Tuesday, 17 December 2013

On becoming an (attachment) parent

I thought I might tackle a serious post for once.  I have had various parents ask me recently about the importance of attachment, and some others coming up with some really frightening definitions of what they think "attachment parenting" means.

I didn't think I would be an "attachment parent" when I first started out.  I thought that I would have all the answers, that my kids would go to sleep when they were told, that I would have the ability to let them "cry it out" while "exercising their lungs" as parenting "experts" suggest (wow - could there be any more "quotation marks" in a single sentence? I think not! They are there to indicate my sarcastic/disbelieving voice).  However, when my babies were born, nothing could be further from the truth.  Something in me, hormonally speaking, or perhaps just the eons of mothers in the generations before me, would not let me leave my little ones to cry even for the shortest of instants.

I think I have said before that twins are fully capable of planning a tag-team approach to sleeping when they are very little, and ours were no exception.  At one point in our journey with the boys, it got so bad that both Peter and I were not sleeping more than forty minutes in a night.  We both vaguely refer to that time as "that August", because neither of us can quite remember what exactly happened there.  Like survivors, our minds have blacked out the worst of those times.

It was in that stage of sleep-deprived desperation that we aimed to do something about it.  We decided to consult a self-professed expert (ah, never trust anyone who has to profess themselves an expert) in the intricacies of baby sleep.  A baby whisperer, if you will.  Except that she was not a whisperer - no soft techniques here.  She was in fact a baby nazi.  

Babies need to learn how to cry it out, so that they can settle themselves, she said to us at our consultation.  You are on duty as parents only until six o'clock at night, and after then, you are off duty as parents until six in the morning, she said.  The babies will cry, she said, but let them cry - they will learn eventually, and then peace will reign in your house.  Remember, she said, the babies are just cross with "the doctor" (meaning herself), and if they can manipulate you back into the room by trying various methods such as weeing/pooing on themselves, or even vomiting, these should just be seen as manipulative attempts to gain attention, and should be ignored, she said.

The Sweetpea and I left her consultation in silence.  When we were alone, I turned to him, and in my firmest voice, said to him "That was the most valuable thing I think I have ever heard in my life!"
"What?" he said.
"Yes," I continued, "'the doctor' has pointed us very clearly in the way we should go.  We should take every single piece of her advice, and do exactly the opposite of what she has suggested we do." Luckily she had given us a scrap of paper with all of her suggestions already typed up on it (she must just hand them out to parents like us after her consultations), so we could consult it from time to time to make sure we were doing the exact opposite of her recommendations.

And so, by default, we became Attachment parents.

When our little ones squeaked, we were there for them.  We patted and held, rocked and carried, wore them in slings, and slept with them in our room. We made sure that their needs were met (note I say needs - some attachment parents believe that every whim should be met, and I do not think this is in the true spirit of the original attachment ideals). We cuddled and kissed, listened to their fears and encouraged them through the difficult parts.  
It took a little while, but they started sleeping easily through the night.  They became the confident sleepers we had always wanted, just by us slowly and gently teaching them. No leaving them to cry, just a gradual moving away until they felt confident to do it on their own.

And now they are grown?  They are boys who know they can come to us with what ever problem they have and believe we will be there for them and that we will do our best to understand them and work with them towards a solution.  That has stood us in good stead over the past year of their transition to school.

All parents are free to make their own decisions on these sorts of issues, and no-one should be made to feel bad for making a choice that suits them.  But these were the decisions that worked for us.  Nowadays, when a friend of mine falls pregnant, I make sure to recommend two books to her:  The Baby Bond, by Linda Folden-Palmer, and The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland.  Both books, based solely on the latest research into the infant's developing brain and the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol, on it, are invaluable in a quest to find out which path you want to follow as a parent. Good luck!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Back to basics

Children will always find the ways to push the boundaries in some way.  If there is a rule, it was made to be broken.  If there is a tree that parents have said not to climb, the only thing for it is to find out by yourself why they said you shouldn't (as happened recently to one very swollen-faced little boy in our family who fell out of a tree and was luckily saved by catching his jaw on a branch on the way down).

I was speaking to the mother of a patient of mine the other day about this.  Her little one insists on making rude signs at people in the park.  She has no idea where he gets it from.  I comforted her by letting her know that mine are no different.  It's just the degree that differs.
 I came down the other day to find my two in fits of giggles as they wrote on pieces of paper on the dining room table.  It was those sorts of giggles that you know spell out "up to no good". One would write a word and the other would read it and chortle in a Dr Evil kind of way.  I was curious to see what was going on, so I went to stand closer.  What was written on the paper was "pardn mi" (pardon me).  Not very evil, you think.  however, there is a history to this. 

In our family, we have always been wary of using words like "fart" or "piss" in our conversations.  I just hate the words - they seem crass and unrefined to me, so I never say them myself.  With the result that when one of the boys broke wind early on in life, I told him to say "pardon me".  Somehow, they both just assumed that this was what it was called. From then on, that bodily function was called a "pardon me", and no one ever thought to change it.

Move forward several years, and there they were, at the dining room table, writing the rudest word that they could think of to write. "Pardn mi".  Laughing evilly all the time. 

