discuss feelings and topics of importance, to develop hobbies, to laugh together. We read to our kids every day and even when everything else is falling apart, I try to keep this as a constant. We have books everywhere in the house. We have books in the car. We have books in the diaper bag. Anywhere we go, we have books.
Accepting less than perfect in other areas of life — I’m lucky to have a husband that helps out a lot around the house. He is a stay-at-home dad and he has also taken on a lot of the household chores. But among the chores that we share or that I do, I’ve accepted that I don’t need to be perfect all of the time. Sometimes I get my daughter and I dressed all week out of an unfolded and unsorted hamper of clean clothes. Often I pay the bills once per month, rather than paying them as they arrive or paying them at the “best” time as per due dates and interest rates. I started out making my own baby food, but then gave up and went for store-bought instead. My hair looks better when blow dried, but except on the coldest winter days or the most special events, I leave the house with wet hair.
Striving for balance over time, not every day — I work really hard at some times of the year, often working several hours at night after the kids are in bed, but I also take almost two months of vacation each year that I spend exclusively with my kids. Sometimes I take a night to go out with friends, but at other times if my kids need me, I may have to put social activities on hold. Some weekends I need to work, and sometimes I take a long weekend so that I can focus on family. If I try to achieve perfect balance each day, I will fail. But if I let things work themselves out over time, I may have a fighting chance.
All that to say that I don’t have the cure for mommy guilt. Not even close. But I’ve discovered a few tricks that help me give my kids more presence within the constraints of our ever busy lives. What tricks have you discovered to spend more quality time with your kids while maintaining your career?
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.
Around the world, parents love their babies. They do what they think is best to keep them safe, to nurture them, and to help them grow into exceptional human beings. In many Western countries, attachment parenting is being celebrated as a positive choice that parents can make, while in may traditional cultures it is what they’ve been practicing all along.
In September, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Bangladesh with Save the Children Canada to visit their health and nutrition and education programs. While the main goal of the trip was to understand the needs of children in those countries and have the opportunity to observe the positive results that Save the Children’s programs are having, I found it fascinating to be able to observe similarities and differences in parenting styles and choices.
Although I didn’t have the opportunity to spend enough time with families there to get an in-depth understanding of their parenting styles, there were some observations I was able to make as it relates to some of the principles of attachment parenting.
Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting: A lot of remote communities in Bangladesh haven’t had access to health workers or authoritative health information to help women in the community to prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting. Women have given birth at home, on dirt floors, without a trained birth assistant present. Through Save the Children Canada’s programs, communities are able to found birth centres that act as a central point to care for midwives to care for mothers throughout their pregnancy, birth and postpartum period. The health workers there visit mothers at home during their pregnancies to check in on them and educate them. These communities have also established community action groups and engaged community volunteers to help identify health problems that mothers and babies are facing and to find ways to address those through education and care in their communities.
Feed with love and respect: According to the WHO Global Data Bank on Infant and Young Child Feeding, 98% of babies in Bangladesh are breastfed and the average age of weaning is 33 months. Dig even deeper and you’ll see that 95% of one year olds are still being breastfed as are 91% of two year olds. I was incredibly impressed with these statistics. The idea of a mother being unable to breastfeed is foreign to them because it is so rare that significant breastfeeding problems occur. Breastfeeding is a part of their culture and formula is something that is unnecessary and unaffordable for most. Breastfeeding on cue is the norm in Bangladesh and if anything mothers there need to be taught about the importance of introducing solids at the right time instead of relying on just breast milk to meet the baby’s nutritional needs for too long.
Use Nurturing Touch: One of the ways that women around the world keep their babies close to them is through babywearing. Many traditional cultures have types of wraps or carriers that they use and a lot of those have been adapted and adopted in Western cultures. I was curious to see how the moms carried their babies in Bangladesh and was surprised to find out that they don’t use carriers at all. It isn’t that they were using strollers (they weren’t) or that the babies weren’t being held (they were). But whenever I saw babies they were being carried on a mom’s hip or sitting on a mom’s lap. When I asked why no carriers, I was told that it just isn’t part of their culture and that there are always enough hands around (grandmothers, aunts, friends, etc.) that when the mother needs to put the baby down to do something, someone else can hold the baby. That made a lot of sense to me within a home or community environment, but I have to admit I was tired just watching some of these moms walk along long paths or roads with a large baby on their hip supported by their arm.
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: Cribs? What cribs? In all of the homes that we visited in Bangladesh, it was a given that the mom would sleep with the baby. In fact, most homes had only one or two rooms and the whole family slept together in one bed. Educational materials around breastfeeding always picture the mom lying in bed with the baby to nurse at night.
