I kept detailed journal entries in graduate school for an independent study course on motherhood I designed while my son was a baby. It was called, Motherhood: The New Frontier. I picked five books to read, and basically had free reign to write whatever I wanted to about motherhood. Well, to say the least, these journal entries are raw, edgy, hopeful, honest, vulnerable, and loving (and about a dozen more adjectives). These books on my reading list helped me realize I was not alone with my struggles.
My journal entries eventually turned into a book of my own. One of the themes of my motherhood memoir is the fact that I was practicing Attachment Parenting without even knowing it. AP is flexible and you can adapt the 8 principles to fit your family’s needs. People are up in arms about AP and the recent Time magazine cover. I really don’t understand all the hoopla and outrage, but the Mommy Wars are a real thing. I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Motherhood is beautiful, ugly, difficult, easy, complicated, simple, textured, smooth, heart-breaking, heart-pounding, and one of the most complex relationships.
My road to motherhood was not easy; I struggled with infertility, postpartum OCD and intrusive thoughts, postpartum depression, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and anxiety. As they say in the South, I was a hot mess. The thing is, nobody really talks about how hard motherhood is. In fact, it is a taboo subject. I guess it is easier to talk about the joys and blissful moments instead of talking about nipple scabs, cracked nipples, sleep deprivation, and all the other dirty little secrets mothers live through.
My little miracle. Hard to believe something as wonderful as being a mom can be so downright terrifying at times. — Photo by Sara Turner
I remember calling my friend, Debra Elramey in tears saying, “Debi, my boobs hurt.” My milk had just come in. I was not told it would feel like the lower falls of Yellowstone were dammed in my breasts.
I was hunched over the passenger seat of our green Jeep in the parking lot near the super strip mall and my husband was getting me a Subway sandwich. I was trying to be strong, and the baby blues were coming on something fierce. Ben was sleeping peacefully in the car seat, probably a week old. Debi said, in a voice only a good friend can emulate, “Honey, you’re engorged,” she paused while I cried, then said, “You need to get a pump.” I was like, “What is engorged?”
Debi explained the situation and what I needed to do. I got a free hand pump from the city’s lactation consultant that spent ten minutes with me the next day. She said, “Yep, you got this, you’re doing it right,” as if I were some tick mark to check off on a list. I wanted to call her out and say, “Lady, I think you are mistaken — I have no f-ing idea what I am doing! Please sit your a– back down on my couch and please don’t leave.” Instead, I just kept a stiff upper lip until she left and then I cried. My next call was to the La Leche League.
Breastfeeding was hard. My nipples were scabbed, bloody and every time my son latched on, it felt like, well, I can’t remember what it felt like because I was so sleep deprived. I did not prepare for this. In fact, I winged it. I was not aware of attachment parenting and the first principle, Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. I guess I was like a deer in headlights while I was pregnant. It never really sank in that I was going to be a mother until I was a mother.
I eventually got the hang of breastfeeding. In fact, I am still nursing my two and half year old. My support came from women in a nursing mothers’ group that the lactation specialist from the hospital organized. It was great to be around women who were struggling with the challenges of breastfeeding and motherhood.
My friend, Debra, also came over to my house and sat with me as I nursed my son. I kept asking, “Am I doing it right?” She responded, “You’re doing it, so therefore you are doing it right.”
It wasn’t until I allowed myself to follow my instincts and relax that I realized there is no manual to being a mother. I just followed my heart.
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.
Nancy 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
The following is a guest post by our own Camille North, API Links Editor. API Links is a monthly e-newsletter to help keep parents, professionals, and others abreast of the latest news and research in Attachment Parenting and updates of API programs.
Anyone can receive API Links! Click here to subscribe.
Sanity in a Bottle
by Camille North
Have you ever had one of those days when the world seems to be falling down around your ears? When the five-year-old is cutting the three-year-old’s hair down to the scalp in huge chunks, the one-year-old has gone through ten diapers in an hour, the cat has vomited all over the clean laundry, adn the dog has dragged tonight’s thawing chicken out to the backyard? I have.
I remember one day walking up to my husband and shaking him by the shoulders, crying in desperation, “Now I know what insanity truly feels like.” On days like those my husband would walk through the door in the evening, and I would thrust into his arms however many children I was holding, saying, “Here.” Then I would disappear for an hour.
