09 June 2009

Why I'm not an Organic, Attachment, or Otherwise Superior Parent

Many moons ago when I was pregnant with Baby 1 my dear friend Gauntlets sent me Dr Sears' The Baby Book so I would be a good mom. I learned that I should nurse the baby, wear the baby in a sling, nurse the baby, sleep with the baby, nurse the baby, etc. Ok, I thought. The marvelous Mrs Sears was there too to provide inspiration: need some milk and don't have a pump? No problem, just manually express 8 ounces over your lunch break! I was so ready.

Then the baby was born and I had Nursing Problems. I couldn't have an eight pound baby smashed up against my shredded self all day long. I couldn't wear a sling. I couldn't wear a shirt. I absolutely could not feed the baby on demand cue. Next thing I knew, I wasn't an Attachment Parent. Just as well, as I've learned since then that it wouldn't have worked out anyway. (Incidentally, my baby-slinging, sleep-sharing, homeschooling friend Gauntlets, some of whose kids have long out-nursed any of mine, still claims to like me.)

This is yet another weird thing about CSPP. Many people who have a lot of kids are also highly evangelical members of various organic/Attachment Parenting lobbies: homebirth, babywearing, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, extended breastfeeding, homeschooling, anti-vaccination, etc. There are people with lots of kids who make these things work. But they don't work for everybody, and I'm not prepared to consign the many people for whom they don't work to the ranks of the irredeemably lazy, selfish, worldly, and/or mentally pliable.

No hard feelings here. But in general, my impression of the hard-core organic parenting community (and by hard-core I'm referring to those who come at it with a Reformed obsession with Law, or a liberal religious devotion to Earth, for whom there is no Christian or any other kind of freedom) is that they take the appeal to nature fallacy as their starting point and extrapolate from there. This comforts me when I see how much organic milk costs.

Attachment parenting is a fine thing, but it is ultimately a personality style restyled as a lifestyle. Some people, men and women, have an exceptional ability to be close to children. They have a gift which enables them to scrub bathtubs in a child-nurturing way. I think they are wonderful people, truly. But I just don't have the gift any more than I can prevent a conversation from getting awkward or land a single salchow. I can affect preschool-teacher perkiness or Romantic-era maternal tenderness for 75 minutes, but it leaves me exhausted, snappy, and unable to come up with what to fake next--and it's only 9:25, and nobody washed the breakfast dishes.

The good news is that I practice my parenting a lot more than I practice my salchows, so there's hope for improvement there. But call me an introvert, a choleric, a thinking type, a firstborn, whatever Boomer-conceived psychological category explains it: I'm just not drawn the attachment parenting way. I'm not a cuddler, a dancer, or an imaginer. But I am a mom. I carry my baby in my arms, I make rules for my prickly self to ensure that everybody gets their warm fuzzies (and you'd likely be horrified to learn the kind of rules I've had to make), and I often keep my distance so that I can keep my temper.

To illustrate: all marriages are different. Some couples are moony, some like to hassle each other, some keep their spheres separate, some tell each other everything, some thrive on spontaneity and some need schedules. What works for them is their business. And parent/child relationships are different too. You don't have to be Attached to be attached. I'm even willing to entertain the common yet impossible to prove assertion that Attached children are better cared for. I wish I had it in me naturally, but I don't. Somehow, though, my kids and I get through the day and still wake up basically liking each other.

What this all comes down to is that parents do what enables them to survive. For some people, the hallmarks of attachment parenting are the easier route (as they love to tell you). For other people, a baby in bed means at least one adult doesn't get any sleep, homeschooling means a houseful of miserable people (and illiterate kids) at the end of the day, babywearing means a pile of expensive slings wadded up at the back of the closet, etc. Not every "attachment" is net beneficial for every family--simply breastfeeding is a huge challenge for a lot of people, and that's one of those things that scores pretty darn low in optionality. It's foolish to force oneself and one's kids into a lifestyle choice (to the extent that any of these things are choices for any family, which also varies) that makes everyday life torture.

