Sunday, May 13, 2012

I practiced "attachment parenting" before it was in TIME Magazine.

I was one of those new mothers who, as the nurse prepared to discharge my baby and me from the hospital, turned to my husband and said, "They're letting us take him?"

"He" is now 23, having survived my bumbling attempts at navigating his babyhood. What saved me in the long run is something that's being talked about quite a bit now because of the TIME Magazine cover featuring a woman breastfeeding a preschooler: attachment parenting.

But back in "my day" -- I can't quite believe I'm writing that -- I didn't know what it was called. It was simply instinctive, and it worked for me.

I wore my colicky baby in a sling. His dad and I didn't let him "cry it out." I breastfed him "on demand" -- such a weird term -- because he didn't seem to know he was supposed to be hungry only every two or three or four hours. Besides, it was the one thing that seemed to soothe him.

He slept with his dad and me; at first, we chose the "family bed" because it was really the only way any of us could get any rest. (Believe me when I tell you that my child slept for 20-minute intervals, and that was basically all. I began to understand why sleep deprivation is commonly used as a torture method.) But after a while, we realized we enjoyed the comfort of resting all together.

Members of my family, all well-meaning, thought I was insane. First of all, I had put my career on hiatus to stay home, and money was more than tight. Second, attachment parenting was anathema to the Dr. Spock generation; several people thought I was destined to raise a child who would breastfeed until he applied for a mortgage. (I didn't, for the record, nurse my kids as long as the woman on the TIME cover has -- I think anyone would agree that's pretty extreme. But I did breastfeed for a longer period than was common at that time.)

What people failed to understand was that my generation didn't invent attachment parenting. Many of its tenets -- baby-led weaning, "wearing" your baby -- are practiced all across the world (by cultures that don't sexualize breasts nearly as much as ours does, for starters), and have been since time began. People who choose to parent this way are simply going back to basics.

Dr. William Sears, godfather of this method of parenting, put it best in TIME: "It's all about making the best with what you have." It's not about "rights" or "wrongs" in parenting; it's about listening to your instinct and doing what works for you. And the dire warnings are for naught; needless to say, both my kids eventually stopped breastfeeding and sleeping in their parent' bed.

Mothering in this way worked for me and for my family. If bottles and cribs and schedules worked or are working for you, I'm all for that. I think it's really all about giving ourselves permission to raise the children we've been given in the way that feels right to us, without fear of judgment from other parents who purport to have things all figured out.

My children are grown now, and they're secure in the knowledge that they're loved unconditionally. Perhaps that's because of the foundations we laid for them; perhaps a more conventional method of parenting would have yielded the same results.

Yet this must be noted: Their dad and I eventually divorced, and a few people have questioned whether our singular focus on our kids meant that we didn't focus enough on each other. A fair question, and I don't know the answer. But I do know that the way we parented them from the outset probably helped result in the cohesive parenting that continued, and continues to this day.

As we all know, babies don't come with owners' manuals. I count my blessings daily that I was able to raise my children in the manner that felt best to me. The woman on the TIME cover? I imagine that's her goal, too.

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