Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Attachment Parenting Discussion: My Two Cents

Two prominent Catholics whom I admire, Danielle Bean, and Gregory Popcak,(who attended my blogging talk at the Society of Catholic Social Scientists Conference) have been having an intense discussion online about Attachment Parenting, which I will refer to as AP. They mean Dr William Sears' approach, which is also from La Leche League where Moms breastfeed children on demand, co-sleep with children, wear their babies in slings, etc. My friend, blogger Steve Garvin asked my opinion about AP with respect to Attachment Parenting in an email, so I'm posting it here.

So many times, something in my live corresponds with this blog, I can't help but feel God's hand in all this. I was re-reading for the umteenth time, the section in Dr. Sears'"The Baby Book", which deserves to be the "Baby and Child Care"(Dr Spock) of this generation, and probably is, about attachment parenting special needs children. Dr. Sears has 9 children and Stephen, now in his twenties, has Down syndrome. Martha Sears, RN, his wife wrote the foreword for the book "Gifts". In his all too brief section on children with Down syndrome, he writes that raising children with special needs is when your attachment parenting skills really shine, you are tuned into your child's needs and know how to respond to them.

I breastfed Christina till she self-weaned at 2 1/2 years, which, for my girls is early. Gabbi weaned at 3 1/2 because I had been having miscarriages, and Isabella reluctantly weaned at 3. The reason Christina probably self-weaned is because had gestational diabetes, my placenta was disintegrating, and I had a C-section at 8 mos. so my milk was VERY difficult to start, and I never completely breastfed Christina. It was half and half. All three girls slept in the family bed, on the side next to me, with a bedrail next to them, and Christina still does. We have a caboose bed, a single bed on the floor next to our king size bed, and last night she fell asleep there.

Attachment parenting got me out of the senseless scheduling of the 1960's where everything was run by the clock, and babies belonged in 'holders', the crib, the playpen, the high chair, the car seat, the stroller. Not to say I didn't have these things, but my babies often preferred the sling, or my arms, and I tried to satisfy their needs as much as possible, which wasn't too difficult since my girls are 4 and 41/2 years apart because of my three miscarriages, gestational diabetes, and ecological breastfeeding limited my fertility more than most moms. I also married at 29, cutting off many fertile years. This is something I am not happy about, I always wanted a large family, but since raising Christina is so demanding, and I must earn money in our situation, I try to see God's providence in my family size, and be grateful for what I have.

Thus AP works well for me, and I do feel quite close to my girls. It helped me cope with Gabbi's colic, when my family was trying to help by giving my "Ferberizing" books, and it helped with Bella when I had a family day care in the home, and felt like I didn't have enough time just with her during the day we bonded again at night. It helped me with Christina who cried far less than the other two, so I had to be on top of her needs, or she would go hungry.

Now that my youngest is nearing 6, I am finding myself reading Dr Guarendi to deal with sibling squabbles, and other discipline issues. His practicality, sense of humor which gives him balance, and understanding of the nature of children resonates with me, and my girls profess to hate him, a fact I told him personally at the IHM Conference last June(see photo) Why do they hate him? Because, for example when Bella age 3 was in time out, she would suddenly get the urge to hug Mommy. My AP side said,"don't deny your child's emotional needs", so I would let her out of time out to hug me. Dr Gurarendi reminded me that she never seemed so affectionate as when she wanted to get out of punishment; ie kids manipulate parents, and AP can make some mothers so guilt ridden, that the kids play them like violins, like Bella was doing to me. Dr Guarendi, with his outrageous sense of humor, teaches parents not to be such saps. It's a struggle I'm in the midst of as I write.

You know I homeschool, so we often struggle with discipline, like late bedtimes, and slip-shod scheduling,(we are behind Seton's demanding schedule) particularly because I must leave home frequently to teach English classes, during the academic year, and the girls are on their honor with the baby sitter for three hours or with laissez-faire Dad on Saturdays. My blog is an attempt to launch my writing career so that I can work from home, and stop leaving the house to teach. It's beginning to work, thank heaven.

In between Dr. Sears and Dr. Guarendi, I had a brief spate with Dr. Dobson, whom Greg Popcak calls Calvinist, and he's right in some areas(children are basically bad or selfish and need to be shaped to be good) but I prefer Dr. Guarendi's approach. AP doesn't take you past toddlerhood, and it is a solid foundation, but it can lead to excessive guilt. Conflict with your children is a sign of you acting like the adult, and a necessary part of parenting, however, it can be rough on us AP moms who don't want our children to cry. We must learn to endure angry crying in time out, or other punishments, and not see it as abandoning our children. Many homeschool moms have unruly children who embarrass them in public, and are impossible to homeschool because they rarely hear the word "NO". I hope I'm not one of them, but I suspect I'm closer than I should be.

My girls are respectful and reasonably well behaved at Mass, with other adults, in summer camp with the sisters, with their friends mothers, and with their grandparents, and I often receive compliments. Many of those family members who were skeptical abut homeschooling are starting to understand why I do it, my girls don't think everything I say is useless, and roll their eyes. At least not in public. At home, we struggle with respect, doing chores. sibling squabbles, and prayer time. Which makes us a normal, loving Catholic family, I hope.