To all y'all who have no exersaucers or foreskins in your house: congratulations, really, because those decisions come at a respectable price (unless you married a hippie and had all girls :D ). We'd also do well to remember that God didn't mention sleeping arrangements or total wastes of $40 Maya wraps when that multiplying business came down. The procreative faithfulness to which he calls all husbands and wives does not mean that we have to join La Leche League, subscribe to Mothering, or keep a pesticide-free-grass-fed milch goat in the yard (not that there's anything wrong with that!). We take the kids he gives us, learn patience and sacrifice, and live out the daily details as they work for our families.

The life of a sinner has enough guilt built into it. Let's not let anxiety and animosity over diapers drive people to dreary isolation or desperate contraception. The fact that we make different choices shows nothing more than that we're different people with different priorities, abilities, and options. The choices a person makes do not indicate of themselves that she has or has not done her homework.

CSPP has room for girls from all points on the maternipolitical spectrum.

(I can't promise to respond to ignorant and/or argumentative comments. All comments suggesting that victims of any particular sort of parenting club are more sick, happy, psychopathic, insecure, polite, agile, etc., will be laughed at.)


Sarah d. said...

I can affect preschool-teacher perkiness or Romantic-era maternal tenderness for 75 minutes, but it leaves me exhausted, snappy, and unable to come up with what to fake next--and it's only 9:25, and nobody washed the breakfast dishes.

That is so me. :)

Joy said...

*sigh* I really want an exersaucer.

Pr. H. R. said...

That's how you spell "sow-cow"? Really? I always thought it had something to do with farm animals.

I am really shocked at this.


Marie said...

We started down the "Attachment Parenting" road, I think, merely to combat Post-modernism. There really must be a right way to parent, right?

But then, we followed all the rules, and it just didn't work for us. We swung to the other side of the pendulum and were very strict, and that didn't work either.

I recently told my relatives (parents of only one child- 7 months old) that to us, parenting is experimentation... finding out what works. They were disgusted at this idea! Just wait 'til baby starts crawling=)

Glenda said...

"Not that there's anything wrong with that," is a phrase I can never read or hear without thinking about Seinfeld. :-D

Good post!

MooreMama said...

Joy - Want a walker? If you keep it on carpet, it's practically the same thing... ;)

Sarah D said...

I did not use an exersaucer until my second born because he was a giant and I couldn't hold him for more for a long time without great muscle strain. Wimp.

But, once I got one...I wondered where it had been all my life. He loved it, I loved it, the other child loved it, grandma really loved it because she is weaker than I am.

Rosie said...

I appreciate this post. Thank you.

Reb. Mary said...

Yes. The CSPP umbrella is much larger than some of our casual readers have been wont to think.

Re: Preschool teacher perkiness: BoyOne's preschool teacher had it to such a degree that I sometimes wondered whether she wasn't a parody of a preschool teacher. Need I say how evilly gratified I was when once the lad casually mentioned that "sometimes, Mrs. B. has a mad face"? :P

Rebekah said...

Marie, interesting that you set up "strict" in contrast to "Attachment." I'd say "strict" and "Attachment" are two sides of the same coin: attentive and concerned for the child's development and well-being. The kids who are really in bad shape are those whose parents don't pay any attention to them, whether of the touchy-feely or more traditional variety.

Megan said...

While I'm not sure I'm totally a CSPP yet, I sure do love it here. It is wonderful to read intelligent, insightful blogs from women who share my faith. And with whom I certainly share more in common with then most.

I would love to be an attachment parent, but I'm just not. I'm coming to grips with that and becoming more comfortable with my own parenting style, which has been learned through trial and error, lots and lots of error. But as I read once, if I was a perfect mom then my children wouldn't need God, and my job is to point them to Him.

Women can be so catty sometimes, it is wonderful to see a place where women hold each other up and support each other through Christ's love and forgiveness. Thank you.

Cheryl said...

I love this post. Amen to all of it. Wish I had the power to make certain people read it.

Cheryl, who isn't a CSPP but likes to hang out here anyway and who is highly attached to three non-breastfed, disposable diapered, toilet-trained on their schedule, spanked when they needed it, homeschooled, immunized, raw milk drinkers who were brought up to sleep in their own beds but never rejected when they crawled into ours and never left to cry it out. In our house slings are something you wear when you have a broken arm, organic is overrated, but whole and locally produced foods are definitely preferred.

