An Open Letter to New Mamas

Dear New Mamas,

With so much unsolicited parenting advice in our information era, I encourage you to raise a red flag to advice including any of the following 6 terms:

”Should”

There is no “should” with babies especially regarding breastfeeding, safe cosleeping, and milestones. Ignore anyone telling you what your baby “should” or “should not” be doing, based on age of baby. The easiest way to avoid these types of conversations is to not discuss the topics of lactation, sleep, milestones, and nutrition with family members, friends, and coworkers who may not be aligned with your gentle parenting style. Once you find your groove, a simple response of, “This works great for us,” will hopefully pacify the naysayers.

There are lots of varying parenting styles, and it’s less stressful to not compare your baby with others of similar age and to not discuss those topics listed above openly.

“Habit”

Babies change so frequently that there is not enough time in one consistent state of development for habits to form. If your instinct is telling you to soothe baby in a certain way or to create a safe sleeping environment, you are not forming “bad habits.”

“It works.”

You may come across defensive loved ones advising, “It worked for you,” or well-intentioned friends saying, “It worked for us.” But at what cost? Do your research. For example, the only reason sleep-training “works” is because a baby doesn’t think anyone will come get baby. As another example, putting rice cereal in a bottle adds no nutritional benefits and actually reduces the nutrition baby would otherwise receive from the breastmilk that the rice cereal displaces.

“That’s what the doctor advised.”

Pediatricians receive minimal lactation and nutrition education. Lactation advice should only be taken from a lactation specialist, preferably with the credentials of IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Many insurance companies cover their costs. Important to note, only 40% of US women successfully breastfeed after 4 months postpartum and only 20% after 6 months postpartum. If those statistics are that low, yet most infants see a pediatrician, one could assume pediatric advice is not aiding in successful breastfeeding rates.

Children’s nutrition guidelines and recommendations change frequently and can be skewed by corporate sponsorship. Read labels, and get up-to-date about children’s’ nutrition information. Consider baby-led weaning once baby is starting solids as early as 6 months. MDs are not to be considered experts on parenting style advice. Various methods for baby sleep and nutrition fall under parenting styles and do not require a medical professional’s input.

“Spoiling”

You cannot spoil a baby. Creating a relationship of trust and responsiveness is your role as a mother. Terms like babywearing and Attachment Parenting do not mean you are “spoiling” your baby, but rather creating a safe and secure foundation to set up baby to be an emotionally thriving child adult.

“Good baby”

You will quickly learn the term, “good baby,” is redundant. All babies are good. Unfortunately, Western society associates a “good baby” with one who requires the least amount of caregiver attention. Instead of asking if a baby is “good” when striking up conversation, it’d be more appropriate to ask “What makes baby happy?” And when someone asks if your baby is “good,” try responding with, “We’re having fun.”

Sincerely,

A fellow mom, meandering her own peaceful parenting journey, by surrounding herself with those who get it

You never stop growing up: An interview with Lisa Reagan of Kindred Media

FreeImages.com - agastechegEvery one of us is on a journey through life, and each of us is at a different point on that journey. Some are at the very beginning: expecting their first baby or in the midst of the newborn months. Others, like me, are somewhere in the middle. I have 3 children, the oldest who is 9 years old. I have gone through the newborn and toddler stages 3 times, and I am enjoying the calm of middle childhood. Still others have teenagers or grown children, grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.

Each parent is constantly learning and growing in their role. At any point in our parenting journeys, we can reflect back on our early days as mothers or fathers and glow in the knowledge of how much we have changed since that…first positive pregnancy test…or our oldest child’s birth…or a seemingly endless night of breastfeeding…or our struggle with learning how to do positive discipline…or the first day of school…or our daughter’s first basketball win using her new sneakers we got her online…or our son’s first crush…or our child’s high school graduation…or our daughter’s wedding…or our son’s first child, by the way if you are looking a car for a gift in any of this celebrations you can use this convenient car finder tool if you’re in a hurry.

