Attachment parenting, Parenting

Authentic Parenting and the Importance of Happiness

30 May, 2013

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.

authentic parenting atta

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? 

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  • Mum2BabyInsomniac 30 May, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I think you have a really great approach to parenting. I only really heard about attachment parenting through the world of blogging and I still don’t actually know entirely what it is all about but from what I have read there are lots of points that I agree with and put into practice. But then there are also lots that I probably don’t, I co-sleep, breast feed whenever Jobey wants to (as I did with Iyla), respond to them whenever I see they need it without letting them cry (well with Jobey), but then when Iyla is playing up I have been known to lose my patience and shout ‘oh please shut up’ at the top of my voice. What you said is so true though and I think as parents we have to make sure we are happy in order for our kids to by happy and I think that whenever I have been stressy it’s usually when I have things that I need to do and haven’t had a chance to do them. I guess as Jobey gets older I will fit more in and won’t be such a problem. Sorry for this essay, fab post! X

  • Katy Beale 30 May, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I hear you! I hate labels and ‘attachment parenting’ is one of the ones I like to spit out. I’d much rather keep sane, love and nurture my children in whatever way works for me – and this wish goes for others too.

    Personally, I have a 7 year old boy and a 4 month old girl. Oh boy, I’d forgotten what sleep deprivation was like til this gorgeous newborn arrived!! I love breastfeeding, however I’m not sure I could function whilst still waking every few hours to slumber-feed through the night in a year (or two or three). But hey, I regard my sanity and happiness as the number one tool in keeping my children content. And I run my own business as well, which is proving a little difficult with my fuggy brain right now. I’m learning we cannot have it all.

    I’ve seen mums literally so knackered from continued night breastfeeding for 5 years that I can see their emotions a whirlwind, unstable and emotional, and their faces tell a story of someone who has not had a proper night’s sleep for years. I have to wonder whether this is good for their children, or them. They say that this it what they want to do, so that’s fine, but is it their *expectation* of themselves, in a perfect world, or what they think really works?

    Hmm. I ponder here, but I don’t offer them my ‘advice’, more I try to give support when I can and am often their emotional sounding board.

  • Mary Keynko 30 May, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Surely the best ‘authenticity’ to have is the one that works for you and your family? What is right for one is not right for another and no one should tell you what is right or wrong. I’m a firm believer in instinctive parenting (for the sake of a title) – do what you feel is right, not what someone else tells you is right. You are the best judge of yourself and your babies and if you listen to and trust your instincts then you will get the best outcome.

  • Circus Queen 30 May, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    It’s all about balancing needs. Even the Searses talk about the right sleep arrangement for your family being the one where everyone gets as much sleep as they can. Certainly, as they grow older it’s good for them to learn that you have needs to and to learn to respect that. That way they will one day be able to say “no” to others when they need to.

    For me, I no longer always feed my toddler on cue. Sometimes, she has to wait. She’s old enough to understand. I do still wear her but not if I’m unwell and though we cosleep now, I won’t say we always will.

    At the same time I would say that if a parent is finding bedsharing, breastfeeding, babywearing or whatever thing uncomfortable, it could be worth looking for support as there might be a solution you hadn’t thought of but there’s no reason to sacrifice yourself at the imaginary altar of attachment parenting or whatever. Parenting is a journey not a contest.

  • Louise 30 May, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I’m not a big ‘labels’ fan. So whilst I probably fit firmly in the attachment parent category, I’ve never called myself one as such. For me it’s all about moderation and what works for each family. I don’t think it’s about ignoring your own needs and desires. Rather trying to find a way of meeting your needs whilst still meeting the needs of your children. As with all things parenting, it’s about finding a solution that works for you and your family. Personally, I don’t see attachment parenting as a prescriptive way of living but maybe there are others who do?

  • Charlie Hughes 30 May, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I loved this post Lucy. And I agree that we need to be authentic and more true to ourselves as well as responding to our children’s needs. A balance is so important. I think once you have 2 children you realise that the ability to address everyone’s wants and needs becomes much, much harder. I’ve found this to be true and throw in one or two of life’s curved balls and you can end up feeling a complete failure as a parent if you are too rigid in your parenting style. I think in the end flexibility and trusting your instincts are the key xx

  • Heather 30 May, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I totally agree, as long as you come from a
    Place of love and nurturing, your children can
    Only benefit from being yourself. Even if
    You thrive in strict routine and schedule, if
    That’s what blows your hair back, your children will thrive too. I don’t think parenting
    Needs all these fancy labels and terms. Just let your personality and character shine through.

