Attachment parenting guilt

How’re you doing son?

Don’t know if you are familiar with a style of parenting called attachment parenting. The term was coined in the 1960s by Dr Willliam Sears, father of eight and who had spent time observing parenting practices of newborns in tribes in sub-Saharan Africa. The philosophy behind attachment parenting, or I should say one of them, is the idea of creating as much contact as possible, physical and emotional, with your baby, so as to give them a feeling of security and to bond with them. Some of the basic tenets of attachment parenting are:

-skin to skin contact, both immediately after birth as well as in everyday life.
-breastfeeding, specifically on demand or on cue
-babywearing in a sling or carrier
-co-sleeping, family bed
-no-cry sleep solutions and positive discipline

Some parents consider it a step further, such as homeschooling, organic food and eco-conscious toys, natural parenting, bathing with your baby, etc.

Some of the criticisms of attachment parenting are that some people argue it is class-specific, meaning that only a certain economic class of people who can afford to stay home with their children and buy only organic food, etc. I don’t really know about this except to say that the punk rock mother who wrote this book believes in living with less and being thrifty, and still manages to practice attachment parenting. Another big argument that some people have against attachment parenting is that some people argue that it prevents children from learning independence, and that it is better from the start to put children in their own room so they can learn to sleep on their own, etc. But proponents of attachment parenting counter-argue that by creating a sense of security, AP actually fosters independence, which makes sense to me although I don’t really have any experience with the matter so I can’t say for sure.

I am interested in the concept of attachment parenting. I have to say that my following some of its tenets has really only come about after you were born, and to be honest they have turned out to be more instinctive than many of the ideas I had had drilled into me before becoming a mother. However, the problem with attachment parenting is that it has positively got me ridden with guilt that I am not doing enough, that I am not holding you enough and that I stick you in the swing and the stroller way too much.

I had always had it drilled into me that babies should be made to sleep in their own bed from the start, otherwise it will foster “bad habits” of them coming in to sleep in their parents’ room. To be honest, if we had had more space we might have put you in your own room from the start, a ridiculous thought when I think of it now. Putting a little newborn in a dark lonely room all by itself. It was only because of our small apartment that we were forced to set up the Moses basket that came with the stroller as your bed, in a little corner of our room.

The first three nights after you came home from the hospital were miserable, sleepless nights. I was determined that you should not be in bed with us. However, whenever I tried to put you in your basket, you fussed and fussed. (You never really cried, just made a racket declaring your dissatisfaction with the situation). I spent the first three nights sleeping sitting up on the couch in the living room after nursing you, which frankly, sure sounds like co-sleeping to me anyway.

Close to dawn on the third night, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be a good parent if I was dead from exhaustion, and so as the sun was coming up I crawled into bed with you and attempted a side-lying nursing position.

My gosh, am I glad I did. I think letting go of that idea of not being in bed was just one of the best things I have done. That, coupled with swaddling, I believe is one of the reasons that I have gotten as good a night’s sleep as I have during these first three months.

It is just so easy, and makes so much sense. Whenever you would wake up, I would just roll over and get into position to nurse you, then doze back off to sleep, waking up a little bit later just to sit up and burp you, and then dozing off again until the next feed. I just made the necessary precautions beforehand.

And as for creating bad habits, well, well, well, a very funny thing happened about a month later.

You stopped wanting to sleep in our bed.

Seriously. All of a sudden, it was ME who wanted you to sleep with me, and YOU who wanted to go down in your Moses basket.

How’s that for irony?

It made me sad that you didn’t want to sleep in our bed anymore. But actually, that’s not entirely true. What ended up happening, which we do to this day, is you go down in your basket (good anyway so I don’t have to go to bed at the same time as you) and then in the middle of the night, after your night feed (or what used to be feeds, now it’s usually just one), I bring you in bed and we stay that way till morning, when you start kicking excitedly (at quite a reasonable hour). I moved the basket just next to my side of the bed, so when you wake up all I have to do is reach down to get you. No getting out of bed at all.

The policy of as much skin-to-skin contact as possible has been instinctive from day one. Even when you were still in the neonatal unit, whenever I would come in to feed you, my instinct was to take my shirt off and hold you against me. (Quite funny how uninhibited I was in the neonatal unit, not at all concerned about sitting in a room with no shirt on, surrounded with other parents, but those were dreamy, otherworldly days). It’s true that it is so calming to have skin contact with you. Experts say that it regulates baby’s temperature and produces feel-good hormones in the mother.

The guilt comes rolling in, however, whenever I think that I am not creating enough contact with you. Even right now, here I am at the computer and you are napping in your swing. Shouldn’t I be holding you? But that’s the thing about attachment parenting. I applaud people who are able to do it to a T, but for me, I find that there are times during the day when I have to put you down. Sure, we spend a lot of our days cuddling in bed, batting at toys and reading books and making spit bubbles at each other. But when I have to make breakfast or dinner, or blog, well, I have to say I’m happy to have the swing to rock you and keep you entertained.

What it comes down to, is that I have found myself adopting a part-time attachment parenting method. Here is how:

– skin to skin contact: well, as much as possible, I hold you throughout the day while we are playing, but I also put you down in the swing, or on your mat below a mobile during the day to kick around, as I explained in a previous post.

– breastfeeding: this part is not part-time. Breastfeeding is completely on demand and I wouldn’t have it any other way, that pediatrician who told me last week that you should be on a three to four hour feeding schedule be damned. She doesn’t seem to realize that is ok for formula fed babies but breastfeeding is a completely different thing.

– Babywearing: As I explained in a previous post, it’s just too physically tiring to always carry you in a sling, and I am in love with your stroller. So everyday, I carry you around the house a little bit in the sling, and we take an evening walk in the sling up the street, and also when we go food shopping I bring you in either the baby bjorn or the wrap, since you have a curious habit of bursting into tears whenever we go inside a market. Apart from that, we go around in your stroller.
I do wish that I could carry you around more, but well, here’s where I just have to let go of the guilt, and hope you will be a well-rounded person anyway.

– Co-sleeping: see above. Discipline we haven’t gotten to yet (will be interesting to see how that goes), we have yet to come upon a crying sleep situation (though I know full well that that could change any moment and every morning I am just grateful for a good night’s sleep, knowing it could be the last). Organic food and eco-conscious toys, that’s all part-time. I’m not militant about that. Homeschooling, well, I will be in charge of teaching you English, does that count as part-time?

I suppose I do feel extraordinarily lucky to be able to have a long maternity leave to spend with you, though that is by no means in our case a reflection of our economic situation, but is a benefit of living in the country we live in , where these sorts of leaves are possible and affordable.

There’s a word that has kept coming back to me these past three months, the word “surrender”. I don’t mean surrender with the negative connotation it has, like in a war, but surrender in the sense of trying to control things, and just surrendering to my baby. That to me has worked the best, and has also been one of the most joyous parts of this experience. Surrendering to you and your needs. Letting go of myself, and my expectations for myself for a little while, knowing this time together won’t last forever. Feeding you when you need to be fed, holding you when you need to be held, taking you out for a walk when you are ready. This again is due to being able to stay home with you a while longer, and also it is not 100% of the time. Sometimes we need to be at a doctor’s appointment at a specific time, or to the store before it closes, and it means we have to leave at a specific time even if you aren’t quite ready. Which I don’t like doing, and is what causes the most stressful situations we have. But of course, that is sometimes necessary, just like the swing is sometimes necessary. But I hope it won’t get in the way of this bonding time we have together…


One thought on “Attachment parenting guilt

  1. Pingback: Cloth « Letters to my son

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