Did you ever think, before becoming a parent, that you — personally — would change so much by having a child? Before I became a mother, I thought that the basic course of human development went something like this: You are born, you grow and learn, and then you are an adult — a fully developed, done-grown human being.

lisa reaganBut, as API Resource Advisory Council member Lisa Reagan — Executive Editor of Kindred Media and Community and cofounder of Families for Conscious Living — explains in this API interview, we are never done growing and learning. Just as babies and children aim to hit certain milestones in their development, so are parents reaching their own “developmental” milestones.

API: Becoming a parent can be so transformative. How many children do you have, Lisa?

LISA: I just have the one, and he’s 17 now. I was telling some of my friends who would understand what am I saying without any kind of cultural mommy judgment — people who understand attachment and know me — and I said, “You know what? I feel like, it’s over — in a good way, though. I kind of feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, that mommy phase is over, and I have a young man in front of me.'”

[Joseph Chilton] Pearce [author of Magical Child] says you know you’ve done your job when they walk away and don’t look back. And when he [my son] does that to me now as a teenager, I am thrilled. I am, like, great!

I know when you have little ones, it is hard to imagine that this moment will come, but I told some of my friends that, and they said, “You know, you went through your developmental milestones as a mother, too.” So I grew up as well.

API: What a good way to say it.

LISA: And they’re right. Because of following the attachment model, I got my needs met to mother him, and there is nothing hanging on now. I did it. I met my needs to be his mother, and I met his needs, and it’s a completed thing now.

It is kind of a dangerous thing to say in our judgmental culture where people want to bash the heck out of moms for any reason at all, like, “Oh, aren’t I a neurotic clingy mom, especially coming from an attachment background?” The opposite could not be more true.

In fact, as Robin Grille [author of Parenting for a Peaceful World and API teleseminar guest] has shared with me, the helicopter parenting phenomenon is the polar opposite of Attachment Parenting, (AP), which recognizes and respects the child’s developmental needs, not the parent’s need for control and dominance.

I recommend that parents who can’t believe their children are ever going to grow up and leave — and you’re going to be thrilled to watch them fly out of the nest — to read John Breeding’s book Leaving Home. He is dead on right. It is harder for us than it is for them, because their whole job is to grow up and leave, but there is a way for us to meet our own needs in this process because we are growing as well and we are developing. That was a revelation.

API: I love how you say that we, as parents, are growing as well, that we are hitting our own milestones. I think there are so many people — myself included at a point — that think that you grow and then basically you are fully developed, that you are done, and then you become a mother. Really for me and for a lot of AP parents, we figure out that there is a whole lot more to go. That realization is really profound.

LISA: I wasn’t thinking about any of this big picture stuff when I had a child. I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a mom. I loved my baby, and I loved my husband and I was so grateful that I got to delay having a child until I could stay home.

But I, like many parents, began to question and felt there was something not right about a culture that did not support family wellness — going back to what Pearce calls the “bio-cultural conflict,” meaning we are torn between our biological imperatives to make wellness choices for our children, and our cultural imperatives for approval and acceptance.

But when we have context for what is happening within us and around us, when we have some kind of historical context, cultural context, even our own personal context, it is the context — the Big Picture — that can help us to shake off despondency and move toward empowerment and joy. And early on, this is what I saw in myself, a new mother who was unaware that my conscious choices for connection — with myself, my child, my husband, my community and planet — mattered.

Peace coverRead the entire API interview with Lisa Reagan in The Attached Family‘s online “Nurturing Peace” issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*First photo courtesy of FreeImages.com/agastecheg

Attachment Parenting doesn’t make me a perfect parent

Attachment Parenting doesn’t make me a perfect parent. It makes me an involved parent, a loving parent, and well… an attached parent, but certainly not a perfect one.

