Browsing Category

Attachment parenting

Attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Featured, Parenting

Until they are done (Breastfeeding a four year old & an 18 month old)

30 October, 2014

Ah, breastfeeding. Just me and my little one… and my big one… and a small pink babushka doll… half a chewed orange… an awkward pair of fairy wings… and a small bunch of wild flowers.

I never expected such a crowd.

Yet here we are!

*smiles brightly*

It’s not often we all squeeze up together like this. Early on in my tandem breastfeeding experience I decided that three of us at once was too tricky for me to handle. (In one sense “tandem” is a good word- it brings to mind the gargantuan effort of tandem parachuting – a wild enough thing without another person tangled around you. But in another sense, it doesn’t quite do, as there are more than two involved. There are three of us trying to get our heads/ lips around this. I think “triptych breastfeeding” better captures the ungainly mechanisms of it all!)

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

18 month old Juno is in the stage of breastfeeding that makes me think that the whole “grass is greener” part of human nature begins early. She takes a few gulps on one side, then pats the other as if to test the waters, then moves over to the other one.
She isn’t quite at the inanimate objects sharing her milk stage (that began with Ramona at two, nursing a micromachine…) but she will often bring some kind of contribution. The marmite toast she is halfway through or a bit of lego she can’t leave behind.
Juno is restless… always on the go, climbing and discovering… when she snuggles in for Mummy Milk it is one of the few moments of stillness in her day. Her eyes flicker vacantly at the sky or our ceiling, I can almost see her processing all that has gone before. I watch her watching her own little show reel. And then the eye lids droop and sleep stills her body.

Ramona will be four in two weeks… and as we approach her birthday I wonder if we are approaching her weaning. Some weeks she doesn’t have a drop of my milk. Most nights she will fall asleep during a story, or just snuggled against my side while I give Juno milk. I guess we have been on the world’s slowest weaning journey over the last year… creeping down at Ramona’s pace, soon to be done.

When I bring the topic up she vehemently declares she isn’t finished with it… “I’m going to have Mummy Milk ‘till I am FIFTEEN!” (Ah.. . the internet’s worst nightmare.) She still sees breastfeeding as her greatest comfort.

People say that mothers breastfeed for a long time for their own sakes… because they can’t let go of their children. You only need to breastfeed through a pregnancy to realise this isn’t the case… I never quite got over the weird physical feeling of breastfeeding Ramona while I was pregnant.

We are touched out, have things to do, no time to sit and watch eye lids flicker, no room on our laps for a babushka…

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

Natural Term Breastfeeding Extended Tandem

And yet.

I never imagined to still be nursing Ramona at four. But there are one million things I never imagined I’d do as a parent… yet have found myself embracing them when it appears apparent that this road is for us. (Every family has their own paths to take… and it is often the children who grab your hand and reveal it, don’t you reckon?) If you detect any lactating smuggery in this post… please don’t. I understand that for all sorts of reasons this path isn’t for all…. and it has been a rocky one for us at times. (*clumsily inserts all the journey metaphors*

It is pretty special to be meeting Ramona and Juno in a place that mothers in ancient and modern cultures across the world have met for millennia.

(On a rocking chair set in long grass. Hehe.)

Tim took three snaps and at first I didn’t like them one bit. I was so stern in the first! Like a Victorian teacher! But… I’m growing to like the fierceness. My expression is the courage of every parent to walk the way their children beckon.

And the second one…. it seems so immodest, with my spilling breasts. And then, I remembered that that is the accusation pointed at nursing mothers constantly. I’m not going to point it at myself. Breastfeeding can be a bit messy and gaping and vulnerable… but pfft, so is love. That is the world’s sexualisation issues. Not mine or my child’s.

So, there we are. The three of us… and the rest. Just breastfeeding until they aren’t any more.

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Give a child a knife and you’ll empower them for a lifetime

19 August, 2014

I’m taking a little break from being the internet’s favourite filthy hippy to write a little something about one of my other favourite topics: children and knives!

Well, more widely, about how capable kids are and how it is up to us to either encourage their skills or make them afraid.

I was doing a bit of cleaning and tidying around the yurt yesterday, trying to get it ship shape. (By “cleaning and tidying” I mean “sitting on the sofa reading The Help”.) I looked out onto the deck and saw that Ramona and her mate Sandy were taking apart the washing basket, pulling each bit of weave out. It was on its last legs already but they were massively hastening its demise. I wondered to myself: do I mind? Well, it only cost 50p from the second hand shop and 50p spent on a thrilling activity where they analyse the process of basket weaving through deconstruction is 50p well spent. Also, very good bit in the book.

So I left them to it. I looked out about 20 minutes later and saw that they had found a bungee cord and had rigged up, from the floor of the deck to a hook on the wall, an enormous sling shot and they were firing bits of weave like arrows into the fruit trees. I was blown away! It was completely genius! They spent another half an hour working out what items fired the best. They are three and five years old and they had pretty much devised a contraption that would teach them about velocity and aerodynamics and they were having a complete blast.Childhood and risk

It made me consider how if I was in a worse mood I would have very quickly put an end to this activity. I have done it before, acted out of grumpiness (primarily) when I have observed Ramona making a mess – closing the door on what was almost certainly going to be an amazing learning experience and chance for creativity. (I say “almost certainly” because it is the only way kids are wired: to learn.)

I am glad that early on in our parenting story we decided to consider our stance on risk. As I think, apart from general parenting grumpiness (*puts hand up*) it is our own fear that impinges on these moments. It is our sense of risk that narrows our children’s scope for being able and shorts their learning journey.