Provide Consistent and Loving Care: In most families and in the Bangladeshi culture, it seems as though consistent and loving care is the norm. Babies are kept close and as they get older, they are given more independence and responsibility, but families remain very close with everyone living in one small space and often working together in the family business. Unfortunately, for some families, that isn’t the reality. If they cannot afford to feed all of their children, they may send some of them away to work as servants (child domestic workers) in another family’s home, often far away. Those children may be sent away as young as six years old, will have no regular contact with their families back in their village, and are often mistreated and abused by the families they are working for.
Overall, from what I saw in Bangladesh, the principles of attachment parenting are very much a part of their culture. They are very community-minded and the village steps in to help raise children in a nurturing environment, helping them to overcome some of the challenges to attachment parenting that are created by the isolation of the nuclear family in Western cultures. The challenges they face are due to the dire economic circumstances that sometimes prevent them from being able to parent in the way that they would like, creating a lot of heartbreak for families and having dire consequences for children.
The good news though is that the work that non-profit organizations like Save the Children are doing in Bangladesh is having exceptional results. The programs are designed in a way that fits with the local culture and that is sustainable, so that communities can take control of their own health, education and destiny.
Annie has been blogging about the art and science of parenting on the PhD in Parenting Blog since May 2008. She is a social, political and consumer advocate on issues of importance to parents, women and children. She uses her blog as a platform to create awareness and to advocate for change, calling out the government, corporations, media and sometimes other bloggers for positions, policies and actions that threaten the rights and well-being of parents and their children
While I wade through a (wonderfully lucky) year of maternity leave with my two small children, I’ve found myself occasionally deluged with the continual motion of the world around me. Nothing has stopped since my son was born in January – friends and family members and groups f which I am a part are having parties and weekends away and all manner of events that, while they sound amazingly fun, just do not work for me. I have a 3.5-year-old. I have an 8-month-old. My days are spent driving to preschool, doing laundry, prepping dinner, soothing boo-boos, mitigating tantrums, singling lullabies. My evenings are spent nursing and rocking and collapsing into bed. So I’ve found myself saying this a lot lately: “Maybe next year.”
Parenting, obviously, involves many choices. Lots of those choices inevitably mean sacrifice or compromise on the part of the parent. Now, on the one hand, I firmly believe that part of being an effective and loving parent is meeting my own needs in addition to those of my children – whether that be a monthly pedicure, book club, La Leche League meeting, whatever. But the plain fact is: if those things that I want interfere with my #1 job, that of parent, I need to consider back-burnering them for a bit.
I didn’t come to this place glibly or quickly. With my first child, that sometimes suffocating intensity of single-child mothering pushed me into occasional frustration over my lack of freedom. But now with my second child, for some reason, I find much more peace in simply doing what my baby needs of me. For my son, at least right now, that means me being with him for frequent nursing and cuddling from his bedtime at about 7 pm until 10 or 11, during which time he is restless and wakeful and just needs me nearby to settle in for some deep sleep later at night. Yes, it pretty much limits my evening activities to reading Kindle books on my iPhone in the dark. But this time around it’s a lot easier for me to know that it’s just for now. It will change. So all those things I might like to do? They just don’t make sense for my family right now. To put it in perspective…
Things I am Missing This Year:
Maya Angelou speaking at a local university.
Concerts by some of my favorite bands that hardly ever come to my area.
Margarita-soaked evenings with girlfriends.
Dinner-and-a-movie dates with my husband. Well, any evening date with my husband, really.
Things I am NOT Missing:
Reading Goodnight Moon to my little boy while he tries to eat the pages.
Singing him to sleep in my arms with Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” as we walk around in the dark.
Snuggling with my daughter and husband after the baby is asleep, listening to her “read” Dr. Seuss’ “What Was I Scared Of” in her expressive, lispy little girl voice.
A rare few quiet moments after both kids are asleep and my husband and I can actually have a conversation, where, instead of talking about politics or the latest new release, we inevitably talk about how amazing it is to us that our daughter can recite entire books, or how cute our son is when he tucks his lower lip in and hums like he’s talking to us.
Concerts and speakers and date nights and girls’ evenings out will still be there next year or the year after that. But my children will only be this little once, and as each month slips all too quickly between my fingers, I am sure that I am exactly where I need to be. Next year my kids will need me a teeny bit less. And the year after that, even less. And less and less until they will have whole lives, whole personal dramas playing out beyond my knowledge, whole days and weeks and years where I am not the center of their existence. I am so needed right now – more than I will ever be again – and that knowledge makes it easier to turn down those invitations. With any luck I will have years to do those things, but this little boy asleep with his soft fuzzy head on my chest will be grown before I know it, and I’m sure it is this I will want to remember.
The 2012 AP Month Blog Event is here! Every Tuesday, we will select blogs to feature that best demonstrate this month’s theme, “Relax, Relate, Rejuvenate: Renewed with Parent Support.” Make sure to leave a comment and let us know what you do to Relax, Relate and Rejuvenate!
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
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.
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.
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’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.