Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Momma Guilt part #2
I've been feeling like I want to address a post to this idea for several weeks. I posted a link awhile back to an article that really resonated with me regarding attachment parenting being a frame of mind rather than a dogmatic rulebook [if you didn't get a chance to read it before, here it is]. I have been posting for awhile about different attachment parenting techniques and how great they are, but neglecting this very fundamental principle that I believe about attachment parenting in general: it is an attitude, not a method. And guilt has no place in attachment parenting. If at some point we come across a method or idea that we didn't implement or realize in our earlier parenting, we can incorporate that new idea without regretting our earlier methods, because it is a tweaking of style. Attachment parenting is the style; the tweaking is HOW we act and which methods we choose to adopt as parents, which will look different for every family if we are TRULY responsive to the needs of our individual families.
The basic premise of attachment parenting comes from psychological theory surrounding the importance of emotional attachment in the first years of life. Wikipedia has a pretty concise definition of AP with references;
"Attachment theory, originally proposed by John Bowlby, states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness to another person and feel secure when that person is present. Bowlby had earlier proposed in his maternal deprivation hypothesis published in 1951 that maternal deprivation would not only cause depression in children, but also acute conflict and hostility, decreasing their ability to form healthy relationships in adult life.
In comparison, Sigmund Freud proposed that attachment was a consequence of the need to satisfy various drives. In attachment theory, attachment is considered a biological system and children are naturally attached to their parents because they are social beings, not just because they need other people to satisfy drives.
According to Attachment Parenting International (API) there are 8 principles that foster healthy (secure) attachment between the caretaker and infant. While none of these principles is derived directly from original attachment research, they are presented as parenting practices that can lead to "attunement", "consistent and sensitive responsiveness" and "physical and emotional availability" that research has found to be key factors in secure attachment.
 Eight principles of attachment parenting
Per Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (AP), proponents such as the API attempt to foster a secure bond with their children by promoting eight principles which are identified as goals for parents to strive for. These eight principles are:
Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
Feed with Love and Respect
Respond with Sensitivity
Use Nurturing Touch
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Provide Consistent Loving Care
Practice Positive Discipline
Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
These values are interpreted in a variety of ways. Many attachment parents also choose to live a natural family living (NFL) lifestyle, such as natural childbirth, home birth, stay-at-home parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, homeschooling, unschooling, the anti-circumcision movement, natural health, cooperative movements, naturism and support of organic food.
However, Dr. Sears does not require a parent to strictly follow any set of rules, instead encouraging parents to be creative in responding to their child's needs. Attachment parenting, outside the guise of Dr. Sears, focuses on responses that support secure attachments."
[read the definition on Wikipedia here]
This is a pretty good way of describing attachment parenting as I understand it. There are common interpretations of how to apply attachment parenting theory, and these include natural childbirth, stay at home parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, and other methods listed above (and more). I take issue with these only when they become dogmatic. For example, natural childbirth as attachment based parenting only works where appropriate. In general a striving towards natural childbirth is healthier for everyone involved and encourages a natural maternal-infant bonding process, but a dogmatic frame of mind which might insinuate that a drug free childbirth is the ONLY way to apply attachment based parenting theory is absurd~obviously some babies can't be delivered safely through natural childbirth and so this method cannot apply to everyone. Rather than focus on natural childbirth as a methodology, I would say it is far more constructive to focus on studying the components of natural childbirth that help promote a healthy bonding process and strive to apply these as much as possible for all moms, regardless of mode of birth or drug use thereof. We get far too wrapped up in the most natural method and leave women who have not had the opportunity to have a natural birth out in the cold. So if a mom has a cesarean, an epidural, an instrument assisted birth, or narcotics during labour, encouraging skin to skin contact, breastfeeding initiation and continuation, rooming in (keeping babies' hospital cots in their moms' rooms as opposed to the nursery), and parental responsiveness/responsibility taking (diapers, baths, infant care, and ALL medical decisions pertaining to the infant being performed by the parents as opposed to medical staff) would mimic those elements of natural childbirth that are beneficial in promoting bonding. Human beings are adaptable, and attachments begin and flourish regardless of methodology if we are mindful of creating them.
Some moms and some infants cannot sleep in the same bed. Some parents have health issues that preclude babywearing, like back problems or pelvic floor damage or physical limitations. Some parents cannot breastfeed. Some moms don't like to stay at home full time. Some parents are excellent teachers and others are not gifted in that area, or do not want to homeschool or unschool. In fact, now that I am writing about this, I realize I must include the fact that some moms cannot give birth biologically at all. Does this negate their ability to attachment parent? Obviously this is ridiculous. Adoptive parents have been tuned in to attachment theory longer than biological parents have, out of necessity. If we are mindful that what we are building is empathetic, self assured, kind, and productive adults, and that the best way to build those types of adults is to encourage attachment and perform responsive parenting with our children, the methodology is as various as the people who embrace it. I think one of the fundamental tenets of attachment based parenting IS responsiveness~~watchfully listening to your baby and responding gently and lovingly to them. If your baby is telling you they would rather sleep apart from you, or that they are too hot or uncomfortable when you wear them and would rather have some distance, it is NOT attachment based parenting for you to force them to do it anyways, just because it is often part of other AP parents' methodology!
Also, sometimes, a parent doesn't like a method. Responsive parenting still occurs when parents honestly assess their own capabilities and needs and take them into account when making decisions. When we adopted Matthew I had a very difficult transition. I realize now that I likely had post adoption anxiety, which manifested as anger, frustration, guilt, and high levels of anxiety, particularly regarding Matthew's attachment to me and his transition into our family. Because of all this, I could NOT co-sleep with him. Of all my children he could probably have used it the most, since co-sleeping does encourage attachment and discourage feelings of isolation in children. But I spent my daytime hours so mired in anger, frustration, guilt, and anxiety that I desperately needed a break from those feelings at night, and I needed my space as I sorted out my relationship with my second child. He was accustomed to sleeping in his own bed and slept 12 straight hours at night from a very young age (not due to a lack of responsiveness on the part of his caregiver, but from his own natural biology), so fortunately he did not challenge this nighttime separation. Of course, on the rare occasion where he did wake up we responded immediately and gently, which is what works about co-sleeping anyways~it is simply easier to respond quickly when a baby is in your room or your bed already (especially when still nursing at night~seriously, I hardly wake up at all, and neither does Riley, despite numerous nighttime feeds and waking). There are benefits to sleeping with your baby, but this method is not a necessary parenting dogma.
This example is not the BEST example to support my argument, since Matthew's and my relationship was unstable and difficult, and took a long time to resolve into a comfortable attachment. But what I'm saying is that mommas have needs, too. Daddys have needs, too. No one is better served by a parent who denies these needs, and sometimes a little space is exactly what the doctor ordered, for a parent. Other attachment based parents I know didn't co-sleep for various reasons, or babywear for various reasons, and are really good at responsive, gentle parenting, and THIS is the best evidence I have to support my argument. Responsive, gentle parenting with a focus on attachment theory has various methods. No one knows what is best for someone else. So no dogma. No guilt. No rules. No absolutes. Just attentive parenting, and a willingness to accept each other without judgement and without guilt.