Archive for the ‘Mothering’ Category

How Will a New Baby Impact Your Marriage?

Disclaimer: As I discuss the state of your marriage with a new baby in the house, I fully realize that everyone has their own unique situations- some of which can be quite difficult. Please take these ideas as suggestions that may help, but not as law. I also realize that some women may find themselves in the midst of an abusive situation with a new baby, and in that case, your initial course of action should be first to ensure the safety of mother and baby through getting help and a safe place to stay, and then deciding what you should do regarding your relationship. This post is not directed towards your situation. I am not a counselor, just a mother and a wife sharing from my own experience.

Me and my hubby, sans children, back when we first were engaged.

Many people will discuss finances, sibling relationships, space in their house, and new car purchases when considering a new addition to the family. All of these are important issues to think through. However, I think that it is most important to consider how a baby will affect your marriage. While there is no real way to know what its like until you get there, talking through your possible reactions will help you to prepare for how you will approach the troubles that often accompany the transition.

For example, with a newborn in the house, you will be utterly exhausted. You will be frustrated sometimes because you don’t know what your baby wants. You will be disgusted because your kitchen counters are covered in crumbs, the dishwasher isn’t loaded, and the diaper bin is overflowing. You might think that only you can soothe your baby and that your partner is doing it all wrong- or you might think you can do nothing right and push all responsibility to your partner! You may feel near breaking at certain points, and perhaps experience the meaning of the phrase, “at your wit’s end.” If you have other children, this may complicate the issue further, or they may be a great help to you. The problem is, you don’t know which of these challenges will be yours- but you are pretty much guaranteed to have at least some minor obstacles to overcome.

Why is it important to keep your marriage strong when you have a new baby? First of all, because you vowed to one another that you would love and care for one another- for better, for worse, for as long as you both shall live. Now is not the time to take this promise lightly. It’s also important because you each have unique roles to fulfill as parent, and your child will benefit greatly by having both of you consistently involved in his life. May I add that your marriage- strong or weak- will be an example to your child for years to come. You can also be a great help to each other during this uncertain time, and may be surprised how wonderful it is to rely on each other for help and encouragement, rather than tearing one another down day in and day out.

I suggest discussing this topic in the preconception/TTC period (or through pregnancy), because just by talking about these struggles beforehand you may alleviate some of the stress  as it happens. Ask yourself some of the following questions now:

  • How do I react when I’m tired? Sore? Overwhelmed? Frustrated?
  • How can I exercise self-restraint when I really just want to be miserable?
  • How might my husband/wife feeling right now?
  • How can I help my husband/wife when he/she is feeling this way?
  • How can I show patience and caring? How can I show love even when I don’t feel like it?
  • How will I remind myself not be self-righteous or to accuse him/her?
  • How will we reasonably and realistically share responsibilities for the baby, home, and work?

As a Christian, I try to think of what type of character qualities I should be developing, even in the midst of an unfamiliar or stressful situation. “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galations 5:22-23.) I find this verse a particularly fitting reminder to me for when there is a new baby in the house.

What do you need to keep in mind when you are striving towards keeping up a good marriage while you’re also trying to be a good mom or dad?

That you will make mistakes. You will reach the end of your rope, and then you will recover again. That you won’t be perfect, and neither will your spouse. That you can forgive. That you will have some regrets. That you start each day new.

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-23)

While parenthood can be stressful on your marriage, it is not something to be feared. It is a journey to be embraced and traveled joyfully, for it shapes you and your family deeply and permanently. It is an opportunity to grow in ways that you would not have had the chance to do had you not had children.

Let parenthood grow you and your spouse closer together, not apart. It is an unparalleled privilege to experience a strengthened marriage through a difficult time.

What helped you keep your marriage intact during the first few weeks, months, and years with baby? Please share your wisdom!

 

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Toddlers and Mealtime: An Innovative Approach

In light of recently reading Hilary Kimes Bernsein’s book, First Bites, I wanted to share a couple creative approaches to mealtime that help out a lot with getting my wild child to sit down and eat something healthy. Here are a few ideas for starters:

1) Cauliflower Eggs

My son loves it when I saute some cauliflower in butter, then beat in some eggs and cheddar cheese. He doesn’t pick out the cauliflower because they are fairly well camouflaged in with the white-ish yellow of the eggs. (And I love them this way too!)