API was in its infancy then, only a year old when my oldest was born, so it took me some time to find them. By the time I did, my children weren’t babies anymore. But I still found the online discussion group as valuable then as I would have when my kids were little.
Even though my children were older, I found that not only was I able to get help, I was also able to offer help, and that was as rewarding as getting help was relieving.
The wisdom, compassion, and acceptance of those moms was like sanity in a bottle.
Some of the moms I met during that chaotic time I still consider to be among my best friends. At the time I knew them only virtually through our local AP online support group, and even now some of them I’ve met in real life only about a dozen times. But they were there when I needed them, and our children have matured together. (And they’re all really cool kids!)
If you’re like me, what you might need is just knowing that there are people out there who understand what you’re going through. Getting together with those moms at an API meeting is something you can look forward to once a month that will be more restful than stressful, more cup-filling than draining.
There you’ll find parents who have the same parenting philosophy, who are going through the same trials as you are, and whose kids are the same ages as yours.
And who knows? Some of them may feel even more scattered than you do. You might even be the person who offers that one frazzled new mom the tiny bit of advice that changes her outlook and will give her respite on those most trying days.
If nothing else, you’ll meet other families, with kids the same ages as yours, and you’ll be able to have intelligent conversations with adults that (gasp!) might not even involve poopy diapers, sore breasts, or colic.
If you feel like you need a little sanity in a bottle, check out API’s support groups. There you’ll find meetings where you can connect with other moms who may need it as much as you do.
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.
The 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!
Open call for AP Month Carnival of Blog Submissions
Blog about your “support team” and join in the AP Month celebration as we round up the secrets of group support! We’ll be showcasing selected blog posts in our Blog Carnival in October so warm up your fingers and let us hear about ways social support (groups) have been beneficial to (or absent from) your parenting – and your sanity! Ideas you might cover (but are not limited to):
ways you regularly rely on, access or wish to gain social support
ways you find social support to be stress reducing
benefits you’ve found from social support
struggles getting regular support
Publish your post to your blog with the following text (including hyperlinks):
Editor’s note: All parents, especially new parents, find themselves on the other end of well-meaning advice that challenges their own instincts or goes against the principles of Attachment Parenting (AP). Cynthia at The Hippie Housewife recently posted about handling criticism – how to have a healthy discussion when you can, when to bow out of these conversations, even signs that you may want to heed the concerns of others.
Once a parent has made the choice to raise their children in an Attachment Parenting manner, they often find themselves the target of a great deal of criticism and anti-attachment advice. Family, friends, and acquaintances are often vocal in sharing their concerns with an attachment-oriented approach to parenting. This criticism can shake a parent’s confidence and leave them wondering if such warnings and advice are valid.
It can be challenging to choose a different path than that of the predominant parenting culture. Fortunately, there are steps the AP parent can take to both reduce the amount of criticism received and reinforce their own convictions on the matter.
Responding to criticism
People are far less likely to jump in and offer advice or criticism if you look like you know exactly what you are doing. There is no need to seek approval, permission, or validation when it comes to your parenting choices. Simply carry on with what needs to be done. Hungry baby? Feed him in whatever manner you choose. Tantruming toddler? Pick her up and find a quiet private place where you can help her regain her composure. No big deal. Just do what needs to be done, and do it with unapologetic confidence. Keep in mind that proceeding calmly is reassuring for the child as well.
Recognize their motives
Most people who offer warnings, advice, and criticism truly have the target parent’s best interests at heart. They sincerely believe what they are saying and authentically want to help. Being aware of these positive motives can take some of the sting out of their words and make it easier for the parent to calmly proceed.
Acknowledge and disengage
With those positive motives in mind, acknowledge the shared advice without feeling the need to engage. In other words, don’t try to change the world; change the subject instead. You are not obligated to enter into a discussion simply because someone shares their advice, criticism, or warnings.
“Thanks for the advice, I’ll keep that in mind!” followed by a change in topic often works to end an unhelpful conversation. Humor can be useful here as well: “Oh, you know how those recommendations are always changing!”You may choose to discuss the reasons behind your parenting choices with other parents who sincerely want to hear what you have to say (even if they ultimately disagree); you may also choose not to engage in a fruitless discussion with someone whose sole motivation is to convince you to change your mind. Smile, nod, and change the subject.