Our children often have the natural skill, the ability to focus and the desire to DO STUFF. They have it all there. They just need a few things from us:

A chance
A friend mentioned the other day how her Aunty was on her back for letting her seven year old help chop the veggies. A seven year old? With a knife?! I’m sorry but that is a bit absurd. In some countries five year olds are out hunting. Ramona has been chopping veggies with me for dinner since she was about 2.5. Give children a chance to help, to be a part of things.  With something sharp we can show them how to keep it safe, but then stand back while they work it out.Give a child a knife and we empower them for a lifetime

Photo from our trip to a forest kindergarten in Germany

“We live in an increasingly risk-averse culture, where many children’s behaviour is constrained. We raise them and educate them “in captivity” because of our anxieties. We are continually hypervigilant, as our anxieties are fuelled by stories and images of violent and aggressive crimes. And then we label children as troublemakers or failures because, as a society, we often fail to see their potential.” Professor Tanya Byron

A realistic safety check
We do have a bigger picture and we are able to foresee in a way that children aren’t. We have a policy now of scoping out all the water in an area before giving the kids chance to free range it. However, far too often we cry DANGER! when realistically, the risk is small.

When it comes to sharp knives and cooking – there is no life/death scenario happening there.

A philosophical approach to accidents
Ramona has a burn on her arm from where she was frying something last week. She leant over just too far and touch the side of the pan. Definitely feel like a rubbish parent when out and about- especially as it looks far too much life a self harming injury…

But the funny thing about it is that I have an identical burn – in fact I have TWO on my arm from doing the same thing TWICE. And I am 32 and have been cooking my own dinners for 15 years! Clumsiness isn’t an attribute of toddlers alone.

Accidents happen regardless of age. It is how children learn.

And better a broken limb than a lifetime of being fearful, eh? (I wrote all about that once…)

Our reactions in check
In Letting GO As Children Grow (I HEARTILY recommend this book! Totally underrated) Deborah Jackson talks about how our eagerness to help children learn about safety can actually hurt them much more. She discusses the use of scissors- scissors are really quite harmless yet when a young child picks them up we start to hyperventilate. This reaction then underpins all their future interaction with scissors, making them timid and unlikely to use them well.

And, with mess, consider if it is worth getting the hump over a child’s creative chaos- could this be the moment they realise they want to be the next Picasso- or simply a genius child artist like twelve year old Keiron?!- before balling them out.

Make it a practice to take a few seconds to asses where you are coming from before you react to a bit of risk or deconstruction.

The tools
John Holt talks about how our children are worth good equipment. How is a child meant to fall in love with painting if they only have these cheap paints that have almost no colour to them? My children can craft for so much longer if we do it with nice stuff that works rather than the nasty kids versions.

There is also a safety thing here- when it comes to cutting vegetables, there is probably less damage to be done with a sharp knife than a blunt one was it requires less pressure.

Patience
It is probably the one I struggle with most. When we bake together I am ITCHING to take the beater out of my children’s hands so I can get it done. ARGH WHY DO I DO THIS? I realise that the process is equally as important with the end product with children, but still I have to stomp on my impatient brain particles during it. Last night we baked pikelets and Juno, 16 months, did most of the beating. Pretty amazing!

An open door
For our first five months in the yurt we weren’t hooked up to solar so we depended on candles for light. You can imagine how fascinated the girls were with that. I would sit for almost 45 minutes each night whilst they lit them and blew them out, lit them again. It was important to me as I felt sure that if I was to say no to the playing/ working with candles Ramona would find a way- her urge was THAT strong- with or without me. And without me would be far, far more dangerous.

“If we become the locked door that stands between them and what they want, the only options we’re giving them are to push against us or sneak around us. If we stand beside them and help them figure out how they can get from where they are to where they want to be, then we become their partner.” From Joyfully Rejoicing.

One of the great gifts we can give our children is the space and freedom to discover the world and their own place within it. This is a gift that begins in our own home, as we give them chance to genuinely participate and as we trust them with implements and as we leave them alone without our constant verbal motivation. But it is one that will bloom and grow as they march on out the door.

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”By embracing a little risk and trusting our children more we are letting them know about their unique and powerful place in our exciting world.

I said something to Ramona in passing once, when she was asking me permission to do something(she does this, I don’t know where she gets it from.) I said “Sure, mighty girl. Go right ahead, the world is your oyster!” It has stuck with her, and now, every so often when she is discovering something brand new or thrillingly reaching her own upper limits, she will shout excitedly, “THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER, EH, MUM?!”

It is, Ramona, it really is.

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Emotional Memory – explaining a child’s and a parent’s raw reactions

9 June, 2014

A few months ago, one of our last days in UK, the four of us rocked up to a park, eager to get some air after being stuck in a bit of gnarly traffic. It was a crazy windy day, perfect for kite flying. As we unfolded our kite our three year old daughter began to scream. She threw herself on the floor, thrashing about, her face purple, her arms and legs crashing onto the muddy grass. “PUT THE KITE AWAY” she screamed. “PUT IT AWAY AWAY AWAY AWAY” through heaving sobs.

We were astonished! We were at the park, one of her favourite places. And I was really excited about flying the kite. I’d been belting out Mary Poppins’ “Let’s go fly a kite! Up to the highest heights! LALALALALALALAAAAA!” all the way through the London traffic, to my whole family’s obvious delight.

We validated her rage and distress and then we, a bit reluctantly, folded the kite back up and put it away.

She calmed down, crying quietly. Once the kite was back in the van she cheered up and we got back to the important task of chasing each other around trees.

