Parenting in Public

When I was expecting my first child I committed to attachment parenting. I wanted to meet my child’s needs in the way that felt right to me. The past four and a half years with my daughter Hannah and then my son Jacob have confirmed my commitment to my principles. I believe it has strengthened our relationship and helped my kids to feel safe and nurtured. I’m satisfied with my parenting approach.

I will admit, however, that there are certain situations where my resolve is tested. Almost invariably, those situations arise in public settings. It is in public where I can feel the judgment of strangers and the disapproving glances. It is in public that my kids seem to become tense and unruly. It is in public where I feel a heightened fear for my child’s safety as we deal with parking lots and crowded shopping centers. It is as if all of my parenting buttons are pressed when we’re out in the view of others.

Running in the libraryI have found myself heavily pregnant, running after my 3-year-old as she bolted away from me in a busy parking lot, and it was not a good time. I have stood beside a screaming toddler or bounced a crying baby in the bank line-up and felt all eyes on me. I have nursed my 2-year-old in the mall food court and felt concerned about what other people would think. As much as I am committed to attachment parenting, I admit that some part of me does care about the opinions of others. I’m not terribly proud of it, but it’s the truth.

So, how have I handled my fears? How have I let go of my need for approval, my desire to please, so that I can get on with the business of parenting?

A few things have helped me with public parenting. I’ve reminded myself that I will never see these people again, especially in situations where that is the truth. I’ve allowed myself to accept help when it is offered, whether that means holding my things while I run after my child or helping me get my groceries to the car. I have found like-minded mothers who provide me with support and insight. And I’ve gained more parenting experience with each passing day, which has increased my own confidence.

Jacob thoughtfully eating a cookie

The thing that has helped me most of all, though, is viewing my public actions as my own contribution towards establishing a positive parenting culture. You never know who will be see when you’re out in public, and the positive effect it might have. Breastfeeding your toddler, wearing your baby, or handling your two-year-old’s outburst gently may set an example for someone else. It may bolster another parent’s own confidence or resolve or help someone to consider something they hadn’t before. And along the way, the world just may become a more welcoming place for all children and parents.

You can catch up with Amber’s regular musings on life and parenting on her blog at

Not My Best Day

A couple of weeks ago, I woke on a Thursday morning with a scratchy throat and some tightness in my chest. From there, it was destined to be the sort of day that starts poorly and goes steadily downhill.

On that day, I was not a good AP mom. I was not a good any kind of mom.

I had ten quiet moments to myself to make my bed and feed my cat before both kids were awake and bouncing off the walls.

On a usual day, I like to get up, shower and dress before my children wake up, and on a really good day, I’ve also eaten something and spent some time on the Internet. Being dressed and ready to go, even if it’s in my gym clothes, helps me to handle their early morning energy more easily.

Only on this day, here were both kids awake and raring to go, and I was still groggy and unshowered, not to mention not feeling well.

Three beverage spills, two tantrums and one time out later, I decided we had to get out of the house and head to the pool. I asked the kids to please start picking up their toys so we could get ready to go, and my son immediately bopped his sister on the head and earned himself another time out. Right after that, my daughter informed me, “No. I’m not going to do it.” And I lost it. As I went stomping into the living room to tell my stubborn daughter that she needed to take off her slippers and start putting her dolls away NOW, I leaned over to scoop up a loose toy and….it happened. One of those freak things. A tiny stray piece of wood that was on the floor was suddenly and painfully jammed up under my fingernail, all the way to the cuticle. It felt like fire. I couldn’t get it out on my own, so I placed a hysterical phone call to my husband, then shaking and crying, bundled both kids into the car and drove to the nearest urgent care center.

In the waiting room, I was short with my kids. While waiting for a nurse to bring me an ice pack, my son told me that he wanted to sit in his sister’s chair and she wouldn’t move. It’s difficult to feel sympathy over a silly sibling squabble when you’re fighting back tears of pain, your finger is swollen to the size of a sausage and your entire hand is throbbing. “Figure it out on your own,” I snapped. “There are eight other empty chairs, pick one and sit in it.”

It continued in the exam room. As I played the guilt game with my kids–the pool would have been more fun, right? So next time do what I say and pick up your toys–a little voice in my head was saying, “Stop talking to your kids that way.” I was not feeling loving and I was not being respectful.

Eventually, the doctor showed up, numbed my finger and cut off part of my fingernail to remove the stick. In the absence of pain, I started to feel some remorse for my behavior that day. Having had some time to reflect on it, I came to the following conclusions. Please understand that I am not trying to make excuses for my behavior; rather, I’d like to identify the reasons my day was so horrible so I can avoid them in the future.

**My morning routine was thrown off. I am a creature of habit, and even one tiny thing throwing off my expectations for my day can send me into a tailspin. I can work on this by being more flexible and looking more closely at my priorities. Is it really the end of the world if the carpet doesn’t get vacuumed?

**I was under the weather. Everything in life, except maybe sleeping, is harder when you don’t feel well. I need to give myself a break. Our shining parenting moments rarely happen in the middle of an Urgent Care center while suffering from acute pain and distress.

**Both kids were overtired. A tired child is a cranky child, and both of mine had not slept well the night before and rose earlier than usual. I need to cut them a little slack too.

