Monday, November 15, 2010

Attachment Parenting: If I'm going to be real ...

I'm no caged bird.

Modern motherhood hasn't imprisoned me, quite contrary to Wall Street Journal Columnist Erica Jong's philosophical musings regarding modern motherhood and the incorporation of attachment parenting practices being just another method of victimizing women.

My choice to incorporate attachment parenting practices into our lives, was that -- a choice.


I've got to be honest -- I've had this nagging thought running amok in my brain since I pushed the publish button last week and responded publicly in favor of attachment parenting and advocated for motherhood.

Because I neglected a very real, very related issue regarding modern motherhood and some of Jong's {albeit convoluted} point:

Burn out.

While I passionately defended Attachment Parenting, pointing out the many benefits {And I won't be retracting those sentiments, um, ever}, I realize many mothers experience the inevitable crashing and burning into a fiery flame somewhere along the motherhood journey.

So I've mulled it over, and chewed on it, and spit it out at least five or six times during the weekend, asking myself if, perhaps, by practicing Attachment Parenting we mothers are at higher risk for burn out {which I'd like to point out is drastically different from the imprisonment Ms. Jong spoke about, just to be clear.}

Though I firmly believe attachment parenting practices are meant to keep us moms away from the fires of burn out, sometimes I think we take good things too far {and NOT just with parenting}.

Samely, I think many of the parents who have taken a wide, sweeping look at AP practices {like Ms. Jong} have seen some of these good things being taken out of context and then altered into something that becomes unhealthy {and thus looks imprisoning}.

Take for example {one among many}, establishing trust through responding promptly with empathy to our babies' cries.

I think perhaps a few of us in the AP community {based on personal and online conversations} have found we've morphed this aspect of AP to mean our kids' ability to trust solely hinges on us-- the mothers.

I'm guilty of this, which is why I use it as a general example.

As a first-time parent, I didn't want to leave my baby for more than brief jaunts out during the first five months of his life for fear that I would somehow shatter his trust, completely missing the point of the trust issue and turning it into a high-pressure situation that pretty much set me up to "fail" or feel guilty.

Let me unwrap that a bit: In AP, parents are encouraged to respond lovingly and promptly to a baby's needs. Leaving a tiny baby to cry alone for extended periods can lead the baby to either giving up on expressing his needs or feeling insecure that his needs might not be met.

In my mind, and most likely because I'm a type A personality who is a perfectionist and a worrier, I twisted that to mean that I had to be the one who responded to his needs every time. Or, I worried, perhaps, another caregiver wouldn't respond to his cries {he was high-needs} like I would.

So I would skip out on baby-unfriendly events with my friends or opt out of date nights that required hubby and me to leave the house or whatever because I couldn't bear the thought of breaking little G.'s trust in me or in people, in general. {Yes, I'm apparently vain.}

My constant tending to him left me feeling beyond burned out.

I felt alone, and I felt lonely, and I wondered who I was anyway anymore. Was I only a mother?

I went kind of nuts, exploding emotionally one afternoon onto a Web page when I realized I hadn't given myself enough of a break from mothering to embrace the other parts that make me me.

Just as I said Ms. Jong didn't get AP, I didn't totally get it then either. I was at the polar opposite end of the extreme: I was putting all of my effort into parenting.

It wasn't until I was so burned out I was crispy that I finally realized that I could and I NEEDED to leave G. in the tender loving care of others {namely my awesome mom and my wonderful mother-in-law} for more than 40-minute increments.

I needed to do it for him because he needed to know that other people are trustworthy and that they would respond with love and care to his needs. {Of course, I learned to hand pick those people who would respond attentively and gently.}

And I needed to do it for me.

I had been taking a really good thing by not really understanding it and manipulating it into something that lead me down the hot path of burn out. I very likely could have wedged a boulder in between John and me, neglected most of my friendships to the point of extraordinarily hurt feelings and inhibited G.'s ability to separate from us into the loving care of others we trust.

Burn out happens in other ways, too, within and outside of the AP community and in regard to EVERY other area of life about which we feel passionate.

I can think of a dozen other parenting or lifestyle practices that are inherently good but can take us women down the path of major and extreme burnout if we don't really understand the philosophies to which we ascribe.

As we parent {or do anything really}, we need to keep in mind the end goal of why we are doing what we are doing.

My end goal of parenting is to raise healthy, thinking, compassionate people AND to better know God, myself, my husband and my kids -- not to completely lose myself in the flames of burnout; so I continually have to remind myself to leave the kids with trusted loved ones while I have coffee with friends or widdle down my commitment list on a regular basis or simply allow others to do things they are capable of doing instead of sweeping in and doing it myself.

And while I'm sure I will find myself touching the fire again, I hope maybe a few of my scars might caution me to exercise thoughtful moderation while doing the things I love -- mothering, writing, being a good friend, wife, daughter, or whatever.

So, I maintain, I'm no caged bird.

But I know how quickly I become a moth to a flame -- a fire risk who needs to take care not to fly straight into the blaze -- in regard to motherhood or anything else.


  1. well said, as always.... I couldn't agree more.

  2. I think that it is normal and natural to experience a little burnout once in awhile. Sometimes, we need to do something for ourselves so that we can get back to doing things for everyone else. I loved this post though. I thought you said it very well. I also, couldn't agree more!

  3. Very well said. I did not do AP when it came to sleeping though. I have a husband who travels A LOT and a baby who was extremely needy. Now that I know he's autistic it makes much more sense. But at the time when he was still an infant I had to give myself a "clock-out time." He was fed, he was dry, he was rocked, he was tired- he needed NOTHING. I could do nothing more to appease him and if I continued to try w/out success it could potentially become a very bad, abusive situation. So at 10 o'clock every night I was done. I layed him in his crib and walked away because if I didn't I felt like very bad things could come from my physical and emotional fatigue. So in order to save both of us (literally) I had to let him cry it out until he learned to self-soothe. And you know what? Every morning he woke up smiling at me and ready to start a new day. It was my only saving grace.

  4. That is SO why community and support from all of it is so key. Without the community and the trust that engenders, that's where the burnout comes. I'm with ya!

  5. This is fabulous. So well-written and honest.

  6. I agree with you. I am not an APer for many reasons, but I'm also not the opposite. I fall in the middle. But I agree that we all need a supportive, trusted community to help keep us sane. All life's choices can feel like prison if we don't put systems in place to keep it from happening.

  7. I do the same thing, but not only with parenting. I attack almost everything I did with such a passion that I lose site of everything else. I burn out so quickly. Learning to let others help, especially in parenting is a hard but important lesson to learn.


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