Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beyond Attachment

When I was pregnant for the first time, I threw myself into preparing for motherhood. I researched gentle parenting techniques. Kyle and I prepared to rearrange our lives to accommodate and nurture our baby twins in the most loving way possible. I couldn't wait to change their tiny cloth diapers. I couldn't wait to snuggle them close to me in the Moby wrap. I felt peaceful in the idea that attachment parenting would provide us with the right tools to gently nurture our little family.

When the boys were born seven weeks early and whisked off to the NICU, our plans for the early days with our babies changed dramatically. Instead of taking a quiet few weeks together at home to bond, the boys were kept in plastic isolettes amidst the constantly chiming monitors. When I was discharged three days after my Cesarean, I was told to go home and visit the boys during the day, rather than staying with them in their room as I desperately wanted. Weak and overwhelmed, I agreed. I was petrified for my tiny babies alone in their fancy plastic bins. How would this time impact our bond?

Somehow, as time went on, in the blur of postpartum depression and sleep deprivation, I began to think of those first few weeks as my first transgression against attachment parenting. Every AP article I read talked about the shoulds and should nots. I should always respond to my babies' cries. Did they do that at 3 AM in the NICU? I should not allow my baby to spend hours a day laying alone in a plastic bin. Nothing addressed things not going according to plan. In whatever big or small way, I felt I had failed.

Fast forward several months. I persevered with attachment parenting, trying my best to live up to what were beginning to feel, at times, like pretty exacting standards. As time wore on, that early NICU experience started to feel like the first of many stumbling departures from AP. At nine months, there was sleep training - a desperate and heartbreaking solution to my extreme sleep deprivation from getting up to nurse the boys every two hours at night. Skip ahead a few more months. At some point I yelled for the first time. At some point, I swore. At some point, I tried time outs. In my head, all I could hear was "failure!" "Failure!" "Failure!"

Here's the thing. I think attachment parenting offers some wonderful tools. I believe the world would be a better place if more people adopted its principals. However.

I AM AN IMPERFECT HUMAN BEING. I am not always entirely zen. I am emotional, sensitive, and quick to react to my environment. No matter how hard I try, I can never be true to myself AND fit my circular body into a square shaped box. But it goes further than that, too.

I'm concerned about the ominously missing coverage of "what if" situations in AP literature. No parent is perfect all of the time. I'm wary of any parenting advice that quickly and harshly judges those who chose other paths, and I can't help but feel horrified by every AP article I've ever read that warns of the brain damage! and antisocial behaviors! suffered by non AP children.

As a feminist, I'm left feeling icky about the implications of AP on women. AP is child centered, but I'm not sure that it's family balanced. In college, I spent my senior year completing a capstone project on women and self-help culture. My overwhelming conclusion was that our society's plethora of self-help books and television, largely aimed at women, lead to the message that we're somehow not good enough as we are. Forget that we're all supposed to look like super models. We're also not centered enough on the inside. At some point, AP advice has started to feel the same way to me.  I need to be more patient. I need to do a better job of empathizing with my child. I need to be gentle and maintain my child's dignity when disciplining. If I do not do these things, I bear the weight of harming their very sense of self.

I offer these thoughts not to condemn AP or those who practice it. In most ways, I continue to parent in a very AP fashion. What I want is to be honest with myself about how and why I choose to parent. I want to challenge and examine it. AP is becoming increasingly popular. I suspect I'm not the only one who at times feels confused by a parenting style that centers around the gentle treatment of children yet leaves me feeling like my own sense of self has taken a beating. In the end, I pick and choose. More than anything, I strive to parent mindfully, in a way that is gentle for our entire family. As a mother, I know that I am not now and never will be perfect. I'm learning that this little fact isn't a failure on my part. In all reality, it's one of the best parts of this journey.


Andrea said...

Gah! I just wrote a huge comment and I got and error code when I submitted it. :( I hope it came through.

April said...

So sorry...I don't think it made it through. :( I'd love to hear your thoughts if you're up for typing again!


Andrea said...

I will try to remember what I wrote. :)

Hello! I have been following your blog for quite some time but I don't think I have ever posted a comment.

When I had my daughter 2 years ago I was determined to be the kind of mother I had dreamed I would be. I planned to babywear, bed share, redirect as opposed to disciplining, and above all else, use patience and understanding. Turns out I'm the same way with babies as I am with every other human. I get "touched out" easily, I have little to no patience, and I have a huge "personal space".

You can only imagine how well my plan to parent went. I ended up with a baby that slept in a bassinet, on her own, from day one. A baby that was often put into a swing or a bouncy chair. I use time outs, I yell, I swear, and I've even used a spanking as a means of discipline a few times. FAILURE!

Now here I am with a 2 month old son. I actually did bed share, but he doesn't tolerate it! Ha! He fusses and squirms until I swaddle him up and put him in his bassinet beside my bed.

I've realized that we can't decide what kind of parent we want to be. Parenting is about learning, evolving, and growing as a person. It's about doing what works for your family.

Parenting is not what some guy who wrote a theory says about it.

Anyway, I guess all I'm trying to say is I'm with you. I may not understand your experiences or know how you feel but I can say that I know what it's like to not be the parent or use the parenting style you hoped you would. But as long as we are doing everything we can to help our children learn and grow in a healthy way then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing as parents.

Betsy B. Honest said...

Hiya, glad I read this.

I've always been wary of attachment parenting though I do practice most of it's principles.

The reason I'm wary is exactly what you've outlined -- it sets up mothers for failure and terrifies new parents that if they ever act like human women instead of impossibly fantastic supermoms there child will be ruined for ever.

Interesting footnote -- AP was pioneered by Dr. Spock in the 50's when society was trying to get women out of the factories and back home with their kids. Coincidence? Hell no. And Dr. Spock, of course, didn't keep his babies in a moby wrap while he got rich as an expert on how to be the best mother ever.

On the one hand, I appreciate how much emphasis AP places on the importance and essentialness of the work (i.e. breastfeeding) that mothers do. On the other hand, there's a few to many "thou shalts" embedded in modern attachment parenting.

Kids and families are all different and have different needs. The best way to parent is to respect the needs of babies and mothers and families, not what it says in some magazine or what have you.

I hope you've found the peace you need about those early months because, honestly, you'd find some other way to be a big failure by AP standards even if you could have held those babies close to you like you'd planned. My sympathies to you that you went through that! But as you obviously know, you are NOT a failure.

Merry Christmas!

Deb said...

Use the books as kindling and follow your heart. You know what to do...just continue to love them with your whole heart and soul, go easy on yourself and give that wonderful husband a big hug each and every day. You are a fabulous momma, an incredible wife and a wonderful daughter. Remember that...always and forever.

Melanie said...

Couldn't have said this better. I was an API leader and stepped down because I couldn't handle the judgement handed out to those not practicing 100% of AP 'values' The mother chose to work, use a crib, use disposable diapers, formula feed (*gasp*), and later, enroll their child in preschool or worse, public school.

So much judgement thrown around. For me, I accept a parent I meet for who and what they are. I certainly don't wish to have judgement passed on me.

BTW- I've read many of your blog posts and we have several mutual friends and area even past professional acquaintances, though we only met once I believe. Perhaps one of these days we will actually meet as Moms. Peace to you and your family.