2) Green Smoothies

My midwife’s apprentice got me on to this- simply add in a generous handful of spinach to your fruit smoothie ingredients. Try this easy recipe:

  • 1 Cup Strawberries (or other favorite fruit.)
  • 1 Cup Yogurt
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 1/2 to 1 Cup Spinach (depending on your toddler’s taste buds!)
  • Try throwing in some flax seed oil, wheat germ, or other healthy add-in.

Blend and enjoy as usual! My almost 2 year old affectionately calls these “Tawbewwie Movies!” (Strawberry Smoothies :))

3) Shape Veggies & Dippers

Try cutting your veggies in different shapes using cookie cutters- or at least identify normal shapes as something more exciting. How about broccoli trees, zucchini stars, celery logs, etc.? Adding a nutritious dip (hummus, peanut butter, etc.) can make the meal more interactive and enticing for your learning toddler.

4) Plate Art

Make your child’s plate a work of art. It doesn’t have to be anything too time consuming. Try the common image of using two fried eggs as eyes and a slice of bacon as a mouth to make a face. Or making pancakes in the shape of a heart by pouring the batter into a cookie cutter. Or by making a design with the ketchup you squirt onto the plate for your child to dip in. 2 minutes of creativity on your part can make the mealtime a lot smoother for your child!

These may not be too innovative, but they sure help! What are your favorite tricks and ideas to getting your picky eater to chow down? Please share in the comments below!

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How Co-Sleeping Strengthened My Marriage

“No surer way to keep romance out of the marriage than to keep a child in the bed!”

“Co-sleeping will definitely wear on your marriage after time.”

“You shouldn’t allow your child in the bed on a regular basis because your husband will resent you for it.”

Do these statements sound familiar to you? Do you resonate with them, or do you find yourself facing them? Let me tell you our story.

I planned never to co-sleep. I thought it was unsafe, and agreed with the insinuation that it would break down our marriage over time because of lack of “us” time. So, we started out with a cradle in our room, then moved our son to his crib in an adjoining room fairly early on.

This worked out well for a time. When my son was a newborn, he slept just about as much as he should have. 2-3 hours, eat, repeat. As he got older, sure, he slept a little longer, but he never really made it past that 5 hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep.  We never let our son “cry-it-out” to sleep when he was very young- it just didn’t feel right to us.

When he was about 6 months, we tried controlled crying in an attempt to “sleep train” our son. This didn’t really work for him. He just would continue to cry until I came back, even if we stretched it in increasing increments- as many advisors suggested to us. When we were still all stumbling in a sleep-deprived mess a couple of months later, we resorted to drastic measures. (Maybe this no-cry-it-out thing is for sissies, we thought…) We tried a Weissbluth style cry-it-out-and-don’t-you-dare-peek-in-on-him-no-matter-how-bad-it-sounds-method. This turned out to be disastrous for both us and our son (despite our efforts to be consistent), and the crying never subsided or lessened after many tries, several nights in row, over 2 hours per night. (How long are you really supposed to let them go on like that, really?) When I would finally return to him, red-faced, hoarse, throwing himself against the crib walls, and seeming close to vomiting, I felt that this method almost bordered on abuse. We finally decided that our strong-willed little man did not respond well to this treatment. I resolved that I would no longer put him through that type of training, and that we would work with the situation however we could.

We were exhausted. My husband was working 3 different jobs and doing full time masters degree work online. He would get up at 6:30 and wouldn’t be done with his studies until 2 am, then he’d go do it all over again the next day. I would sneak into our son’s nursery when he woke up and try to settle him there in hopes to give my husband a chance to sleep. But my son wouldn’t settle quickly, so I would be up for about an hour with him each time- still every 2-3 hours, mind you- trying whatever method I knew to get him back into his crib.

Over time, I realized that I wasn’t functioning during the day properly. I was in a fog. I was grumpy and irritable. I was crying much more than usual. I was eating constantly to keep up energy. I felt like I couldn’t have guests over because I was too tired to keep up a conversation. I felt guilty, frustrated, and caught between opposing advice from my baby-training friends and my attachment parenting friends. Nobody else had this much of a problem, did they? Why couldn’t my son sleep in his crib? Why didn’t he lay down peaceably at night? I must just be doing something wrong, I thought. My son deserves better, my family deserves better.

The problem became all-consuming to me. And yet I was terrified to let our son come into bed with us to give us some sleep. What would people say or think? What if I hurt him? And worst of all, would I be one of those women who pushed her husband away over time because we never had a room to ourselves?