  • Molly 30 May, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Freat, thought-provoking post. Personally, I have always avoided any kind of parenting “label”, as I don’t find it helpful for the way I choose to do things. For example, I breastfed, used cloth nappies and occasionally used a sling, but I also used a buggy, didn’t co-sleep and had my first night out at the pub without my baby when she was 5 months old. For me, it’s always been about doing what has felt right for me, us and our family, rather than following any kind of set of principles or rules. It has (and still is) about instinct – and sometimes that instinct is that I need to leave my toddler with her dad for 24 hours while I go to visit a friend and drink wine without being climbed upon, to return home a better, more rested, happier mother. I don’t think we have to choose one approach and stick with that – I think it’s about choosing to follow our own instincts and accepting that what works for some doesn’t work for others. And, in my opinion, anything that leads to parental guilt is not useful – for parents or kids.

  • gillian 30 May, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    I love your candour in this post, and your blog in general.
    I practice attachment parenting and find it challenging at times. It wasn’t until – after 8 months – I returned to my 90 min hot power yoga class that I realized just how much I was tapped out and needed something for ME! I felt the resentment I had been habouring slap me in the face as it left my body. I was renewed and made a commitment to myself to continue to self-nurture, too.
    I really believe the principles of AP. Like another reader comments, however, prefer the term instinctual parenting, in addition to natural parenting. I like to take my cues on how to parent by what I see in nature, and what feels right. This direction is then moderated by circumstance (eg: I’m totally exhausted and can’t jump out of bed to get baby girl on potty so we might have a ‘miss’ this morning).
    This world makes it hard to parents to parent how they see fit, based on their family’s needs. It is hard to set judgment and parenting indoctrination aside, and just do what you feel to be the best, for the situation in which you find yourself.
    Although demanding, natural parenting feels like the right choice for our family, and I love parenting that way. Now and then I find myself up against the wall, and I check in by saying “what is the problem?”. Sometimes the answer is simple. Sometimes is that there is no problem. Sometimes something needs fixed and an objective view many bring an easy solution.
    I think it’s important that we check in with ourselves and be honest with our needs. I agree that our child’s happiness is connected to ours. There are so many simple joys to bring laughter and contentment to our lives…. but we need to be able to see them!

  • nyssapod 30 May, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Well said! As you say, it is connection with your child that is important not slavishly following a set of rules for the sake of it.

  • Jem 30 May, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Ugh, I had a great comment to leave earlier while I was stuck on my phone and now I’m on my laptop I can’t remember what I was going to say.

    We did the same splitting up the co-sleeping though; I imagined the same as you with the 4 of us in one big bed but with Oliver’s early feeding problems nobody was sleeping. It was the best thing for us at the time and meant that our eldest wasn’t pushed out to sleep alone before she was ready (she will generally stay in her bed til about 4am now but occasionally has night terrors).

    I’ll come back if I remember the rest of my comment!

  • Jen aka The Mad House 30 May, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    I think I am with Molly on this, but attaching a label bring with it certain expectations. I have co-slept and often still do, but was unable to parent. One child was in a sling, the other not so much.

    Guilt is the strongest emotion that we humans have (apparently) so it is the easiest to instigate and I can self bully enough without anyone else piling the guilt upon me.

    I do what is best for my family at a specific time, that might change, I might change. But I can tell you that I felt terrible having a double mastectomy when Mini was under 2 and Maxi not yet 3, but better to be alive and healthy than with them for such a short life.

  • Mary Firth 30 May, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    This is so true and I really need to stop playing the martyr card and just enjoy guilt free me-time a bit more. It wouldn’t increase my me-time, I get that however I have to, just decrease the guilt! I spent a very nice half hour this evening potting on the hollyhock seedlings while she had a bath with Daddy, and had to bite my tongue coming down from getting her to sleep to stop myself apologising for not having done the washing up instead. He doesn’t mind, so why should I be feeling the need to apologise?!

  • Janine Fowler 31 May, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Most AP practices really work for ME emotionally, but I agree that maternal happiness is also extremely important. [Unfortunately, I feel that most non-AP parents take this too far, prioritizing their own happiness over the best interest of their kids.]

