Attachment Parenting: self-care |

Attachment Parenting: self-care

Jim Barcus - MCT
Tara Smith, of Overland Park, Kansas, carries her 2-month-old son Ronan, February 7, 2008, in a fabric sling while she shops for groceries. Smith is committed to attachment parenting, a child-raising style that advocates extensive physical contact between parents and child as a way of strengthening the familial bond. (Jim Barcus/Kansas City Star/MCT)

By Karen Walant, PhD, Ridgefield, Connecticut (API volunteer)

When the Going Gets Tough, a Little Self-Care Goes a Long Way

Let's face it. Even though the rewards are innumerable, Attachment Parenting is demanding and stressful, both physically and emotionally. Wearing an infant in a baby sling is one thing, but hauling a toddler around is quite another. Nursing a three month old through the night is one thing, but continuing to do so when he is a toddler is another.

And yet, though we may be looking forward to “child-led weaning” and some well-deserved rest, many of us continue to follow all of these approaches because we believe it is best. The spirit is always willing, but the body is often, well, tired.

Many parenting books stress the importance of having one’s own time, taking bubble baths or coffee breaks, but this is harder to come by in an Attachment Parenting household.

The early years of Attachment Parenting are hard, and some parents who raise their children this way don’t begin their parenting years knowing how to balance their family and personal time but have to learn it the old-fashioned way—through fatigue, overwhelm and stress.

For many parents who choose Attachment Parenting, it is because they had to juggle around-the-clock nurturing that they are very good at finding balance in their lives and nurturing themselves as well as their children.

The biggest rule in striving for balance in these early years is to be creative. Find what works for you, alter or dismiss what doesn’t and you’re on your way to deepening your relationship with yourself and your children.

Think Oxygen

In an airplane emergency, the flight attendants insist that parents put on their own oxygen mask first and then put masks on their children—not the other way around.

It is crucial that parents are cared for even before our children. We cannot sacrifice ourselves to the point of endangering ourselves, for then we endanger both ourselves and our children.

Caring for ourselves need not be in the extremes of narcissism; though, for some of us, caring for ourselves at all might feel like that. But think of it this way: The model you want to teach your children is love, for themselves, you, their siblings, others. If you don’t take care of yourself, then you are sending them a message of neglect—that sacrifice is mandatory in relationships.

Think Support

Even during pregnancy, begin to gather a support group that will nurture you and your spouse after the baby comes home. This can include family, friends, neighbors, support group members, other relatives, even your nanny or babysitters. Make sure these are people who will honor and support your parenting choices.

One of the best gifts I ever got was a friend who brought us a week’s worth of frozen dinners for the first week home. Another came and helped with cleaning the house.

But even after the initial weeks home, this support is not just nice to have, but crucial. Remember, oxygen first for you—and that oxygen is support from people you can trust your children with. You must work to cultivate these relationships.

Meeting people at the playground, at church or synagogue, finding out about local Attachment Parenting International, La Leche League and Holistic Moms Network support group meetings can make a world of difference in your peace of mind and in your ability to have some long moments of serenity.

Even within Attachment Parenting, there can be other nurturing and loving people who can care for your children, particularly people who will, hopefully, be involved with your family for years to come. The important idea is that your children are surrounded by loving, attentive, nurturing people.

You will be giving your children richness by supplying them with others, besides yourself, who care for and love them as well. We live in a society of isolation, where parents are expected to do it all by themselves and to do it perfectly. This places unrealistic demands on parents and families. The truth is that it really does take a village to raise children.

Resist the urge to do it all alone. Resist the belief that you and your husband can singlehandedly “split-shift” all the parenting needs for your children. You will be giving a gift to your children as well as to yourselves.

Think Love

Don’t just love your children and your spouse, but love yourself.

The advice that we should love our neighbor as ourselves means that we cannot really love anyone else, even our children, until we love ourselves. Think oxygen, but replace oxygen with love, and you will see the wisdom in this thinking.