When my son was 10 months, I was up yet another sleepless night. Rocking, nursing, laying him down, sneaking out, only to hear screams again a moment after. Back at it again… and again… I realized suddenly when I felt myself jerk awake that I was nodding off in the rocking chair with my nursing son in my arms. I decided that staying in the rocker wasn’t worth the possibility of dropping him as I was falling asleep. I distinctly remember that first night when I picked him up, walked into our room, and made a conscious decision to bring him into bed and fall asleep.

Whether or not we had handled everything well up to that point is beside the question. The reality of the situation was that we were in survival mode, and we simply did not know what to do. But an amazing thing started to happen as we allowed our son to come into bed with us when he woke up in the night…

We began to get more sleep. All three of us.

As the fog began to lift from our brains, we realized a few things that we only discovered in hindsight.

One- I finally recognized that I had been experiencing a mild form of late onset postpartum depression. It was nothing compared to what many women go through, but it was very difficult on our family. Once I was able to think a little more clearly, I was able to talk about it better and find ways to help work through some of my struggles.

Two- I realized that my protests against co-sleeping were mostly culturally-based. I feared the pressures of many around me more than I considered the needs of my own family. I thought that I was trying to do things the “right” way by getting my son to sleep all the way through the night in his crib, when there really isn’t one right answer for every family.

Three- As for my fears of pushing my husband away, he actually laughed when I brought them up. He said that he liked having the family together at night, and that it didn’t bother him a bit! I realized that I hadn’t actually asked him about my concerns, and that those worries were mostly planted by other people! He was just willing to support me and help towards whatever sleep goals I had for little J. Besides, we actually had much more quality “us” time in the evenings when I was well-rested and feeling better. Being sleep deprived doesn’t really encourage anyone towards more intimacy or late night conversations!

So we formed a system. We’d put our son to bed in his crib. When he woke up, into our room he came, and if he had to nurse, I slept while he did it. If he cried, he’d usually settle right back down since we were right next to him. For the first time in almost a year, all of us were getting the most sleep possible. If felt great. It wasn’t perfect- of course, we’d still have rough nights, but it was so much better than before.

In summary, we felt like the decision to partially co-sleep really helped solve a lot of physical exhaustion and emotional struggles we were going through. It also helped us to strengthen our identity as a couple, because we had to make and defend a choice that was very different from what many of our friends supported. It gave us more energy and, therefore, more quality time together in the evenings.

So to those who may want to try co-sleeping but fear its effects on your marriage, I encourage you to give it a try and remain open-minded. It may help you- and it may not- but only you can know what’s best for your family. You can always switch back if it’s not working out.

If you’re someone who believes that co-sleeping only ruins marriages, I encourage you to think outside the box and realize that it may be helpful to many families. Try to soften your prophetic warnings, and be gentle with new parents as they find the arrangement that is best for everyone.

There is no right answer for every family, but there are possibilities to be explored. Be sensitive to your spouse, and listen to each other’s concerns. Find the arrangement that suits you best, and be flexible, as it could change at any point! And of course- no matter what sleeping arrangement you choose- always make sure that you are taking proper safety precautions.

What about you? What works best for your family? Please share!

Thank Your Mother on Your Birthday!

Today is my 27th birthday- I think one teenager had it right when he suggested that you should buy your mother the presents on your own birthday!!! She was the one with the hard job, after all- and that’s not even mentioning all the wonderful sacrifices she made for you as she raised you. That being said, thank you, Mom, for all that you did for me on my birthday back in 1985, and ever since then throughout the years. You rock!

 

My Personal View on Extended Breastfeeding

Welcome to Part 4, the last segment of my Time Magazine blog series. Thanks for following along! If you’ve missed any posts, you can go back to read my response to Time’s cover, article, and to attachment parenting. Today I’ll be talking about my view on extended breastfeeding.

For sake of definition, “extended breastfeeding” generally refers to nursing a baby past 12 months, though some may reserve the term for those who nurse well into toddler-hood and beyond.

Why this post? First, Time Magazine’s cover of a mom breastfeeding her 3-year old son roused a lot of attention nation-wide, and I want to contribute to the discussion. Second, I’ve found myself defending extended breastfeeding among friends who thought it was gross or weird, when I never thought I’d be one of “those moms!” This post is helpful for my own sake in clarifying how I got to this point- because I never used to think extended breastfeeding was cool. My mind was changed little by little, over time and exposure to research.

Growing up, I always thought it was bizarre to hear about a woman nursing her toddler (and particularly boorish if the child was school-aged!). I guess this view grew from assumptions of those around me, because I never heard it from my parents. Regardless, when I was pregnant, I planned to breastfeed- I myself was breastfed (though I self-weaned before a year), and it only seemed natural to me. My initial goal was to make it at least 6 months, but I knew I’d be happier if I could make it to a year.

