Myth: Fully Meeting An Infant's Needs, Sometimes Called Attachment Parenting, Is Impractical and Exhausting.
Fact: Having and raising a child in our culture today is a monumental undertaking--no matter what style of parenting caregivers choose. Although the stresses of parenting cannot be fully alleviated, they are minimized when parents fully meet their children's nurturing needs.
When mother and baby are together during the early weeks and months, natural attachment-promoting behaviors and the intuitive caregiving of the mother--and father--may unfold. Trust and love blossoms. With attachment parenting, many parents report feeling "tied together" rather than tied down. The parent-child relationship becomes a compassionate and a cooperative, rather than an adversarial experience. The child whose needs are met is far less likely to be disruptive when parents must focus on something other than him. The absence of a needy, whiny child makes parenting less exhausting, more practical--and the joys are multiplied many-fold.
After a baby arrives, a couple's relationship changes forever--in a multitude of ways that cannot be anticipated or fully appreciated beforehand. Many new parents--like myself--have never before held an infant, and have not known the responsibility of caring for a creature who is totally dependent on them to meet their most basic needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Changes in schedule, lifestyle, loss of sleep, frayed nerves, and feelings of frustration are, for most new parents in our culture, part of the territory. Emotions are intense. The feeling of responsibility and exhaustion can be overwhelming.
Attachment Parenting Eases the Demands
While to the uninitiated, the demands of attachment parenting may seem more consuming than the expedient-seeming alternatives, those who practice attachment parenting will claim otherwise.
Snuggled alongside mother's warm and familiar body, baby sleeps soundly. With co-sleeping, there is no being woken by an infant's cries from another room, and no getting out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to fix a bottle and comfort a crying baby. Mother simply draws baby to breast and, most often, both drift back into sleep without having ever fully woken. There is no need to think about, far less purchase, the large range of paraphernalia needed to equip a baby for sleeping alone--cribs, cradles, night lights, "blankies," music boxes, pacifiers. And no need for stuffed animals when baby has mother or father's body to snuggle with.
Breastfed babies are sick less often, thanks to the immunological properties of breastmilk. They wake less often in the night with earaches and stuffy noses, and because they are healthier, they tend to be happier, and cry less. For the breastfeeding mother, there is the money, time, and effort saved in not buying formula. And she contentedly leaves the milk's composition, temperature, and cleanliness to nature. For formula-feeding parents, these matters are often a subject for worry and argument, and erode self-confidence.
Outingswith baby don't require cleaning, packing, and carrying bottles and accessories. A spare diaper in the bag, and the breastfeeding mother and baby are fully equipped and on their way. Once away from home, there is no need to find a place to warm up a bottle. When baby is hungry, mother simply finds a comfortable place to sit or lie with her infant. And just because baby is easy to take along, it doesn't mean she can't be left behind. Mother can leave milk for her if they are to be apart.
For the working mother, the primary benefit of breastfeedingis that day after day it confirms she is irreplaceable to her baby. It keeps many mothers feeling connected to their baby all day long--they are forced to leave their work to pump milk for their little one. It relieves the anxiety that comes of leaving baby in someone else's care for the day.
The babysitter may be nice, but only mama has a soft, sweet-smelling breast and warm, sweet-tasting milk.
And when she picks up baby at the end of a workday, mother and baby are a couple again. No "getting to know you period" is required. It's instant intimacy of the sweetest nature.
Babywearing is known to enhance parent-infant bonding, reduce crying, promote night-sleeping and day-waking, and promote learning and cognitive development. With baby in a sling, hands are free to cook, pick up the phone, open the mail, or take the hand of another child. There is no need to make special arrangements for the baby's sleep, no scheduled naptimes to be enforced against an infant's actual needs; baby wakes and sleeps easily and according to her needs rather than some artificially predetermined schedule.
When out and about, slings, frontpacks, and backpacks give far more mobility than a stroller that turns every door, stair, and narrow space into an obstacle to negotiate or avoid; and makes a walk in the woods, on the beach, over rocks, or off the beaten track a virtual impossibility.
Attached babies, feeling responded to, connected, and valued, cry and fuss less--which means they have more time to learn and grow in positive ways; and they are more receptive to interaction with and learning from their environment.
The Ancient Instinct?
Having always felt the need for time alone for meditation, contemplation, walks, and writing, I often wondered how I was going to manage with a baby. In the exhaustion of the early weeks I would anticipate the time in the coming months when I would be able to get some time to myself. However it was only a short time before mothering instincts emerged as a "biological imperative" from my body--to be with Siena, to hold her, cradle her, snuggle with her, respond to her.
...once a mother begins to serve her baby's continuum (and thus her own as a mother), the culturally confused instinct in her will reassert itself and reconnect her natural motives. She will not want to put her baby down... the ancient instinct will soon take over; for the continuum is a powerful force and never ceases to try and reinstate itself. The sense of rightness felt by the mother when she is behaving in accordance with nature will do far more to reestablish the continuum in her than anything this book may have conveyed to her as theory.
That biological imperative soon outweighed any feelings I may have had to get time to myself. Not that I never felt the need for time alone, but I found, to a surprising and delightful degree, that nurturing Siena nurtured me--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I later recognized this as the force that Liedloff wrote of as "the ancient instinct" taking over.
In the Absence of the Village
While the statement "It takes a village to raise a child" has rung a resonant note with people from all corners of our society, most of us were raised in, and continue to live as, nuclear or single-parent families. Few of us have had the experience or benefits of belonging to a community in a manner that anywhere nearly approximates that of our ancient and indigenous sisters. And yes, parenting without a community is a lot, lot, more challenging.
There is no mother, sister, or village to turn to--to embrace us, celebrate us, guide us, validate and support us. Not enough arms to hold our baby. Too often there is not a hand to hold ours when it needs holding, no shoulder to cry on, no sister with whom to share the wonderment of tending a new life, no friend to wash diapers or dishes when we are exhausted. When fatigue sets in, fuses get short--not good for parents and not good for baby. While a third party can be an absolute blessing in providing the space for couples to share their emotions before they seep out indirectly in sarcastic remarks or arguments, few parents have access to such a person. Regardless, many, like me, find mothering to be the most challenging experience, and the greatest love affair, of their lives. Caring for our baby in the ancient ways of indigenous mothers can help us stay close to our baby emotionally, and thus better able to meet her subtlest needs.
Along with the fact that we simply do not have the community, the village, the supportive social milieu that our indigenous sisters had, another major factor contributing to the exhaustion of parents is the fact that many of us have become accustomed to an incredible degree of freedom to pursue our own personal interests--from personal growth workshops and pursuits through furthering our education and career; and an extraordinarily high level of material comforts. Perhaps we can have all of these things, but we may need to do with a little less in some areas, for a limited time, if we are to provide our children with the care and attention that optimizes their emotional, cognitive, and social development. While all parents may not feel able and willing to devote a portion of their lives in this way to their children, it is important that we do not pretend that it makes no difference.
Attempting to force our children to meet our needs and schedules rather than offer them the nurturing that optimizes their development, will not only deprive us of the rewards of parenting, but leave our children with unmet needs that will not disappear, but instead grow to oppress them and our families--indeed, our communities--for years to come. The more that we are able to be there for our young ones in their early years, receptive and responsive to their needs, the easier and more joyful our life, and theirs, can be.
Arthur Janov, The Biology of Love
Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept*
Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child*
Jan Reynolds, Mother and Child: Visions of Parenting from Indigenous Cultures*
William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN, The Baby Book*