I love it when the stereotypers are flummoxed. Thanks for continuing to confound them, Rebekah. And for so eloquently pointing out that while there is only one right path to eternity, there are as many ways to navigate the family and parenting sea as there are parents and families!

Beth said...

Yes, it really is interesting how when we feel the freedom to pick and choose our own parenting styles... a little piece from here, a wee bit from there, there are those who get all upset because "you're not doing it right".

If I sling my babies, have them in my bed and swath their nether-regions in cotton I get applause from one end and boos from the other.
If my 2 yos start getting swats on the bum for disobedience and I expect my 6 yo not to interupt adult conversations then the cheers and hisses are reversed.

How nice to know that no matter how out there you are with some of these things, there is one thing that we can all have in common and rally around. And we all say Amen!

Rebekah said...

Girls, you're all great, and I'm glad this is a place where a wide variety of people can hang out (CSPP or not!) and talk like grownups instead of seventh graders. I love your examples, Cheryl and Beth--I think most of our inventories would be similar mishmashes of "what works for us."

Megan, I still mostly consider myself temporarily avowed, so you're not alone there either.

JenniferH said...

Rebekah, you continue to be hilarious! While I'm simply terrified of the realities of Perpetual Parturition since #1 and #2 were 18 months apart and some days I wonder if a rational thought will ever again pass through my mind, CSPP is one of my favorite reads for guilty pleasure during nap-time (theirs, not mine).

Today's post was terrific! Glad to know I'm not the only one out here not elated with another day of entertaining a toddler and pre-schooler. Don't get me wrong, the choice to be at home is not one I'd change, but one can only get so excited about Thomas, James, Percy and Scarlooey. Cheeky brits and their choo-choos.

Thanks for today's reminder of all the laughs you brought my way during those early commutes to wear the awful headphones all day at LHM. Some days I still ponder Immaculate Conception thanks to you.

Rebekah said...

JenniferH, where have you been all my life? :D We had such a great carpool.

Thomas, blech. I wonder who's thinking about the Immaculate Conception at LHM now?

JenniferH said...

Hmmm....where HAVE I been? Don't you have a toll-free number where I can call and bemoan my life to you? Sheesh. And if you're published in the Lutheran Witness couldn't you write some booklets to send out to all your faithful CSPP readers in all your free time?

Anyway, thanks in part to your wisdom & wit I have become what my hubby sometimes deems "more Lutheran than me." Who knew?

Rebekah said...

In fact, I did distribute a prototype of that little gem to the loyal readers of CSPP first, but it later found more profitable publication. ;)

Gauntlets said...

This reminds me, I owe you a Fall from Grace post. I'll get to it as soon as I'm off maternity leave.

Oh, please, please let me off maternity leave.

Marie said...

Rebekah- I agree with your comment. By strict, I meant we yelled, punished too harshly, etc, which is very different than Attachment parenting's Gentle Disciple philosophy. I see what you're saying, though=)

Pam said...

I too thank you for this post.

This blog was a lifesaver to me at a difficult time, one of a few in fact. It is refreshing indeed to be able to converse intelligently and be challenged and/or encouraged, to learn and grow.

This is particularly helpful to those of us who, as JenniferH said, wonder if a rational thought will ever again pass through our minds. In my own words, reading you gals reminds me that I am indeed still sane, even though I don't feel like I am.

Rebekah said...

Gauntlets, you're off. OFF!

Roger that, Marie. Bottom line is I'd be glad for my kids to hang out with yours, which is a big deal. :P

Pam, you know what they say: this too shall pass. Rationality and irrationality both--sigh.

lisa said...

I like the distinctions you draw and Wiki article you link to -- we need a lot less insecurities in this mothering thing. (I'm already fearing and trembling my way through it). It gets a little tiring flogging yourself over not being sweet enough (i.e. Pollyanna) when you've had minimal sleep and baby's in a growth spurt and then ten minutes later hiding the organic milk bc our guests might think I'm "one of those.." people.

Adele said...