When I had my son, our breastfeeding relationship got off to a great start, not by any merit of my own. Any struggles I had with nursing were minimal. I loved nursing him, but I still thought extended breastfeeding was a little weird, though less so than before-mostly due to my care providers’ influence.

Months went by. I was reading several books for my doula certification (such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, The Baby Book, The Complete Book of Breastfeeding) and they discussed weaning in terms such as “normal,” “timely,” and “child-led.” Then they proceeded to talk about nursing babies not just in terms of weeks or months… but in years! Either all of these books were written by quacks, or there was something to this long-term nursing thing.

Since then, I’ve looked into “extended” breastfeeding more. And here’s just a taste of the supporting information I’ve found for it:

  • The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months, and then continued breastfeeding along with “nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods”  for up to two years or beyond.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding  for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.” (Check out the whole article entitled Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk in the publication Pediatrics. This is a superb read if you are looking for more evidence-based information about breastfeeding as the “normative standard” for infant feeding and nutrition.)
  • UNICEF states that, “It is well recognized that the period from birth to two years of age is the “critical window” for the promotion of good growth, health, and behavioral and cognitive development. Therefore, optimal infant and young child feeding is crucial during this period.” What do they define as optimal feeding? You guessed it- “Optimal infant and young child feeding means that mothers are empowered to initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue to breastfeed for two years or more, together with nutritionally adequate, safe, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting at six months.”
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians states that it is estimated that a normal weaning age for humans is between two and seven years, despite the fact that this is not the cultural norm in the US. The academy also states that, “The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” What a bonus!
  • One informative post by Stephanie Hanes quoted these amazing breastfeeding statistics: “In the southern African country of Malawi – one of Save The Children’s top ranked developing countries for moms – 77 percent of children are still breastfed at age two. That number is even higher in Bangladesh, where 90 percent of children still nurse, and in Nepal, where the number is 93 percent. Moms in India nurse 77 percent of their two-year-olds, and mothers in Rwanda are still breastfeeding 84 percent of theirs.” Wow!
  • Save The Children states that “Optimal feeding from birth to age two [which includes breastfeeding] can prevent an estimated 19 percent of all under-five deaths, more than any other intervention.” The Center for Sustainable Development echoes similar statistics.
  • Did you know that the US currently ranks last among 36 industrialized nations for breastfeeding support?  Perhaps this is part of why we have such a hard time wrapping our minds around nursing a baby for a year, much less beyond that.
  • Breast milk is not just about food. It’s true that toddlers may not need it to survive in our developed nation, but its immunity properties continue for as long as it is consumed. Contrary to popular misconception, it does not lose its value at any point. In fact, the immune protection in the milk actually increases as suckling frequency decreases.
  • Many point out that breastfeeding’s comfort qualities are also not to be brushed off easily. Jaime Lynne Grumet, herself nursed until she was six, remembered breastfeeding this way: “It’s really warm. It’s like embracing your mother, like a hug. You feel comforted, nurtured and really, really loved.” La Leche League often stresses that breastfeeding is one of our simplest, most accessible, and most effective parenting tools. Why be so swift to do away with it?

(All emphases mine.)

Wow. Suddenly all my sentiments of grossness are fading. It seems that major health organizations, as well as organizations promoting and providing for optimal well-being of children around the world are all in agreement: breastfeeding should continue for 12 months at the very least, and most recommend at least 2 years. The health benefits are absolutely phenomenal, not to mention various other benefits (just click on a few of the above links to find out more!).

This is not to guilt formula feeding mothers, or to pressure women who don’t feel that they can continue that long, or to scold mothers whose children weaned before a year. Rather, it is to inform those who find “extended” breastfeeding strange- or worse, “wrong” or “abusive.” Believe me, I used to be in the same boat as you! I’m not saying that you have to do it yourself. But please, consider international context and broader health recommendations when forming opinions about breastfeeding longer than our country’s average.

As for me personally? I weaned my son from daytime nursing when he was 13-15 months. He is currently 19.5 months and nursing once or twice in the early morning. This works well for our family, and I know he’s still getting the health benefits of my milk. Plus, it’s nice to still share that close snugly time with him once a day.

A bit of anecdotal evidence for the health benefits of extended nursing: whenever my son’s playmates are sick, he either never catches the bug, or if he does he has a very mild and short case of it compared to his non-nursing friends. My son has only been markedly sick a total of four times in his life, only one of which was anything to write home about. Obviously, I cannot guarantee that every nursing toddler would have the same results.