**My older child is in a phase where he questions everything and tests every limit. My younger child is feeding off of him and establishing her own independence. The younger one is also old enough to have the communication skills to fight with her brother. This is probably the biggest one. I already know that I have a temper, and an easy way to make it flare is for someone to purposely and willfully ignore my instructions. In addition, I have a very low tolerance for sibling rivalry. Listening to an argument over something as absurd as whose socks are whiter makes my blood pressure go up and my good sense drain away. I need to focus on the fact that, despite what it sometimes feels like, my kids don’t bicker with each other to make me crazy, they’re just being normal siblings. Putting them in charge of their own relationship has helped somewhat. They know that if they can’t come to a mutual conclusion on their own and need me to mediate, there will be consequences, and they usually don’t like them. I just need to find a way to tune out the racket while they figure it out.

Out of my terrible day came a good lesson for all of us.

For me, it’s easy to be a great mom when the kids are behaving and everyone is healthy and well rested and the day is going as planned. It’s not so easy when a person is sick or tired or has a tree limb jammed under her fingernail.

For my kids, they saw that even moms have bad days and they learned that there are consequences for their behavior. (In this case, not picking up the toys caused mom to turn into a crazy crying woman who made everyone go to the doctor for impromptu surgery.) And when we talked about it later, they realized that it’s okay to have a bad day–as long as you apologize to all those you were nasty to at the end of it.

How about you? What are your triggers and how do you make up for a bad day?

Conversation as a Discipline Technique

Conversation About a Very Special Quilt!
Conversation About a Very Special Quilt!

As a child, I was raised in a “children should be seen and not heard” culture, and most of the talking was of the lecture sort, made by a parent, after I’d made my mistake. I was often not permitted to have input.  It is very difficult to know what’s expected of you if you’ve never been told.  I often felt frustrated and invalidated and it left me socially awkward and uncomfortable and more likely to make further mistakes.

As part of leaving this paradigm behind, embracing attachment parenting, and knowing that children understand things long before they can speak, it was important to me to start conversing with my children immediately and I likely appeared pretty odd as I explained to a newborn why I was buying a particular brand of Canadian grown mushrooms.
Continue reading “Conversation as a Discipline Technique”

Striving Toward Controlled Chaos

Striving Toward Controlled Chaos
By Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family

I am naturally a very high-strung perfectionist with a short fuse. A bad combination for relationships of any sort. After seven years of marriage, my husband would now describe me as much more mellow than when he first met me. I can walk through a kitchen with dishes that haven’t been washed for three days, a table covered in an odd assortment of items with a small surface cleared off to allow for a family dinner, and a mine field of kids toys without batting my eye once. I can now look past many of the messes that come with a busy family with young children, especially the messes that come with a laidback husband who just doesn’t care if things aren’t perfectly in order and the messes that come with two toddlers. I just strive toward “controlled chaos” – that is, things don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough.

It is through attachment parenting, specifically the approach advocated through Attachment Parenting International, that I have found a way to control my natural tendencies to demand too much from everyone around me including myself and then punish them when they don’t meet my expectations. I credit Attachment Parenting International not only for creating a truly joyful family atmosphere in my home but also for finally giving me peace and especially for saving my marriage.
Continue reading “Striving Toward Controlled Chaos”

No “No”

While I was doing my grocery shopping the other day with Sweet Pea snuggled on my chest in the wrap, I passed another momma with a child who was probably about three.  When we first crossed paths, she was telling him, “No, you can’t have cookies.”  When he pushed the issue, she said, “There’s cookies at home!”  Our families ran into each other (once literally, since my cart had a broken wheel) about four times over the next hour as we stocked up on yummy things to eat.  Three out of those four times, she was telling her son “no” about something.

My intention isn’t to criticize her parenting, or the use of the word “no” in general.  She was using it to set boundaries, some of which were specifically to keep her son safe (“No, you can’t ride on the side of the cart.”).  It did reinforce for me, though, how important I think it is to not overuse the word “no.” Continue reading “No “No””

Power No-Struggles

Right on schedule, around his second birthday, my son began practicing the word No. I read that kids use no as a way to individuate and to experiment with their personal power. The more attached they are, the more they need to individuate. Well, we were mighty attached because he started saying No frequently. I wasn’t used to our having such different agendas. If I ever felt myself getting frustrated or impatient, I would play Yes No. He would say, “No” and I would shake my head while also saying “No.” Then I would say, “Yes” and nod vigorously. We’d go back and forth until we were distracted from our original difference of opinion and were just playing a game.

Now, we play Yes No without ever having had a conflict to begin with. Cavanaugh looks at me and starts shaking his head. I shake mine. He starts nodding. I nod too. It’s fun, looking into each others’ eyes to watch for a direction shift, mimicking each other and taking turns leading the nod/shake action. Cavanaugh often initiates the game on days when we’ve been busy with activities and haven’t had a lot of alone quiet time with each other. It allows us to reconnect and having Yes No in reserve for those times when I feel us getting into a power struggle is a nice tool too.

Besides Yes No, we play variations of Kisses. A couple of months ago, Cavanaugh started refusing my kisses or I would give him a kiss and he’d wipe it off his cheek, “No kisses, Mama.” It turned out the kisses weren’t actually a problem for him; he liked getting them. He was just experimenting with body boundaries and whether he could say Stop or Go and have me follow his lead. So, I’d stop kissing his cheek and then he’d say, “More” and I’d kiss him some more. He giggled liked crazy and our original game has turned into Kiss Variations. Eskimo kisses with nose rubs turned to cheeks against each other, or chins. All of it accomplishes the same goal though: much fun and laughter, a lot of nurturing touch, and Cavanaugh getting to set boundaries and experiment with his personal power.

At an age when I was led to believe we’d be fighting or I’d be trying to hide my embarrassment during a two-year-olds tantrum at the store, both of us are experimenting with setting limits. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with the power struggles that inevitably come up between parents and toddlers?

Sonya Feher is a writer and mama living in Austin, Texas. She blogs at .

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