Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Attachment Parenting

I just finished reading the article in last week’s Time Magazine about “attachment parenting” supporting the controversial cover of a twenty six year old mom feeding her three year old son by having him stand on a chair sucking at her breast.

The photo is provocative first because the boy looks older than three and second because it unnecessarily conjurs a bit embarrassment, disgust or even arousal and represents a trend in parenting today that demands breast feeding at any time of the day or night, any place, sleeping with your baby beginning during infanthood and carrying the child in a kind of sling that one often sees native peoples around the world using. Strollers are frowned upon. I wonder about car seats.

According to the article, which is exhaustive, the father of this so-called “attachment parenting” movement is a pediatrician by the name of Bill Sears whose theory is widely followed by a number of young parents, especially mothers.

The article compares the methods of Dr. Sears today with the harsher methods of Dr. Spock yesterday, and modern moms with our grandmothers whose mothering occurred during the Spock era. The mostly anecdotal study results in two very extreme models and the behavioral zeitgeist that the two methods incur.

I feel qualified to speak to this. I raised four children without any baby books. I was young and ignorant and I remember my mother’s voice (a Dr. Spock advocate) in my head saying, “. . .let them cry or else you’ll spoil them.”

I loved my mom, but I knew instinctively that this was wrong. Since then, I’ve read that Spock actually was a little less stringent, advising young, inexperienced mothers: “you know more than you think. Follow your instincts.” I did that – without being told.

Still, I think that the non-stop mothering promoted by Dr. Sears is over the top. And, let’s face it, no matter how hard dads try to become involved, it is the mother who feeds the child and spends most of her time mothering (or possibly smothering). She needs a break now and then as any mother can tell you, but she shouldn’t be held to such a strict standard that taking a break is also taking a guilt trip.

Dependency on the parent is supposed to be a temporary thing, is it not? Aren’t we supposed to be teaching our children to be self-sufficient and independent? I guess not. And that’s my point.

I graduated from high school a month after my seventeenth birthday and went to New York to live with my sister. I found a job and supported myself in the most intimidating city in the world. It took nerve. More than that, it took confidence and self-reliance. The question is this: was I able to do this because my mother supposedly allowed me to sleep alone in a crib and bang an empty formula bottle against the slats for hours? Seriously, I don’t think so. But it was a result of having been reared in a family who believed in letting their children grow, not just physically, but emotionally too. Parents can learn something from this, too.

Given that the economy is pretty bad today, young adults are often living in the parental home with all their basic needs taken care of by mom and dad, even insurance until the age of twenty six or twenty eight. I hear constantly about the cost of education and how kids are graduating from college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because most college kids would rather incur all this debt rather than cut hours and get a part-time job. Apparently so would the parents.

I personally know “kids” in their twenties who’ve never had a paying job even after a college education. Because they can’t get the job in their field – the field they’ve been educated for, they don’t work at all, and parents continue to support them.

When I think about my own parenting, I realize Dr. Sears would not have approved. My mothering was efficient and no-nonsensical. I think I succeeded in accomplishing my goal though. My kids are independent, happy, successful and useful. I am immensely proud of them and they were not coddled.

Raise your kids to be independent and adventurous. If they’re sick, they need to be cuddled and hugged and rocked and nursed. That is your duty and your pleasure as a parent – to care for them and support them. But you also have a duty to prepare them for life – life without you.

Life can be difficult. Allow them to have a life apart from you. They will be better for it, no matter how great a parent you are. Let them breathe, let them grow, let them learn to take a risk now and then. Teach them to seek a little adventure. Traveling away from home to go to school can certainly help in this regard. If they need a little spending money, let them take on a part time job around campus.

You have to let go at some point. It can be a gradual letting go, but it must begin sometime. This is the greatest lesson of all.  And my goodness! Wean the child from the breast before he’s old enough to play football. There is a reasonable middle ground here. The emphasis is on “reason.”

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