The accidental attachment parent

sleeping

Attachment parenting (AP) is a parenting philosophy that proposes methods which aim to promote the attachment of mother and infant not only by maximal maternal empathy and responsiveness but also by continuous bodily closeness and touch. The term (was) coined by the American pediatrician Dr William Sears (Wikipedia)

I so admire the young couples who come to my HypnoBirthing classes already so well read and well prepared. Many of them have given a great deal of thought into how they plan to parent their children, and may already have read copious amounts of books, blogs and articles on the subject.

My own experience of early motherhood couldn’t have been more different. When my little girl was born seven years ago, I did not have a single colleague, friend  or close family member with small children. My pregnancy was fraught with complications, and I spent over half of it on strict bedrest. I wasn’t able to leave the house for antenatal classes, and I spent very little emotional energy on wondering how I would parent this baby. We were just so focused on keeping her alive (and we did!).

When she came home from the hospital, we had a little Moses basket next to our bed that I assumed she would sleep in. At this stage I didn’t know any of the benefits of co-sleeping or bed-sharing, but I just assumed it would be easier to have her closer to me for breastfeeding. Well, our little three day old decided that she would have none of this nonsense, and screamed blue murder as soon as she was put down into the basket. My husband and I were confused – was she ill? Abnormal in some way? Eventually in desperation, I laid down with her on my chest and, surprise surprise, she slept like an angel. There she stayed until six weeks old (at which point she moved to sleeping between my husband and I). She stayed in our bed for a couple of months and in our room for around six months. She still loves the comfort of our bed for afternoon naps, and when she is sick or has a bad dream – as you can see from the picture above.

The same thing happened with baby wearing. Baby wearing is now a very fashionable thing. You can buy wraps and carriers for thousands of rands, hand dye them and have them converted by specialists. You can become a baby wearing consultant or join a Facebook group on baby wearing. But here’s a little secret: baby wearing is nothing new. It is a practical solution to the age old need of a baby to be close to a warm body and a beating heart, and of a mother to actually get some work done, whether that was tending crops or livestock or looking after other children. Despite being warned by well meaning friends and family members “Not to spoil her!” we carried or wore our little monkey for most of her first year because that’s what she wanted. She so loved being held that we even nicknamed her Limpet for a while.

People get very edgy about attachment parenting. Dr Sears talked about the cornerstones of attachment parenting as being breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing but have a look at a Facebook moms’ group on a random Tuesday, and you will see debates about whether or not you can be considered an AP mom if you use disposable nappies, if you vaccinate, if you feed your kid sugar…it all gets rather ugly.

I believe we are so anxious nowadays to be validated by sources outside of ourselves, especially the so-called experts, that we forget to watch and learn from our biggest teachers: our children. You can be the most clueless parent on the planet, as I was, but if you desire to understand what your children need and do your best to give it to them, you will learn as you go along. You’ll make mistakes of course, none of us are perfect parents, but for the most part, you’ll do just fine – attachment parent, or not.

If you’d like to learn more about attachment parenting have a look here: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/attachment-parenting/attachment-parenting-babies

Just one thing

Vegetables

This healthy, minimalist lifestyle – it’s really, really hard, isn’t it? The world is so toxic and so cluttered, so cruel and so materialistic, that sometimes it seems just impossible to live any sort of counter-cultural life on a day to day basis. Sometimes, I just want to give up.

Last week, I had one of my “to hell with it” days. There was literally nothing (gluten free) I could eat in the house – I had had a busy week, and didn’t have time to get to the shops before my daughter’s extra-mural started. Even the fruit was finished. But I could feel myself starting to get irritable and shaky so I chose the lesser of two evils; the most divine peanut butter and jam sandwich I think I have ever had. It must be at least a year since I’ve had bread and it just tasted so good. As I bit into it, I knew it was activating my dodgy immune system, I could hear my doctor’s warnings in my ears; but just for a moment, I didn’t give a damn.

I have come to believe that there are no “perfect” choices in life; or at least very few. Those organic apples at R60 for 4? I could buy them – but they are so incredibly expensive for a family that eats at least eight apples a day that I would have to work double the hours I do just to pay for them. And that goes against one of those things I hold most dear: time with my children. And so I make the best choice I possibly can under the circumstances.