*****

jillian_amodioIt sneaks up rather quickly. It consumes my thoughts and drags me deeper and deeper into the same vicious cycle. All seems well, and then out of nowhere, it launches an attack on my psyche. It plagues my subconscious mind more than I care to admit. I’m sure it has an effect on the way I parent and the way in which I interact with my children. How can it not?

What is this mysterious thing that infiltrates my parenting and causes me such distress? Guilt.

Guilt over not spending enough time with my children, spending too much time on housework or not spending enough time on housework. Guilt for having a gassy baby. Guilt over not giving as much attention to my husband. Guilt for taking a nap rather than doing something “productive.” Guilt for not working outside the home. Guilt for losing my patience and not being creative enough, fun enough or energetic enough. Guilt for allowing screentime. Guilt for not allowing screentime. Guilt for wanting me time…

Now don’t get me wrong. Overall, I am happy. I adore being a mom. It is my calling, my purpose. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult, and that doesn’t mean that I’ve got it all figured out. More often than not, I’m clueless. I’m learning as I go. But for some reason, learning from my mistakes often results in feelings of failure.

After having my daughter, my first child, I was burdened with more guilt and sadness than I had ever known. There she was lying in my arms barely 24 hours old, and I sat there covering her with tears of guilt. I sobbed, feeling like a failure for having a Caesarean section when she went into fetal distress. I sobbed harder when I found breastfeeding to be one of the most difficult and confusing things I had ever tried to do. I had just begun my journey as a mother, and I already felt like a failure. For months after her birth, I would call my mom crying, telling her that I wasn’t good enough.

I remember almost dropping my daughter the first day I was home alone with her while trying to get the stroller out of the car so we could go on a walk. I sat in the parking lot out front of our townhome and sobbed, clutching her to my chest telling her how sorry I was. A few minutes later a jogger came by and asked what he could do to help. I handed him my phone and said, “Please just call my mom. I can’t do this.”

More often than not, I cried myself to sleep. Once I finally did fall asleep, I would dream of my baby crying or wake up in a panic thinking that something was wrong with her. One night, my eyes popped open and I was drenched in sweat. I kept screaming at my husband that something was wrong. I was convinced that my daughter’s soft spot had caved in. I was inconsolable. He had to grab her out of the bassinet and place her in my arms to get me to believe that she was OK.

This kind of self-doubt continued throughout her infancy — and quite honestly has yet to disappear completely. I was always anxious and worried. What if we get into an accident? Was her car seat fitted right? Did she have the right toys? How early is too early to start music lessons? Was she getting enough milk? Was my diet to blame for her being fussy? Should I supplement with formula? Should I feel guilty about even thinking of supplementing with formula? Was my house quiet enough during her nap? Should I have classical music playing in the background? Am I providing enough stimulation for proper cognitive development? The questions were endless, and I was completely overwhelmed.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but after doing research for a book I was working on, I began to realize that I was most likely suffering from some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

While still anxious and often guilt-laden, those feelings began to decrease in severity as time went on. Then along came our second child, my sweet boy.  This baby is the calm that I desperately needed. He is mild-mannered and snuggly.

Even so, I could feel that same vicious cycle starting again. Even while pregnant, I worried if I would bond with him and adore him the way I adore my daughter. I felt guilty for not being able to focus on each week of gestation with the same intensity I had with my daughter. After he was born, the tears and feelings of guilt and inadequacy began to surface even more. I felt guilty over having a Cesarean section for the second time. I felt guilty about having less time with my daughter. I felt guilty about being tired. And I wanted so desperately to be perfect for both of my children.

This time however, I recognized the warning signs. I read an article written by Birdie Gunyon Meyer with Postpartum Support International. Several things stuck out to me:

  • “Depression and anxiety occur frequently, affecting 1 in 7 women.” I am not alone…
  • Some symptoms of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders include “frequent crying, sleep changes, …feelings of loneliness, sadness, or hopelessness, …anxiety, panic, excessive worry, feeling overwhelmed…” Check, check, check.
  • “If you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms beyond 2 weeks, it’s not just the blues anymore.” It might be time to get help.