    Personally, I’ve been limiting my toddler’s nursing a lot lately. The aversion has carried over from pregnancy. I love seeing him happily nursing but it also makes me a bit resentful of him. So recently I’ve been telling him no more – which I know is hard for him – but instead he gets tickles and cuddles. Even though he still wants the breast, I think that it’s better for both of us to have happy cuddles versus resentful nursing.

    • Suzanne 31 May, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      What a lovely, lovely post. With my first baby, I had ridiculous expectations of how I would behave as a mother and of course was devastated when I didn’t breastfeed exclusively. There was a lot of sling wearing, which I loved, but there was so much I wanted to do in the style of attachment parenting that I was just too knackered/nervous/unsure of my parenting abilities to do. By the time baby 2 came along, I’d made peace with my expectations and we found our own way. Picking and choosing the strategies that worked best for us as a family and leaving out what didn’t. I no longer feel guilty about enjoying my work or time away from the children because It gives me the emotional space I need to tolerate being climbed on, pawed and pulled at by 2 affectionate boys. Here’s to finding our own way and ditching the expectation of labels!

  • Jo 30 May, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    By the time they are teenagers, you won’t be able to tell which ones had the attachment parenting, or which ones slept in a cot. What you CAN tell, is which ones have kind, loving, engaged parents, and really, that’s all that matters.
    My mantra is, parent however you like, and as long as you love them to bits, your kids will be fine.

  • san 31 May, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    What a brilliant, honest message! So often AP becomes confused with martyrdom and that is not a great thing! Being authentic is totally key and kids no matter how small, do pick up on the slightest nuances, they are not stupid and will smell a wiff of hypocrisy a mile off. I remember spending time with a friend who practised AP but would often explode with anger in seemingly inocuous situations, it was as if the demand to be totally giving to her then four year old had got the better of her. She also had great difficulty in dealing with her youngest’s agressive outbursts towards other children and since my littlest bore the brunt of this we parted company.

    For the record I have never totally managed to co sleep with my two youngest due to health issues and chronic pain, but I have done my best to meet their needs during those very tiring night time hours, aswell as baby wearing and extended breastfeeding. Having parented five kids over a period of 27 years it is one of the toughest yet most rewarding jobs and I love the previous posters parting comment of each person finding their own way and “ditching the expectation of labels!”

    San x

  • Claire 31 May, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    Loved reading this, reminded me of:

  • Bake 1 June, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    So needed to hear this right now. The comments are great too. Am currently struggling, with my state of mind and the decision whether or not to go back to work (part-time). I haven’t been away from my son for more than a few hours in his 15month life, not really sure how that happened, and it’s starting to be too much. Think his slow weaning and crazy hormones have a role to play in all of this, but I really can see the difference in my boy when I am having a good day vs a low day. You are such an inspiration – thanks for your honesty. xoxo

  • Daeminimon 15 June, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Can we be fwiends?!

    You’ve summed how I feel up in one, perfect post here! I love co-sleeping, I think it’s what feels biologically right for us to do as a species, by me and Eddie just Can’t. Sleep. Together. We toss and turn, and end up waking each other up 15 times in a night. On the other hand, Eddie and hubster sleep like actual babies together. So that’s what we do. i sleep on my own, they snuggle up together. It makes me a little jealous going in to kiss them, and they’re lying in identical sleeping positions (calm, my aching heart…), but it allows our whole family to have a good night’s sleep, plus, once we have another sproglet (in the not too distant future, hopefully!), it won’t be a giant upheaval for him that I sleep with baby.
    I think “Happy mum, happy baby” is often a truth with modification, but I definitely think it’s more important to work out what works for your family unit, rather than follow the book blindly.

  • JessieD 19 June, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Oh your blog has come along at just exactly the right time. This morning I was sat on the loo pondering how nice it would be if there were a parenting blog that was about trying to parent one way and finding yourself on an unexpectedly different path. We co slept for 6 months but after that baby Moll was being woken by my teeth grinding and her Dad’s snoring and we were being pushed into the corner of the bed. So we gave up… and it hurt, and I felt I’d betrayed us and her. And now we’ve moved house and she sleeps (at just one) in her own tiny wee room, in her own bed. And I hadn’t expected it to feel right. But it does. But I want to be an attachment parent! She also eats crappy babybels and instant muesli bars and now I’m pregnant again she only breastfeeds once a day… and we may stop…. but I still feel like a gentle hippy type parent! I think we should be gentler on ourselves, easier with the labels and try not to feel pushed out of the gang if certain things don’t work for us anymore.

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