Looking back on the years since we started a family, and really started to move towards a healthier, simpler lifestyle, I also see how far we have come. There’s a long way to go but:

  • Both of us work fewer hours so that we can enjoy our young family. We work hard when we’re at work but promotions and pay raises (with the longer hours and increased pressure that they bring) have become far less important than time with our babies.
  • We (almost) never have any kinds of sweets, e-numbers or processed food in our house. Dark chocolate and home baked goods excepted of course!
  • The only take-away meal we enjoy is sushi. Deep pan pizzas and KFC are a thing of the past.
  • We have started an organic veggie garden. It’s small, and by no means meets all our fresh produce needs, but it’s a start.
  • 90% of the household cleaners and personal care products we use are organic and non-toxic.

There’s more to do of course. I need to cut down on my social media use for sure; our kids could eat more vegetables; perhaps we could give more to charity – oh! I could write a long list.

The Instagram accounts and blogs make it all look so easy. Perhaps it is for some. But start small, start now. Just do one thing and see where it takes you.

Your child in hospital

Casualty

There is nothing quite like that first emergency dash to the hospital with your child. I remember crying and praying in equal measure as I weaved my way through rush hour traffic, my 18 month old daughter in her car seat in the back. She was having a severe allergic reaction to something she had eaten and her breathing was becoming increasingly labored. I had never known terror quite like that before but unfortunately I have experienced it since with a few more trips to the emergency room with both my daughter and my son. In a true emergency, there is nothing to do but get yourself and your child to medical help as quickly as possible, but once you are in safe hands, there are more than a few things that you can do to make the whole experience easier for you and your child.

Stay with your child as much as possible. You may be asked to leave the room when your child is having blood drawn (“Much easier for you not to see this, Mummy!”) or having other examinations but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay with your child whenever you possibly can. As scary as hospital is for us, it is even more terrifying for your little one. Even if they scream while they are having a needle inserted into their veins, at least they can see you and feel your hand squeezing theirs. For babies, you can also breastfeed them during or straight after many procedures, which is enormously comforting to both you and them. In the event that you cannot be with your child and they are conscious (for example if they need to have a MRI), you can use your voice to constantly reassure them that you are nearby and that all is well.

Make sure your child has their comfort objects. If you know that you are going to be in hospital for more than a few hours, get someone to collect their favourite toy, dummy or other comfort object from home. In a world of strangers, medicinal smells and the sounds of other children crying, these small talismans of normal life can be so reassuring to your child.

Advocate for your child. I am always amazed how confident, successful and highly educated people go absolutely mute and passive in the face of medical authority. Doctors and nurses are highly trained but they are not as interested or invested in the health of your children as YOU are. Ask questions, understand the diagnosis, read the package insert of any medication that you are prescribed. If something feels wrong for your child, question it. Say no. Your child is powerless in this situation and you need to be their voice.

I remember the week when my one year old son was hospitalized for pneumonia. It was very scary especially as he was battling high temperatures. One night, the nurse came around at about midnight to check his temperature. I had just spent over an hour rocking and singing him to sleep and he was sound asleep in my arms. I could feel that his little body next to mine had cooled and that he was so much better than he had been. She wanted to take him away from me, take his temperature (which I knew would wake him up) and note everything down in her observations. This was her job and she was determined to do it. I said no. Quietly and politely I declined her services and asked to please come back in a few hours. She did. It’s as simple as that.

Look after yourself. Your first priority in hospital is your child but your second is you. You simply cannot look after your little girl or boy for a lengthy period of time under high stress if you have not slept or nourished your body. Sleep if your child is sleeping and make sure you drink and eat at regular intervals. If you need a break from the confines of the hospital (I know I certainly did!) ask your husband, mom or a good friend to take over for a few hours or overnight. You need to replenish your own body and soul so that you can take care of your little one.

Have you had a child in hospital? What did you do to make it a little easier for both of you?

Legacy

Piano lessons

My little girl has just started piano lessons. Somewhere in the mystical dance of DNA that happens at conception, she inherited her dad’s sense of rhythm and love of music. Although I have absolutely no musical ability, my family line is not without talent. Both my grandmothers played musical instruments; and in fact the piano that we have in our home now was inherited from my paternal grandmother. My daughter has a family legacy of music, and I am so grateful that she has such a source of joy that she can tap into for the rest of her life.

There is great wonder and pleasure to be had as your children reveal themselves to you – whose nose is that; doesn’t he sneeze just like your uncle? We look for the good things, but sometimes it is clear that our little ones have also inherited a nasty temper or a genetic physical weakness that is less delightful. It is not always certain either what is DNA and what is environment. Both my kids shout when they are cross which very sadly is a direct reflection of the way I handle myself when I have had enough (I’m working on it!).