None of this is meant to boost myself as “more of a mom” than anyone who weaned earlier- remember, I employed “mommy lead” daytime weaning at 13 months because I was just feeling ready to be done with it at that point (though I felt comfortable continuing with one or two night/morning feedings). If that’s where you are- tired of handing your breasts over all day- there is no judgment here.

While I would not try to talk anyone into nursing longer than they were comfortable doing so, I do want to share my experience in hopes to encourage those who are considering nursing longer, despite cultural pressures to the contrary. I also hope that some of the links and information above will help you find what is best for your child and your family in your own nursing  journey.

How long will I continue nursing my son? I’ll be honest- I think I would be (mostly) okay with it if he weaned now. But, knowing what advantages breastfeeding has, I’m happy to continue nursing him til age two. I think at that point I’d probably work on actively (and lovingly) weaning him. But, then again, that’s what I said about the 18 month mark too. And here I am, still nursing. And, as my midwife’s assistant once said, motherhood is full of surprises and changed minds, and sometimes you find yourself doing something you originally never thought you’d do.

What do you think, ladies? How long did you nurse your kids, and why? Please share!

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My Personal View on Attachment Parenting

Welcome to Part 3 of my Time Magazine blog series. In this post, I will address my personal response to Attachment Parenting (AP), the parenting style coined by Dr. Bill Sears. First off, lets look at Dr. Sears’ own description of AP.

In the first chapter of Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, he introduces the AP concept. He makes sure to clarify before he even begins: “Our suggestions are just starter tips. From these basics you will grow and develop your own style, one that best fits your baby’s temperament and your personality.” Sears also urges readers not to close their minds to different parenting techniques: “Stay open to new ideas, and then select what best fits your family.”

Sears says there are three main goals that underscore his AP philosophy:

1) To know your child,

2) To help your child feel right,

3) To enjoy parenting.

Then, Sears describes the seven “Baby B’s” that make up attachment parenting:

1) Birth bonding. Connect with your baby early. The first hours, days, weeks, and months, can set the tone for allowing natural attachment and nurturing to unfold.

2) Belief in Baby’s Cries. Read and respond to your baby’s cues. Sears argues that since crying is a baby’s only way to communicate, the tears should not be ignored. He encourages working to figure out what your baby needs as best as you can. The more you try to help your baby, the better you become at reading his cues. Likewise, the baby will learn that he will be attended to in a timely manner, and his cues will become more predictable. This sets a foundation for good communication between mother and baby.

3) Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is optimal feeding, and offers the best health for both babies and mothers. (Even Dr. Sears suggests, however, that a mother who bottle feeds still has just the same nurturing opportunity with her child as a breastfeeding mother.)

4) Babywearing. Carry your baby a lot (not necessarily all day long!), either in a sling, wrap, or some other type of carrier. Dr Sears says that this practice is “good for the baby, and it makes life easier for the mother.” He says that carried babies cry less and they learn more about their world because they are more involved, seeing what their parents are up to all day long.

5) Bedding Close to Baby. Sears says that “wherever you and your baby sleep best is the right arrangement for you, and it’s a very personal decision,” but also proposes that parents to be open to sharing sleep with their baby. It’s one more way to make life easier for tired parents, and can give great benefits to the baby who needs nighttime closeness.

6) Balance and Boundaries. Dr. Sears is careful to add that parents need to know when to say yes and when to say no to baby. Parents have needs too, and they must have wisdom to attend to them as needed. Sears recently said on The View that this section was added because some mothers were “overdoing it” by taking attachment parenting principles to the extreme.

7) Beware of Baby Trainers. Sears calls the “cry-it-out crowd” those who give “detachment advice.” He says that baby training interferes with getting to know and read your baby better and is based on the assumption that babies cry to manipulate, not to communicate. He says that baby training may make your baby more “convenient,” but it undermines the mother’s inherent intuition, sensitivity, and her drive to respond to the cues of her baby.

Lastly, Sears sums up his view by saying, “The important point is to get connected to your baby. Take advantage of all the valuable things that attachment parenting does for parents and babies. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately arrive at your own style. This is how you and your baby bring out the best in one another.” (Sears, The Baby Book, pp.3-10.)

Now that we’ve learned some of what Dr. Sears actually says AP is about (rather than relying on all the misquoted versions flying around right now after the recent Time Magazine controversy), I will talk some about my personal view on AP.

