I’ve been outside the bubble this week. It was awkward and I didn’t like it. However, it forced me to rediscover my inner gentle-parent-freak, and she fucking rocks. So in case you didn’t realise, this is me waving my weirdo flag high and proud. It has sparkles on it bitches.
These are the things I want you to know about why I parent the way I do. Newsflash: Not one of them is because I’m over-protective and anxious. Shocking, I know.
I’m clever, and so is everyone else doing this. You don’t decide to go against the grain of mainstream parenting on a whim; we have all carefully researched and considered the various aspects of our parenting. There is a lot of science backing up what we do. From non sleep training, to breastfeeding, to a star-chart free house and explaining to incredulous relatives could they please not call my daughter a ‘good girl’ when they were praising her compliance. We always have a reason. If you check out an attachment parent forum there are a whole load of book recommendations and research studies flying around. We read things. We read ALL the things.
Having said that, I parent based on feelings too. When my son was 9 months old he did that thing where he was absolutely certain that the cure for being tired was staying awake for as long as he could. We tried to teach him that the cure for tired was sleep, but he remained unconvinced. One night my partner and I were sitting on the couch and talking about trying ‘crying it out’ – should we just give it a go? This not sleeping business was difficult. My eyeballs were burning and everything was fuzzy except the outline of the coffee cup. Then the Boy woke up wailing and we both muscled each other out of the way to get to him first. Clearly, we were not crying it out material. There are no comprehensive research studies conducted on the safety of crying it out (AAIMHI, 2013) and there never will be because no-one would touch that with a 10ft pole. If evidence of harm was unconfutable the baby sleep industry would be open to all kinds of litigation. The closest thing we have to evidence is a study by Middlemiss et al., which found elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the absence of crying (2012). Quiet babies were still sad babies. Instincts exist for a reason, follow them, follow them, follow them.
Confession: I’m lazy. I like things to be easy. There is a lot of research on the benefits of breast-feeding and co-sleeping (McKenna & McDade, 2005; Leon-Cava, 2002). Honestly, all I needed was its easier. I was asked once how I differentiated my babies cries. I don’t because the answer is always the same. Tired = boob. Sad = boob. Hungry = boob. Bit confused about the talking puppy in the book = boob. Co-sleeping is magic. Getting up and walking down the hallway takes extreme effort, and even if the light of your life does fall back asleep, do you think you can drift off once your back in bed? No, you can’t. You are awake now. The only time you will fall back asleep is three minutes before your kid wakes up again. It’s practically a rule.
I like children. Even my own. Parenting this way means I can connect to them more easily. I value connection to others, fostering empathy and all those other things that hippies like. I think kids are hilarious and adorable and I’m in awe of their fizziness and their insight into the world around them. With attachment parenting I get to talk to my children like they are people with feelings as important as mine, a powerful form of connection (Miller & Commons, 2010). I practise seeing things from their point of view and it shows me what’s significant to them. I know their hearts and minds, and how just being heard is often what they want from me. I had to use 123 Magic in a professional capacity recently. That shit freaked me out. You shout a number at a child and they’re required to stop doing the thing they were doing. There is no talking. There is no acceptable motive. There is no empathy. If you get to 3 then the roof collapses. The worst part about this system is that without a conversation – without looking in a child’s eyes and seeing their pain or anger close up – without that experience and understanding it was easy to dissociate from them. It became about me. A child would do something inappropriate (because, they’re like learning and shit) and I would shout the number and think ‘I can’t believe they’re doing that to me! The connection wasn’t there. Connection is essential; it stops you being a dick. When everything else is stripped away it’s the only thing that matters.
I don’t think my children are made of porcelain. I’m not interested in protecting them from everything, including your child who just pushed my kid out the way. That stuff happens. I don’t mind if someone grabs my daughter’s toy out of her hand at playgroup, we can work it out. Being upset is not the worst thing that can happen to a child. I won’t label other children as naughty just the same as I won’t label mine. I differentiate between the choices my children make and who they are and I teach them to do that for others too, crucially – it works (Miller & Commons, 2010). Resilience is the goal, I want my children to look for the motives in other’s behaviour and have empathy for the people around them. Plus, everyone is kind of a jerk when they’re hungry. If I run around going ‘omg your kid hit my kid’ then I’m not teaching my children resilience. Children aren’t violent, that’s a label adults put on behaviour when they’re looking at the world through a lens of fear. The world is not scary, and kids will surprise you with how they work things out when you let them. Let them strut, and give them a high five when they’re done showing you that they can navigate the hard stuff too. They’ve earned it.
I don’t think people who don’t parent the way I do are crap parents. I see how much you love your children, I see you ruffle their hair as you walk past, I see compassion in your eyes when they get hurt. Of course I have questioned my choices. There are hard days, days when I’m fairly convinced a pack of wolves could do a better job than I am. However I do what I do because I can’t imagine doing it any other way. This is visceral for me, and I firmly believe it’s good for my children. On good days, even the pack of wolves would agree with me.
(I know these make you as happy as they make me.) References.
Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc. (2013). Position Paper 1: Controlled Crying. Double Bay, NSW: AAIMHI.
Leon-Cava, N. (2002). Quantifying the benefits of breastfeeding: a summary of the evidence. Washington, D.C.: PAHO.
McKenna, J. & McDade, T. (2005). Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breastfeeding. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 6, 134-152.
Middlemiss, W., Granger, D., Goldberg, W. & Nathans, L. (2012). Asynchrony of mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep. Early Human Development, 88(4), 227-232.
Miller, P. & Commons, M. (2010). The benefits of attachment parenting for infants and children: A behavioural developmental view. Behavioural development bulletin, 10, 1-10.
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