As I ran through the wild winds contemplating Ramona’s meltdown I was struck by the fact that the very last time the kite had been played with Tim had broken his ankle. It had gotten caught in a tree and as Tim leapt from the branch after untangling it, he fractured his bone. One of the kids in the garden had come to get me and as I ran out I just saw Tim flat on his back with pain – a rare, rare sight. Ramona was just standing there, flummoxed by her indestructible dad on the ground.

For Ramona, the kite holds a memory of her dad being hurt, disappearing into A and E for several hours and then hobbling about in a cast for a few weeks. Of course she didn’t want the kite out! Of course her way to communicate the trauma she felt was through an epic meltdown!

It is not often that our children’s big emotions can be so directly traced to a past memory, but over the last week I have become convinced that this possibly explains quite a few of the most random tantrums. Emotional Memory - explaining a parent's and a child's raw emotions
(Photos from before the kitegate!)

Emotional Memory in Children

Robin Grille is an author and psychologist with over 25 years experience and he spoke convincingly last week of the power of emotional memory. Our bodies and minds can hold on to trauma from many years ago and, without us even being able to recall the incident, we can have a huge reaction when something stirs that body memory within us. Cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that we have body memories even from birth, and it is possible that some of the intense emotions children experience could be linked to their entry into the world.

Sometimes it seems as if “tantrums” (that word seems quite disrespectful in light of all of this, eh?) are triggered by the most trivial, insignificant thing (i.e the Reasons my Son Is Crying meme) when there is a good chance the trivial thing has triggered a body memory of something big.

Of course, I also reckon some children are simply pissed off a lot of the time because they have so little say over their lives.

Emotional Memory for Parents
Traumatic memories of childhood also stay with us and inform our parenting. Do you ever find your self having a quite irrational, emotional response to your child’s behaviour? You find yourself triggered by their meltdowns, or mess, or their lack of appreciation? It is possible that that is because of memories of your own childhood are brought to the surface by your child.

During one seminar last week – “When Parent’s were children” – Robin had us all close our eyes and focus on the behaviour in our child that “triggers” us. We then imagined ourselves at that age and dwelt on what was going on for us at that time. It was incredible how, with a bit of help, we were able to see how much our own childhood impacts our parenting.

If we want to support our children through their own emotions, without our own baggage getting in the way, we need to take a look inside and find some healing for any childhood trauma we are carrying.

As Robin put it, we need to look out with one eye and in with the other.

There is also a possibility that we can’t cope with our child’s emotions because we are unsupported.
If I was unsupported as a parent I could easily have looked at Ramona’s kite-triggered meltdown in the park and taken a picture and sent it into Reasons My Son is Crying with the tag “We got the kite out at the park.”

We need to try and find a small tribe of parents who understand and can hold our hand through tricky spots. (Perhaps that it what the people involved in that meme are trying to do – but I’d argue it is very much at the expense of their children’s dignity.)Emotional Memory and a child's tantrums

Responding to a possible emotional memory

So, the next time your child goes for the nuclear reaction, welcome it (they are possibly working through past pain) and validate it (“You feel so angry, it is okay to feel angry.”) and give some space for your own feelings (“Is this bringing anything up?”) and find some support (be it a whisper in your friend’s ear “Eeek, this is a bit embarrassing but my child really needs me right now!” or a respectful recount of the incidence in a private Facebook forum – do you have one of these? I think they are very useful.)

I think awareness about the concept of “emotional memory” could be an incredible tool in enabling us to support our children through their emotional explosiveness and in stopping the baton of childhood trauma being passed from one generation to the next.

I’m fairly sure that experience with the kite in the park, as we held Ramona through her trauma, had a sort of healing effect on her. I hope so – we are going to a kite festival in a couple of weeks so we are going to find out! *nervous face*

(Mind you, me being unable to to refrain from skipping around the crowds singing Mary Poppins might set her up with another, altogether more traumatic, Emotional Memory.)

PS Come and connect with us on Facebook for more peaceful parenting and thrift blogging & discussion!

Activism, Attachment parenting, Parenting

Bitesize Inspiration for Peaceful Parenting

28 May, 2014

Friends, things are utterly bonkers about this place. Next week parenting author and speaker, Robin Grille, is coming to town and I am hosting FOUR events for parents, speakers and policymakers. I am currently up to my eyeballs in the hiring of table clothes and flower arrangements. (It is these silly, mundane tasks that I never think of until days before and they, well, they do mine headeth in.)

In an effort to inspire my “own self” (as Ramona says) I have dug out some of my absolute favourite quotes from Robin’s book, Parenting for a Peaceful World.

The organic basis of any individual’s will power comes from having been respectfully allowed, in these early years, one’s own rhythm around vital bodily functions such as toileting, feeding and sleeping. If the child is not excessively controlled around these functions, a strong sense of autonomy will be rooted in a healthy trust of her own body and internal biological rhythms.

peaceful parenting quote

This image is from Pennie Brownlee’s incredible Facebook page, Dance with me in the heart.

Might we, as parents, wonder at the astonishing emotional potency of our children — something that for most of us has been buried long ago. When a child defies us, resists and protests, she needs to be given some space to do so. Her self-confidence depends on being allowed this strength. She doesn’t need parental capitulation, just her freedom to express her feelings, and to be heard. When the focus is on listening and empathy, neither parent nor child need be the victor.

Peaceful Parenting Quote

The wellbeing of our own children can only be secured when the wellbeing of all other peoples’ children is also secure.

Peaceful Parenting quotes

World peace is not only an entirely attainable goal, it is a modest one. The conditions that would bring it about require but a small fraction of the effort and expense we devote to fighting wars and fighting crime. A continued social evolution is quite possible, but it depends entirely on our collected efforts to keep improving the emotional lives of children. Our commitment to children’s emotional health will ensure our rapid evolution toward a peaceful, just, sustainable and enjoyable existence for all of humanity.

