Sunday, April 3, 2011

A label belongs on a can, not a parent

familybed2 Recently I read a post, “Breastfeeding = Breastfeeding”, that had me hooked from the first line: “You look like a breastfeeder.” The author took offense to that but more importantly, she went on to show that there isn’t and shouldn’t be a distinction between those who breastfeed and those who don’t. Not all breastfeeders are baby wearing, cloth diapering, organic eating mothers just as not all moms who provide formula only feed their kids junk food, lots of TV and make their kids cry it out in bed.

I was thinking, right on, mama. While its focus is on breastfeeding (well, the site is irreverently titled “Leakyboobs” after all), the part that most resonated with me is where she eschews being labeled. She may wear her babies in a carrier and cosleep with them but she’s not comfortable with being labeled as an attachment parent as she isn’t a rigid follower of rules - she does what works best for her family.

Again, right on.

For the unenlightened, attachment parenting is coined by a noted American pediatrician, Dr. William Sears. Upon googling the phrase, you’d inevitably land on his page where he espouses “the seven attachment tools: The Baby B’s” (birthbonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in the language value of your baby’s cry, beware of baby trainers and balance). As I was trying to learn more about this parenting style, I was completely turned off by the time I got to the 6th B on his list, “Beware of baby trainers":

Attachment parenting teaches you how to be discerning of advice, especially those rigid and extreme parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby; you know, the cry-it-out crowd. This "convenience" parenting is a short-term gain, but a long-term loss, and is not a wise investment. These more restrained styles of parenting create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.

Well then.

Here’s what happened in our house: After months of being in my daughter’s room for at least two hours every night trying to lull her to sleep, we were exhausted and two steps away from the deep end. As parents with full-time careers, relinquishing most of our time to a toddler who fought sleep and thus didn’t sleep well did not make us happy parents. Ironically, the 7th Baby B’s of this parenting style, “Balance”, states, “In your zeal to give so much to your baby, it's easy to neglect the needs of yourself and your marriage. As you will learn the key to putting balance in your parenting is being appropriately responsive to your baby – knowing when to say "yes" and when to say "no," and having the wisdom to say "yes" to yourself when you need help.”

That help came in the form of sleep training. You know, the cry-it-out method. When we finally gave in to sleep training, she was 11 months old, and it was the best thing we ever did. For everyone. Now she doesn’t fight bedtime, falls asleep easily and stays asleep, and when she wakes in the morning, she chirps for us or willingly stays in bed until one of us goes into her bedroom to get her. The change in our lives was remarkable. Night and day. It gave us back the time we needed to nurture our relationship, pursue individual interests, and most importantly, rest.  

This isn’t just about us and our “convenience” - our daughter benefits from this too as she doesn’t need us to rub her back to fall asleep (we say goodnight, turn out the lights and leave the room while she’s awake), and when she wakes in the middle of the night, she is able to soothe herself back to sleep. In the mornings, she’s as happy as a clam from getting the rest she needs. In fact, now, everyone’s happy.

Obviously, from my own successful experience, Dr. Sears condescension’ of the “cry-it-out” crowd does not sit well with me. He may think he has it all figured it out, but really, what works for Family A doesn’t necessarily work for Family B. I don’t think parenting should be about a style. It should be about the child. It struck a nerve when I read the definition of attachment parenting on his site: “Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.” 

We are not an attachment parents by choice, but we also don’t disparage those who don’t share our decisions, which I would argue did bring out the best in our baby and in ourselves. Little Miss was rarely in a baby carrier, and I don’t sleep well with her next to me. Although I did breastfeed her until she was 13 months, I also pumped (so her dad could partake in the feeding/bonding process, which is important to us). She may not have been on my boob 24/7 because I worked full time, but I also made all of her food so she never tasted jarred food in her life. She gets her vaccines but I also opted out of and delayed a few. We try our best to feed her with hormone-free and preferably organic food but if we’d like to occasionally indulge in some hotdogs or McDonald’s French fries, then that’s what we’re going to do. So what kind of parent does that make me?

When I look at my daughter who’s happy, healthy and developing remarkably well, who’s independent, funny and fearless, who pouts and throws tantrums just like any two-year-olds, I don’t really care what kind of parent I’m supposed to be according to the “experts”. I’m just glad that I’m able to be exactly the kind of parent my baby needs to help her become this delightful little girl that she is.

So forgive me if I don’t really believe in a parenting style. I’m too busy being my daughter’s mom to worry about trying to fit myself into a mold.


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