I’m so excited to have Marie Levey-Pabst write the first guest post on Real Simple Mama! Marie helps families on a regular basis with her business, Create Balance. She’s an AP mom and an ex-teacher just like me! We both feel for the working mom who wants to live an attachment parenting lifestyle. Here are Marie’s words of wisdom.
From Marie Levey-Pabst (of Create Balance: createbalancedlife.com)
I first heard about attachment parenting from our neighbor across the street. When I was pregnant she brought over hand-me-downs from her third child, and offered me any help I needed. She mentioned that she loved “attachment parenting” all three of her kids and would be happy to answer questions about cloth diapering, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and more. After she left my husband and I shared a look of amusement with a hint of fear. “Co-sleeping?” he said, incredulous. “You mean, the kids sleeping in our bed? That seems nutty!” I agreed, although I was quite excited about the cloth diapering idea.
Fast-forward a few months. Our son was born and life became both intensely beautiful and intensely difficult. Just an average day of bringing a new life into this world.
During those first few weeks of maternity leave, I read parenting articles, blogs, etc. and read lots about this “attachment parenting” thing. I read some articles by Dr. Sears, but I found a lot of what he said about the “right” way to do things to be problematic, mostly insofar as he expected mom to do 90% of the heavy lifting of parenting a baby. I know this is largely a result of breastfeeding being such a cornerstone of attachment parenting, but I also worried about the sustainability of it for the sleep-deprived mother! However, the more I read from real parents who were making it work, and also enjoying it, the more I was intrigued.
I finally arrived at the same place that many moms I know arrive at: figuring out which parts of attachment parenting made sense for my family and I. At the root of it, attachment parenting is about helping your child make a transition from womb to the world in a sensitive and caring way. That really is it. Babies don’t need to be trained to get on a schedule or eat solid food early. They need to adjust to life outside the womb and some serious love, attention and quick responses to their needs. These needs also don’t stop at one year, or even two. Children need that kind of attentive response as they grow and develop into young people, even if the methods by which we demonstrate that attention changes.
Let’s take it back to baby-land. I bought into these attachment parenting principles early on, when my son was just a few weeks old, and I was still on maternity leave. I wore him everywhere in the baby wrap. I nursed him pretty much on demand, including nursing him to sleep almost every night and at nap time. I did all the things I could to build that strong emotional bond with my son that is the root of attachment parenting.
Then it was time for me to go back to work.
I was in a good place for this. I loved my job as a teacher. My husband quit his job to stay home and raise our son. But just as I had finally figured out the way I wanted to take care of my baby, I was met with the realities of my work-life. I had a hard road ahead those first few months of work, but in the process I learned a lot about myself as a parent and person. I also learned a bit about how to integrate my parenting values with the realities of my work life. Here are three of those lessons:
- It’s about principles and values, not a checklist.
If my parenting style is judged by rule-followers and check-lists I’m most assuredly not an “attachment parent.” But if my parenting is to be judged by the principles I adhere to and how I try to the best of my ability to meet them, then I probably fall on the attachment parenting spectrum. I like attachment parenting not because of the rules it puts forward but because of the purpose behind those rules: things like breast-feeding, cosleeping, baby-wearing, etc. help parents form an important social emotional bond with their children. My goal was always to form that bond, even if I wasn’t “pure” when it came to following the attachment-parenting rules.
- Good enough is exactly that.
We co-slept with my son for a little while but soon my husband needed a better night’s sleep. He is an incredibly light sleeper so real co-sleeping was really not an option that made sense for us. But even when my son slept in the room next to us I would nurse him to sleep, and feed him when he woke up. This was sustainable because he soon started sleeping longer and longer on his own until he was sleeping through the night. However, I could see a scenario where we would have done some form of sleep training (not quite so “attachment” friendly) simply to get enough rest to be functional parents during the day! My point is this: you do what you can with what you can. I didn’t breast-feed my son during the work day because . . . I was at work! But I pumped when I could and fed him when I got home, and was able to feed him on the weekends. I had to learn the hard way that it was fine do what I could, when I could do it. And that was good enough.
- Love and forgive yourself
I spent too much time during my son’s first year lamenting all the things I wasn’t doing: not pumping enough, not being home early enough, not cuddling him enough when I had papers to grade. I look back at that now and think “what a waste that was!” The truth is that feelings of guilt and self-blame are almost inevitable in our culture, especially for women. But we don’t need to let those emotions rule us. When we feel that way, we need to notice it, maybe even wonder about it, but then show ourselves the same level of love and forgiveness we show our children. We need nurturing just like they do, even if we have to provide it for ourselves. When in doubt make a list of the things you are doing right. There is sure to be plenty to celebrate.
Strictly following any parenting system is difficult, even when new parents desperately want a system to follow. Attachment parenting is no different. What I learned is that it’s key to figure out what the values of any parenting system are, and then figure out how to best live out those values given your parenting reality. Parenting never stops being a struggle, but it also never stops being beautiful and miraculous. Enjoy it, no matter what parenting system you follow!
Marie Levey-Pabst is a life-balance consultant who helps busy parents develop systems and routines that lead to a balanced and joyful life. More importantly, she is also a busy mother of two, a life-long educator, and avid Dr. Who fan. You can see her offerings, as well as her blog, at createbalancedlife.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.