At various times while raising my three young children, friends and family threw the term “Attachment Parenting” in my direction, without my complete understanding of what this meant. I slept with my children in my bed for the first two or three years of their lives, which aroused most of the term-use, but also during their infancy stages where I seemed to have a baby strapped to my hip at all hours of the day and night. I was confused – many used the term in a derogatory manner, most with a sigh and a ‘look’ of disdain and a shake of their head. Was I doing something wrong? I did not understand. What on earth was this ‘Attachment Parenting’ they spoke of.
Years ago, I came across an article in a magazine outlining the rise in families practicing Attachment Parenting. As I read it, I agreed that I was indeed that kind of parent, but without realizing it was a ‘style’ or had a ‘label’. I only did what I felt comfortable with and what seemed to work for my family dynamics. Did it really need a name, a label? After reading the article and perusing online sites regarding this topic, I came to the decision that labeling a parenting style opens the doors even wider for other people to criticize or critique what should be a very personal and individual choice.
Ask Dr. Sears states that “Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.” That sounds great! However as you read the article, it is a step-by-step guide of Do’s and Don’ts that also speaks of the errs of other styles such as what the website terms as the ‘Cry It Out Crowd‘. Again, I am seeing negativity generated toward personal parenting choices and I believe this can cause confusion and even hurt when a new parent is trying to find support and information.
However, it is too easy to find information that is negative toward Attachment Parenting as well. For example, this blog post, written in 2007, speaks of the “Truth (and Folly)” of this parenting style. While reading through the post’s comments, I repeatedly saw adults arguing, berating one another, pointing out more faults with Attachment Parenting, and so on. When I first read things like this a few years ago, it made me re-think what I was doing with my own children, question my parenting choices, and worry that I was doing something wrong.
That is what I would like to help others avoid with this article. Whether you choose to follow some form of Attachment Parenting or not, I would like to see the labels disappear in order for new parents to make choices based on their own life and their own families’ needs. Here is my story:
My first child was born when I was 24 years old. I was married and living overseas, away from all of my family and friends. I did not know anything about the constant day-to-day care of an infant and just naturally found myself putting my son in a front baby carrier while doing household chores. He was soothed by the contact and movement, and I was able to get some work done while he was awake. It was a win-win situation for both of us. I put him to bed in his crib but he was awake several times a night for feedings and I found it exhausting to completely get out of bed to tend to him every 1 to 1.5 hours. He was a very big baby, off the regular charts for height and weight from the age of 6 weeks on, and he seemed to be hungry constantly. Before long, I found it much easier for all of us to put him in the bed with me after a feeding and fall immediately asleep. It was bliss. When I mentioned this to others, they would immediately tell me that I was setting him up for being a ‘terrible sleeper’ as he got older. But at night, he would end up next to me in bed again. I needed my sleep in order to function, and tried to ignore such comments.
When my son was 9 months old, I found myself as a single mother. I moved back to my home country and did not want to buy him a new crib for such a short time, and did not want him in a toddler bed at such a young age, so he slept with me every night, all night. It worked for me! I was awake at 6am each day for work and did not get home until 10pm or later some days, depending on my shift. Sleep was my priority aside from my son. When he was nearing age 2, a friend of mine became concerned with our sleeping routine and suggested the Ferber Method. She explained that it worked very well for her own son, who was 3 months younger than my own, and promised that we would have my son sleeping on his own, in his own bed (recently purchased toddler bed), within a very short time. She offered to be my support via phone and we got started. Three weeks later I was almost a complete wreck, my son was not falling asleep on his own until he had cried and fussed and screamed for up to four hours, and had even fallen asleep on the floor behind his partially-closed bedroom door on one occasion. This was simply not working for me. I was mentally and physically drained, my son was nearly impossible to awaken in the morning, and I found myself unhappy all day long. What was so wrong with what I had been doing up until this point? I would lay with my son in his new bed for 30-45 minutes until he was asleep, and then I would have some alone time. We were both happy and well-rested. However, my friend and a few others did at times make me feel as though I was doing something wrong. This bothered me on occasion. Would my son never fall asleep on his own? What impact could this have on each of us?
