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!