Thursday, June 27, 2013

Attachment Parenting: for life

I was drawn to Attachment Parenting  before I knew its name. I have written previously about that journey:
Babes In Arms: A Rod For My Own Back.

What is attachment parenting?

Attachment parenting (also called “natural parenting” or “instinctive parenting”) is an approach to parenting that has been practised widely for thousands of years. There has recently been a renewed interest in this approach to parenting in Western societies. Attachment parenting is based on the principle of understanding a child’s emotional and physical needs and responding sensitively to these needs. The focus of attachment parenting is on building a strong relationship between parents and child.
A strong and trusting relationship with your child can be developed by following your intuition; responding to your baby’s cries; “demand” breastfeeding for an extended period; carrying or “wearing” your baby; using gentle ways to help your baby sleep; co-sleeping with your baby and minimising separation from your baby during the first few years.
However, attachment parenting is not a set of rules and does not necessarily mean following all of the above. These practises simply help to develop a close, empathic relationship with your child in order to better understand your child’s needs and feelings. Children are not seen as manipulators who must be controlled. Attachment parenting extends beyond the early infant period and involves a life-long desire to know your child and to parent in an understanding and nurturing way.
 But now my children are all grown, and one has even started a family of her own, is Attachment Parenting still relevant? How does an approach associated with infancy flow into childhood, the teenage years, early adulthood and into a new generation?

Kieran (22), Kaitlyn (25) with her Daughter Charlie, Melissa (29)
Mothers Day 2013
Firstly, let me reassure you that all my babies have weaned, sleep in their own beds and are no longer carried in slings! These were the key fears raised by others about extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing - that they would never be able to stop! They did :)

So, how did AP have role in our family once everyone was eating family foods, sleeping in their own beds and moving independently away from the parental circle?

Firstly - and perhaps surprisingly to some - my children enjoyed occasional child care, 3 & 4 year old kinder and were educated in the local primary and high schools. I wasn't drawn to home-schooling and having the children attend neighbourhood  schools was important to us from a community perspective. Each of our children was challenged by learning difficulties and there were times I considered if they would be better off at home with me teaching, but their social bonds to school were strong and they voiced desire to stay there. By working hard to get the teachers to understand how our children learned and what made it difficult for them to do so, we were able to support them all to complete 13 years of schooling and pass VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) and a successful Year Twelve.

10 years ago - 2003 - not your average family portrait!
They also took part in extra-curricular activities of their choice - except for swimming lessons, which are really not optional when you live alongside the sea and surrounded by swimming pools. They were encouraged to try what they were interested in and supported to stop if they felt it wasn't right for them. One daughter took ballet lessons until she became shy about being on stage at eight, while her sister danced for nine years - she dropped ballet and took up soccer! My son preferred solitary activities and we respected that choice. With zero interest in sport, he had an early passion for games and joined a Pokemon Club! All three were involved with Rock Eisteddfod at high school - our extrovert was onstage, our introverts happily in the back-stage crew!

So - independent, educated people. But what about emotionally? Some people fear that strong attachment to the parents - particularly the mother - might stifle the ability to form other attachments. But that misunderstands how attachment works:it is normal and natural for children to have their first attachment to their mother but to embrace other relationships as they grow. First, with other immediate family, then extended family and moving on to the friendship circle of the family. As they begin to explore a wider circle of community, they begin to make independent friendships. Each of my children developed a strong bond with a best friend around age three, with children they met through my friendship circles and our playgroups. By the time they reached kinder (age 4/5), they embraced multiple friendships and in early primary school this continued. As their mother, my role become one of being the base-station they returned to each day. We encouraged talking about feelings and respected their's during the beginning or end of close relationships. The middle childhood years allow children to practice relationships and the parent's role is to model good ones and allow the child the freedom to make their own choices - and give support when needed. You don't have to like your children's friends - and they don't have to like yours!

By high school, my children had closely bonded with a group of friends and some of those relationships have continued into adulthood. Interestingly, I have adult friendships with many of those now-grown children and my adult children have independent relationships with many of my friends! As adults, they have wide friendship circles and continue to make new friends easily.

My 29yo daughter lives independently as a single woman. My 25yo daughter is married with a baby and my 22yo son continues to live with us at home. All have grown up knowing they are welcome here as long as they wish: the eldest back-packed overseas for two years, returned to the family home and moved out in her mid-twenties. Her sister moved out a couple of years earlier. They live in the same suburb as we do and we see them regularly and happily spend time together.

"Look Mum - no hands!" Attachment Parenting of adults means letting them fly -
and being there if they fall. Melissa back-packing alone in NZ 2004/5

And so, finally, to the new generation: ten week old Charlie is the daughter of my second daughter and her husband. Born to a woman who was drawn to motherhood from her own infancy, there was never any doubt about her choice to have a family. So - what sort of parent is she?

Kaitlyn and NMAA Meh Tais - right from the start!

My granddaughter is asleep against my chest as I type, while her mother and uncle are in another room, sorting out their childhood toys for her. (Aunty will be disappointed she is missing out, she is at work!) Charlie is fully breastfed whenever she needs and we have no idea how often or how long those feeds are! She is growing in leaps and bounds! Charlie sleeps alongside her mother in the family bed, with her father tucked on the other side. The co-sleeper bassinet alongside the bed is a safe place to lie her when mum needs the toilet, as is the cot in her nursery, otherwise, they are handy places to keep stuff! Her baby-wearing options are many, with a wardrobe of slings and carriers purchased by this baby-wearing Granny, for use by all the family . There is also a pram, which she does use but not as much as it is used to carry shopping and her nappy bag when out, while she sleeps in a sling! Oh and those nappies are cloth ones, for the record!

As her grandmother, I have seen Charlie pretty well every day of her life, as the attachment between her mother and I continues to grow stronger. She is often in my arms and sleeps happily on my chest - babysitting with mum still in arms-reach gives her some time out and me some time-in!

Looking back, looking forward - this still all seems so right, so natural so - successful! The days when I doubted, the nights when I struggled, have faded into their place in history: such a small part of such a long time. My children are three of my closest friends and people I choose to spend time with. My granddaughter is someone I plan to spend as much time with as I can, with no worries about housework etc taking me away from more stories, more play, more sharing treasures. And I hope, as I approach the mark of my first half-century, that I am lucky enough to be attached to her siblings, her cousins and even her children because it turns out, there isn't anything more important than holding them close before letting them fly!

Keeping it real: They still do like to hang out in the family bed!
Watching DVDs, drinking tea, hanging out with Mum.
Just in case you wondered!
Then they go home to their own ;)

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