My husband wishes we were better about bedtime, and does see me as a bit lax in some ways, and I am working on instilling more discipline. I need to re-read my autographed Dr Guarendi book, "Good Discipline, Great Teens", which was out on loan to a mom of 10.

Now, Steve, I'll attempt to discuss AP and special needs children. I thank God I was good at AP by the time Christy was a baby, because I was confident at meeting babies needs. If not, mothering a 5 lb special needs baby with a weak cry would have terrified me. I won't say I didn't have my doubts, but I turned to the all too brief sections of Dr. Sear's book which deal with babies with Down syndrome, which I can recite by memory. I once wrote him asking him to write a book exclusively for parents like us, and I hope he's thinking about it. Now that Christina is an extraordinarily strong willed child of 5, I feel like reading Dr. Dobson's book of that name, which I once owned, but probably loaned out. Just as well, because Christy has reduced understanding, and that book won't take that into account. Therein lies my dilemma. Just how much can I demand of a child who doesn't understand much of the "IF. ..then" explanations I give her. "IF you put away your toys, then you can have a snack".
I have a sneaking suspicion, writing this, that I will someday write the book I wish were out there on parenting special needs children. Once I figure it out. I'm FAR from that now, unfortunately.

I still can't toilet train Christina, she runs away from me in public, usually towards traffic, and must be in a stroller, though she's been walking for 3 years, and she often says a loud "NO" to my requests. We are using the 'naughty chair' (yes, I have watched "Nanny 911" and seen myself!) which seems to help. I have people who undermine my authority because Christy is special, and they live with me, but I'm not naming names. People who pick her up when she's on the floor having a tantrum because I said, "NO" to a video, and comfort her, making me the bad guy. *Sigh*
This is a long, and searingly honest post. If you had any illusions about me from the lovely photos I post, I'm certain you now see me as a human being, struggling to serve God in my family, with mixed results. I know where my strength lies, in the Eucharist, and daily prayer, and I try to get to Adoration, on Thursdays, and often don't to build up my spiritual reserves for those struggles, but often those very struggles keep me from getting to Adoration.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, a sinner.

Now I have to go and crack the whip, as the noon whistle rang and only my14 year old Gabbi is downstairs doing schoolwork. Bella saw me distracted on the computer, and snuck upstairs to play. She tells me she's working, but since she has no desk in her room, I have my doubts. . .

1/10 UPDATE: Attachment Parenting in special situations. I was in the hosptial last month when she had double pnemonia, and attachment parenting meant lying in bed with Christina in my arms and hold her oxygen tube. I noticed that when we were holding her, her oxygen level went up. This was also the finding of studies of preemies, the more physical contact they had with their parent's bodies, skin to skin if possible, the higher their blood oxygenation, leading to what's now called "kangaroo care" or special time for this in NICU wards

How could we have held that tube and comforted Christina at the same time without being so close to her? In this photo, you see Francisco trying to convince her to accept the oxygen tube. Christina was so intimidated by the hospital routine, that she refused all treatment; IVs, masks, shots, liquids, oral medicines, with a strength which belied her serious condition. AP saved the day here!


Andrea said...

I was just sent the "debate" about AP from Danielle Bean and Greg Popcak. I have not read all the comments and not sure if I read all the posts from them two.

I love AP and it works well for us. I really believe you need to have balance while using it.

I could go into my story with everything, but I won't. Thanks for sharing yours.

Catholic Mom said...


As I read the posts and comments from Dr. Popcak and from Danielle Bean, the "debate" is less about the merits of AP as it is about the perceived criticism of those who don't subscribe to the AP ideology. As I wrote here, there is more than one way to parent effectively. The methodology that works best for you and your family at any given time may not fit my family. Dr. Popcak asserts that AP is morally superior to all other parenting strategies. This is disrespectful to all those holy, faithful parents who have prayerfully discerned an alternative course for their families.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful review of attachment parenting as it has worked in your home. I have found that I am leaning more and more in that direction with each new baby. I loved Dr. Sears' Breastfeeding Book, which helped me in my fourth baby's newborn breastfeeding crisis. It turned out her nonstop colicky cry was due to her intolerance to dairy in my diet. Within 48 hrs. of eliminating dairy, we had some peace, and we are still happily breastfeeding at 18 months.

nutmeg said...

What a lovely, brilliant post. Thank you for sharing your joys and struggles.

While most aspects of AP didn't work for me, I was able to glean some beautiful treasures of parenting. And if God blesses us with more children, ( I have 5 children, and 2 in God's care) I hope to keep incorporating those aspects, as long as I can.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

My non AP friends think I coddle and spoil. My AP friends think I've abandoned the cause. The balance you present is pretty much how I have tired to parent and you shared the struggle to find balance SO beautifully!

Thank you to you and, of course, to Dr. Ray.

Anonymous said...

Whatever floats your boat..i had 6 under 6 without breastfeeding..the others breastfed are no brighter..& only one has eczema (mild) & that was a breast fed one. Could never ever sleep with a baby in bed. All my kids seem perefectly well-adjusted..eldest studying Medicine...