"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Attachment Parenting: Freedom and Joy

This is in response to an article by Erica Jong, entitled Mother Madness, in which she attacks attachment parenting. You can read the entire article here. Or, you can skip reading the article, and just read my blog, because 1) I'm going to share all the high points (or low points as it were), and 2) my blog has a picture of a really cute breastfeeding toddler and hers doesn't.

I actually read the article all the way through a couple of times, both because I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything, and because I sort of enjoy reading things that make me shake my head and go "huh?"  Her arguments make absolutely no sense to me, and I'm still not sure what it is exactly that has her so bent out of shape.    She comes across as sarcastic (and not in a funny way) and angry, and blames it on everything from societal pressures to Angelina Jolie.  She lambasts Dr William Sears and his Baby Book, and complains that the very idea of attachment parenting is an unrealistic and harmful "trend" that just sets women up for failure.

The first thing that had me scratching my head was when she called The Baby Book "today's bible of child rearing."  Now, I think Dr Sears is great, and have read several of his books.  My well-worn copy of The Baby Book is still on my shelf somewhere, dog-eared and dusty.  It's been years since I've picked it up, as I've been busy living and parenting and doing the very things that Ms Jong finds so distasteful.  I was a brand-new mom 13 years ago, and yes, I was thrilled to discover Dr Sears and to learn that what I was already instinctually doing actually had a name.   I never looked at it as a baby-rearing manual, and even if I did... this is a book that was first published in 1993.   Nearly twenty years old, it could hardly be considered the bible of a current trend.

And let's just be real for a minute.  While it may be gaining visibility, attachment parenting is still far from the pop-culture, trend-setting, hip thing to do that the author makes it out to be.   I am exceedingly thankful for the like-minded friends that I've made throughout the years that I've been a parent, but I am (and believe I will remain) in the minority on this.  And that's ok!  

This article seems to assume that attachment parenting is something that is done as a means to an end, a painful prescription for raising perfect children.  Towards the beginning of the article she says,

"Someday "attachment parenting" may be seen as quaint, but today it's assumed that we can perfect our babies by the way we nurture them. Few of us question the idea, and American mothers and fathers run themselves ragged trying to mold exceptional children. It's a highly competitive race."

To say she is entirely missing the point is putting it kindly.  I don't feel as though parenting is a competition.  I'm not at all interested in raising or molding perfect children.  I don't feel any pressure to live up to someone else's ideal, or to meet someone else's certain set of parenting standards.  I, along with lots of other mothers, do what I do simply because it's what feels right.  I am attuned to my children, and I am sensitive to their needs.  And yes:  For my babies, and my house, that has meant breastfeeding them, wearing them, sleeping with them, and allowing them to follow their own internal schedule for weaning and sleeping on their own, among other things.  My goal is not to "produce" perfect or exceptional children, but to love and nurture and appreciate them RIGHT NOW, in the manner that my God-given instincts (not William Sears or Angelina Jolie) tell me to.    

I am happy, and my children are happy.  Our life isn't a perfect life, but it's a joyful life.  Living a lifestyle in which needs are being met, in which everyone acts according to their own authentic truth, and in which people are being respected is to live a life of freedom, not - as the article would have you believe - one of imprisonment.

"Attachment parenting, especially when combined with environmental correctness, has encouraged female victimization. Women feel not only that they must be ever-present for their children but also that they must breast-feed, make their own baby food and eschew disposable diapers.  It's a prison for mothers, and it represents as much of a backlash against women's freedom as the right-to-life movement."

I'm not entirely sure why being a "green" parent must be lumped in with attachment parenting, or why making your own baby food or using cloth diapers would be akin to prison, but I'll bite.  Women should be present for their children.  They chose to have those children, not the other way around.  Breastfeeding has many many benefits over formula.  The fact that it is the healthier choice has been shown again and again, evidenced by the little "breast is best" disclaimer even on all the formula ads.  And cloth diapers and homemade babyfood?  Of course they're great choices, for many reasons.   But you don't want to make them?  Don't.  Easy.  You have your reasons.  But don't assume that those of us who do are doing so for any reason than our own personal convictions.  Don't assume that we're mindless drones bowing to some invisible societal pressures, or imprisoned by some perfect ideal, in the quest to somehow one-up everyone else.  

