Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Attachment Parenting and What I'd Do Differently


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When I was pregnant with Johnny and when he was newly born I had this very specific vision of the attachment parenting mother I wanted to be. Her long, natural hair blowing in the wind as she bends over her back yard garden gathering greens for dinner, baby contently nursing in the sling, bare arms toned from constantly holding a child. This mom is un-phased by no sleep, looks great when not showered, always gives of herself without complaining, and is always gracious to her husband.

News flash: I am not that mom. And I am so painfully aware of that fact as I sink down on the floor next to Alex, crying big, fat, ugly tears. "If we ever have more babies, I'm going to make sure they take a pacifier."

It's not uncommon for moms to feel a little touched-out from time to time. It's happened to me for sure. But I reached a new level of touched-out during Johnny's recent bout of croup, cold, and ear infection when he would only sleep in our bed, attached to me. The very summit of this touched-out-ness happened during a nap that I couldn't sneak away from no matter how many times I tried to unlatch the baby and he bit me in his sleep and it hurt like something torturous. That's when the ugly crying happened.

Long before I was pregnant with Johnny I was aware of the parenting style known as attachment parenting. For those less familiar, this parenting philosophy is centered around the idea of forming a bond of trust with your baby by following your instincts and his cues, rather than relying on parenting fads, sleep training, or feeding schedules. Attachment parenting often manifests itself in the form of on-demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing. Of course there's more to it than that, but those three characteristics are the easiest to spot.   

My first successful baby-wearing attempt.  Johnny was 11 days old.
We felt very strongly about practicing attachment parenting. And for the most part we have had no regrets. Following my instincts about Johnny needs and keeping him close to me when he was a newborn felt so natural and gave me a great sense of peace as I got my bearings as a mother. I do however, have only two regrets.

1. I wish we had made some effort to get him to take a bottle and pacifier. Johnny is just about 20 months old, and he has never taken a pacifier and only took a bottle a handful of times when we were in the NICU with him. When we got home we didn't keep up bottle feeding and he hasn't taken one since. Everything I had read about attachment parenting and breastfeeding discouraged bottles and pacifiers until a good breastfeeding relationship was established. I just focused on breastfeeding, then when Johnny was older and I needed him to take a bottle it was too late. He just won't take them.

2. I wish we had tried harder to get Johnny to sleep on his own sooner. It didn't bother me that he wouldn't sleep unless he was being held or lying in bed with me when he weighed only 9 lbs. I could wear him for hours without throwing out my back, and I could co-sleep with him without getting a round-house kick the face every morning.  He was a little squishy baby, in the "4th trimester"; I was everything he needed, and I liked it that way. I never imagined I would want it any other way.

Johnny is now 20 months old. He will not go to sleep for for anyone other than Alex and myself, so we can't ever go on a date the goes past bedtime. Because he never took a bottle I couldn't be away from him longer than 3 hours until he finally started eating solids at around a year old. He doesn't take a pacifier or have a lovie, so when he is sick, or upset, I'm the pacifier. Up until we got his floor bed he was still nursing during the night, so we have never done a night away from him. It takes me about 45 minutes to put him down for a nap in our bed and the stealthy acrobatics I have to do to sneak away from him when he finally falls asleep look a little something like this.



The result is that I am sleep deprived and often feel very touched out. I feel like I'm not getting the kind of break I need to really be refreshed. I become short tempered. I start to resent people who are able to leave their kids for a little get away. I wish I had released myself from the expectation that I had to be the only one meeting Johnny's needs. I wish we had laid the ground work earlier that would have made it possible for someone other than me fulfill Johnny's needs. And I wish that I hadn't beat myself up and made myself feel guilty for the few times I did let other people fulfill Johnny's needs. 


But, you live and learn, right? I don't think anyone figures out what kind of parenting works best on the first try. Johnny is finally sleeping well at night, Praise The Lord! He does really well with babysitters. I don't see any end to his nursing yet, but most days he's only nursing before bed and naps, so the touched-out feelings are becoming less and less. I know he won't be little forever and that I need to soak up his babyhood while I still can. 

But any future babies will take bottles and pacifiers!

What about you? How has your vision of parenting changed?  Have you had to rethink any philosophies or game plans? I'd love to know!

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16 comments:

  1. I had a very similar vision for my parenting relationship with Iggy before he was born. When nursing went down the drain, I resented parents who had that particular kind of bond with their children. It's been a challenge to fight the thoughts that Iggy doesn't need me at all and that I don't matter to him. I think the reality is so, so, so much of it is his temperament. He's just a very independent child. He definitely has his moments where he just wants mommy, but they are very rare.

    I don't think we'll change a ton of things with this baby, though we definitely will work on getting him/her to sleep on their own!

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    1. Jacqui, your struggles crossed my mind as I was writing this. attachment parenting doesn't have to adhere to one specific mold. When I think of you guys I think AP, even though nursing didn't go as you had planned. And kids temperaments....crazy how different each one is.

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  2. Oh yes to many of these!! I have three kids and am still figuring out how to do a version of attachment parenting that works for us. Hugs hugs hugs.

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    1. Yes, yes yes, thank you Nell for sharing! I see attachment parenting differently now than I did when I first started this parenting gig. There are things I've kept (breastfeeding for extended time, babywearing, cosleeping at least part time) and at least one huge thing I ditched--nursing to sleep forever and ever amen. My son was a sleep deprived mess when he needed to be held/nursed for every single nap and sleep transition. My daughter (#2) started gently learning to fall asleep on her own at bedtime, with aid from swaddle/swing/pacifier from 2 months old. She then would cosleep from later in the night until morning, and just lately at 8 months old she mostly sleeps happily in her crib all night, with one night feeding. It works great for us!