Love yourself and you will find yourself loving others with more enthusiasm, joy and energy. This is not conceit, nor a dangerous sign of narcissism. As you love your children, wouldn’t you want them to love themselves with the same enthusiasm, the same joy?

The idea of loving oneself has a peculiar shame associated with it, a shame found only in Western cultures. It seems that we have viewed self-love as self-centeredness and egotism. Perhaps we would do well to think of this kind of love in a different way.

In the spirit of wishing you happiness, here are 10 specifics of loving, self-care that you can do even now:

1. Mental Quiet—Take five minutes a day, preferably in the morning, perhaps before you take a shower, to “check in” with yourself. For those of you who pray, make this your time. For those of you who don't, make this a time of reflection, perhaps focusing yourself on your goals for the day, on the mood and thoughts that you want to have. You might try getting a day-by-day book that offers specific thoughts for each day. Maybe you can’t imagine having five minutes to myself. So start with 30 second, perhaps while nursing a baby, then increase it to one minute, then find a way to get a few minutes. As with most things in life, keep practicing at it and eventually you will find a routine that works for you. It will make a big difference. Some people find they can get up before others in the household and meditate, others find their time comes late at night when the house is quiet. Search for your own rhythm—it will be worth it.

2. Affirmation—Some of us may find the concept of self-love hard to imagine. Try this mirror exercise to get started. First thing in the morning, look yourself in the mirror and say to yourself: “I love you. You are beautiful. You are whole in mind, body, spirit and soul. The whole universe supports your every need, wish and desire.” Repeat this nine times, and then end by saying: “So be it, so be it, so be it.”

3. Exercise—Make sure you have physical exercise in your weekly routine. Wearing a baby can be exhausting after about the first three months and after about the millionth hour. You need to get physically strong again, so that you can tolerate the physical stress of mothering. This might mean that you need some kind of babysitting arrangement, but again, you must take care of yourself. Some moms have found yoga tapes have done the trick, and that, as their baby gets older, he/she joins in on the fun. Other moms enjoy taking a walk with baby in a stroller. Even housework can provide exercise, and as your child gets older, he/she will enjoy “helping” you with it. Experiment and find what works for you.

4. Rest—If you recently gave birth, and even if your child is older, make sure you’ve had recuperative time from the delivery itself. That may mean a massage or chiropractic care, a splurge of a few hours at a nearby spa. Make sure you are continuing with vitamins and are eating a healthy diet. Try not to rely on caffeine.

5. Ask for Help—Then ask for more help. Call friends, relatives, your local parent support group, Attachment Parenting International’s Warmline, but make sure you call. You and your partner should not carry the enormity of parenting yourselves. Pamper yourself and hire a housekeeper for the present time. One mom hired someone to make delicious, healthy dinners so that she could spend more time with her daughter and not feel frazzled during the dinner time hour.

6. Tune In—Throughout the day, check in with your emotional state.

7. Take a Break—And insist on it. Even when your children were younger, start by trying to insist on just 10 minutes of reading or meditation time. Your children will often sit down near you and imitate you, or they might color a picture or have a few minutes of another quiet activity. Just 10 minutes, when done on a regular basis, can go a long way, but it must be on a regular basis.

8. Soothe Your Soul—Put on some music that you enjoy, music that soothes you. Even if this is for 10 minutes at a time, it still will nurture you inside.

9. Assert Your Belief in Self-Care—Have your children participate in loving you and loving themselves. Arrange for “family massage” time, plan for a night of special treats like eating ice cream and candy, watch a family movie together. Perhaps you can even work with your children to give you and your spouse a “date” upstairs while they are downstairs, even if that means hiring a mother’s helper for a few hours.

10. Refuel—Keep doing that which refuels you. If that is sewing, then sew. If that is reading, then read. If that is email, then do it. Remember, you are worth it! Your children and your husband will thank you. Split out your hobby time and breaks over the day, and that’s only a few minutes of each waking hour spent on self-care. You can afford to spend that on yourself.


Attachment Parenting International promotes parenting methods that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents. Through education, support, advocacy and research, Attachment Parenting International seeks to strengthen families. For more information, visit

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