What an awesome collection of quotes to get you through these tired old days of parenting the whole wide world, eh?!!

You can probably see now why I am so STOKED to be hosting these events. Hoorah! If you are in New Zealand it isn’t too late to come along to one of these events – see the listings here-  and please spread the word! 

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Attachment parenting and good mental health

5 May, 2014

I read about Peaches Geldoff’s death on Facebook and my heart felt like it had cracked a little. I knew of Peaches primarily through her defence of Attachment Parenting on morning TV and I was struck by a grief for her two children. I have admired her staunch support of quite alternative parenting practices and I was compelled by her explanation of motherhood being a “rebirth” – healing the wounds of childhood trauma.

I am not going to speculate on her death, the hows or whys. But seeing as people have used her passing as a springboard to question the healthiness of Attachment Parenting, I am going to springboard off their springboarding to stick up for the healthiness of Attachment Parenting.

20140505-141626.jpg

(Also, I am just tapping out my thoughts while Juno sleeps in the sling, slugging back a coffee, so expect a BLOG POST here, not a thesis… Just imagine you are sitting here scoffing biscuits with me, hearing this wee collection of thoughts. Would love to hear your own thoughts on attachment parenting and mental health in the comments.)

Attachment Parenting isn’t a rigid barometer with which to judge mothers by
Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy based on the theory that children thrive when they establish a close connection to their caregiver. There are principles that have been fleshed out that support this connection such as babywearing and breastfeeding, but they are ideas, aids to nurture a strong attachment. It is entirely possible to be a fully attached parent without adhering to all of these principles.
Sometimes I wonder if people within this natural parenting world sound aggressive / judgemental of other parents as a result of being constantly harangued in the media. Being on the defensive all the time can make people pretty strident. *raises hand*
Attachment parenting isn’t a curriculum that you can pass or fail. And it shouldn’t be used to judge people. We should be wary of any journalists or experts or bloggers that trade in the currency of guilt. Guilt is not a helpful or valid currency in the parenting world.

Attachment Parenting isn’t Martyrdom Parenting
I have written in the past about how I believe a child’s happiness if knitted together with  parent’s happiness. We simply can’t expect the sure well being of our children if we are neglecting our own. If you know attachment parents who do not accept and attend to their own needs then you need to realise that this isn’t because of the attachment parent philosophy, this is because they don’t love themselves enough and they would neglect their own needs whatever parenting style they went for. Got it?

Really, you must understand that. I do know a few attachment parents who are martyrs. I also know many more attachment parents who practice radical self-love and understand that a child’s needs must fit within the whole family’s needs. For any attachment parents struggling with getting the balance of needs right please read Marshall Rosenberg on Non Violent Communication.

Attachment Parenting Recognises the Importance of Full Cups
(Hehe, I don’t mean *those* cups, although that is handy for breastfeeding parents…) You won’t find the message of  “Sacrifice your needs for the sake of your child!” in any of the Attachment Parenting textbooks. (You might come across it in blogs, but I maintain that self-neglect comes out in whatever parenting philosophy people opt for.)  Something I HAVE read a lot in those books is the sentiment of filling your own cup in order to ensure our children’s cups are full. Most attachment parents I know work really flipping hard at co-parenting- ensuring a fair split between two parents- and all of them recognise the importance of support networks which is why their are lots of forums and groups for people who are practicing it.

ALL parenting is depleting and barely any parent gets the support that we really need to do a really bloody good job of it. But attachment parents at least recognise the importance of full emotional cups.

Attachment Parenting builds resilience in a parent
This is a little hard to explain, but let me know what you think of this. The more connected I am to my child the more I am able to let frustrations roll over me. When I have a disconnect- as a result of me not meeting a need or some tension- I struggle to find empathy with my children which in turn makes me stressed, upset and angry.

If I am quick to recognise we have had a disconnection and attempt to restore it, mostly through play, than I find I am restored myself and far less likely to get annoyed and cross.

I feel that attachment parenting, by valuing CONNECTION over anything, makes us resilient – a sturdy ship that can float amongst all the volatile waves of emotion that toddlerdom can bring.

Attachment Parenting can be a Liberated Parenting
Attachment parenting and gentle or respectful parenting are intricately linked. Most attachment parents will move into gentle parenting as a label (labels are rubbish etc) once their baby becomes a toddler.

One of the central tenets of Gentle Parenting is TRUST. Trusting that a child is an individual with an existing personhood – we are not here to shape them and teach them. We are here simply to allow them to grow and develop in freedom.

This is LIBERATING.

We do not have to hover as (the normally wonderful) Deberoh Orr suggests attachment parents do. We let our children explore and trial without feeling the pressure to dictate their actions.

We sit back at the park and let them climb, we don’t helicopter about urging them on to different ladders and slides in order to expand their horizons.

We accept their ability to self-regulate. Meal times are about providing good food and then letting them eat it or not. We don’t have to ruin our own dinner by coercing our kids to eat theirs.

We trust that children already have their character, we don’t have to shape it through reward charts and the stressful process of Time Outs.

20140505-135526.jpg

While our babies are small there perhaps *is* a little more effort put in- we rock them when they cry- but as they grow I think attachment parents find their role much less stressful and far, far less hands on.

When I am kicking back on the grass at the playground, watching other parents chasing their kids around with coats, or urging them not to climb too high, or persuading them to say Good Bye politely to Aunty, I think GOSH my parenting style is easy. (Not in a smug way, of course, as my children in their odd socks, felt-tip pen on their faces, and knotty hair counter any of that!)

