Christine Park

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Your Parenting Style

By now, you've all seen Time's controversial cover on attachment parenting. The title taunts, "Are you mom enough?" as a young, gorgeous mom stares defiantly while her nearly 4-year-old son nurses on her exposed breast while standing up on a chair. 

Sexy sells. Controversy sells. Shock and awe sells. I get that. Time editors knew what they were doing when they decided on this cover, and so did its subject, Jamie Lynn Grumet.
But the title's implication that I'm not mom enough or strong enough or committed enough to practice attachment parenting... THAT I do resent. Why do moms have to constantly be at war with each other? Working vs. stay-at-home. Breastfed vs. formula. Organic vs. non-organic. Can't we just all get along?

Maybe it's because the responsibility of raising a tiny human being is so heavy, so important, so overwhelming, that moms take everything so personally? It smacks of insecurity when a mom declares MY way is best and all the rest... well, your kids will end up feeling unloved, unstable, or worse, homeless, addicted to drugs, or in prison.

Most experts agree: when it comes to parenting, trial and error works best. Armed with all these conflicting philosophies, every parent tests different approaches to see what ultimately works for them and their children. The author of Time's article writes: "parenting is about embracing contradictions." While I don't pretend to understand all the tenets of attachment parenting (to each her own), I wonder if at some point attachment parenting becomes more for the mom than the child?

I am the first to say breast is best. I breastfed both my babies because I thought it was the best gift I could give them. I believed it was the healthiest start to their lives. Did it suck lugging my pump as a tourist around NYC? Yes. Did I have to kick my photographers out of the live truck in the rain so I could pump? Yes. But I was determined to not be one of those 60-something-percent of women who start, but don't keep it up. And I loved breastfeeding (and all the extra calories I could consume). 

Yet when they weaned themselves (at 10 months for my daughter and at 7 months for my son), I moved on. I remember being sad that they didn't need me for their nutrition anymore. I still miss the closeness I felt with them during our feeding times. I would have, and could have kept going. I guess that would have made me an extended breastfeeder. But they were ready for solid food and cow's milk. Remember that Desperate Housewives episode when Felicity Huffman's character works with a woman who was breastfeeding her 5-year-old so she could still eat whatever she wanted yet still maintain her weight? While producers made light of it, the point made was that the boy was past the point of needing breast milk but his mom wasn't ready to give it up, for her own reasons, whether it be the tongue-in-cheek reason of calories burned or the real reason of not wanting to lose those baby bonding precious moments.

In my experience, kids need to learn independence to thrive socially. Kids need to learn patience, that every need in life can't be immediately gratified. Yet breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, and baby wearing teaches kids that if they cry they will immediately get what they want. Attachment parenting makes the case that secure, trusting attachment to parents during childhood forms the basis for secure relationships as adults. But I would argue attachment parenting can create a needy, unhealthy co-dependency. Dr. Sears' website has a whole section called "Helping a Toddler Ease Into Independence." But babies will naturally become independent.... unless you've stifled that natural instinct with over-parenting. He reminds his followers to fight the urge to hover and cling to their children. How can they not if that's all that they've done in the early years? It's not just a switch moms or kids can turn on or off.
I sleep trained my children. Let both of them cry it out. It wasn't fun. I didn't enjoy it. Attachment parenting guru Dr. Bill Sears calls this convenience parenting, putting a parent's ease and convenience above an infant's feeding cues or emotional bonding needs. Yes, I had a timeline. I wanted them to sleep through the night before my maternity leave ended. And they did. And still do. Since they were just 8 weeks old, my children have both slept well... 11 hours of uninterrupted slumber every night. They prefer their own beds, unless they're sick or having nightmares. And when they are, I'm there for them. They are cuddled and comforted, and placed back into their own beds. They are both affectionate and loving and know they are loved back by a well-rested mommy and daddy. My marital bed is kid free. Just because you become a parent, doesn't mean you have to sacrifice intimacy and spontaneity with your spouse. I have many friends who co-sleep with their children. I don't judge them. That's their choice, and many confess they love it. But I will say, with nearly every single one of these women, their marriages have suffered because of it. And what good is co-sleeping for the child when their parents' relationship is rocky because of it? Even though the point is to surround the child with love and affection in the home... many a fight has erupted because the baby has taken over the bed.

Obviously I'm a skeptic when it comes to full-fledged attachment parenting. Just to confirm it, I took Time's quiz to find out my parenting style:
Sears skeptic: 0 - 20%
Partial proponent: 30-70 %
Committed Sears disciple: 80-100%

I scored 20%

The only reason I didn't score 0% is because I got credit for breastfeeding, which goes to show many moms, even me, are incorporating some tenets of it based on what works for them and what they believe is best for baby. Balance is key. After all, when it comes down to it, aren't we all attached to our kids? Just not at the hip, with a sling for me.

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