And in the end, it turns out that their pushing the boundaries behaviour is just as subversive as any other child's - it just has different vocabulary.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Birthday madness

With three kids so close in age (Snoopy is two weeks after the boys), it is usually impossible to split the birthdays without causing ourselves much madness and mayhem.  After all, our anniversary is there in the middle of the birthdays too.  However, the romance tied into our anniversary usually consists of a wake-up kiss and then an almost-divorce when we try to put together the cakes that are invariably required for the next day (I am not sure how it always works out like this, but we seem to schedule the combined party for the day after our anniversary every year.  This year, I thought I was being clever and scheduled it a week away from the anniversary, only to find that I had been looking at the wrong month on the calendar, and bizarrely, the anniversary was once again the day before the party.  It's like Groundhog Day.).

Anyway, these are the cakes that almost caused another divorce in the family.  Having a technically-minded person who actually understands what is meant by the words "slide rule" and "randomised control study trial" (so not me), and a person who says helpful things like "I think it should go up a bit on the side that has the flowers" is not a match made in cake-decorating heaven. But all came right in the end. The boys had a pirate treasure chest this year, and Snoopy had a mermaid.  Needless to say, the treasure chest, with all the chocolate coins, was a hot favourite. 

The treasure chest

This is a very serious business!

Monday, 15 April 2013

If the tooth be known...

I never fail to be amazed at life - sometimes when you are down, it knows just how to make you smile again.  And at others... well let's just say it knows when to kick you when you're down too (I don't mean that to sound as harsh as it does, but let me explain...)!

So we had finally got over the whole "going off to school/big boys" hurdle, and I was middling along nicely and managing not to stare like some frenzied loony in through the back window of the classroom every day as I was leaving, when we were sitting at the breakfast table, and Paddy says "My tooth is loose!"  

It was as though my whole life flashed in front of my eyes at that time.  My immediate response to him was: "No, it's not!" (Perhaps more snippily than was warranted by the statement.)
"It really is," he whined.
"It's actually not," I repeated, hoping that by saying it, it would come true.

But something in me knew.  And as he opened his mouth for me to see, and that little tooth was wiggling all over the place, I was struck by the unfairness of the situation.  

I had just said goodbye to my little ones at school, had to have their fifth birthday parties after celebrating their births about, what, like two weeks ago?, and now, I have to cope with them losing their small, beautiful baba teeth.  Really!  You have got to be kidding me!

And like any good mother should, I rose to the occasion.  I dissolved into tears. I freaked out and scared my child.  And I responded in such a mature way:

"Don't you dare wiggle that tooth! Ever!"

Okay, so that lasted about two seconds.

(Just for the record, I have made it up to him.  I told him about how it is all a natural process of growing up; I have shown him the new, very visible and absolutely huge tooth sticking out the back; I have shown him the identical one sticking up out of Sam's gums; and all is fine again.  For them.  Not me...)

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


It's been really difficult to write over the past few weeks.  So much emotional baggage to deal with that it has been almost impossible to offload any more on this blog.  The reason for all of this is very simple, and probably (definitely) a natural part of childhood:  the twins have started school.

I have heard from helpful parents in the past so many times now that if I had a dollar for each time, etc., but it's true - they grow up too quickly.  You can remember the precise instant when they are first placed in your arms after they are born, their exact smell, and suddenly, in the next instant, it seems, you are expected to wish them well on their first day of school.  There is nothing quite like that feeling of bereftness as you walk away from them for the first time, leaving them in the care of a stranger for the better part of the day, the week and the rest of their lives.  I am not sure that they were aware of the import at the time at all - they happily waved goodbye and went to sit on the mat with their new-found friends.  It was me that was left to stand outside the class, looking through the window at my grown-up boys, feeling kindof silly and as though I had too many arms or hands and nothing to do with them.  It's amazing how you can still feel the imprint of their tiny hands in yours even long after you have left them. What's sadder though, is the feeling of them pulling away, wanting to run, to play, not to be bound to you by that ever-present hand.  How each time they run off, they tear a small piece of you away with them, as though they had been grafted there and are having to physically rip themselves away. No words have ever said it better than a poem I once read and have reproduced - it's by C. Day Lewis:

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still.  Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

It's these last two lines that have given me hope and the courage to show a brave face instead of parading my aching heart.  

For selfhood to develop, they have to walk away.  And for you to love them fully, you have to let them go.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Just add water...

The high days of sun and summer are finally here.  I can't remember experiencing a proper summer in the past few years, but maybe that is just because I have mostly been inside with a child attached to my breast to be outside in the sun getting a (slight) tan and having fun in the sea.  But now, with the kids just that little bit older, the trips to the beach are not so much daunting as exhilarating, and everyone has fun for at least a morning without squealing to go home (I was always the first to do the squealing, let me tell you).

We have consequently been spending some halcyon days in the sun on the various beaches around us (and if you have not yet made the trip to Scorching bay, do yourself a favour and put that right immediately).  We were there recently and, apart from the teenagers who insisted on smoking something that had to be rolled up in paper and did not smell like tobacco, it was sheer heaven.  

We all swam, even the children ( which is unusual) and on the beach got into a conversation about God, much to the bemusement of the teenagers, who probably weren't functioning the best even when not high on what looked suspiciously like pot. 

"Could God drink the whole ocean?" asked Paddy.

"I suppose he could if he wanted to," I replied.
"Then he would get a very fat tummy," added Sam.

Little Miss Snoopy, bright as a button and obviously absorbing every word, threw in her comments:
"Just like Mummy," she said with satisfaction, patting my tummy happily.

Needless to say, the high-as-kites kids behind us thought this was the funniest thing they had ever heard. One even ended up on the sand, he was laughing so much.  I personally did not find it as funny as all that.