I think there is enormous potential for Attachment Parenting to promote good mental healthiness in parents (how it promotes good mental health in children is a whole other wonderful post, eh?!) and have found it to be a perfect for for my own life and well being.

As ever, would love to hear from you about your experiences!

Attachment parenting, Babywearing, Breastfeeding, Cosleeping, Parenting

Natural Parenting in Art

20 March, 2014

I am always delighted when I stumble across natural parenting in historical photos or art. It seems to affirm a strong belief of mine- that society’s discomfort at public breastfeeding and other intuitive forms of parenting is a modern phenomenon.

(I wish I could say phenomenon without following it up with a musical “doodoodidodo phenomenon doodoodidoo” it would make me feel a lot more like a grown up but I can’t so…)

Doodoodidodoo.

Allow these breastfeeding images to be a salve on the wound caused by the public shaming of breastfeeding mothers. Some of history’s best artists and the world’s most sohisticated fine art deal with the beautiful act of nursing – try fitting the word “tramp” in to some of these situations.

Come and take a stroll through some of my absolute favourite natural parenting paintings by some of my favourite artists…

La Maternite
Auguste Renoir
1885
Breastfeeding Renoir- Natural Parenting in Art

I love the everyday scenario of a mother perched on a wall to respond to her baby’s need. I feel like her eyes have the oxytocin glaze, that relaxed kind of high breastfeeding can sometimes produce.

Artist Stella Mertens says “Renoir – eternal continuity- this flesh remains bound to this flesh; monument to hope and love created by your genius.”

The Three Ages of Life: Detail
Gustav Klimt
1905

Natural Parenting in Art Klimt Cosleeping

Oh, Klimt. A hero of mine depicting a passion of mine. Look at the connection between mother and child here! The vulnerability and the trust between them. There is a peace here in this deepest of sleeps; the contentedness of cosleeping.

Mother and Child
Jose Orozco
1919

Babywearing: Natural Parenting in Art

One of the first things strangers often remark when they see my large baby on back is “Gosh, you must have a strong back!” As if it is a hardship. I love this picture as it perfectly shows that babywearing is no hardship, no maternal sacrifice. There is pleasure here. A woman able to work, to create, while nurturing a child. The child is intrigued – mother is opening doors to the world and the child is in the perfect place to discover it all.

Young Mother Giving Milk to Her Son
Utamaro
1753 – 1806 (Woodcut undated)
Utamao Breastfeeding - Natural Parenting through fine art

This baby is guzzling like a champion and he has that look on his face that nursing babies often get – a sort of pride at nailing this breastfeeding business. I love the delight on the mother’s face and I love that these are expressions that have crossed the faces of millions of nursing mothers and babies over the course of history. Utamaro, what a legend.

What is your favourite natural parenting image?

Attachment parenting, Parenting, Uncategorized

Attachment Parenting A Toddler: Beyond Breastfeeding and Babywearing

4 March, 2014

Last night Tim was out late so I had two little people on my hands at bed time- this is pretty rare for us. I hunkered down with them both, one on each side, breastfeeding to sleep, their guzzling and gulping the only sound in the treacly silence of a countryside evening.

Their eyes began closing as if on command, and they held hands across my belly. “What a perfect picture of attachment parenting!” I thought, ever so slightly wryly.

Truth is, this is rarely what mothering looks like for me. I find tandem breastfeeding uncomfortable and over the last year I’ve encouraged Ramona, who is three, down from a billion breastfeeds a day to just this one breastfeed at bed time.

Even last night, a second after I had that thought, baby Juno decided sleep is for suckers and instead burrowed under the duvet, popped back up with a fork (you know) and climbed atop my tummy, yodelling and waving her weapon about. (It is testament to the power of the boob that Ramona carried on drifting off to sleep regardless.) This peaceful, tandem breastfeeding and tandem babywearing thing just doesn’t seem to fit us with grace and ease!

Ramona rarely rides about in a sling these days – she prefers to run, scoot or sit upon her dad’s shoulders – clinging to his head and stealing his specs. We do cosleep – but her with her daddy in one double and Juno and I in another.20140304-134021.jpg

It’s funny, because when our children are babies attachment parenting seems to mainly be about those three behaviours.

Of course, babywearing, breastfeeding, and cosleeping is how attachment parenting often LOOKS but no official AP sergeant has ever demanded these things in order to make it on the AP team. Because attachment- based on a quite unwooly psychological / mental well being- theory- really mostly comes down to nurturing connection and responding quickly to a child’s needs, with respect.

But when the baby has been weaned, when they want to sleep in their own bed, when they opt for the scooter over the sling, what does attachment parenting look like? As they grow, and these things become a little less a part of their lives, many parents feel a bit lost.

I for one began burying my head into books again, searching for ideas about child development, communication and nurturing connection with this wild and wonderful toddler in my life. 20140304-133829.jpg

There are five main ways that our attachment parenting philosophy has influenced our parenting an older child:

Validate
I reckon this is the Big One, the crucial part of our communication with toddlers. If attachment parenting is about connection, trust and responsiveness then our toddler need to feel understood and they need to feel that their emotions are valid, loved through their big feelings. We need to knock on the head “You’re okay, honey!” and ” Don’t worry!” – replacing them with an acknowledgment of how they are feeling; “You lost your toy? And I can see you are really upset” and “You are frustrated about that!”

Get into the habit of repeating back to them what you hear. Don’t add to their emotion “OOH, YOU ARE SUPER, SWEARINGLY FURIOUS!” (hehehe) but do give them words if they can’t find them- “upset” is a nice word that covers lots of emotions.

