In my last post, I shared with you how important Cory and I feel it is to discuss and think about our future as parents. As this exciting time draws near, we’ve decided to write out a plan, or vision, for parenting. The first focus of our parenting vision is to keep God at the center by viewing our role as parents as a gift and ministry. Another aspect of raising our children that is very important to us is forming strong, trusting relationships with them and encouraging them to be compassionate and independent individuals. Attachment parenting is a philosophy that fits well with these goals, as it tends to produce children who are securely attached, independent, and compassionate.
Some of my readers may not be familiar with the term attachment parenting. According to the non-profit organization Attachment Parenting International, “The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children.” That is, of course, a simplified definition. Yet this idea of strong connections is at the core of attachment parenting. Specifically, there are 8 parenting practices that Attachment Parenting International (referred to as API from here on out) recommends. They are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
- Feed with love and respect
- Respond with sensitivity
- Use nurturing touch
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
- Provide consistent and loving care
- Practice positive discipline
- Strive for balance in your personal and family life
Each of these principles provides a framework upon which parents are encouraged to build. API provides more details about the concepts, and tips for how they may be implemented, but it doesn’t tell parents what to do. There are a few areas in which API makes strong suggestions, such as breastfeeding and positive discipline without the use of physical punishment. For the most part, though, attachment parenting principles are flexible guidelines that focus on the goal of fostering a securely attached relationship between a child and his or her parents. There are no attachment parenting police who will enforce these principles; it’s simply a way to help parents form their parenting methods with attachment in mind.
We plan to implement these principles in our own specific ways. The first area, preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting, is obviously important to us; we like to think and educate ourselves about these things ahead of time! Writing our parenting vision is one way we reflect this. We’ve also done a lot of research and given consideration to our options for pregnancy care and birth. As a result, we’ve decided to prenatally care for and bring our babies into the world gently and naturally, with a midwife in a birth center. The documentary The Business of Being Born is a great resource for insight in this area (though I don’t recommend it if seeing women give birth bothers you).
The second area, feeding with love and respect, refers to a commitment to meeting your child’s nutritional needs and following his or her cues for feeding. Because of the many benefits of breastfeeding, we plan to breastfeed our babies, on demand, for at least the first year of life, and possibly for part of the second year as well. As they grow older, we will strive to balance respect for food preferences and our children’s cues as to when they are hungry and when they aren’t, with the importance of good nutrition.
The third principle, responding with sensitivity, means that we will respond to our babies’ cries and our older children’s voices. We will provide comfort and responsive care, and we won’t let our babies cry by themselves. The “cry it out” method, and sleep training in general, is not something we’ll be using. We won’t ignore our children or brush them off when they’re “annoying” to us—at least, it is our goal not to do so!
In the fourth area, using nurturing touch, we will remember to show plenty of affection through kisses, hugs, and cuddles. Babywearing, or keeping our baby in close contact with us using a sling, will also be an important part of our daily routine. We plan to use infant massage to promote bonding and relaxation.
The fifth API principle is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Co-sleeping is one area that is most commonly associated with attachment parenting. Although the practice has become controversial, especially in the U.S., it is widely practiced around the world and it can be done safely. There are many benefits to co-sleeping, as long as the parents are willing to adapt to a new sleep arrangement. One option is to use a separate, but attached, sleeping area for the baby, such as a side-car bed or a twin mattress on the side of your bed. Cory and I plan to co-sleep, using this type of arrangement, as a way to make nighttime parenting more convenient; breastfeeding mothers tend to get more sleep when they co-sleep, since they can feed their babies without fully waking up. In our case, we have decided to co-sleep with our babies until they are ready to move to their own beds. Many attachment parenting families have a “family bed” in which children are welcome for as long as they wish. We plan to allow our children the freedom to sleep with us if they prefer, though we may start suggesting/preparing them to move to their own bedrooms around age five, if they’re still in our bed at that point. We believe co-sleeping will help our children develop a stronger connection with us and a healthy relationship with sleep, since it usually eliminates bedtime fears and battles.
Principle number six, providing consistent and loving care, means that we will spend as much time with our children as we can, while still providing balance for ourselves. We are fortunate in that I will be able to stay home with our children full-time—and that I have the desire to do so! It will be a priority for Cory to reconnect with our babies when he gets home from work every day, and to spend lots of quality time together as a family on the weekends. For the first years of their lives, we plan to keep separations from our children to a minimum. The only times we’ll both be away from them will be for short separations for things like date nights, and we will leave them with a trusted caregiver, most likely the baby’s grandparents.
The seventh area, practicing positive discipline, is one concept that I’ve learned a lot about in my studies of child development. It is very important to us that we discipline our children and teach them to be obedient, kind, and wise. Studies have shown that positive discipline, which focuses on gentle and respectful guidance, is a very effective way to help children develop into thoughtful, independent, and sincerely pro-social individuals. We will avoid the use of shaming, fear, or physical punishment to discipline our children. Some of the tools we will use instead include prevention, natural consequences, effective communication, and a lot of patience and understanding.
The eighth and final principle, keeping a balance in life, is one area that parents, especially highly devoted parents, may overlook. It seems that it can be all too easy to give everything you have to your child, not realizing that you have your own needs that must be met if you are to provide the best possible care. Cory and I want to remember to stay balanced in our lives as parents by taking care of our needs: eating well, getting exercise and sleep, using a support network of family and friends, taking time for ourselves to recharge, and spending time together as a couple. As co-sleepers, we will especially need to adapt to be more creative and spontaneous in intimacy; it’s important to us to keep the fire burning, even after we have kids! It is also particularly important for us to have time with God on a regular basis. God is our source of everything we need as a parent; we never want to cut him out of the equation because we “don’t have time.”
In order to keep this balance, we must be able to say “no” to our children at times. That doesn’t make us bad parents; it makes us parents who are balanced, and ultimately, that will benefit our children. On the other side of the coin, we will remember that parenting is an investment in our children, and when it’s so, so, so tiring and hard, we will remind ourselves that it gets easier. They will grow up and need us a lot less someday! If we want that future to be a bright one, we’re wise to invest in them in the early years.
In my next post, I’ll share the third facet of our parenting vision, which is choosing an intentional lifestyle.
What do you think about attachment parenting? If you’re a parent, have you used any of these principles? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!
Attachment Parenting International – http://www.attachmentparenting.org/
The Business of Being Born – Directed by Abby Epstein and produced by Ricki Lake
Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video