29 May 2008

What is Attachment Parenting? A Long Musing by Sarah.

Mainly, in my opinion, it's an attitude. This is how it goes.

I trust that my children will learn and grow, and that I don't need to make them do that or hurry them in any way. I believe that the ideal from the child's point of view is non-severance, and that in time they seek independance with such single-minded determination it's impossible to make them co-sleep, breastfeed, be carried, any longer than they want. I respect my children as individuals and expect that in time as they grow they will respect me in turn. I also feel strongly that they are spiritual whole beings who can't be saved by anything I do or don't do - and that although I can keep them safe and lead by example I can't be responsible for their later choices.

I believe that the immediate goal of my parenting is to protect them from the mistakes they can't afford to make and allow them to make the mistakes they need to make - and to live alongside them, a real, everyday, wonderful, full life. In fact the *overall* goal of my parenting is that *I* should grow in maturity - developing gentleness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control - as I believe that this alone will produce adults who strive alonside me for the same.

Hmm, that's what I think MY parenting is. I'm not sure I'm answering the big questions though.
Attachment Parenting is... An attitude towards children from pre-birth onwards that says, they can be trusted to grow up. It is demonstrated and, um, lived out in a striving to listen to what children really want and balance giving everyone in the family what they need. Not all parents who feel like this carry out the same specific actions to care for their children. All families are different and although babies TEND to need the same immediate things all parents have different capacities to meet their needs and a different intuitive sense of right and wrong, partly from the pressures of society and their own upbringing.

I've come up with some arbitrary categories of AP family, to explain some of the differences in how people practice this type of parenting and how they feel about it.

The first set are the Pragmatic AP. They ask, if babies naturally behave like this, what's the best way for me to react to survive it? They are more likely to come to AP as an adaptation to a high-needs baby. The Pragmatic parent understands the need for balance and doesn't lose their own needs as easily, they tend to be very good on compromise. They may become more adversarial with older toddlers, or find themselves "going with the flow" and carrying on something they really don't like because they are focussed on getting through something rather than on building something positive with the co-operation of their child.

The next set are the Instinctive AP. They can't imagine any other way of doing things and are generally very in tune with their feelings about their children. They may be very respectful and trusting of their child and find it easier to settle to having a needy period, but can get burnt out or confused when they come to a situation where they want differently from their baby. They are possibly more at risk of becoming permissive. They can also assume that what is obvious to them is obvious to everybody.

The last set are the Moralist AP. They look for the "right" action and set high expectations for themselves to live up to. They have clear ideas about what they want to do and why, but may be hardest on themselves. They may have come to AP from either of the first two perspectives but CARRY ON because they feel morally obliged to. This may lead them to study and really care about the decisions they make, or it may lead them to become a parent who can't make a decision contrary to the AP ideals. They can also be hardest on other parents, expecting everyone to take the same care and thought about their own every decision.

My feeling is that everyone fits into all three in one way or another. Anyhow, just a diversion I suppose - into the world of trying to piece together other people's motivations. :)

What's in a name? I'm talking about the labels that I, for right or wrong, attach to my parenting.
Here's one - GENTLE discipline. OK so in my mind it's just discipline - but when other people hear the word "discipline" they tend to also hear "regimented parental control" or "punishment and tellings-off". So the gentle bit gets added, to define it in terms of what it is not. With the net result that when anyone asks me about how we discipline, as soon as I mention the word "gentle", they turn off. Gentle sounds like I'm a pushover. It sounds like there are no rules, or even to some people's ears like I am somehow a naturally sweet and gentle person with sacharine children.

What about "proactive discipline"? - nah, sounds like another way of saying I make them good and scared so they don't put a foot out of line. "Respectful discipline" - New Agey or, worse, like I ask them to collaborate in setting punishments etc. I don't LIKE defining what I do in terms of what it isn't, but I'm so often ASKED to define what I do. It's one of those things that goes along with having people listen to you, like the paranoia that other people see my kids and think that my Method has Failed to produce such whiney agressive disobedient brats. I don't think anyone thinks that, by the way, but the thought goes through my head any time a child makes a noise during a parenting class, peer counselling session, etc... I think I'll stick with Gentle for now.

As for Attachment Parenting... Again, it sounds so wishy washy and nice! It doesn't sound like a decision I made but rather one that I didn't, I dare not Detach, I dare not reclaim my freedom and my old life (hmm OK so that last bit isn't so bad I guess). It sounds, as I'm sick of hearing from all quarters, claustrophobic. But it isn't ABOUT the attachment, or at least, it isn't ALL about it. It's about seeing Myself and each Child as seperate but together, all deserving of respect and consideration. It's about struggling to put them first when they need to be put first, and compromise, and being firm about my own boundaries and rights. It's about respectful living and the ideals I hold re caring for babies and children.

A moment on the 8 ideals - the accepted definition of Attachment Parenting.

