Friday, January 21, 2005

Attachment Parenting and Me

It’s amusing, and a little sad, to think back to the day when the question of schedules and of letting the baby cry were the be-all, end-all issues of our parenting life. (I know that the question of mothers working operates very early too, but I’ve always thought that particular "debate" was insulting to everyone involved, so I’m going to give it a wide berth here.) Parents of preschoolers know from debatable issues: Disney Princess: adorable or nauseating? Television: harmless diversion or agent of Satan? If yes to TV, kid-friendly only, or "Fear Factor" and "WWE"? (Don’t scoff, the question of kids’ favorite TV programs arose not long ago on the Triplet Connection and several mothers said their 4-year old sons’ favorite programs were wrestling. Fear Factor is the #2 or #3 prime-time show for children ages 2-11.) Preschool: Waldorf, Montessori, or unschooling? Discipline: how do we keep these little balls of energy in line? The level of diversity in parenting simply explodes as kids get older, and puts all the sound and fury about baby bedtimes to shame. I’m convinced the only reason why the scheduling/crying issue gets so much press is because new parents are the only parents na├»ve enough to believe they might find definitive answers. Also, because they still have a little money and time left to buy and read parenting books. All I have the energy to do these days is ... well, watch mindless TV. But not Fear Factor or the WWE: my mindless television of choice tended to run toward all things Whedon, until his shows went off the air.

Maybe because I miss the days of easy answers, I thought I would throw out there that Calder and I practiced attachment parenting with the babies. We’re not rabid freaks about it, I couldn’t carry even one baby in a sling because of back problems and we’re not one of those families with three futon mattresses spread across our bedroom floor. But on the spectrum of approaches to parenthood, we were at the AP end of the line. I think this merits some explanation, not least because everyone always assumes that no one with multiples could possibly survive without a schedule. Schedules just don’t work for everyone, so hearing that one family managed just fine without them might be encouraging to someone, some day. Besides, I love a good debate.

So, here’s a little FAQ for you, adapted from a post I made to the Triplet Connection that’s now been deleted. I’ll post it in parts, because it’s mighty long. Please, please, keep in mind this important fact: Nothing I write here should in any way be construed as a criticism, veiled or otherwise, of your choices. It was just what worked, and made sense, for us.
Why Attachment Parenting?
Because what Bill and Martha Sears write about fussy babies made the most sense to Calder and me, and we weren’t on board with the idea of leaving babies to cry it out. Because I wanted to do everything possible to nourish my babies’ individualism, and I didn’t know how else they expressed themselves in the early months except through their particular, individual needs for sleep and food. Because I had a rough, rough relationship with my mom and wanted to lay a firm foundation of loving kindness and an aura of warm embraces between my babies and me, and lots of rocking, cuddling, and responsiveness seemed like the way do to that. Because I knew they’d been left to cry in the NICU and I couldn’t bear the thought that they’d be left alone at home, too. Because I so desperately desired one-on-one time with each baby that staggered schedules and completely independent naptimes worked well for me, taken all-in-all.

Oh yeah, also because I was really, exceedingly lazy. I read this fantastic book by T. Berry Brazelton called Touchpoints, and in every single new chapter, Brazelton would explain how to teach and re-teach your baby to sleep independently. Apparently, babies have immature sleep cycles—they "surface" more at the peak of each three-to-four hour cycle, it’s linked to the development of REM sleep—and every little thing can set them off. Babies who’ve learned to sleep through the night wake again when they start teething, when they learn to roll and crawl and stand and walk, when separation anxiety sets in, when dreams start, when they get more teeth….The list was endless, and at every "touchpoint," Brazelton explained that parents had to go into the nursery, give their child his lovey, pat him on the back, and re-teach him how to soothe himself. I’m sorry, but I didn’t have the time or the patience for that. It was far easier just to crawl into bed with the wakeful child and fall back asleep, okay?

There’s also a certain cult-like atmosphere around scheduling and high-order multiples. I never drank the Kool-aid, and I never quite understood the idea. Would anyone think it was natural for three babies born on the same day to different parents to eat, sleep, and be actively alert all at the same time, just because they share a birthday? Does anyone out there have two children born in different years whose infant habits were identical? Why should multiple-birth children somehow be more capable of synchronization than newborn neighbors or different-aged siblings? Why should three siblings behave identically in their eating and sleeping habits, just because they shared a uterus and a birthday?

Now, I’ll grant you, looking back, I can see that most babies are pretty malleable. I suspect most babies are just as happy to eat, sleep, and play in rhythm with their siblings as otherwise. In our particular case, it simply wasn’t workable: Wilder had reflux and needed small, frequent meals right up until the day he started solids. Gemma was two or three pounds heavier than him very early on, and could go four hours between feeds. These were babies whose needs simply were never going to be tweaked into conformity.

Coming Next: What is Attachment Parenting?

1 comment:

chris said...

We are the people with the futon on the floor. Actually, it's a mattress. It's kind of embarrassing when people come over.