Monday, March 29, 2010

The Bigger Picture: The road to attachment parenting is paved with potholes

Attachment Parenting hasn't been an easy road for our family.

Granted, some practices were easily adopted; they came naturally. Wearing my baby close in a carrier -- totally, completely natural and beautiful. Going to my baby when he cried -- again, very natural, almost compulsive. Co-sleeping -- practical, feasible and much less work than getting up and running down the hall three times a night to comfort a screaming baby.
But other things? Like breastfeeding? Beautiful, natural yes, but, aslo challenging to my own selfish nature of wanting to get away and break free for a night or weekend out of town.
Positive reinforcement hasn't been completely second nature either. Praising little efforts isn't always easy when said efforts are more destructive than helpful.
And gentle discipline? Oh, I pray, do I ever pray to figure out how to gently direct a very defiant 2.5 year old. I find it much easier to exclaim "NO!" rather than figure out instantaneously the motive and then a suitable redirection.

Especially in terms of gentle discipline, attachment parenting is a path I putter down hourly. It's been one I've had to deliberately choose day by day. And sometimes, I don't choose it. Sometimes, when I'm tired, when I'm sick, when I'm busy, when I'm impatient, when I'm rushed, when I'm stressed, I take a the fork in the road and maneuver onto the mainstream parenting highway where demanding obedience and respect are the prevailing rules of the road. Sometimes I go down that one-way expressway of "Do it because I'm the parent and you're the child" because it's easier. It seems to get us where we need to go more quickly. The yelling, the threatening, the demanding all seem to alter behavior but it never changes the heart. Altering the behavior is really quick and easy most of the time. And I really like quick and easy.

Really, even though the expressway gets us there more quickly than if we'd have just taken the back road with a slower posted speed, we end up at our destination with tears streaming down faces, pulses racing and blood pressures elevated from the whole mania of the trip.

And the back road -- the road with more time spent talking, explaining, listening? You know, the one I avoided because I was in a rush and didn't want to take the time stop at the red light and have a teachable moment? Well, that back road would have taken the same amount of time because at the end of the trip on the mainstream discipline highway I have so much maintenance -- damage control -- from the journey to take care of that we virtually are never ready to enter our destination anyway.

It kills me that I realize this; I cannot feign ignorance. When I feel my blood begin to boil in regard to my 2.5 year old's defiance/selfishness/stubbornness/whatever, I completely know that I can change the tone of the situation. I can alter the direction we're about to go -- we don't have to end up on the fast road to Meltdown City; we can arrive at Peaceful Point instead. But I've got to mommy-up each and every time and make a decision to respond not react.

And that? That's not easy. Reacting is in my blood. Reacting is natural, primal. Reacting is letting the situation determine your actions and words. Responding is assessing the situation and determining your own actions and words. And that's where I veer off the back roads, swerve into traffic on the expressway and hit the acceleration pedal.

But, tonight, I'm using the emergency brake.

Tonight, as I sit here, writing to understand what I'm thinking (thank you, Heather), I'm braking. I'm exiting the expressway.

Tomorrow we're taking the back roads. And whenever we get there, we'll get there. And we'll all be better from the journey, from the road less taken.


  1. Your post could not come at a better time. Thank you for reminders :)

  2. 2.5 hit me hard. It's when I had to really work on attachment parenting myself some days, so I could turn around parent my children in a healthy way. More self-time, more asking for help, lower standards - listening to my needs, the way I wanted to listen to my children's. I do better with the later ages..when they can articulate their frustrations with more complexity. When they're younger and it's generalized, it's so tricky...and SO HARD on the self-esteem. It gets better. Soon, you'll start seeing the payoffs of the investments in those first few years. Andrew turned 3 in December, and things lifted considerably. Jack, at 5, is almost all joy for me to parent (it's a great age - suits me well). Sometimes mama and baby connect, sometimes the lesson is how to show/feel love when you're not connected. Anyway...long story short...hugs. :) Love is complex!

  3. I love how you put this, I never thought of it as responding vs. reacting, but it makes so much sense. Will be thinking of this tomorrow.

  4. I think there can be a balance. As I'm a bit crunchy and a bit mainstream I've seen them both: the kid that fears her parents and the kid that walks all over his parents because they wont just tell him, "NO, that's not acceptable behavior in a civilized society."
    I think you're an amazing mom!

  5. I am right there with you. I am super crunchy in a lot of ways, but my son is the most strong willed child I can possibly imagine. The sheer amount of energy I use every day engaging him and not blowing up at his deliberate defiance is running me ragged. I don't think there is a one size fits all answer when it comes to discipline.

  6. Thank you! I needed to hear this today. I would really like your opinion on a situation I'm having. Would you respond to this in email so I can reply back? It's kinda long and I don't want to put it all in your comments. Thank you!

  7. I am in between on this.

    I think it's vital for a healthy family to have a heirarchy, where the parents are clearly on the top.
    Sometimes "because I said so" is the answer to "Why" in my opinion.

    That said, I think creative thinking and taking time to be conscious is also very important. Just like discipline should be doled out on an even keel--instead of rage-spewed.

    In families where everything is constantly up for negotiation, it gives a confusing message about dealing with and respecting authority--a vital skill kids need for transition into a successful adulthood.

  8. Ummm, don't read my post from today then. I think I missed the boat completely (although there were somewhat extenuating circumstances - Little Miss was D-O-N-E all day today). Should I tell you that 3 is worse? :)

  9. oh, hon. I hear you. And it gets harder when you have more of them, because sometimes you literally cannot take the time to explain and reason and you do have to just react, or demand or whatever. But I think intention goes a long way here. I really do. We're all going to make mistakes or have days when we are so not that parent we want to be, but it's the overall and the intentions that we have to hang on to.

    good luck. every parent knows exactly what you're talking about. big hug, mama.

    xo elizabeth

  10. @ Kate, So glad my woes are able to aid someone else. :) Seriously.