By age 3.5 to 4, my son was hopping into his own bed at night and going to sleep within minutes. I had made small adjustments to our routine over time on my own. I decided he was indeed old enough to do this and instead of reading 3 or 4 stories before bed, we would read 2, then only one. Instead of laying with him until he was completely asleep, I would tell him that I would lay with him for 5 minutes and would then leave to finish doing my house duties. It only took a few nights of changes and my son adjusted well. He is now 14 and sleeps longer than most of his friends, does very well in school, does not have separation issues, and even went on his first overseas flight alone this past summer to visit the other side of his family. Nine hours on a plane, two large airports, and he was happy to do it. And he has not needed me to help him get to sleep for over 10 years already.
Why was I made to feel for so long that things would be different? Why did I allow myself to be led in directions I was not comfortable with? However this has continued with my subsequent children.
I was a single mother again when my second child was not quite 2 years old. She slept in my bed, I carried her around, and I should also mention that my children go to work with me because I work in a daycare center. I was and am literally with my children 24 hours a day until they are school-age. However by age 4, my daughter was also sleeping in her own bed, in her own room, with literally no trouble at all, using the same methods I used with my first child.
My third child was born at 33 weeks gestation and suffered from bouts of lung problems until he was 2 years old, so I slept with him on the couch or in the main bed (trading back and forth with his father, my partner). I feared telling anyone this and have kept it a secret from most people solely because of the reactions I have received in the past. I think that is sad. But that is how I chose to handle it.
My youngest son is 3.5 years old now and I still sit with him in his room until he falls asleep most nights. I am in the process of changing this because I recognize the signs from my older children that he is starting to play around too much and take too long to fall asleep and that is starting to interfere with the rest of my family’s needs. I most often sleep on the floor of his room because he still has some sleep issues, but waking up in my bed and walking into his room to comfort him is exhausting, so I just stay in there. We all get sleep, and that is important to me as I am approaching 40. Now, I am doing what I have always done – a gradual process of letting him know that I will stay with him for a little while and then leave the room, but he is just fine to sleep on his own. It hasn’t been easy – he is much more determined (a.k.a. stubborn) than his elder siblings, but we will get there. And one day I will look back and wonder why I was so concerned with a short period of my childrens’ lives.
Time moves so quickly. My eldest son has started high school and towers over me in height already. My second child is in Grade Four and takes approximately 2 minutes to fall asleep (on her own). My youngest child will be 4 in a few months and will be starting school before I know it. So – why were so many people concerned that I was not getting enough time for myself, or having my children ‘dictate’ too much of my time, during those early, precious years? Early childhood is the shortest development span – 5 years. After that, they grow up so quickly and are moving out and starting their own lives, leaving me with entirely too much ‘me-time’, in my opinion.
To me, Attachment Parenting is simply a catch-phrase. I believe parents should do what they feel most comfortable with in their own home. There are so many variables within each family, and no two families are exactly the same, I do not believe that any sort of label should be ‘attached’. There may be issues such as multiple-birth that change how you would deal with having several babies in bed with you, or a medical issue that causes a parent little-to-no sleep if their child is in the next room, leaving the parent to worry constantly about their well-being. The parent(s)’s job may dictate some of the choices – what work shift is dad on? Does his alarm blare at 2am, waking the infant sleeping next to him? Each situation differs and I firmly believe that parents need to find their own system that works for them. And them alone. It turns out that I did 90% of what most Attachment Parenting lists suggest, without reading any of them before making my choices. Apparently I was a ‘Co-Sleeper’ and a ‘Baby Wearer’. Does that mean I AM an ‘attachment parent’? Or does it simply mean that I am A parent who made choices that worked for her family?
* March 2012 Update :) Just to update, my youngest son has been happily sleeping in his own bed by himself every night for several months. I used the same gradual changes that I used with my older children and it did not take very long at all for him to realize that he was comfortable and safe in his room. He goes to bed between 8pm and 9pm and very rarely tries to come out of his room – if he does, it’s for a potty break, not for running amuck :) He sleeps all night without waking (unless he is very sick) and sleeps until after 7am. It already feels like a million years ago that he was basically co-sleeping. Having just turned 4 this month, he is right on schedule with what I expected from all of this. In my view, I spent 3.5 years snoozing with my little guy and now he will be sleeping on his own for 90 years more – so, it’s really not that big of a deal if parents choose to sleep with their children for a few years or more. It’s only for a little while in the grand scheme of life, and it’s also your family, so YOU should decide what works best :) Enjoy!