It has been more than 2 months since the birth of my son. I am slowly starting to feel like myself again, but this time, I know that these lingering feelings are not normal. They are not founded on any basis of truth. I have opened up to friends and family and have been seeing a counselor. I am learning to be confident in my role as a mother and to not be so hard on myself.

My point in this is, that while being a mom is a great honor and brings me much joy, it’s OK to not be perfect. Seeking perfection is setting myself up for failure.

Above all else, there is no shame in asking for help. Motherhood is hard, and I just want all moms to know that I’m rooting for you. We all need to support each other and let each other know that “Hey, I’ve been there. You’re not alone.”

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders don’t need to be taboo. They need to be talked about. It’s the only way any of us are going to feel better. And when we feel better ourselves, we can better love our children. Happy moms make happy littles, and that’s really all that matters.

If you think you may be experiencing a perinatal or postpartum mood and anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to get help. Postpartum Support International connects mothers and their families with volunteers, support groups and other resources, many of them at no cost.

Expecting your first baby? Talk about parenting now, before baby arrives

1208286_baby_loveHenry and Isabel had been married for 3 years when they found out they were expecting their first child.

They had dated for 4 years in college before getting married, and they were sure that they knew everything about each other. They were very excited about becoming parents and did everything the parenting magazines suggested: attended birth classes, completed registries, attended baby showers, interviewed pediatricians and pored over to-do lists to ensure that their house was ready for their new arrival. Isabel gushed to anyone willing to listen that Henry was going to be the best father in the world and that this baby was going to be the best thing to ever happen to them. You need to make sure everything is prepared in advance before the baby arrives, the baby room, the night monitor, anti-allergic Dapple detergent for baths i.e

In the delivery room, the doctors and nurses raised concerns about Isabel’s desire to birth naturally. Henry was raised by a doctor and learned to always defer to the medical community. So when the doctors recommended a Cesarean section, Henry was ready to get scrubbed and don the surgical attire. Everything happened so fast that Isabel never had a chance to voice her fears and concerns.

Isabel’s mom was waiting for them when they got home and immediately started taking care of her daughter and new granddaughter. Henry wasn’t sure what to do. He seemed to be constantly in the way, what with all the visitors and help they were getting, and he started feeling like a third wheel. He decided he would go back to work since Isabel seemed to have plenty of support. It’s important to have a rattan bassinet Australia for the baby to sleep comfortable.

After the extra help went away, Henry didn’t know what his role should be. Isabel was breastfeeding, the baby slept in their bed, and Isabel seemed to have all the answers. Henry had moved down the hall to the guest room, so he would get enough sleep for work. The baby needed Isabel all the time, so he decided he would just put in more hours at the office, because after all, it was his job to provide for his family. He was a father now.

Isabel, on the other hand, had slipped into postpartum depression. After everyone left, she was isolated because she was too afraid to breastfeed in public and never left the house. All her friends had disappeared, because they didn’t have kids and they didn’t understand why she couldn’t just leave the baby and go out with them. Isabel was angry about her C-section and resented Henry for his willingness to do whatever the doctors suggested. Isabel now described Henry as an uninvolved father whose only interest was advancing his career.

Three months after the baby’s arrival, Isabel and Henry were headed for divorce.

Henry and Isabel fell into parenting patterns as a reaction to their daughter’s birth, because they had not discussed what parenthood would be like and how they would face the challenges. In their 7 years together, they had never shared what they thought a father’s or mother’s role should look like or how they would support one another. They jumped in blind, and the whirlwind and emotional roller coaster of parenting led them down a hole of loneliness, misunderstanding and resentment.

