Tuesday, September 14, 2010
“Does he ever cry?” is a question that is often asked after someone has spent an extended amount of time with Ezra. Many of my co-workers will claim Ezra did not cry once the entire 5 months he spent with me at my office. The intern who shared my office during Ezra’s tenure would roll her eyes at such comments, and invite people to stop by around 2 pm – Ezra’s cranky time. His reputation was certainly enhanced by my office being located on a different floor than 99% of my co-workers, but in general his standing as one of the world’s best natured babies was deserved. He would contentedly play on the floor during two-hour meetings; smile upon meeting a new stranger; and quietly and observantly hang out in a baby carrier as I went about my workday.
Does he ever cry? The answer is yes. He does cry; he becomes fussy; he whines; and as he enters toddlerhood he has begun to throw temper tantrums, but these are rare emotions. When he does cry it is almost always short lived (with the exception of a few bad days at daycare) and quickly solved. So what are we doing “right” to have such a content and happy child?
We, of course, cannot dismiss his natural personality. He is a happy, easy-going fellow. Apparently, some odd mixture of genetics made Ezra nothing like Amanda or me. We realize we are fortunate and often wonder if it is unwise to push our luck by having a second child, but remind ourselves his personality cannot be 100% shaped by nature. We like to think that nurture, in the form of several of our parenting choices, has played at least a minor role in Ezra’s behavior.
I do not want to give the impression that we believe we have found solutions to the challenges parents have been struggling with since the beginning of mankind – or more accurately babykind. My guess is after his first question, “What was in that apple?,” Adam’s second question to Eve was “how do we get those twins to sleep through the night?” What we have personally found is that bed sharing, breastfeeding, baby wearing, meeting Ezra’s needs including sleeping and eating on demand rather than on a schedule, and having Ezra physically with us as much as possible helped Ezra to be a happy infant.
We came to the decision to use each of these techniques independently – influenced by our own intuition, our birthing class, our friends, and our community. As we began to research these separately, we learned that collectively all of these techniques are tools often employed by Attachment Parents. Our indirect path to Attachment Parenting actually makes sense considering that the ideals established by its advocate, Dr. William Sears, were based on what he believes parents intuitively would do if not for social pressures.
To many people, the idea of encouraging intuitive parenting sounds synonymous to encouraging wild, feral parenting. This is especially true in our culture. Our culture emphasizes self-control, discipline and the ideal of an independent infant. Parents are taught to remain vigilant to avoid the ultimate in parenting failure: a spoiled child. Previous generations were taught to prevent this mistake with the reminder to never “spare the rod.” Our society no longer advocates physical abuse, but the pressure to use methods that feel uncomfortable to many parents are still strongly encouraged for “the child’s own good. ” The best example of this is methods that promote “self-soothing” to foster the illusion of an independent infant.
Dr. Sears points out what seems obvious to anyone in the presence of a newborn. They are dependent. He points out that parents want to pick up their fussy child, but fight this instinct because they are told such actions will lead the child to being dependent upon their parents for comfort. Sears believes the opposite to be true. Showing your child that they can depend on you helps them to build confidence. Children express their needs through their limited ability to communicate. They are not naturally manipulative. Not responding to his or her cries teaches them to stop crying. They have not become more independent. They just surrender to their inability to communicate with their caregiver.
Though I sound like an evangelist for Attachment Parenting, when asked if we follow a parenting philosophy I am still reluctant to use this label to describe Amanda and me. I had always felt like subscribing to a single set of parenting principles seemed naïve, trendy, and simplistic. I still believe parenting is more complex than finding the right instruction manual. Personalities and lifestyles of individual parents as well as those of individual infants vary greatly requiring different needs and approaches. As Ezra moves away from his infant days and towards his time as a toddler his needs have shifted. We find our approach to parenting is also evolving, but I have hard time denying that we have so far been practicing Attachment Parenting (even if accidentally).
As an unintentional spokesperson for this form of parenting I do admit that it seems to be working well. Ezra is confident, adventurous, happy, outgoing, inquisitive, and healthy. In addition, Attachment Parenting has made incorporating Ezra into our lives without too much disruption easier. Since we have always emphasized routine rather than a strict schedule, Ezra is pretty flexible when he naps or has a meal. Since Ezra feels his “home” is with us, he is pretty comfortable in new surroundings, and traveling is easy since we do not have or need a stroller, portable crib and all the accessories that require the investment in a minivan.
I recently met a mother with two sons, now 12 and 16. Both boys were raised as attachment kids. She has a great relationship with her now teen-age children whom she describes as well adjusted, confident, happy, and independent people. Traits all parents, including this mother, Amanda and I, hope our children will possess. Though these traits do have one (admittedly selfish) downside, she points out. Her 16 year old who is now away for school is already so self-sufficient that she rarely hears from him. The attachment kid eventually detaches and turns into an independent adult.