I was reading through the great material available at Attachment Parenting International, the “parent’ corporation (or, perhaps better, “mother ship”) for those of us that follow intentional or attachment parenting, and was struck at how few of the Eight Core Principles of Attachment Parenting are relevant once your joyous little bundle grows up and isn’t a little baby any more.
To wit, the eight rules are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting.
- Feed with love and respect (breastfeeding)
- Respond with sensitivity
- Use nurturing touch
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally (co-sleeping)
- Provide consistent and loving care
- Practice positive discipline
- Strive for balance in personal and family life.
I read those and I’m thinking that only rules #3, #6 (maybe), #7 and #8 are relevant once children have grown beyond their infancy…
Which begs the question: Is attachment parenting ultimately about how to be with babies, rather than how to parent as a greater philosophy?
My experience is after following the basic precepts of AP for so many years (my oldest is 13, middle is 10 and youngest is 6, meaning that I’ve had almost a decade of experience with 0-3yo children around) that the core of being sympathetic, attentive and positive are built in to how I strive to interact with them every single time we’re together.
Note the use of the word “strive” there, lest you think “wow, that guy’s an amazing, mellow, perfect father who is never upset with his kids, always gentle and loving, and a poster guy for attachment parenting. The reality is that parenting is incredibly hard work and being a single parent is even more so. I do my best, I try to be an AP dad all the time, but sometimes, well, I have been less than sympathetic, less than positive in my discipline. It’s hard being a regular joe with human weaknesses and foibles, sorry to report. 🙂
It’s a situation where I think that outsiders can be a great reality check. I look at how I am with my children and I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job. Certainly I’m attentive to their needs and almost omnipresent, though without having them be the center of my life: I have a life of my own too, esp. as a single man. My friends invariably tell me that I’m a “great dad”, though I certainly don’t always see it when I look in the proverbial mirror.
There are also times when I read the AP recommendations and feel like they’re mostly written for mothers. Indeed, I feel that our society seems to be set up for the men to be uninvolved in parenting and childrearing, from court decisions on custody to images of emasculated men in cinema because they decided to parent, not work in an office. But that, as they say, is another story entirely.
Still, the way you treat your children should be consistent with the way you treat your friends and colleagues too, shouldn’t it? I mean, how can you be warm, sensitive and nurturing with your children and a raging jerk with your friends?
Perhaps one of the best ways to learn what kind of parent you are is to simply see what kind of a friend you are. Are you warm, attentive, do you let your friends rattle on endlessly about their lives without ever asking you about yours? If you can’t be there for your friends, maybe you’re just as unavailable for your children too.
It’s that availability, that emotional, physical and psychological availability that to me is ultimately at the core of attachment parenting. It’s not about you, after all, and it’s also not about your child either. it’s about the relationship that the two of you form, the needs they have from you and, yes, the needs they can fulfill in your heart and your life.
And maybe, just maybe, from that perspective attachment parenting is even more important as your children grow into their teen years and become autonomous human beings.
After all, who better to model warm, affectionate humanity than us parents?
1. Prepare for parenting. This doesn’t go away just because your baby is no longer an infant. When I know what is typical or normal for any particular age, then I can better relate to my child.
2. Feed with love and respect isn’t just breastfeeding. As children grow older, we can realize that it’s our responsibility to provide healthy food, but their responsibility to eat it. Feeding with love and respect means not forcing clean plates, not allowing lots of junk, etc.
4. Nurturing touch. Our children need touch well into their teen years. Positive, healthy touch.
5. Safe sleeping – some children continue to need parents at night well into teen years. I still crawled into bed with my mom in high school during bad storms. My mom was open to that. Many parents are not.
They’re not just for infants.