My Take on The Three AP Goals

Remember the three main goals that fuel the AP philosophy? Just so you don’t have to scroll back up, I’ll write them again for you. They are to get to know your baby, to help your baby feel right, and to enjoy parenting. I think that there is a lot of good to be said about these, though I do have one concern.

For example, getting to know your baby and how your family communicates is very important. When you become a mother, everybody around you suddenly feels the need to tell you what worked for them (myself included). While these comments may be well intended, you need to remember that nobody knows your baby as well as you do. The more you allow yourself to get to know your child and meet his needs without worrying about whether or not you’re meeting everyone else’s standards, the more you will be at peace with what works for you and your family. I wholeheartedly agree with this point.

Also, I really appreciate the idea of learning to enjoy parenting. The Bible says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3). How often do we really think like this? So many times we find ourselves grumbling and complaining about our kids, or fighting a lack of joy in caring for them. Sometimes it’s because of a willful attitude problem, and sometimes it’s out of a deep struggle with darkness. Either way, moms often need encouragement and refreshment in their mothering walk. I love that Dr. Sears strives to make parenting easier and more joyful through his principles.

Now, the middle point- this one is trickier to address. Dr. Sears wants to help your baby feel right. He says many times in his writings that when a baby feels right, he acts right. I think there is a certain truth to this. For instance, if a baby is hungry, he will be fussy. If he is tired, he might scream because he doesn’t know how to put himself back to sleep and he’s frustrated. You helping him with these things will result in his needs being met, and also with a happier baby.

My concern here is that parents might interpret this principle to mean to cater to their child’s every whim. I’ve known parents who work to bring “happiness” to their children by purchasing them every candy, toy, or thing that they want, or by giving up their authority as parents and dismissing all boundaries. Other parents try to help their children “feel right” by avoiding conflict resolution or appropriate discipline for fear of hurting their child’s feelings. I don’t think that this is Dr. Sears’ intent, but I can see how it could easily happen to a mom who is afraid she might damage her child if he doesn’t “feel right.”

There are different approaches to helping your child “feel right.” It’s one thing to meet a child’s needs. It’s another to indulge every fleeting desire. I think that the solution here is to remember that loving your child means doing the best thing for him/her, 1) even if it’s not always convenient for you, and 2) even if it’s not always what the child wants.  For example, when a newborn baby cries to be fed, she should be fed as soon as possible. That is meeting a need. If a newborn baby wants to cuddle, I still consider that a need of sorts- at that age, babies don’t know anything else but Mama and Dada, and closeness should be facilitated as much as is reasonably possible. However, when a 3 year old throws a tantrum in the store because he isn’t getting the toy he wants, that is him expressing a desire without self control. This is not a need, and it’s okay to stand your ground and walk out without giving it to him.

It’s not that all “wants” are bad, but we as moms need to develop discernment as to when to gratify our child’s wants and when to turn them down or ask them to wait. There is no 100% right answer in all situations. (Note that age makes a difference too- as a child grows, he should be taught patience, self-control, temperance, manners, mutual respect, etc. -hopefully in appropriate, kind, and sometimes firm ways.) I think Dr. Sears’ advice to help your child “feel right” needs to be tempered with wisdom and love.

AP Practices in My Life

We have made use of AP practices with our son many times, but we have also used tools from the other side of the fence. Here are some examples of our own choices:

  • Our son spent many hours in a wrap carrier (and occasionally still does), but also enjoyed his bouncy seat and swing when he was an infant.
  • He breastfed exclusively til the introduction of solids. We did “mommy-led” daytime weaning, and he is still nursing once early every morning at 19 months old. I haven’t felt the need to wean him from this yet, but I don’t foresee myself nursing him indefinitely. (More to come on this in my next post.)
  • He never had to “cry-it-out” when he was very young, though we used controlled crying occasionally for “sleep training” when he was older (which didn’t work well for him, but that’s beside the point!).
  • I responded to my son’s needs as quickly as possible when he was a newborn. Now that he’s a toddler, he’s learned over time that sometimes he has to wait a little while before he gets what he asks for.
  • Our son slept in his own crib in a room connected to ours for a long time, though he needed me frequently at night. Finally, at 10 months, we gave co-sleeping a try and found that it made life a lot easier for all of us. Our son, to this day, goes to sleep in his crib but ends up in our bed by morning.
  • I think Sears’ “gentle discipline” tools can be helpful in some circumstances, but there are also times that my son needs a direct consequence for his action. We aim to discipline consistently,  lovingly, and calmly. Oftentimes, for our family, this requires more of a consequence than using only distraction techniques.
  • I am both a stay-at-home mom and a part-time working mother through a unique arrangement we have devised. While AP doesn’t rule out employed moms, many who work outside of the home have taken offense to AP during its recent time in the limelight. Just thought I’d add this point for your consideration.