Start with your baby. Even when they cry as a tiny one, instead of “Shhhh” as them “Were you worried that I had walked away?” (Or whatever) – of course, while offering your boob because that IS what they want, a lot of the time.

This validation is a communication habit for a lifetime, for children, for friends, and colleagues.

Standing back
Strangely, it feels as if so at a loss are attachment parents when their kids hit the toddler years that they become “helicopter parents” – hovering over their child’s every move, as if worried of severing the attachment.

This isn’t the way, dudes.

Attachment parenting is about responding to a child’s needs and as they grow one of a child’s most demanding needs is that of autonomy. They need to know they are in charge of some stuff, they need to know they have a say on the things that impact their lives. (They also – importantly- have a right to this.)

Has your child, through tantrums, been asking for more space to exercise their will and their choices? What areas will you let go control of? Their clothes? Their food? Their play?

The attachment parents is the one that stands back when their child strikes out for independence, knowing that sometimes meeting the need of an older child can sometimes look like the EXACT OPPOSITE of meeting the needs of a baby.

Touch
And yet. Children still need touch. A parent’s hug can still fill the cup of an older child who has emptied themselves emotionally. A cuddle can change direction of an afternoon of play between kids that has become quite wrestle-based! Sometimes I wonder if a toddler’s physical (by physical I mean a lot of pushing) play is a plea for more touch.

Touch activates important chemicals in our bodies, and sometimes toddlers, and parents, can be so busy that we don’t activate them enough. It may be a cuddle, joining in with the wrestle, or even a massage that can restore a connection lost in mayhem.

The other day Ramona was struggling a bit and we kind of invented a game. She lies on her back and I just do the motions for different things over her body. So I say “spiders creeping up” and tap my fingers all over her from feet to head and “sun shining down” and whoosh my fingers back down from her head to her toes- like the whooshing sun, you know?!? I did different animals and weathers for about five minutes and it was almost like a meditation. There have a been a couple of times since when she has been really sad that she has asked me for the creepy spider game again.

It reminded me how substantial good healthy physical contact is with our busy toddlers and how it can meet needs that are hidden amongst rambunctiousness.

Empathy
The most helpful tool I have found in my parenting kit (what, you didn’t get a nice bumbag filled with gadgets? It comes out just before the placenta) has been an ability to empathise. And I don’t really know where it came from. I struggled for about a year feeling overwhelmed by the strength of a two year old’s feelings, almost annoyed and frustrated – primarily I imagine because I couldn’t FIX it. I felt almost redundant.

I wish I could remember what triggered the change. (It was quite possibly finding out about play urges- a child’s instinct to play/throw/climb/burrow is as strong for them as BREATHING!) But somehow I just began seeing things from our daughter’s perspective- and I got a bit of a glimpse into how annoying and frustrating HER day must get! Being so curious, but not being given the space to follow up discoveries. Being so excited but finding that shouts of glee aren’t welcome. Being so opinionated but not being heard.

20140304-133642.jpg

I’m no parenting saint AT ALL and I do feel infuriated sometimes but stepping back from my feelings and attempting to see things through her eyes REALLY helps.

Play
Play is a form of communication for children, so if we want to nurture a strong connection with them we need to play hard too! Play has also rescued many a moment for us that was spiralling into disconnection.

If Ramona is doing something that breaks our one rule (No harming people or people’s stuff) then I will often use play as a way of recovering any shaken connection. So a couple of days ago Ramona was enjoying pulling apart a friend’s house plant. I explained to her why house plants need to not have their leaves ripped, but she continued. I was picking up that Ramona was running on empty a bit so I firmly said “I’m not going to let you pull apart that plant” and then I began to cry big, ridiculous sobs and pretended to be the plant “Noooooo, don’t pull meeeeeeeee!!!” And we had a silly old game of plant chasing kid and kid pulling plant. (A classic.) Later on, when Ramona was full up and connected again, we had a conversation about keeping people’s stuff safe.

Attachment parenting is not about avoiding all tension and healthy boundaries/ guidelines, but IS about creating a good, receptive environment in which to discuss these things in a respectful way. Play is often a bridge between inappropriate behaviour and necessary discussion for us.

One of the best books I have read on the whole of childhood based on attachment theory is “Letting Go As Children Grow” by author of cosleeping bible, Three In A Bed, Deborah Jackson.

“The letting go process does not have to wait until the rebellious teenager explodes with anger and frustration. It does not even have to wait for a two yea old to become ‘terrible’. We can let our children go from the moment they are born by trusting in the process of nature and responding to their needs as they become apparent.”

How does attachment look in your family these days? I’d love to hear from families with different ages.

Attachment parenting

Playful parenting with a baby- 5 ways

28 August, 2013

My eldest daughter, Ramona, talks a lot. She said only 7 words or so until her second birthday, at which point the flood gates of speech opened and they haven’t stopped since. Most of it is either hilarious or insightful, and the rest of it involves a variation on “LET’S PLAY!” (spoken exuberantly, in caps, just like that.) She wants to play ALL DAY (spoken aggressively, like Schmidt.)

It is only right; play is how children discover, process and communicate. Play is a crucial way that kids let us know what is going on, and one of the primary ways we can build a strong connection. So I want to nurture that, to be a playful parent. (Most of the time. Sometimes I want to curl up in a corner with a good book while she unravels the toilet roll, puts it in the sink and makes papier mache. Sometimes I think 70p spent on a wasted loo roll is the best 70p ever spent.)

My second child, Juno, is only 4 months old so has no words. But I feel she is communicating the same thing- she’ll shoot me a mischievous look, an invitation; “Let’s play!” She’s been doing it since she was a few weeks old, I’m sure they are born with the same playful ways, and we’ve been playing since. I figure many of the benefits of playful parenting can be ours even now, and it is a habit we can form together that will stay with us for her whole childhood. Here is how we play…
image


Follow the giggles!