And why all the guilt?  Since when do women feel the need to measure themselves against anyone else's ideals but their own?  I have friends who grow all their own vegetables and have handmade Christmases.  Cool!  I'm lucky I can keep silk flowers alive, and our Christmases tend towards video games.  Cool!  

"Giving up your life for your child creates expectations that are likely to be thwarted as the child, inevitably, attempts to detach"

I believe this sentence is the one, on my second or third reading, that made me the most sad.  It's as if she's cautioning mothers against caring too much, and giving too much, with the fear that they'll be let down;  with the fear that they'll grow to crave children who never grow up, and never leave their side.  

The opposite is true.  

I did give up a certain amount of freedoms when I had children in order to be the parent that I wanted to be.  It was something I gladly did, and continue to do, for the people who I chose to bring into the world, and into my life.  It was not a sacrifice, or a big act of martyrdom, but a gift.  The only expectations I carry with it are those I would carry with any other gift:  none.  To truly give, you release all expectations.  You give because you want to give, because you love the person you're giving to, and because it's what we were made to do.  Yes, as parents we were designed to give of ourselves to our children.  And when their needs are met, parent and child are confident, happy, and fulfilled... and ready to move onto the next stage of their lives.  Children who know that their parents are there for them  (and haven't been forced to detach before they were ready) gain independence easily, and naturally.  In their own time, and in their own way.  They're the ones who still have good relationship with their parents when they're teenagers.  They're the ones who go off to college (or the Air Force or the work force) with ease, as secure and confident young adults who know who they are and know where they're going.  

When something - or someone - is nurtured, it grows.

Finally, attachment parenting is not a new concept.  Nor is it a conspiracy whose mission it is to heap guilt upon the masses who parent differently.  You don't have to agree with it, and you certainly don't have to aspire to be any other parent than the one that you, in your own heart, want to be.  But if you're angry and defensive, feeling guilty and pressured by mothers who make different choices, maybe that's just the way you feel.  Maybe it's not the fault of those other mothers, or of Dr Sears, or of society at large. 

Maybe, just maybe, you're not quite as happy with your own choices as you claim to be.  


debra said...

Well put Jen.
The fact is, Erica Jong is an angry woman. Women like this I avoid. I heard elsewhere about her views on parenting, and decided then and there not to give her the time of day, as she is a deceiver - a blind leader of the blind, if you will.
But I appreciate your words of wisdom in counter to her claims.

redrockmama said...

An advocate *against* attachment parenting? Wow! I liked this, Jen (as usual, heee). I love your blog! Thanks for taking time out of your book to blog :)

Sam said...

Very well put Jenn. I agree with everything you said.

Alice said...

I read this in the paper last week and had the same reactions. Actually, my first thought was about her own kids (I think she has at least one daughter), and how sorry I feel for them. To hear such anger and resentment from your own mother must really be heartbreaking. And of the people I know who parent this way, I can't think of one who doesn't do it willingly and happily. When I'm having a rough day or week, or when nausea makes it impossible to even think about washing poop off another diaper, I reach for a disposable. No guilt here. Great blog post!

Tiffany Woods Photography said...

Wow. She is really angry and I feel sorry for her. Not only is she missing out on the best part of having kids but she will never realize it!
I gladly gave up my life for my kids. It is their turn now, and my one and only job is to make them feel loved and safe. One day they will have their own lives and I will be free to pursue other things again...but until then, I am madly happy to just be a Mom!

Charity said...

~The only expectations I carry with it are those I would carry with any other gift: none. To truly give, you release all expectations. You give because you want to give, because you love the person you're giving to, and because it's what we were made to do - I love that you said this and attempt to relay this to people who don't seem to grasp this fact all the time. I don't believe any one type of parenting is the "right or better" type, I believe every mother should do what feels right to them. Attachment parenting is a wonderful concept for those who feel right doing it. At the end of the day, the happiest kids are simply loved and secure, everything else is a side note.

Annaleigh said...

I like how you put that. First of all I know a few couples who would give anything to be a parent, and cannot. Being a parent truly is a gift. And not one everyone gets.

I have never read a baby book, wait, I read 2 pages of one off my friend's coffee table. Instinctively I know what my kids need. I choose to nurse because that is what is best for my baby, and its FREE. I choose to use clothe diapers because after spending ridiculous amounts of money on Huggies and Pampers, (without getting to buy into the company) really irked me. Some of those baby book writers need help.


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