There is never a better time to get to know your partner or spouse on a deeper level than when you are expecting a child. In every family are 2 very separate adults, each with different upbringings, different world views and different experiences. The time and energy you have for intimate conversations now may be missing for years once the baby is born. Before baby comes is the time to really look into Attachment Parenting International‘s First Principle of Parenting — when you can think clearly and begin to look at some of your childhood wounds, identify areas that may be difficult as you raise your own children, share your insights with your partner and become a team as you enter the uncharted waters of parenthood.

Many new parents don’t make the time for these conversations. Like Henry and Isabel, you may get caught up in the minor details of parenthood: where baby will sleep, what stroller to buy, how you will spend time together after baby is born, how you will keep up with your friends. These are what I call “surface conversations,” because they are safe and fun. They are part of the joy of expectant parenthood. But these plans may go awry when baby actually arrives. You cannot predict what this new person will be like and how that will change your plans.

Mommy & Baby babywearing in rockerI remember going crib shopping during my first pregnancy, insisting that we needed a crib, a play yard, a bassinet and fancy strollers. In my head, the baby would be breastfed and rocked, then laid down to fall asleep. I would go for long walks, hand-in-hand with my husband, with our baby in the stroller. Me and my husband also where thinking about signing our baby on after hours daycare because we are going to need to work more hours to maintain our kids.

As it turned out, my daughter would only sleep while nestled in someone’s arms. The crib and play yard quickly became fancy laundry baskets. In order to stay asleep, the baby had to be in someone’s arms, which led to shift sleeping for my husband and me until her system finally calmed enough so that she could sleep when not in motion.

Even though our plans for our daughter to sleep in the bassinet were thrown out the window, our value of always meeting her nighttime needs didn’t change at all. We had decided before she was born that we would always respond to her, that we would never use the cry-it-out method, and that we would stay in the same bed as a couple. Our original picture of how that would play out with cribs and play yards was easily cast to the side to accommodate our larger goals. And as our family has grown and tested us in new ways, we have been able to constantly ask one another for help to achieve our bigger goals, aware of the hurts we are trying to heal in the process and knowing that we are a team working towards a joint goal that we set together.

When the realities of new parenthood set in, you will be thankful you didn’t stop at the surface conversation. You will be glad you kept talking after the discussion about what crib to buy turned into a discussion about how your parents handled sleep and how you felt when you were left alone when you were scared, or how good it feels when you can reach across and hold your husband’s hand when you’ve had a nightmare.

Go under the surface and explore the big goals of parenting and your own emotional wounds from childhood. By having these conversations, you begin to understand where you and your partner are vulnerable, what your likely triggers may be and what kind of support you may need from each other along the way. You can also take time to review current research together, from a variety of sources, about birth, sleep, disciplineinfant daycare and other aspects of parenting you find important. If you take the time while you are expecting to talk about your most important goals and values, then when the big day finally arrives, you will have a joint vision in mind, making the start of parenting much smoother.

Start your parenting conversation today:

  1. What is your favorite childhood memory?
  2. What kind of relationship do you have with your parents and why?
  3. What were the rules in your house when you were little? Which ones are important to you, and which ones do you want to let go?
  4. What emotional wounds do you still carry from your childhood?
  5. When you misbehaved or got into trouble as a child, how did your parents discipline you, and do you think that helped you to change your behavior? What might have worked better?
  6. How did your parents relate to one another when you were around? What do you want to do similarly, and what do you want to do differently?
  7. What are your fears and worries about childbirth and parenting?
  8. What traits do you value in yourself and your spouse? Are there traits you wish you had that you want your children to have?
  9. What are the most important values, behaviors and attitudes you want to bring to parenting?
  10. How has current research and information about parenting changed some of the beliefs you held about parenting and the way you want to parent?

Adding another child…it will get easier, it will get better

kelly shealer 3The biggest struggles I see from mothers in my API Support Group have to do with the addition of a second or third child.

Whether it’s an older child having difficulty adjusting to the new baby, or the mom herself struggling to meet everyone’s needs, our API group meetings frequently come back to this topic and to the guilt surrounding it.