In the end, we have fallen into “what works for us” rather than subscribing to any particular parenting style. (For a brief post on this topic, check out Middle of The Line Mommy.) I think it’s great that AP is adaptable, but we do part ways on several issues. My personal motto is, “Follow biblical principals, love your child, and do what works for your family.” There is nothing wrong with being flexible in your parenting approach!

In summary, I think that Sears has good things to offer with his AP philosophy, but this, like any parenting style, needs to be examined with careful thought and a touch of caution. If you like the idea of getting to know your baby well and enjoying parenting (and who wouldn’t?), keep in mind that there are many ways to do this. AP practices can be helpful for many families, and they are adaptable to a variety of situations, so I think they’re worth considering. However, they are not necessarily the only way to achieve “parenting bliss,” and you can love your kids well whether or not you implement all (or any) AP suggestions.

In short- if something works for you and your family- do it. If it’s causing stress for any one of you, then reevaluate. As my mom-in-law always says, “If there was a right way to raise babies, they’d give you a guidebook when they’re born.” I haven’t seen this guidebook yet… so go ahead. Love your kids, do the best you can, and don’t worry.

Photo Credits:

Babywearing in a Mayawrap

Breastfeeding young baby in cradle hold

Review of “The Man Who Remade Motherhood”

See Part 1 of my Time Magazine Series here. Coming soon… my own response to attachment parenting, and my personal view on extended breastfeeding. I apologize in advance if there are any formatting issues on your browser. WordPress, once again, is not cooperating for me between my editing page and when I click “publish.” I promise I really do know how to start a new paragraph.

Welcome to Part 2! (Finally!) I know I’m slightly behind the TIMES (haha, get it?) by writing my review of Time Magazine’s attachment parenting article a little late- but what can I say? I’m mothering a toddler. However, I feel that its important for me to respond. If you missed getting a print copy, you can read Time’s article called, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” written by Kate Pickert, here on Time’s Website (you’ll need a subscription to do so).

Summary

The article opens with Joanne Beauregard’s personal story of motherhood. She had quit her job to focus on becoming pregnant, had a natural home birth, nursed “from sun-up to sun-down” (wait, I thought all babies ate like that!), and co-slept. She went on to tandem nurse when she had a second child, and never left her children with a babysitter except “when she was in labor with her second child.” This mom is described as someone who strictly adheres to attachment parenting.

Pickert says that the foundation for attachment parenting is the principle that mothers and babies are meant to be close to one another. She goes on to say that “the practicalities of attachment parenting ask a great deal of mothers,” describing breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, and avoiding “crying-it-out” as rather high standards for parents to follow. Pickert notes that attachment parenting is debated to be at odds with feminism and with women in the workforce. She also expresses concerns that attachment principles could be enough to push any mother into guilt, fearing that “any time away from their baby will have lifelong negative consequences.”

However, Pickert made sure to clarify: “It turns out that many of Sears’ views are less extreme than his critics (and even many of his followers) realize.”

Pickert goes on to describe some of Sears’ and his wife Martha’s childhoods. This section serves to put a personality behind the face of the famous pediatrician. It also lends understanding of how the couple’s past experiences helped to influence some of their own parenting decisions.

Some of the Sears’ background includes having eight children of their own (one adopted, one with special needs), four hospital births and three home births, Bill’s training as a pediatrician, and Martha’s experience as a nurse. They had seen easy babies and difficult babies. They had personally witnessed unhealthy consequences of extreme crying-it-out, and observed that keeping babies close and calm helped them to remain more content.

Another of Sears’ major influences on his parenting style was a book entitled The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedhoff. This book described the author’s experience in the Venezuelan jungles. She said that the children there were carried most of the day, and they cried far less than their Western counterparts and were generally better behaved.

Pickert makes sure to clarify that controlled bouts of crying associated with sleep training haven’t been shown to affect brain development negatively, and also points out that its not whether you breastfeed or formula feed your infant that determines whether they’ll be well adjusted- it’s whether they feel loved and cared for.

Pickert says that attachment parenting is now spread widely throughout our culture, whether or not we are pro-Dr. Sears. She declares, “Parental common sense has a way of evolving, usually in a reactionary way.” She hints that attachment parenting was primarily born out the Searses’ reactions to their own childhoods.

