Friday, May 13, 2011

Attachment parenting post for someone who would be good at it!

One of my most thoughtful and conscientious former students asked me what makes my parenting style unusual.  We stumbled backward into what is known as attachment parenting, which is becoming less hippie and more hip, even though it is still counter-cultural in many parts of the US.  Where we live in a blue-collar industrial region makes us even more unusual.   We live this way because it is less about stuff and more about time and connection with the family.  I've gone whole pregnancies without so much as a trip to Babies R Us or Motherhood Maternity, despite the way that magazines portray the bearing of children without these stores as near barbarism ;).

The most distilled explanation of our parenting philosophy is at this link. It's just brilliant and concise.  The best point is that AP is not a rigid set of rules to follow or you'll screw up your kid.  Instead, it is a starting place that each family can customize according to the needs of parents and children.  I've seen people dive into every fringe aspect of AP/natural parenting wholeheartedly, only to burn out later.  

I think it's best to start out with the 7 baby b's and add other holistic parenting elements as parents feel comfortable.  Example:  as much as they're good things on their own, it's probably not practical to simultaneously do ecological breastfeeding, elimination communication, co-sleeping with a whole family, all homemade meals from one's organic garden, line-drying all clothing, homeschooling for each child in the family and to expect to have a larger family.  There has to be time that a mother does not have to live on high alert and have a child perpetually on her body, and she needs to maintain a loving relationship with her husband if they are to remain an effective team.  I've seen mothers get very depressed or more than a little crazy trying to be Supermom, and that leads to a lot of unhealthy isolation.  There's a lot of fear at the margins, both for attachment/natural parents and for their more mainstream fellow parents. These fears lead to irrational and unbalanced parenting, rather than a relaxed enjoyment of the blessings of home and family.

Here's how we got to be Attachment Parents---

Having been raised in a pretty authoritarian church environment, my husband and I had gotten the impression that babies were manipulative and sinful creatures, and parents needed to show them who was in charge.  

However, every authoritarian/Babywise-type method we tried (briefly) felt like a betrayal of our little baby.  We were naturally attachment parents without knowing it.  When we moved to Notre Dame, we were suddenly in a Mecca for natural and attachment parenting.  I spent time with moms who seemed comfortable in their own skin and avoided those who were critical or who knew how everyone else should raise their kids.  We had another baby 18 months after the first, and our attachment parenting instincts were cemented, particularly after a very positive birth experience and an easier time nursing.  

As the older two grew, I became more concerned about their diet and ours.  Our scant food budget plus our health drove me toward bulk shopping and cooking from scratch. I learned about the health issues caused by many common food additives, and I resolved to do what I could to eliminate them.  We also had some food allergies that made careful label reading essential.  

By the time our daughter came, we were managing some behavior issues with our sons by diet, but we had a lot of work to do.  I was blessed with an easy birth and great nursing with her.  She was the only one so far who never slept in our bed or even in our room, which was a surprising adjustment for us.  We added cloth diapering with her, which necessitated using biodegradable detergents and the elimination of fabric softener and dryer sheets.  We began researching natural cleaning in an effort to get more toxins out of our home.  

We continued to puzzle through the behavioral issues of our boys, which changed as they developed and grew, eventually figuring out that they do struggle with attention and impulsivity issues a bit more than is typical for little boys.  Because we have tried to parent peacefully, we've kept communication open with them and are able to help them manage their behavioral concerns with diet and behavioral modification.  

Now that we're welcoming #4, adding one more seems like no big deal.  We probably won't try for any more, but we do feel that we have a responsibility to respect life and to honor God's sovereignty.  

Most of our conclusions for our family are a reaction to the consumerist / medical / easy-fix ideas that are part of modern mainstream parenting culture, much of which is based on either an appeal to fear or to laziness.  We refuse to be corporate sheep because we've seen corporations not take human health and safety seriously.

Disposable diapers contain toxins, formula can be tainted and can cause long-term health problems, baby containment systems (playpens) stunt emotional and intellectual growth, food additives exacerbate behavioral issues and cause immunity problems, chemical birth control harms our bodies and our shared water systems, and materialism teaches our children the wrong values.  We have found that the most natural methods of living are the ones that work best for our family.

Although we can now afford to do more and spend more money, we generally choose not to.  We don't want to be trapped by our possessions or to shuttle our children from place to place out of fear that they won't have as fun a childhood as their peers. We do what we can, take their input seriously, and make the most of our time together.


  1. all right, there's my freak flag flying!

  2. Kelly, I learned lots of the good stuff from you!

  3. don't worry, there are plenty of us around here :) you're in good company as one of the local weirdos :)

  4. Oops, meant Kelly M, but good stuff discussed around here too!

  5. Oh, I didn't even see that. I was just commenting on what you wrote.