This certainly has been the biggest issue for me. I have three children, all born two years apart, and I’ve learned that meeting the needs of multiple children at the same time is often impossible. Because of that, it can be hard to feel like I’m staying attached enough to each of them.

Some of it is simply trying to figure out how do multiple things at the same time. Like when I’m cooking pasta for my 4-year-old but my baby wants to nurse, and I can’t ignore the boiling water or the hungry baby. Or when my 2-year-old is having a tantrum and needs me to sit with him while he works through his big emotions, but my tired baby needs me to walk with her to help her fall asleep. Or when I’ve finally gotten my baby to sleep and I want to lie down as well, but one of my boys wants me to read to him and the other wants me to play with him.

And with all of that, there are feelings of guilt. To have to prioritize your children’s needs is beyond difficult. Someone is not going to be able to come first. Someone is going to have to wait. Someone is going to have to cry sometimes.

With my first son, I was able to meet all his needs quickly and without any distractions. If he cried, I could pick him up immediately. Now, with my third baby, there are times when she has to wait. Generally her needs are the most important, but sometimes, like when her brothers have collided and one has a bloody mouth, I can’t respond to her first. To have to put your baby’s needs to the side when you believe so strongly in picking up a crying baby is so hard.

After my second son was born, my older son had a hard adjustment and would hit his baby brother. So often I felt guilty for taking time away from him to attend to his brother, especially because I could see how the addition of a new baby was affecting him.

I made an effort to have as much one-on-one time with him as possible, especially by using my baby’s naptime as a special time for my older son and me. I also had to acknowledge that it was no longer going to be the way it once was, but that wasn’t a bad thing.

Around that time, I read about how we often feel like we’re taking something away from our oldest child by adding another child, but in reality, we’re giving them something: a sibling. We’re giving them someone with whom they’ll have a relationship like no other.

And it’s true.

My son who started out hating his little brother is now his best friend, and it’s amazing to watch. Sure, they still fight sometimes and they always will. They are brothers, after all! But they also play together, take care of each other and clearly love each other.

It took at least the first year for things to get easier for us. I try to remind myself of that now that I’m in the same situation with another new baby. I have to keep telling myself: It will get easier. It will get better. Your children know you love them. You are doing great.

Staying attached with more than one

As my husband and I prepare for the arrival of our second child (a boy!) this summer, I find myself thinking about how different it will be compared to when our daughter was born.

With my daughter, we came across Attachment Parenting (AP) as we started exploring different ideas around giving birth and caring for newborns. Many of the AP practices were things we already planned on doing — such as natural birth and extended breastfeeding — and others evolved naturally once we became parents, including cosleeping, babywearing and gentle discipline. This time around, we plan on doing things similarly albeit with much more confidence in our decisions after seeing how well it worked last time.

However, I can’t help but wonder how it will work with more than one.

I think it’s extremely important for the initial bonding that we are physically attached to the baby. This part, I’m not worried about. I practically lived in my wrap with my daughter and don’t expect this time to be any different. I am also a stay-at-home mom, which gives me the freedom to feed on demand and hold off on any set schedule.

The part that I worry about is staying attached with my daughter. I think it’s equally important that our daughter not feel slighted by this new little addition. I want her to continue to feel attached to both mommy and daddy. She will have had almost 2 ½ years of undivided attention and will now be sharing the spotlight, so to speak. We have been prepping her for his arrival for a while now and she seems genuinely excited about being a big sister. She can rattle off a list of things she will be in charge of as the big sister – getting diapers and wipes, singing to him, helping with bath.

What I don’t think she is prepared for is sharing my time. She has always been a pretty independent kid but I wonder if that will change when she is not the only one anymore. How will she react to me breastfeeding the baby all the time? If I’m wearing the baby, will she want to be carried?

I know these concerns are not limited to AP parents, I imagine every parent has similar thoughts before welcoming another child into the family. My hope is that AP gives my husband and I the guidance needed to foster a connected and close family, no matter how large it grows.

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