Pickert says, “Although Sears’ guidelines for round-the-clock maternal devotion have drawn ire, it’s hard to argue with his overall message that babies who are cuddled feel secure. He surely deserves credit for promoting breast-feeding and the idea that the bond between mother and baby is critical. At the same time, though, his homespun language and sometimes vague or contradictory statements can muddy things, leaving mothers to overlook the nuances and take an all-or-nothing approach.”

Pickert expresses concerns over women who may try to meet the attachment parenting “ideal,” but feel as though they are inadequate for one reason or another. She says that these mothers “suffer from what two New York City parenting consultants call ‘posttraumatic Sears disorder.'” Pickert says that Sears has made it a point to stress balancing mother’s and babies’ needs in his most recent books to correct this misunderstanding of his stance.

Towards the end of the article, Sears gets a bad rap for “shades of sexism or naiveté” in his chapters on working moms. Pickert oversimplifies Sears’ message when she states, “Alongside advice about balance, the Searses also suggest mothers quit their jobs and borrow money to make up the difference.”
Pickert makes sure to include some standard journalistic juice with information regarding Sears’ messy desk and home. She even delves into the Searses’ range of income sources through the discussion of his various endorsements, sales of “attachment-parenting paraphernalia”, and the for-profit “Ask Dr. Sears” website. I brush this section off as the “dirt” or the “inside scoop” that all those magazines feel they have to include.
Pickert concludes the article with a description of Sears’ friendly office interaction with a several different patients, and finally his return home to his family. She gives the impression that family is most central for Sears, ending with the image of three generations sharing a meal together around the table.
Response
Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in the article. While “The Man Who Remade Motherhood” gives a general survey of Sears’s life and some aspects of attachment parenting, I felt it misses some major points and misrepresents others. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
First, Pickert fails to address the many longstanding parenting traditions that are similar to Sears’ principles, albeit a parenting style label. As I said previously, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping are practiced in many places all over the world. These are not strange ideas- it’s just that we in the US are unfamiliar with them. It’s a shame that Pickert hardly mentions the global and historical back-up for Sears’ practices.
Pickert generally represents attachment parenting as an extreme style throughout her article, when in reality Sears stresses to do only what works to create a strong bond for your family. One point that I really appreciated when I read The Baby Book was Sears’ emphasis on balance and his trust in parents’ intuition. He seems to believe in the individuality of families, and never prescribes his methods as The Complete Way to Parent, Without Which Your Children Will Become Hazards to Society. He says many times that his methods are meant to be “tools, not rules” to help parents and babies get to know one another better and create a strong early bond.
Interestingly enough, there are many moms (like myself) who find themselves somewhere in the middle. That’s not to say that some of Sears’ ideas can’t be useful! There’s no reason to assume that you either buy or reject attachment parenting as a whole package deal. While some mothers can certainly take an all-or-nothing approach, this can be said of any parenting style. It is the mother’s choice whether she will rely wholly on one outsider’s opinion or if she will take into account a variety of influences and find what works for her in her own family. Unfortunately, Pickert does not endorse the possibility of moderation.
I don’t appreciate the many criticisms of Sears’ view on working mothers. Sears actually provides a wide range of tools for weighing out what the right working situation is for your family, how to pick substitute caregivers, how to make the most of the mother/baby attachment even when the mother is working full-time, and various ways to save money to make it possible to spend more time at home. Yes, you can tell Sears leans toward encouraging moms to stay home. However, I don’t find him to be judgmental on the many moms who do have full-time jobs. Unfortunately, Pickert dismisses the wide range of options that Sears encourages parents to explore when it comes to working and parenting.
Finally, Time Magazine staged those parents who do practice the attachment theory as condescending towards families who do not. This mommy-judging, in my own experience, is not a phenomenon exclusive to any one parenting style, and it is unfair to point the fingers at one group of moms over another. On the other hand, there are moms within many differing camps who acknowledge the need for a multitude of parenting techniques in every mom’s toolbox. Every child and every parent is unique, and no book on how to raise your children has all the answers. (And you know what? I think most parents and authors will admit that!)
The cover mom, Jamie Lynn Grumet, said it well in her Q & A session with Time Magazine: “There seems to be a war going on between conventional parenting and attachment parenting, and that’s what I want to avoid. I want everyone to be encouraging. We’re not on opposing teams. We all need to be encouraging to each other, and I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at that.”
Thank you for that reminder.
What did you think of Time’s article on attachment parenting? Was it a fair representation? What was it lacking?  Do you agree or disagree with my points above? I appreciate your feedback!