In his book, Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen suggests that playful parenting can be led by the children, that their laughter will show you what they are enjoying so simply go with whatever that ridiculous thing is. Ramona’s first giggle came at 12 week, as Tim danced with her in the loung. It poured out of her like a waterfall- probably one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard in my life.


Noises and expression combination

Juno’s first laugh came when she was lying on my lap looking into her face and doing a PAH! sound with a crazy open mouthed face. There is no diginity at all in playful parenting- the more expressive your face is and the more unnatural the noise is the more your baby will be delightes!

Baby roughhousing
At the International Gentle Parenting Conference I had the privilege of hearing Larry Cohen (it’s Larry to friends, yeah) speak. He spoke about the importance of rough play for kids- how wrestling with us physically helps them work out extra energy, anger, big feelings, and explore new strength and physical potential in a safe place. He described how it can be done with babies too and Juno loves it! I push her around with my head, rolling her over. She grabs my nose and ears and pushes at me.

Nuzzling kisses
This is a softer version of the above, and just as mammal- like! It is simply tickly kisses all over and growls in to her neck. A few parenty authors talk about the danger of tickling (you never thought you’d see that sentence in your life, eh?) and it is true, we must be so sensitive. Tickle fests can be hard to communicate within, kids can like it, but very quickly not. And if we go too far it can be a real invasion of physical boundaries and incredibly disempowering. Tickling babies must be done in tiny doses, softly and with great sensitivity.

Peekaboo
This is the most natural game we all play with babies. At the conference, Laz Cohen (just what his best mates are allowed to call him) discussed a study of Peekaboo. Parents are instinctively amazing at it- knowing exactly, by the milisecond, how long to stay hidden for to get the best response. Beginning to play Peekaboo early is amazing because you can see a babies sense of object permanence develop right in front of you. One day is is like “Boo!” “Whatever, mum.” The next it is like “Boo!” “HAHHAHAHA YOU ARE BRILLIANT MUM! HAHAHA! BRILLIANT I TELL YOU! YOU WERE THERE, THEN NOT, THEN THERE AGAIN! GENIUS!”

How do you engage in play with your babies?

Attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Parenting

Our experience of Tandem Breastfeeding

19 June, 2013

Within a few hours of Juno being born I had both girls tucked in my arms and I was full of emotion, watching the pair of them breastfeeding to sleep. My two and a half year old stroked the hair of her brand new baby sister and it felt like we were cocooned in a blissful bubble of love and oxytocin. I couldn’t shed my smile; this was exactly how I imagined tandem nursing to be.
Tandem Breastfeeding
And then, 24 hours later, my milk came in and the gushing, uncontrollable force of it burst that bubble with a loud, chokey bang! Positioning Juno became quite all-consuming, I had to be flat on my back or stand up with her in a wrap to nurse her without her gagging non-stop. Breastfeeding her was a tangle of tiny limbs, slipping around on a Niagara Falls of milk. Bringing Ramona into the picture was  impossible. Lots of tandem mums cope with oversupply by having their eldest child skim off the extra- but I was hoping to try and regulate my supply quickly by keeping Ramona on just three nurses a day. (Morning, nap and night time.) I admit I had to make that call for my own sanity too, I was worried about feeling all touched out and like a dairy cow.

It is a bit heart wrenching when Ramona asks for it at other times in the day and I gently explain “Not now”- I feel like I am arbitrarily enforcing rules that she can’t understand and I have to really convince myself that three times a day is better than nothing, despite those tiny pleas.

Bed time is a careful balance of needs- making sure Juno is full up and content so I can hand her to Daddy who wraps her on his front and takes a walk, I can then take Ramona to bed for a story and “Mummy Milk by hershelf.”  Nap times mean me getting Juno to sleep on my front and then gymnastically making a mammary gland available for Ramona – and getting immediately on Twitter as a distraction , for that lunchtime nurse feels really quite physiologically aggravating.

Not quite the picture of two utterly content children and peaceful sofa languishing that I had hoped for! (Lazy, me?)

Nursing through pregnancy was quite a challenge, solely from the strange feeling of nursing without much milk, but I was committed to trying tandem nursing.  (Despite at least one Doctor and two nurses telling me I mustn’t/ can’t- what is up with that?!) Not purely as I felt it would mean more sitting around in our PJ’s, girls on my lap, a cup of tea in one hand and Twitter in the other (although, I’m sure you’re picking up, that WAS a factor!) but because I was serious about letting Ramona decide when she was done with nursing. In everything I have attempted to let Ramona be autonomous in the things she has done; not teaching  her to roll/ walk/ climb/ count but rather letting her explore those things in her own time, through babyled weaning we gave her the space to eat the stuff she was ready to eat, and she is still in our bed as she hasn’t chosen to leave yet.  It makes sense for us to let her choose the moment when she will be content without Mummy Milk. (I don’t want this to sound smug, I know lots of parents have decided this isn’t for them or don’t have this luxury- employment needs/ lack of support/ personal reasons.)
pregnant breastfeeding
While tandem nursing is different to the picture I had in my head, 7 weeks in I am glad we have taken this road. Primarily because it is SO obvious that Ramona still reaps the benefits of nursing, both emotionally and physically. It provides an anchor for her little soul, just like it does for newborn Juno, and keeps her strong and immune without me obsessing over what she is or isn’t eating.

I am sure that it has eased the arrival of her little sister, providing a buffer for the times when it must really be quite irritating to have a very loud baby launch herself on to the scene.