When it comes to pregnancy, birth and parenting, it is so important to understand the legacy that has been passed down through your family; that has seeped into your sub-conscious along with your mother’s scone recipe and your father’s talent for telling a story. What messages did you receive as a child about birth? What was said about your own birth? Did you hear stories about how “you are so lucky to be alive – you almost didn’t make it!”? Or perhaps your and your siblings’ births were never mentioned at all; a taboo subject. What about breastfeeding? Did you grow up feeling that breastfeeding was something a little shameful, or did you just accept that babies were fed at the breast and that was the way things worked? What about parenting? Were you nurtured at home; did your parents make their love for you apparent? Or did you grow up in a restrained environment, where physical affection was not encouraged?

As we grow up, we often vow not to repeat the mistakes of our parents, but as we ourselves become mothers and fathers, these subconscious ways of thinking and being are so deeply engrained that they may be hard to shake. So what’s a mindful parent to do?

The first step is truly understanding the legacy that you have received. I firmly believe that almost every parent does their absolute best and acts out of love; so we need to treat our parents’ mistakes with grace and understanding of the tremendously difficult task that raising a child is. Then we need to be curious about what other ways of thinking about this thing – whatever it is – there are in the world. Yes, birth can be scary. In fact, it can be lethal. Mothers and babies can die. But is there also a possibility that it can be deeply spiritual and empowering? Can we hold the paradox? Can we let go of our deeply entrenched subconscious rules about what it is and isn’t, and allow for the possibility of something positive? When you are mindful about what you have inherited, you also have the power to change it…and most importantly to change it not only for yourself, but for your children and their children in turn. And that, my friends, is the most powerful legacy of all.

Let them be kind

Kindness

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a perfect parent. Despite my best efforts, my kids are not particularly neat or health-conscious. Nor do they seem to have very good taste. They have an alarming tendency to drop and run when it comes to clothes, cups and half-eaten sandwiches. They will still choose a bright pink Fizzer over a bowl of strawberries any day; and their wooden hand-painted toys lie forgotten on their shelves, while their cheap plastic Chinese dolls and cars are given preference.

But here’s the thing: both of them are some of the kindest human beings I know. They will come to the aid of a sad or upset adult, child or animal in a heartbeat. My daughter, being the oldest, will actually tuck me into bed and turn off my light if she sees that I have had an exhausting day and need some extra love and care. My son will cry in sympathy if he sees one of us in distress. They will hug and kiss my elderly grandmothers without reservation, and treat children younger than themselves with such gentleness and understanding.

The kindness I witness in my children is in such contrast to the angry, mean and stressed out people I see every day in the supermarkets, on the roads and all around me. What is it that happens to us as we grow older that suppresses our innate humanity and turns us into these unkind people?

There are so many things I want for my children as they grow. To be loved, and to know the love of a partner, friends, family and animals. To have work they adore and that fills them up from the inside out. To have a deep respect for nature, their bodies and the world they live in. But most of all, whatever they do, and whoever they become, let them be kind.

Broken

Child on beach

“Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen)

– It’s all broken, this is not how I imagined it would be.

– He won’t breastfeed; I think he hates me.

– She fusses with me, and as soon as my nanny picks her up, she falls fast asleep!

– Everyone else’s babies sleep through the night.

Motherhood – it’s not easy, is it? When we first begin to prepare for the arrival of a new little baby, especially if it’s the first one, we just want everything to be perfect. We imagine bucolic scenes of a beautiful newborn sleeping peacefully on our white linen clad chests, while a pot of soup bubbles on the stove. Nurseries are carefully imagined and planned, the perfect pram is purchased and the hospital bag is packed with just about anything a new human being could need.

And then the baby is born. For every moment of pure joy, there is another of utter weariness, and one more of frustration. The truth is that pregnancy, birth and motherhood are not separate from life: these seasons in our lives have just the same peaks and troughs that we know to be true of human existence. Parenting a child is the embodiment of character development. I don’t believe there are many other careers or hobbies that are as incredibly mentally, physically and emotionally taxing.

Joy Kusek said it so beautifully: “The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards, it is the year of travail – when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labour pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred.”

So moms, know this: motherhood is hard. I am six years in, and some things have got easier, but others more difficult. There will be moments of such spiritual transcendence as you hold your sleeping babies in your arms; and others when you think you might actually die if you do not sleep. Be kind to yourself, ask for help, find your tribe. Know that you are not alone.