My AP Story

I think at heart we're all attachment parents, because we're all human. Pressure from family members, friends, healthcare professionals, some child rearing "experts," etc. can squeeze those instincts out of us, or just squish them down so small that we hardly feel them anymore. I guess that's sort of what happened in my case. I certainly didn't set out as a mother, determined to let my infant cry herself to sleep, or intent on beating "bad" behavior out of my offspring, but that's where we ended up for about the first 10 years of our parenthood.

I fell for the notion that children are manipulative, easily spoiled by too much attention, naturally misdirected, and generally in need of fear and pain to learn "good" behavior. It wasn't until I met Gracie that I began to feel the stirrings of attachment deep down within my mother's soul, squeeking and squirming, struggling to re-emerge, if only my heart would let them.

Gracie was the first real attachment parent I had ever met--it was shocking to me to see such well-behaved children WHO HAD NEVER BEEN SPANKED! At first I just convinced myself that she was just so saintly and that her children must have inherited this saintliness from her. I, on the other hand, was anything but saintly and, ergo, so were my children. Their fallen human nature, without some miraculous intervention of grace from God, would never be able to be "good" without punishment. After all, didn't God punish man when he had been "bad?"

I admired her so much, and I wished our family could be as harmonious as hers seemed to be, but I accepted the fact that it just wasn't the way God had made us.

It wasn't until my mother one day, quite without realizing what she was truly saying to me, told me to just follow my instincts when it came to parenting. INSTINCTS!!!!! The mini-me in my brain raced through the corridors of my mind searching frantically for those insticts I had squished somewhere into a corner almost a decade earlier. As I searched, memories flashed before me like movie pictures on the wall--a baby crying in the next room, me crying on my husband's shoulder, telling myself that it wouldn't take long, she'd never remember, it was for her's and our our own good that we do this or she'd become a raging me-monster, expecting the world to revolve around her. There are countless other memories too painful to relate NOW THAT I KNOW.

When I finally found these long hidden away instincts, I had just given birth (our second homebirth) to our sixth child and was totally ready and willing to fully embrace this newly discovered style of parenting. I borrowed every book Gracie owned and poured over them ceaselessly, devouring every word, trying to imbibe every idea and put it into practice. We made the plunge into the family bed, and I even invited our other five children to feel free to camp out in our bedroom for as long as they wanted. I was trying desperately to make up for lost time. We shoved the bed into a corner of the room and the floor was strewn with sleeping bags for a few months. Little by little the older ones first then the younger ones trickled back into their rooms, secure, I hoped, in the knowledge that we were there for them anytime they needed us, for any reason, even in the middle of the night--not like previously when we were "off duty" for anything other than vomitting once taps had been sounded.

Number six is now seven years old and I can find no evidence of that "spoiling" which was surely supposed to happen if I held her all the time and never forced her to go to sleep alone at a certain time.

We dropped corporal punishment for the most part, although an occasional swat slipped in now and then when I had reached my wits end.

But I still thought that in order for kids to learn "good" behavior they had to realize the consequences of their actions. I was quick to point this out to them whenever they made a mistake, or disobeyed. We used isolation for unsociable behavior, fines, rewards, confiscation, scolding, etc. It still seemed that raising kids was so much harder than it ever seemed to be for Gracie. My husband and I were angry all the time, the children were becoming more and more agressive, and I was becoming more and more aware that their actions were motivated by a deep-seated terror of making us mad. Our oldest son, especially, was constantly inflicting pain on the younger ones. When questioned, the underlying reason was always that he had to make them stop some behavior that he was sure was going to anger one of us. Our oldest daughter, on the other hand, would drop anything she was doing to do anything to make us happy. She would begin frantically cleaning the house, gathering little ones to read stories--in short, all the things I should have been doing. Furthermore, she would apologize again and again for any infraction that she thought had met with our disapproval. Our third child wouldn't even talk to me--at least not about anything that she cared about. It took me a whole hour one day, after a dramatic confrontation, to get her to tell me that she thought she was "a stupid misfit who (didn't) fit into this family."

My heart was breaking into a million pieces, but I had no idea what had gone wrong, let alone how to fix it. I thought more quality time was called for, but how to squeeze more hours out of a day that was already a few hours short? Perhaps they needed a social life of their own? Some friends to connect with, have a little fun for a change, not have to put up with all the younger brothers and sisters for a little while.

My children came home different. Something foreign occupying the same space as my child--it wasn't like "who are you and what have you done with my child?" Just like "what did you do to your hair?" only their hair was the same. They were just different. And in a way I didn't quite like.

Some of my friends were having more serious difficulties with their children--difficulties I was glad we weren't having, but I still wanted to ease the difficulties we were having.

We started the family Rosary and drew back from the peer contact. Now I'll never say that the Rosary alone was ineffectual--there were glimmers of hope everyday--but there was still something we needed to do and I just couldn't figure out what. Like St. Benedict always said, "Pray and Work."

Well, I finally got the answer I'd been praying for in the form of a book. Hold On To Your Kids described all the difficulties we've been experiencing, it addressed the problems I've had in my own parent relationships, and it showed me how to begin to fix them. It gave me hope and allowed me to relax as a mother, to not feel threatened by my children's "bad" behavior anymore. I realized that I had been trying to do something that I totally did not understand. I realized that attachment parenting is not just breastfeeding, babywearing and co-sleeping. Attachment is an on-going process that we have to engage in everyday. And best of all, I realized that it's never too late to attach. On the down side I realized that even a very strong early attachment can deteriorate if untended, but that it could be reinforced again with a little effort. Ultimately I now know that my heart's desire, to have life-long meaningful relationships with my children, is attainable, and is up to me, not fate.

Attachment parenting is really not a new concept, just a new name for age-old wisdom. I dare say that our Heavenly Father is an attachment parent, desiring our love, because he loves us--unconditionally--not our love because we're afraid of Him. Not that we shouldn't fear God, but that fear should be a fear of offending Him because we love Him, not because we're afraid of Hell. The saints and martyrs weren't able to do what they did out of fear--only love can empower us to that degree. And man can only serve one master. It's absolutely imperative that my husband and I be the object of our children's affections, not their peers, not the pop idols, not some avatar in a video game. And it's absolutely necessary that their peers be driven by love for their own parents, not my kids or anyone else. Otherwise, those peers are the competition, and just like God, I am a jealous master.

So, I hope together we can come to a better understanding of what our relationships with our children can be, how to get there, and, doing it together, raise up worthwhile companions (and future spouses!) for all our children.

May the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that mother's heart we should all aspire to emulate, bless our efforts and keep us stumbling ever forward, our children in tow, until we reach our heavenly reward.

2 comments:

michelle said...

I feel as though I could have written "My AP Story" myself! I also had a better understanding of attachment parenting only after having my sixth child. Many thanks to Jill Matz who guided me through breastfeeding without pacifiers or supplements. I've read every parenting book I could get my hands on, "prayed without ceasing" and repeatedly asked my husband "what are we doing wrong?". Comparatively speaking, our family seems happy,well-adjusted and less wordly than many others that we know. Unfortunately, there is far more bickering ,name-calling, and disrespectful behavior than I can tolerate. No amount of chart-making, reward-giving, threatening, allowance-altering or cajoling works.

Can there really be something "new" out there that will change our family for the better?
I cannot wait to get my hands on this book!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so very much. Your blog is literally and quite directly an answer to my prayers.

Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

"...to turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."