This column was contributed by Rita Brhel, a volunteer with Attachment Parenting International (API). She is an accredited API Leader and a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor in Hastings, Nebraska, and is the mother of three children.
There are many ways of raising children. Of course.
Some parents breastfeed, some don’t, and for the most part, kids turn out fine. Some parents stay at home with their kids, some parents put their kids in daycare, and for the most part, kids turn out fine. Some parents enroll their children in public school, others homeschool, and for the most part, kids turn out fine. There certainly are parenting styles that are in need of improvement, to say it lightly, such as those that tend to be so strict that they could be labeled as abusive or those that are permissive enough to border on neglectful. But there is no one right way to parent, if your goal is to raise children who are functioning members of society.
That said, there are certain parenting goals—and therefore, strategies—that can give a child an edge as a functioning member of society, and secure parent-child attachment is one of them. Secure attachment, the wholesome and strong bond between a parent and a child, offers an advantage to a person by helping him handle stress more easily, from everyday garden-variety stress to major adversity. Essentially, secure attachment lends itself to good self-esteem. Couple this with problem-solving skills and a general knowledge of healthy versus unhealthy coping skills, and you’ve got an excellent set of stress management skills. Good stress management is helpful not only for mental health but also for physical health and overall well-being.
Parents who are passionate enough about a certain approach to parenting to try to spread the message, either through advocacy or through parent education, tend to come from two schools of thought. They may have found a certain approach to parenting to work well for their family, and they want to share the good news, so to speak; or they may believe that their approach to parenting, which obviously worked well for their family, is the one right way for all parents and children, and they then pass judgment on families who are different than they are. Most parents, though, I believe and hope, understand that all families are different, that parents are doing what works best for themselves with the knowledge they have at the time, that sometimes we are all just trying to keep our heads above water, and that, at other times, we have wonderful moments of clarity and childrearing ease.
I do not believe any formula to parenting—even the particular parenting choices I use—to be “the” way to parent. I breastfeed, but I do not think that if a child was not breastfed, that the child was neglected. I use positive discipline, but I recognize that all parents are at different places in their parenting journeys and that struggling with spanking and a culture that supports it does not make them bad people. Working to change habits doesn’t always happen quickly, and parents may regress. I use daycare sparingly, but I do not think that parents who use daycare regularly are shirking their responsibility as parents. I see us as all on the same side. We’re all trying to do the best we can with what we have. And every family is different. Certainly I cannot judge anyone unless I have literally walked in his or her shoes.
Yet my views of inclusive parenting certainly don’t mean anyone shares this idea. I have encountered both friends and family, as well as strangers, who try to persuade me that my parenting approach is wrong, with arguments that, during the conversation, increasingly “reach the realm of the ridiculous,” as I like to call it. One woman, in trying to convince me that I was holding my baby too much, told me that most infant injuries come when the caregiver holding the baby falls down. Somehow I doubt this to be true. Could be the lack of statistics or reference.
In another example, when I revealed that my dates with my husband happen after the kids go to bed, my banker told me that having a date outside the house is a requirement for a healthy marriage. I said that we don’t go anywhere anyway, because we try to be frugal and our nightly date in-home (during which we eat dessert or have a glass of wine, watch a movie, play games, take walks, or just talk) seems to be working better for us than trying to plan a weekly date to do the same. She suggested that we bring the kids to her house so we can, as she phrased it, “go back home and you two can just sit there looking at each other,” because apparently having a date is only a date, even if at home, if the kids are elsewhere. And, no, she wasn’t kidding or sarcastic—she seemed genuinely interested in arranging this for me.
These comments usually leave me chuckling, though sometimes a bit annoyed if I’ve had one of those days where things just don’t seem to be working in my favor. But I do try to take some time to consider the other person’s point of view. And it always comes down to a completely different family situation and a corresponding philosophy.
The “don’t hold your baby too much” lady—she is of an older generation where cry-it-out sleep training and scheduled infant feedings were the norm, and so was the old misguided adage that holding a baby too much would spoil it. That’s how she parented; that’s how everyone probably parented in her generation. And now, decades later, even as times and parenting trends have changed and more research reveals what parenting strategies work or don’t work, her experience is in those parenting practices that she used.
The “date nights” woman—she works full time at the bank and puts her kids in daycare, and her husband works full time and then goes to school part time in the evenings, and they just don’t see each other as much as my husband and I do. So planning a weekly date night is really important for her and her husband, because there is so much competing for their attention, including their children.
Both examples are completely opposite of how I work and how my family works. My parenting ideas wouldn’t necessarily work for them, and theirs don’t work for me.
It would be wonderful to finally put the “Mommy wars” to rest. But it is human nature that we feel so vulnerable in this area of our lives—as parents—and therefore, so easily judged and able to so easily judge others, as we try to rectify in our minds that we are, indeed, doing this whole child rearing thing the right way. You probably are doing it the right way, for you and your child, but so is the mother down the street who is doing everything opposite of you. We have to remember to expand our minds, to understand that judging is a part of who we are naturally, but that we can overcome it by being consciously tolerant of differences.
Attachment Parenting is based on the practice of nurturing methods that create strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between the infant and parent(s). This style of parenting encourages responsiveness to children’s emotional needs, enabling children to develop trust that their needs will be met. As a result, this strong attachment helps children develop the capacity for secure, empathic, peaceful, and enduring relationships that follow them into adulthood.
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 www.attachmentparenting.org.