Wow. It is hard to know where to begin. I guess I'll be laughed at, but will say my piece anyways. And I'll have to write out more than one bc of the character limit.

My first reaction is did you even read the Sears' book?? The Baby Book I have by Dr/Martha Sears lists 7 B's as their definition of attachment parenting. They are Birth bonding w/ your baby early, belief in your baby's cries, breastfeed your baby, baby-wearing-carry your baby a lot, bedding close to your baby, balance and boundaries and beware of baby trainers.
Notice it does not say you must sleep in the same bed with your baby. On my page 8 it says, "WHEREVER YOU AND YOUR BABY SLEEP BEST IS THE RIGHT ARRANGEMENT FOR YOU, AND IT'S A VERY PERSONAL DECISION."(emphasis mine) He defines cosleeping as sleeping w/in arms reach of each other. Cosleeping does not mean bedsharing, but for many families it ends up that way. Sure, he and his wife recommend bedsharing (cosleeping means sleeping in the same room, and by your other post, you admit to this, so I don't understand the vitriol against dr/martha Sears) bc many are terrified of it.
It does not say you must sling your baby, but slings make it much easier. I rarely used a sling with my first, but once my second came along, I found life more easy slinging an 11 lb 4 week old than carrying her and my 25 lb toddler when it was time to go places. I did not have family nearby, nor a husband who had flexible work hours, nor a nanny nor a church full of people willing to help me do anything. A sling was a life saver.
As for hand expressing, Martha says, "Whether by hand, BY PUMP, or a combination of both, the methods of expressing milk are a matter of personal choice. (emphasis mine)

Adele said...

(cont)So this brings me to my question---what kind of special skills do those 7 b's require???
I find the Sears book weak on providing research and clinical studies (the Attachment Parenting Book by them gives more and I will gladly purchase it for you if you will read it). But, the studies are out there.
Do you really believe there are little or no differences between breastfeeding and formula feeding? Can I send you over a thousand studies?? Do you really believe there is no harm in not answering a baby's cries?? Are you familiar with attachment theory? A quick google search of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth's pioneering research will satisfy any open mind.
No where on that 7 b's list is cloth diapering, not circ'ing, homeschooling, not vaccinating (Dr Sears is against not vaxing), or pesticide free goats. To conflate the two is simply dishonest.
It frustrates me that you present the Sears so erroneously. Here is a family that is very POSITIVE about having children. They had EIGHT children, including an adopted child and a child with Down's syndrome. Their books are appreciated by hundreds of thousands of moms who hung on to breastfeeding even though they were having terrible difficulties....moms who had babies with mixed day/night (me) and opened the book to find a positive response rather than negative. I encourage you to read the book again and maybe you will see things you did not see many years ago.

After reading many of the CSPP other posts, I would think you would champion a large Christian family (albeit not LCMS) who is positive about child rearing. Their first two children were textbook easy babies and then their third child came. She was high needs and the Sears realized she was unlike the others and needed more from them. AP is treating your child as an individual. Each child is not one size fits all.
If you are trying to attract moms to perpetual parturition, it helps to make large families a good thing, and not a complain-a-log-blog, which sadly other posts on this blog are.
And btw, the Bible does mention cosleeping. In Luke 11:5-7 A friend goes to another friend's house at midnight to borrow bread and the friend answers , "Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything."

Adele said...

cont 3
And a note about breastfeeding. I struggled tremendously to breastfeed. After a c-section and jaundice and milk not coming in for a week, I cried every latch on for two weeks. Yes, experts agree that between 2-5% of moms cannot breastfeed. Another 15-20% have supply issues from scheduling their feedings too far apart. I get the problems with breastfeeding. This is why I give every mom I know a book about breastfeeding, plus my phone number with instructions to call 24/7, plus a list of other resources.
But sadly, there are far too many moms who do not want to breastfeed. That is their choice (I do not agree w/ Gisele Bundchen that formula should be illegal), but formula is not as good. As Elizabeth Gene says,"Women should not feel guilty if they are unable to nurse their baby, but they should feel guilty if they are unwilling to do so, and they should be intellectually honest enough to know the difference.