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    2. Kate, this sounds like a great strategy!

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  3. Ditto to what Jacqui and Nell said! I think it is so hard when you have your first and have a vision of how parenting should look (in general) and then you have to deal with the reality of what parenting this particular child DOES look like. Also, when it's your 1st, it's much easier to get into the habits of nursing to sleep, etc, because you can offer that time and attention in a way that you can't with subsequent kids. Our second and third have both been better sleepers than our first, and I realize that it is because I created the situation in many ways. But I keep trying to let go of the guilt and the ideals, and just be guided by a mix of my kids' needs and my own needs. Praying for you! We are all still figuring it out as we go!!

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    1. Thanks, Laura. It's so nice to hear people say that their first was the worst sleeper and then they get better after that!

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  4. I totally understand this. Before having kids I thought I was going to be all attachment all the time! But I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that sleep training doesn't necessarily mean that you're not using attachment parenting principles. I've found that sleep training my kids have been the best thing I've done to survive the little years and I looove that I can put all my babies down for naps from about 3 months on awake and know they'll go to sleep and actually sleep. So, I'm basically just saying I understand exactly where you're at because I was there, but since having four more babies after my first I think I've reached the sweet spot between attachment parenting and actually getting sleep!

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    1. Christy, I read a post you wrote a while back on this same subject and it was very comforting and enlightening. So glad you have found the right balance, and that you are sleeping! I hope to join you soon!

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  5. I had all these grand ideas with my first too. Although sometimes I wonder how much of the "attachment" has to do with personality vs. what we are habituating, I'm still trying to find the "sweet spot" with my littles. I have definitely made some adjustments to my parenting after my second, but I know I will be making it with each one.

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  6. I still consider my self AP style, but so much of "strict" AP didn't apply to us. I never breastfeed, because of my c-section babywearing was hard or near impossible for a long while. But in the end it all worked. I just had to focus my attention on bonding, no matter what tools I was using. Bottles were a time for cuddling (with anyone who was giving it), seats and strollers could be moments for hand holding, face stroking, eye contact (not all bonding has to be body to body).

    But oh boy, I never intended to co-sleep... and now I have an almost 4 year old who believes that sleeping in his bedroom is a sign he's been naughty. I absolutely love cosleeping/bed sharing .... but wish I had known more going in to it to avoid this point of it. We got to this point thanks to the last 2 years of fertility issues.... we expected to have a little baby by this time last year that we'd hoped would have driven him to his bed on his own. I'm glad we had cosleeping/bedsharing after the losses; I needed that closeness with him a lot (and is a big reason I never pushed it before now) when grieving.

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  7. This is great! I felt that way too with my first, who was also a TERRIBLE sleeper/had-to-be-held-every-waking-minute. It was so, so exhausting. I also got "touched out" when I was pregnant again with #2 and #1 was still nursing through the night. Severely painful! So, I just realized that at that point, I was NOT giving either her or myself the best, and we had to let her learn to fall asleep without me or the breast. And, boy, am I glad I did! She learned very quickly at around 12 months, and has now become a beautiful sleeper. I feel that it was a gift we gave her, in a sense. Did I wish we could do extended nursing? Yes, and felt very guilty, but there was this surprise new little life growing who needed me more. :) Baby #1 still got tons of cuddle time with her raw milk bottles. And with #2, so much of that guilt is gone: I had no qualms giving her pacis right away (and with her colic, she often preferred it to the breast), I wear her far less bc she's just too heavy for my petite self, and she has once or twice had to cry herself to sleep (since nothing we were doing was getting her to sleep). So, we felt that we learned so much about what our sanity level could handle and what our babies can handle at certain ages.

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  8. Yep! I remember those ideals so well, too! In my plan, I had also learned (magically) to play the guitar and I'd sing the babe to sleep/make her deliriously happy with my folksy upbeat tempos during the day. (six years later and still no guitar skills)

    It takes a village - a few generations ago it would never have been just mama and babe. It would be aunts and cousins and... I implemented a lot of changes with my second and I'm so glad I did. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out sleep training doesn't have to be some horrible nightmare thing. Sleep training doesn't have to equal screams. It can be gentle teaching. SO glad I realized that before the second was born :) ~Britta

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  9. This post couldn't have come at a better time for me. Baby #1 is showing up any day now, and naturally, I've been thinking a lot about parenting styles. I like so much of attachment parenting, but I was starting to feel like I'd have to do all-or-nothing. It's nice to get "permission" not to feel bad about having a baby who takes a bottle or goes to sleep on his own sometimes.

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    1. So glad this was helpful, Holly! I really don't think any parenting style has to be all or nothing. I hope you find that right balance with your new baby! Congrats!

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  10. Love this, and your honesty. Great post. I lived it from the other direction - when my son was born, I had massively horrible postpartum anxiety. Every sound of baby's breath at night would jolt me awake, so after two nights, he was in his crib, on his own. I felt guilty about it! I also felt guilty when I went back to work and had to switch to formula when my supply tanked at 10 months. But, I do have the great benefit of a baby who sleeps well, long, anywhere and for anyone. Oh, motherhood :)

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