A few weeks ago, in the late stages of pregnancy when I felt like my womb-baby and rapscallion toddler were running me a bit ragged I had a totally indulgent, luxurious shower all by myself. (Hey, this is a big deal! Even the stealthiest of my loo breaks are interrupted by a curious “What are you doing, mummy?”) I was tired and body-weary and even though Tim wasn’t around I just wanted to have some time to myself. I wanted to shower so hard I got WRINKLES. I left Ramona playing alone and I let the hot water run over me for what seemed like half the morning. Every so often she would pop her head in and say “Are you having a nice time, Mummy?” and would skip away, delighting in her mum’s delight.
It struck me just how knitted together a child’s joy is with her parent’s.
One of the biggest implicit myths around Attachment or Gentle Parenting is that a child’s happiness correlates directly with a parent’s sacrifice. No one really says this out loud, but sometimes it does feel like the message is “The more night time parenting you do/ the more babywearing despite back ache/ the more breastfeeding a toddler whilst cooking dinner, the more well- rounded your child will be.”
In a big way I think this really is just rubbish.
I do think there are sacrifices to be made as a parent. And I do think that for babies, those under a year, their needs should always, always, always come first. This will mean less sleep/ stopping what we are doing to respond to a cry/ tough, stretched nipples. (I think most parents can handle this for a tiny one – so many of us gather under the “They are only babies once” banner.)
I think people who appreciate attachment parenting principles can too often forget that there is a balancing of needs to be done. Sometimes this balancing of needs is easy. Often there is massive joy in meeting our little one’s needs first; a pleasure in night parenting and putting plans on hold to play.
And then there are other times when we need to listen to our own bodies and minds.
I’m just sure that as our little ones grow we need to grab hold of our own sense of well being. I am becoming increasingly convinced that our children are massively affected by our own happiness.
Too often I see (and become one!) a mother who has taken Attachment Parenting as an order to ignore every niggle and ambition and desire and hope of their own.
Kids take in EVERYTHING. Every grimace. Every flare of the nostrils. If we are babywearing through exhausted discontent then they will know. They will absorb an underlying resentment like the sweat from your neck. So push them in a buggy. It will be about a million times better for you both.
There is some science around this – chemicals we release when we are either joyful or annoyed. (Yeah, that is about as far as my science goes. I spent most of my science classes at school playing with the pet rabbit or dying my hair with the little vials of peroxide.) Oxycontin or adrenaline float through the air like dust, alighting on those we are with and setting off a similar mood. It is why when the plane takes off from the tarmac a palpable fear sometimes descends, or why when we giggle with our children you often end up rolling around in delirium together.
Then I think there is also something about authenticity. Our children need us to be real and to be honest. Yes, we ARE the adults so for the most part we do need to hold it together, take some deep breaths when we feel like yelling. But if our children never see us sad or cross, what are we teaching them about the importance of expressing emotion? We risk too much if we mask everything, if we are dishonest with ourselves and our children about what is causing us stress.
It isn’t manipulative to discuss with your two year old how hard you find it when she gets naked in public. You aren’t a bad parent if you do a childcare swap (where you baby sit yours and theirs and then they look after yours and theirs another time) with your friend just so you can have an afternoon not being climbed on. If you are a parent with an ambitious mind and a brain that needs stimulation the best thing you can do for your child is get back to the workplace for at least part of the week – they don’t need to be cuddled through your bitterness.
(Also, it is kind of an aside, but while I am justifying all the things I need to do for my own sense of well being: it is natural to describe your crossness after an infuriatingly long and expensive and pointless 0844 call – just maybe don’t growl Ba$!a%ds! in a tone your toddler will find impossible to not repeat all afternoon as you hang up. Er.)
Despite me being the BIGGEST FAN EVER of cosleeping and that I always imagined the four of us would hunker down in the Family Bed, since Juno was born we have split up. Tim and my toddler Ramona in one room and Juno and I in another. Despite knowing Ramona’s needs are being met it was hard to make this decision, I felt like I was letting the world of cosleeping attachment parents down! But maximising the sleep we all get is pretty much a must right now and waking up to one kid each is more than enough!
It is a shame that as people pick up and run with parenting approaches, expert advice is often bashed all over the nuances of our personalities, cultures and families. It annoys me that Attachment Parenting is seen as extreme practice because some people see it as a set of rules to followed, rather than an encouragement for parents to simply connect, connect, connect with our little ones. And in order to connect we need to be authentic.
I’d love to hear your honest thoughts on this. Can you believe I get annoyed with attachment parenting?! What have you found in your own parenting experience? What do you do to maintain a sense of well being as a parent? As a Gentle/ Attachment parent, do you think we can have a tendency to compromise authenticity?