Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Attachment Parenting and the Real World

So recently, feminist Erica Jong published an essay called "The Madness of Motherhood" in the Wall Street Journal. In essence, it decries the form of parenting known as Attachment Parenting (or, in internet-speak, A.P.) as stifling to women, something that families choose out of guilt or a misguided sense that they can make their children more perfect through perfect nurturing.

I've read it. I've also read Ph.D. in Parenting's refutation of it.

Then I read the comments that followed her entry in response to it. When I read the comments in response to things on the internet, this is often where I get into trouble. I don't fully agree with the author of Ph.D. in parenting, but I see her point that Jong made some flawed assumptions based on a limited understanding of attachment parenting. But one of the commenters said this about attachment parenting:

No one I know who practices A.P. to any degree feels like it is stifling. On the contrary, we feel it is freeing because it is easier and creates fewer battles with out [sic.] children
 Here's the thing. A.P. can be stifling.

Wait. Let's back up. I'm going to assume for a few minutes that some of my tens of fans don't know what A.P. is. So, first, a quick and dirty primer on it might be useful. Attachment Parenting is a style of parenting largely advocated by pediatrician William Sears and his wife, RN Martha Sears, that argues that the best way to raise a child is for them to have a secure emotional attachment to his or her parents. The most concise reading material on the subject is the Sears's book The Baby Book. But in a nutshell, they advocate bonding as soon as possible after the child's birth, breastfeeding, baby wearing, sleep sharing, respecting a baby's cry as a communication tool, and finding balance with parenting and oneself. It does put, if one were to aspire to the ideal presented in the books, a large portion of the parenting duties in Mom's lap.

In a lot of ways, this sums up how we're parenting the Bug. She sleeps in our room, sometimes our bed, she's breastfed, we don't let her "cry it out," and the Sleepy Wrap is still one of our favourite things. But I am wary to say that I am an "attachment parent." I am wary of this, because any number of unfortunate things have been perpetrated in its name over the years. Ideally, it is not overly permissive. But in practice, sometimes it is. I've seen how this ends in college students who have never, not even once, been told "no." This isn't how AP should be practised, but sometimes it is. This is certainly a large part of the media portrayal of AP and the "easy" way to interpret it.

My whole goal as a parent is to put myself out of business.  I want to raise the Bug to be an independent woman who knows her own mind and can deal with the pressures of the real world. To do this, DH and I will have to craft our own style that deals with the Bug's unique temperament and communication style. Right now, a lot of our tools come from AP. Later, they may come from elsewhere.

But I read the Sears Parenting Library books as references because they give me useful tools. Because I live in the real world, not fantasy mommy-land where magical faeries provide us with food and shelter, I am not the ideal AP. I fall out of balance. I get frustrated. I use the stroller instead of the carrier. I occasionally fantasize about how, in some ways, bottle feeding would be easier. (No public nudity. No fear that I am the cause of any discomfort she may have.)

I read the AP literature and handbooks for the same reason I buy the special edition Martha Stewart holiday cookie magazine every year. (Dudes, it just hit news stands. That's like my porn.) I can't do everything in there. I'm not going to hand pipe 100 gingerbread reindeer then sprinkle them with disco dust or sparkle sugar so they look perfect. But I will use some of what I learn. I won't do every AP thing 100% of the time. I will use other caregivers, I will start solids "early."

Because I live in the real world. And sometimes you just have to admit that you aren't going to make the cute little cookie mice with the licorice tails and almond sliver ears. Sometimes you can't cope with the baby crying, and let someone else handle it. Sometimes your back hurts and baby wearing is just out for the day. But you need the whole tool box to know what does and doesn't work, what you can and cannot balance with your real life.

I resent the hell out of parenting sometimes. And sometimes, I think if we had chosen a different way to parent the Bug, I'd resent it less. But, in the end, I know the tools we've chosen are the ones that will let her grow up into the kind of adult that we want her to become. Sometimes it isn't freeing.

Because in the real world, everything is a pain in the ass sometimes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Authors of Baby Sleep Books are Big Fat Liars

Because the truth, as I have discovered it, wouldn't sell books. It would be boring and depressing.

The truth of baby sleep is this: their little brains are developing, their little bodies are developing, and their sleep habits are constantly changing.

It doesn't matter what you do, if you let the poor little dear cry until they vomit, come console them at regular scheduled intervals, snuggle with them in a family bed, or some hybrid of the above. They're going to do what they're going to do and not consult the adults whose very sanity lies in their precious little hands as to what would make those adults happiest. Sometimes they're going to go down easily at 8pm and sleep quietly until 7am, and sometimes they refuse to even consider sleep until 10pm, and then wake up at 1am and 6am.

The one thing I have found is that snuggling seems to keep the crying at a minimum, and I just don't see how letting the Bug cry it out would change anything, except possibly to get me put on blood pressure meds. I have friends who are firm believers in cry-it-out, and they deal with the same sleep issues we do.

The problem with the sleep books is that they lead a mother to believe that she is a moral failure if her child doesn't sleep a beautific 10 hours at night and take two easy two hour naps during the day, promptly at 10am and 2pm.

I am not a moral failure. Those guys (and they are, for the most part, men) are just assholes.