    @Sarahbeth, Ohmygosh, yes, 2.5 is SO hard! I find myself doing many of the things we mentioned -- self time, lower standards, listening to my needs, just so I have something, anything left in me to give to him every day. And G. has the vocab to articulate his frustrations (I mean he says things like "actually" in correct context); BUT I have to remind myself that he doesn't have it all together emotionally yet. Thank you for your insights and encouragement. You're the best!

    @Corinne, Thank you. It took me awhile to figure that one out. But now I'm all about trying to determine my response.

    @Rose, oh, yes, balance is really key in this, too. And I didn't even touch on it really. ...but I'm going to right now when replying to ...

    @Ann's Rants, I do agree with you about there needing to clearly be a hierarchy where the parents know and understand what is acceptable and work with their children to help them know and understand what is acceptable. We're not into permissive parenting, so much as respecting that the little ones are little humans who have feelings and concerns and desires. And they deserve to be treated with love and respect and consideration.
    Clearly, there are things that never will be acceptable in our house -- lying, stealing to name some of the basics. Those are NEVER going to be up for debate. And there will always be consequences for the actions because as the parents/authority, we have a responsibility, as you said, to impose rules and consequences to teach our kids about the real world.
    But if/when we deal with these issues, I hope to be able to do teaching in these moments where we help to change the heart of where the behavior is coming from rather than just changing the behavior. (IE, need to not spew anger! lol! Love how you put that!) I feel like when it gets to authoritarian then they are behaving because they fear you, but you're missing the opportunity to get to the root of the behavior -- the heart matter.

    @swonderful -- do we live in the same house? Lol! That's how I feel about my son's direct defiance, and like @Sarahbeth said, that's why I've been listening to what I need so I can recharge. I hope you have the opportunity to really recharge. Because it stinks to be empty and running on fumes. Big supportive hugs from over here.

    @julie, I kinda wish you would have left that email in my comment just to see what these other insightful mamas thought. :)

  11. @Michelle-- NO! Don't tell me that 3 is worse. Lie to me, woman! lol.
    I'm sorry you had a bad moment, but something @Sarahbeth has said is that it's good to have moments you'd like to do over. Because you can teach your kids how to handle it when they wish they could have a do over. I'll be stopping by to see what happened.

    @BoyCrazy, Thank you for the hugs and thank you for saying you've been there. That really, really, really (did I mention really?) comforts me. And you know, even the missed moments, can be teachable. It's quite beautiful when you can be intentional and have the right intentions. Now, I just have to be intentional about my intentions.

  12. Yeah, it's that emotional maturity that seems to kick in around 3ish here. I know others often say it's a harder age, but for both of my boys, 2.5-3 was SO MUCH HARDER than 3 and above. They were freakishly verbal, but not emotionally aware to define the issue. They were just too young to have that specific understanding of the full range of emotions.

    Now Andrew (3y3m) can say: "You hurt my feelings when you...." and I LOVE THAT. When I know the problem, I can talk them through it. It's not always rose gardens, but it's so much better to me than the earlier stages...where they can voice a lot of frustration, but not "track" where it came from.

    Giving children "emotion language" is a key skill in helping smooth that process, I think. At least, around here...because all three of them seem very intuitive and having those heightened feelings but not the emotional language would be very overwhelming.

    As you can see, I care deeply about this topic of Bad Mothering Days. :) LOL. I really do believe mothering is about trends and not individual days.

  13. Isn't it interesting how everyone struggles in their own way? For us, we wanted to follow attachment parenting with co-sleeping, breast feeding, and all but it didn't work for our daughter. She can't/refuses to sleep by us (has refused since she was 2 months) so we get out of bed and go to her several times throughout the night. And breast feeding stopped sooner then we would have liked. The only thing that has come "easily" for us has been the gentle discipline part. We have our frustrating days too but for the most part, we've got a system. I just wish the other aspects would fall into place.

    I love your blog! I relate so well and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts to the rest of us can find some comfort in knowing there is someone out there feeling the way we feel. (((hugs)))

  14. @Sarahbeth, why don't we live close enough so I can take you out for coffee and just glean your wisdom? Nonetheless, I'm thankful to get it via blogging and message boards. G. sounds a lot like Jack and Andrew with being freakishly verbal and all. Here's to hoping when he turns three this summer it would spark a change!

    @Tina, You know, that's so interesting to hear it articulated -- there are so many different ways we struggle. What comes naturally for one, isn't so natural for another.
    Did want to say, though, that just becauce you didn't co sleep doesn't mean you didn't parent her in an attached way at night by going to her, offering her comfort, letting her know you are there.
    Any gentle disciplining insights specifically since that's your strength?

  15. Thank you. I appreciate you pointing that out to me. I sincerely do. Most mothers believe I am teaching her bad sleep habits by going to her when she cries. I try to gently encourage her to sleep through the night but we still see one another at least once a night... I figure, there is going to be a day that I will miss our nightly visits (although sometimes that is hard to believe.)

    I also wanted to point out that my daughter is only 14 months so things in the discipline department may become harder was she goes through different stages. I appreciate how well written this post was. Putting things into the prospective of responding vs. reacting is something I have put a lot of thought into.

    You truly inspire me. Thank you!

  16. search His word for wisdom, and try your best. i think that's all God asks us. His grace will cover whatever you lack. even if we follow attachment parenting philosophies, we can't let that be the rule n thumb as Christians. we follow Christ & His example. :)


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