Those bedtime nurses with Ramona are so precious – I dwell on her little fingers, her flickering eye lids and my heart melts. They are daily 15 minute slots that remind me that Ramona is really still tiny.

I love that the girls share this really important, meaningful experience, albeit at different times. When Juno cries out Ramona attempts to soothe her by getting all up in her grill yelling “OH JUNO! YOU WANT SOME MUMMY MILK, YES YOU DO!!”

This tandem breastfeeding lark is no bed (*Homer voice* Mmmmm, bed) of roses, but like with many parenting, and life, challenges, there is so much goodness amongst the angst. And maybe one day, ONE DAY, once my milk has levelled out, I might get to spend the afternoon ensconced on the couch looking at the internet while the pair of them banquet on breastmilk gold.

PS Are you on Instagram? I am there: Lulasticblog and am trying to post a daily breastfeeding snap with the hashtag #bfing365 as a little effort in the normalise breastfeeding canpaign! Do join in with your own snaps when you can.

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Attachment Daddy: Supporting Breastfeeding

10 June, 2013

I am handing over my blog today once again to my husband, Tim- or Tim Pop as Ramona calls him. (She also calls him Tim AitkenRead or Uncle Tim- very rarely Daddy! Hehehoohoo.) He wrote about general attachment fatherhood things quite a while ago now, and I’d like him to write about cosleeping and babywearing, but today he is writing about breastfeeding.

Of course, what men think about breastfeeding should be irrelevent – who cares what they think?! Babies need to be nursed by women and we will do it regardless! But, in actual fact, I think it is pretty vital. Husbands and partners can provide much needed support during those early tricky days, or wearying night feeds, or when people criticise the choice to breastfeed a toddler. Tim was the one who bought me endless drinks when that extreme thirst hit everytime I sat down to nurse, the one made me healthy meals and snacks, the one who gave important support to my decision to keep nursing Ramona even when Juno came along. But men are also critical in re-adjusting society’s perspective on breasts- they are the ones who have sexualised them, they now play an enormous role in reframing them as nutritous nursers of children. Only when men on the street and male media moguls/ policy makers/ shop owners make an effort in this will breastfeeding become mainstream.

So here he is…Attachment Daddy on Breastfeeding

Lucy would like me to write about her breasts.  This seems an interesting prospect really considering my mother in law will no doubt read this.  I vividly remember meeting them for the first time.  It was fairly meteoritic.  Since then they have, for the most part, become a normal part of life.

Growing up with two brothers the particulars of breasts were something quite foreign.  The sort of thing you tried not to accidentally elbow when wrestling with our peers or try not to hit with a misjudged pass in touch rugby.  The repercussions of these sort of indiscretions were often quite violent and embarrassing.

Breasts did take on a different dimension later in life, but I won’t dwell on this too much for everyone’s sake.  Then along came Ramona.  Things changed quite dramatically after that.  Baby’s are often quite hungry, and if anyone as ever seen any pictures of Ramona (and now Juno) between 0 and 6 months you’ll understand that feeding time was pretty important.

Attachment Daddy on breastfeeing

I’d like to say that as a mature adult I have developed an amazing level of impulse control, for the most part I actually have.  I have a good level of bowel control.  I manage to not say too many awkward things to the extent that my friends at least think I’m reasonably normal.  But as far as food goes though I can’t resist chocolate.  It’s the answer to most of my problems ranging from hunger through to emotional upheaval.  Ramona takes after me on this one.  Though her focus seems to be “Mummy’s Milk” as she calls it.

Obviously with this in mind, meal times/comfort eating never really followed a set pattern or predictable routine.  So whether we found ourselves walking to the shops, sitting on the bus, playing in the park, or even sitting in the privacy of our lounge Ramona’s desire to be close and eating became the expected norm.  Arguably, for the most part I’m a reasonably modest character when it comes to skin showing.  But the experience of becoming a parent has changed me.  Hunger is hunger.  Needs are needs.  Ramona and Juno need to eat.

Last week I found myself sitting in a circle with 11 other students, and the coordinator of our experiential session of my weekly counseling skills course.  In a lull in the conversation (there are loads of these) I stated that recently I have been struggling with a message that a friend sent to Lucy about her ”tits” being inappropriately all over facebook.  I thought that it was perhaps a misjudged joke, but nonetheless, like Lucy, found it difficult to take.

What came next took a while to process.  According to half the members of the group breastfeeding should be done away from others, if breasts are on show you should expect people to stare at them because they are essentially sexual objects, breastfeeding mums should not go round upsetting people basically;  breasts should not run the risk of being spotted by a guy.

I don’t remember being massively surprised really.  I sort of became sad and quiet initially as the conversation bouncing around the room became irrelevant to my initial statement, later on I may have said a few carefully chosen words. When was the last time you felt the need to go eat your dinner in a room away from your friends and family?

Breastmilk gives life to hundreds of millions of children everyday.  Breastmilk has sustained and continues to sustain both of my children, even the 2 and a half year old sausage.  Breastmilk is amazing stuff that has ensured the health and vitality of Ramona and now Juno.  From pus leaking eyeballs, to blocked noses, basic infections to comforting a toddler with a broken leg Lucy’s breastmilk has been the answer!

I believe that breastfeeding should be normalized in our western, sadly male dominated culture.  In New Zealand where I grew up we didn’t actually have the Sun’s page 3 (it’s not only the architecture of this country that is mainly Victorian), but the prevailing sexualisation of these amazing things still shaped our view of breasts.  I support Lucy entirely in the pursuit of changing this, in fact more than that, I think that it’s an essential chorus that will enable all of us to grow up a bit.