Similarly, “he’s sleeping well!” is a perfectly acceptable answer when a more detailed answer (“he wakes up every three hours to nurse, as expected for his age”) will only invite criticism. Be aware of who you are entering into such a conversation with. It is wise to share your parenting challenges only with those who you know are supportive of an attachment parenting/gentle discipline lifestyle. Just as you wouldn’t discuss homeschooling challenges with someone who was vocally against homeschooling, don’t discuss parenting challenges with those who are vocally critical of an attachment approach to parenting. Don’t invite criticism.
This doesn’t mean you have to pretend everything is perfect. A simple “we’ve had our challenges, but we’re handling them” can be more than sufficient. This form of discretion is simply a wise boundary, not a fake projection of perfection. Use your best judgement to determine when entering into a dialogue with someone will resolve itself peacefully or only create more conflict.
Unfortunately, there are those who will persist in the conversation despite attempts to politely disengage. For those who can’t leave the topic alone, enforce strong boundaries. “I will not discuss this further.” Repeat until they accept that the topic is not open to further discussion. Leave if possible/necessary.
Turn the conversation around
Shift the focus off of you and back to them. This allows them to offer their experiences in a non-confrontational manner. “Interesting! What was it like for you when your baby weaned?”
Lead by example
Actions speak louder than words. Rather than engaging in a discussion, step back and let time demonstrate the fruit of this style of parenting. In the meantime, the same gentle parenting techniques can be used on those who persist in offering criticism: listen to their words, reflect their feelings, acknowledge their underlying motives, and firmly yet gently enforce your boundaries.
Share your reasons and resources
Of course, you may always choose to enter into the discussion rather than politely disengage. When doing so, there are three techniques that can help to make the experience a positive one for both parties:
Empathize:“It sounds to me that your concern is _____. It means a lot to me that you care so much about your niece.”
Educate:“Current recommendations state…” or “If you are interested, I would be happy to share with you some resources that we found helpful when making our decision.”
Express enthusiasm:“I’m really excited that our nursing relationship has continued this long. It’s been a wonderful bonding opportunity for both of us, and it has been an excellent tool in helping us through these turbulent toddler years!”
In addition to knowing how to respond to criticism, it is helpful for the AP parent to have an AP-oriented support network in place as well as an understanding of why they have chosen this path. Both knowledge and support will help to prevent discouragement from taking root.
Build support networks
It can be discouraging to spend time with other parents who are vocally critical of an overall AP approach to child rearing. It can also be difficult to maintain a positive outlook and attachment-oriented focus after spending time with those who parent in a punitive and authoritarian manner. As such, it is helpful for the AP parent to also find supportive families that affirm an AP lifestyle.
While no two families are likely to agree on the details of every parenting matter, connecting with those overall supportive families can leave an AP parent feeling refreshed and re-energized. A supportive network can also provide the parent with additional tools and relevant brainstorming when challenges arise.
For some, that community may be found in person. Attachment Parenting playgroups or La Leche League meetings are good starting places to find these connections. For others, however, depending on the community they live in, that group may exist mainly online during some seasons of their life. While face-to-face support is generally preferable, a solid online AP support network can be an excellent source of resources and encouragement either in addition to or temporarily in place of that in-person community.
Reinforce beliefs through research
Knowledge is another source of affirmation and encouragement. When you are confident that healthy attachment will lead to healthy independence, it matters less when others warn that independence must be forced from the beginning. Scientific resources routinely reaffirm an attachment-oriented approach to child rearing. Spend time reading this research in order to bolster the underlying reasons for your parenting choices.
The more knowledge and tools a parent has, the better equipped they will be to handle challenges and criticism, the more confident they will feel in their choices, and the easier they will be able to say “this is what we do” instead of “that is what we don’t do”. In addition, solid science-based information is useful to have on hand when choosing to enter into a parenting discussion.
Recognize the roots of criticism
Anti-attachment warnings are often both rooted in fear and create fear. Such admonitions may include warnings against responding to a baby’s cries, bed-sharing, full-term nursing, gentle discipline, and more:
“Just leave him to cry. He needs to learn he’s not the center of the world.”
“If you let her into your bed now, you’ll never get her out.”
