Friday, January 21, 2005

The Spoiled, Unconsolable Baby Canard

We're headed into the final stretch of the AP FAQ here....
Were you worried they’d get spoiled, and too dependent on external comfort when they were sad?

No. I don’t think you can spoil a baby. I especially don’t think that parents of multiples can spoil their babies: we don’t have the time, the arms, or the energy. But more than that, it has gradually dawned on me that halting a workable solution today just because it might cause problems in the future is, well, insane. Just because I never imagined that the kids would still be wearing night-time diapers at age four, doesn’t mean I should have started potty training at age two. It was age appropriate to respond to every cry from a three-month old baby and to rock her to sleep every night. The babies at 26 months had very different needs and abilities, and now, at age four, I have no hesitation in walking my kids back to their beds, tucking them in, and saying good night again. The crucial factor for me was that my kids trust me to meet their needs. How else do you do that, except through responsiveness?

I also agree with the temperament researchers, who say that what works well for one child may not work at all for another, because of her inborn temperamental needs. Strict schedulers of multiples don’t seem to agree with that idea, at least not in my experience. There tends to be a lot of talk about "teaching the baby she’s not a singleton, and she doesn’t get to do that [particular inconvenient habit]." Gemma has always been a "good sleeper," at night at least, sleeping as much as six hours at a stretch at 2 months and falling asleep in the crib after being laid down awake at five months. Elba had a terrible time relaxing at the end of the day right from the beginning, a fact commented on by every single person who came to stay with us. Elba would actually lie stiffly in my arms as she nodded off, and if pushed too fast at bedtime (whether in crib or swing), she would throw up and become hysterical. Remarkably, by 26 months, she would kick me out of bed at night: she’d gently remind me "night-night, sweet dreams" and get Gemma and Wilder to play along. It was enormously satisfying to watch Elba make that transition, and to believe that I’d helped her along by meeting her need for rocking and parental soothing earlier on. Now, Elba’s the only one of the kids who almost never climbs into bed with me at night, almost always lies in bed awake after the others have dozed off (she still takes longer to unwind) but also sleeps a solid 45 minutes longer in the morning. It was so, so hard to meet Elba’s sleep needs sometimes in the first 18-24 months, hard not to want to just lay her down screaming and run far away, so seeing her so self-sufficient and happy in sleep is a fantastic feeling. Meanwhile, William falls asleep fast, wakes up early, and has virtually nothing in common with his sisters when it comes to sleep. I don’t think that’s at all surprising or unique: my brother and sister and I had fairly different sleep habits, too.

Did they learn to comfort themselves?
Yes. It definitely took longer because it was at their pace, not mine, but in ten years, I doubt I’m going to look back on their baby years and say, gosh, I wish I’d rocked, nursed, and cuddled them less. Right now, today, I miss those times. I needed down time, I absolutely needed Calder to come home and give me my breaks, but I’m not sorry I chose the route I did. I’ll never rock another baby again--I’m incredibly, unspeakably grateful that I did it once.

Plus, I suffered pretty severe post-partum depression. Practicing attachment parenting was incredibly healing for me. I actually didn’t fully embrace it until six or eight weeks after Elba came home; before then I spent a lot of energy and time trying fruitlessly to get the babies onto a schedule, and I was miserable. Were their days I melted down and just wanted the lives of my friends who propped bottles to stay on schedule, introduced cry-it-out at twelve weeks, and laid their babies down awake, thereby getting to see their favorite TV shows in real time? Oh, yes, yes, there were those days. But taken all in all, now that those days are past, I'm so glad I spent my time the way I did. Besides, my kids are enormously self-confident, secure, and happy. Whatever Calder and I managed to cobble together, I think it laid a nice, sturdy foundation.

Well, I know a family who practiced AP and their kid...

"...only slept in the parents’ bed at night, was still night-nursing continually at 15 months, her parents had no sex life, she needed two hours to fall asleep and then only if one or both parents lied down with her, she only napped if the mom slept too, never ate at meals, demanded snacks continually, and was a whiny, clingy, demanding brat by the time she was two"? Yes, I’ve heard of that family! They really get around, don’t they. They seems especially well-known to the baby nurses who post on the Triplet Connection, women who like to say they’ve never met a family for whom AP works, that they’re always being called in to help fix the poor deluded AP parents’ bad choices. I’ve always thought this was about as insightful as the personal trainer who claims he’s never met anyone who eats chocolate without developing a raging weight problem (hello—you’re a problem-solver, people only come to you when they have problems) but whatever.

My short-answer response to these stories is this: you can be a "bad" parent doing a lot of different things. There are "bad" AP parents and "bad" scheduling parents and "bad" whatever-the-hell-else parents. Parenting philosophies are guides, they offer tools, and how you use those tools doesn’t always reflect on the philosophy. Have you met the family who fed their kid formula (yee gads! oh no! how could they! ... Wait, we fed formula ... oh, never mind) on a strict-three hour schedule, left him to scream in his crib for an hour when he was 12 weeks old, and never held him because babies need to learn independence? And now he’s an allergy-ridden thug with an eating disorder and a bed-wetting habit? I think they live right next door to that out-of-control AP family you mentioned. Out on Bad-Mommmy-Myth Lane?

Karen Gromada wrote once on the APMultiples site that she tried to make choices based on a fairly simple formula: what was her child supposed to learn and accomplish during this particular life stage, and what were her goals for how her child would behave, believe, and feel as he entered the stages to come? I wrote at the beginning of this endless little discussion that my primary goal in the first year was to have a really tight mother-baby bond. Everything I did in the early months arose from that. I can easily imagine folks who had the same goal for their baby’s first year, who made completely different choices than mine. I can also imagine people whose goals were very different from mine, but whose choices were the same. It’s a complicated situation, raising a child, and I’ve found that I don’t often agree 100% with Calder about how to handle something, let alone anyone else. But enough with the "everyone I know who did that" stories about attachment parenting, because now you know me, and it’s just not true.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this publicly, Jody. You know, as do I, that most people think we AP parents of HOM are insane & delusional, and most think we are lying or making stuff up. Just this past week I was accused of living in a fairytale when I shared my AP philosophy for getting babies to sleep without CIO at a BB populated almost entirely by twin parents. The person was very eager for me to 'wake up'. Okay, um, it's been two years, I think if I was dreaming I'd have woken up by now, don't you think?

Although you & I differ in some areas of AP, chiefly in that I did use a schedule for my babies, I never get tired of reading your story because in most ways it's also my story.

The mother-baby bond was and still is so very important to me. Just this past week my kids & I were at a playgroup. Just being ourselves, having a good time, and that entailed the children running full-tilt across the room at me and launching themselves into my arms for hugs & kisses whenever the spirit moved them. One mother finally leaned over to me and said, "Your children are so. So. So LOVING! And affectionate! I can't believe it!"

If this is a dream I really don't want to wake up. Thank you, Jody, for mentoring me.