Monday, June 23, 2008

Attachment Parenting by Nora Irvin

“Don’t pick him up. If you do, he is going to want you to pick him up all the time. You’re going to spoil him.” So plays the internal dialogue I remember as a child. Every one of my female family members used this philosophy. Naturally, when it came to be my turn to parent I remembered these sayings. Yet the strangest thing happened. I found it more natural to do the opposite. I, unlike my mother, aunts, and grandmother before me, found another style much more satisfying.

When we brought our firstborn home, he came with no owner’s manual. My husband and I looked to the examples of our own parents. We, like many myriads of other newly expecting parents, embarked on the journey by wading into the mass sea of self-help books for parenting. We navigated through the rough waters, reading books titled What to Expect When You’re Expecting to The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy. The more we read, the more clear it was that we had to choose between the advice of our family or what we were learning about attachment parenting.

There are many ways to use Attachment Parenting and there are no set rules of dos and don’ts. Dr. William Spears, who along with his wife Martha, introduced Attachment Parenting to the public; they define it as “an uninterrupted, nurturing relationship, specifically attuned to a child’s needs as he passes from one developmental stage to the next.” This may include, but not be limited to, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing. Co-sleeping is having the baby sleep in your bed, and baby wearing is wearing your baby at all times. We found all three of these aspects beneficial for our family.

The most bewildered look took over my sister’s face when I informed her that I was going to nurse the baby. Notice how I use the term “nursing” rather than breast-feeding. She, along with most of my Mexican-American family, would never dream of nursing a child. “That’s just gross,” she said as she shook her head. It’s a cultural taboo. Mexicans nurse their children out of necessity. Mexican-Americans have the luxury not to. We can afford to buy formula, and so we should.

Fortunately for us, we live in Austin and not in my small rural hometown just 35 minutes away. Big City Austin seems to foster the nurturing ideas behind attachment parenting. This is the city where a blind salamander can stop even the largest of proposed construction sites that would dare to try to enter their safe zone. Here in Austin, we are proud of our Central Market and Whole Foods mentality, which is “if it is healthy, we want it.” There is no doubt that breast milk is the best for the baby. Dr. Sears mentions that there are unique brain building nutrients in it that cannot be manufactured or bought.

In rural towns, such as the small town where I was raised, nursing seemed to be unnecessary. There are baby formulas to nourish an infant, and the thought of actually wanting to be attached that way to a baby seems unnatural. I remember vividly the look that I received from a middle age woman wearing a hat and shiny black patent leather shoes. Disdtain filled her face and with a quick shake of disproval and an elaborate rolling of her eyes, I knew what she thought about me nursing my son in public. In retaliation, I looked her square in the face and straightened up, with my shoulders square, I stiffen red in a proud manner. I repositioned away from her gaze, and continued. I was completely covered, and she was appalled. I thought to myself, she must be a prude. My thoughts went to a personal attack because, not knowing anything about her, I was free to make silent judgment on her just as she had on me. If she would have bothered asking our reasons for choosing nursing, she may have been surprised to know that it was simple economics and convenience.

Convenience was the reason we choose to use a form of co-sleeping. As an infant, the baby slept with us in our bed. I was already in the deep grip of sleep deprivation, which sometimes is a method of torture, and we rationalized I was better off getting a few more minutes of sleep when I could just wake up and feed the baby. There are those who would argue that this would increase chance of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) or that I would fall fast asleep and roll over on the baby. Both of those were a possibility but very rare. We chanced it and it worked out to be the best possible solution for me, as a new mom I needed to get as much needed rest as I could. There were some drawbacks to this sleeping arrangement, namely the problem of our intimate encounters. It did take a more creative mind for my husband and I to try to figure out our liaisons. That problem has not really lifted even now, five years later. Once again, creativity and the desire to do so can help in that category.

The third and final component of attachment parenting that we utilized was baby wearing. This by far was the easiest and most contrary to what I was raised to do. It is simple by definition; you just wear the baby on you at all times. While you do the dishes, fold the clothes, go shopping, you have the little bundle wrapped around you in a baby sling. My sling was blue with small white polka dots. I would strap him on and he would just watch the world go by. I would do dishes and he would be on the small backpack. I did what came natural to me. I found it hard to ignore my baby’s cries. I felt a pull against my family’s notions that you could actually spoil a baby.

Erik Erikson, a developmental theorist, calls doing so building basic trust. I read much later in my psychology textbook, that this is the building block of human development. According to Erikson, children who have a safe haven, a person who answers their needs consistently, develop secure attachment. These children grow to have a sense that the world is predictable and reliable. This is evident in later developmental stages where securely attached children are more apt to explore knowing that their caregiver is still in sight.

Maybe what my family did not realize is that what they perceived as a spoiled child was really a child who did not trust that their needs would be met. Granted, this was a different time that my aunts and grandparents lived. They had over twenty-three grandchildren, and to breastfeed, co-sleep, and baby wear would have been a bit of a challenge. Yet, they were not all babies at the same time and the crucial period of development is at infancy. So the next time you hear someone say not to pick up a crying baby, I hope that you will think about the benefits of doing so will bring, and do what you were meant to do and pick it up.

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