Believing in, for want of a better phrase, the 8 ideals doesn't mean that you manage to do them all - all of the time or even at all. It means that generally someone who considers themselves an AP *thinks that those things are the ideal*.

Whether or not I breastfeed, I accept that breastfeeding on demand is the biological need and anything else is a substitute that can't measure up - even if the something else was necessary and even lifesaving. (On demand, another phrase that suggests something very different to what actually happens!)

Whether or not gentle discipline works for me today and I keep my temper etc, I accept that hitting and shouting and blackmail and bribery (on whatever small scale) aren't the best things in the long term. Can you believe that not nursing to schedule is wrong and yet still be AP? I suppose it depends whether you have a baby who asks more frequently than allowed, and whether you really can't respond sooner for whatever personal reasons. Can you believe that it's right to punish and still be an AP? Well who sets out to punish only in order to make their child suffer (that *would* be un-AP)? I think it's possible to do almost anything and still have your heart in the right place.

Because it isn't about missing the mark or aiming for perfection or trying to BE something according to the rules. It's about the relationship and the balance in it. Which is why the last of the 8 ideals *is* Balance. It may override the other ideals for your family. It may dictate whether or not they even are the ideal for you (although they're still probably the ideal for your baby). I've said this before - selfish doesn't always mean wrong. It means that you have weighed things up and chosen what suits you over what suits the baby. In that case we're ALL selfish sometimes.

It is time to say, "OK I'm doing my best and I'm going to find better compromises in future, I'm trying to put someone else's needs ahead of mine a lot of the time - because children do NEED - but right now I'm choosing something for me. We'll get through it and if any harm results I'm here to do my best to make it better." Or something like that.

Why do I still call what I do AP?

It suggests that I hold similar ideals to those 8 even if I don't actually practically DO them all exactly like any other family. No label is going to cover everyone exactly no matter how good the phrase is - I align my goals and actions more closely with some parents that don't think they are AP than some that do! But mainly, other people who think similar things about parenting will be able to find me and me them. I can make friends with people with whom I can have a conversation about birth and EVEN IF we had very different births we probably have a similar attitude. I can have a conversation about my 18 month old driving me mad with nipple twiddling behaviour and talk about how to solve it WITHOUT any suggesting that I smack her when she does it and without anyone being grossed out that I still nurse her.

The other benefit of the label is like this... It isn't that labelling it gives me a sense of doing something eatra special that needs a special name so that I can feel smug. It isn't so that finding others similar to me gives me an exclusive club where we can point and laugh at people who do things differently (the AP community will usually happily answer any questions someone has about co-sleeping or, well, anything else really - even if the questionner doesn't think AP is for them). It is really rather the opposite of those things. It's a place to hide!

When I call myself AP I'm not saying, "I'm different and therefore better!" I'm actually saying something more like, "I'm not the only one who thinks like this! I'm not alone!" I know the debate still rages about whether any particular group of parents experiences lesser or greater ammounts of opposition, but the fact is that all of us at some point have felt alone in our choices. It is also fairly self-evident in my opinion that AP is the minority viewpoint (look on the shelves of ANY bookstore and count the adversarial parenting books vs the co-operative ones). I'm a wimp! I'll admit it. I find it very hard to stand alone and say that I have made a decision all on my own that has no relationship with the decisions anyone else made. Asides from being brave, it's untrue.

The decisions I make don't *rely* on what someone else thinks is right or wrong, but they do rely on the experiences and insights of others. It relies, not on what someone in a book said, but on the information I can glean from a whole community of people living out their lives and wanting the same thing I do (our children to grow into moral, confident, thoughful, healthy adults). That actually means that sometimes I go to a much wider group than just the AP community. Sometimes I want advice specific to an aspect of AP that may just cause too much debate elsewhere. Sometimes I read research, whatever I can get my hands on. At the end of the day these are MY choices, but they aren't actually made in a vacuum.

Perhaps I'm saying that I share the credit, and the blame, and that's how the world should be.

I'm not an Island.

Why does it matter whether I'm AP or not? Well I don't think the name that I call it matters one bit. Or the label that anyone else chooses to give their own life. What matters to me is where my heart is. I find that for me, to stop thinking of myself as an AP would be fairly hard because I need to be part of a community in which I'm not the odd one out. The actual heart of it though, I can't change no matter what name I call it. I do believe that the attitude is the right attitude (pragmatically, instinctively and morally).

Before I totally bore anyone still reading by now, my last point. AP does NOT raise the perfect child. There isn't a formula for that I'm afraid. It does free you and your child to enjoy your relationship and respect each other as people, but as to the actual nitty gritty day-to-day stuff, the heart is only part of the whole puzzle of growing as a parent. Nobody has all the answers - except, maybe, you yourself. At least for your own child - with the support and wisdom of other parents to help guide you.

Having written so much it really is a shame it doesn't make more coherant sense... Um, I hope it helps someone!

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