“He needs to learn to be independent, or he’ll be living in your basement when he’s thirty.”
“That ‘gentle discipline’ stuff will create a monster who always expects to get her way.”
“If he’s old enough to ask for it, he’s too old to have it. You’ll turn him into a pervert if you keep nursing him.”
Recognizing these as fear-based statements can reaffirm the AP parent’s stance. Fear-based parenting is restrictive, reactive, and ultimately not rooted in reality. Because fear focuses on control and prevention, it actually restricts a healthy, age-appropriate independence as the child grows. Conversely, Attachment Parenting focuses on healthy attachment, mutually-trusting relationships, and responding to the needs of the individual child. The security and reassurance provided allows the child to grow into an emotionally security, empathetic, confident, and independent individual.
Give it time
You will see the fruit of your choices in time. As your children grow, it becomes easier to let the comments roll off, and the comments become fewer as others see the results as well. Your own experiences will begin to demonstrate the lack of truth in the earlier anti-attachment warnings and criticism. You can also look to those who have teenagers and adult children raised in an Attachment Parenting manner and see the positive outcomes there as well.
When warnings are valid
We have been focusing on criticism and anti-attachment advice that stems solely from an overarching disagreement with Attachment Parenting or gentle discipline in general. It is always wise, however, to consider when a specific warning may be valid.
While AP affirms balance and being aware of the individual child’s needs, there can be times when a parent becomes so focused on the specifics that they miss the bigger picture. An overemphasis on breastfeeding, for example, can be to the detriment of the infant who authentically needs supplementation in order to prevent failure to thrive. Other parents, as their child grows, may confuse AP with permissiveness. In such cases, concerned family and friends may see, for example, an infant displaying signs of failure to thrive or a preschooler seeking the safety of boundaries and offer valid warnings to the parent.
As with all else, use your best judgement to determine whether the warning has basis in reality or is simply a fear-based reaction against AP in general. The following questions may be helpful in making this judgement:
“Is my child healthy and thriving?”
“Is my child generally happy?”
“Is there a concern I have been ignoring because I don’t want to or don’t know how to handle it?”
“Has my child entered a new stage where an adjustment is needed to a particular aspect of my parenting?”
You know your child best. If none of these questions are a concern, the warning is mostly likely a general warning against AP/GD rather than a valid warning about your child’s health, development, or safety.
The parent who chooses an Attachment Parenting method of child-rearing is often the target of much criticism, warnings, and anti-attachment advice. While such criticism may initially shake a parent’s confidence, there are steps the parent can take both to respond in a positive manner and to strengthen their own resolve on the subject.
To reduce the likelihood of receiving unwanted advice, project confidence while unapologetically doing what needs to be done. Lead by example; in the meantime, be discerning when it comes to discussing parenting challenges. When criticism or advice is offered, there is no obligation to enter into the discussion. To avoid engaging, acknowledge the advice and change the subject or shift the focus back to the other party by asking them about their experiences. Gently but firmly enforce boundaries when polite attempts to disengage are ignored. When choosing to enter into a parenting discussion, empathize, educate, and express contentment with the choices you have made.
To strengthen resolve, build a supportive network of like-minded families. While it is preferential to have this support in-person, online support networks can be an excellent supplement or temporary replacement. Support networks are sources of information, encouragement, and relevant brainstorming when challenges arise. Knowledge is another source of affirmation and encouragement for the AP parent, allowing them to better handle criticism, tackle parenting challenges, and share science-based information. Finally, recognizing the fear-based roots of criticism and how that differs from Attachment Parenting can further strengthen the parent’s resolve.
While most of the warnings and criticism received will stem from a misunderstanding of and disagreement with Attachment Parenting, it is wise for the parent to be aware of times when the warnings offered may be valid. This requires both a willingness to acknowledge areas of weakness and a thorough understanding of the child in question.
Ultimately, time and experience will demonstrate the lack of truth in anti-attachment warnings. In the meantime, maintain positive responses, strengthen foundational knowledge, and continue to build strong networks of supportive families.
This article was originally published at The Hippie Housewife and is being posted here with permission by Cynthia.
Editor’s note: Handling criticism is a topic frequently discussed at Attachment Parenting International Support Groups. To share ideas with parents going through the same thing you are, find a group in your area.