Do modern parenting trends fit with modern life?

Please allow me to begin this post by stating it is in no way my intention to judge or criticise choices made by any parents. I know how exhausting it is to manage the daily parenting decisions and dilemmas such as how to get the baby to eat his peas, let alone the big and important things that actually really mean something. I just wanted to get out some of the thoughts that are going round in my head this evening, and was wondering if there is ever a perfect answer to the question about how best to raise our children.

Before I had my boy or even became pregnant, I had a pretty well-considered idea about what sort of a parent I wanted to be, and what my life as a mum would be like. I then went along to my NCT classes and my ideas changed. I decided I would give breastfeeding a go. I would think about co-sleeping. I was worried about the effects of cortisol on the development of my baby’s brain, so Husband and I agreed we would try not to let him cry.

Once he arrived I decided to parent by instinct, and what felt best to me was holding him close to me at all times, carrying him in a sling, breastfeeding on demand, comforting him, being available, taking responsibility for fulfilling his every need. The mummy friends I made were making similar decisions. I discovered that natural parenting, attachment parenting and gentle parenting were pretty popular amongst the NCT allumini, and that skin-to-skin bonding and breastfeeding were actively encouraged by midwives and health visitors. Let’s not forget at this point that these things really don’t come easy. Breastfeeding on demand is exhausting to the point of madness; meeting the every need of your child comes at the expense of your own needs in the early days and weeks and months, meaning that the sense of achievement and pride from actually doing this stuff is beyond amazing. My pre-baby self set a goal of breastfeeding for the first 3 months. In reality, I was still exclusively pumping every feed at 8 weeks. Once my baby finally learnt how to latch on and nurse directly from the breast it was something I would not give up for anything or anyone, testament to this is that we are still feeding at 15 months with no plans to quit.

And so Baby R and many of his peers grew together, sharing life experiences cheek to cheek with their mums, secure and comforted, mother and baby entwined and coexisting symbiotically. Positively attached, if you will.

Just as life started to feel manageable again, that’s when the emails started. Invitations to team meetings, reminders about KIT days, discussions about return to work dates. Along with this came the reality that I would have to hand over my baby to someone else, put him in their care. They would not let him nap on their lap, sing his special happy song to him, or wear him in a sling. They would give him milk from a bottle. He would not be the centre of their world.

I found this thought too hard to manage, and so with great sadness I resigned from my job. I had not planned to, and I did not do it primarily for the reasons discussed here, I did it because I love my baby more than I loved my job, and I could not bear not to see him. But had he gone to nursery at 9 months, would it not have been kinder to my child to raise him is an unattached way, being used to receiving love and care from a variety of important people, minimising the inevitable devastation of separation? Why are we being encouraged to raise our babies in a way which seems so incompatible with a return to work early on in their precious lives? Are the benefits of attachment style parenting in the early months not undone through the act of returning to work and forcing the child to have to re-learn a new way of life, to discover how to exist in a world where conflicting expectations are placed upon them depending on whether they are with mummy or not?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I think it is important to start considering them. My experience of watching friends return to work is that the preparation for nursery happens through taking their baby to the childcare provider for a couple of visits, not through altering their own parenting style. In fact, most of them are re-doubling their efforts to keep the attachment strong. Suddenly they are once again co-sleeping. They begin breastfeeding more frequently. They carry their babies around when they are with them, unwilling to let them go. The differences between the two worlds their children inhabit are made more distinct not less, the stress of having to to constantly move between them and re-learn the rules must be overwhelming at times for babies of all ages.

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14 thoughts on “Do modern parenting trends fit with modern life?

  1. The falsehood is not ‘the importance of attachment parenting’ but ‘the necessity of returning to work’. Your main purpose in existence is to raise the child; put that first.

  2. I always thought that part of the attachment parenting things was that a closer start and more “in-arms” time meant less clinginess later. Infants build up a reserve of “attachmentness”, gradually and tentatively explore the world, returning to the parent fora top-up less frequently as they get older.

    And there are a whole world of options in between giving up a career and 40+ hours a week of nursery.

  3. It is a difficult one and I dont know the answer. What gets me is the pressure to go back to work even if you don’t want/need to. The expectation that you will return to work and the embarrassed awkwardness of the one who asked when you say you aren’t intending on going back to work. As for continuing the ap ways even if you go back to work, there are ap nannies around and more knowledge of this would possibly help a lot of people who feel trapped in the daycare scenario.

  4. I’m not saying this in an attempt to absolve my guilt for going back to work when my baby was 12 months old. I am well aware of the potential issues with leaving her in someone else’s care at such a young age. But there are alternatives to a nursery. My daughter went to a childminder with a gentle parenting style and they formed a strong bond. Three years on I see the person she is growing into and I not regret my choices.

  5. I belive in attachment parenting, and I believe that the foundations of security and confidence, laid by attachment parenting, stand children in good stead when they have to be looked after by other adults. There is no incompatibility.

    I also know that cosleeping has become more important as often, those few hours snuggled in bed, are the only hours we spend in close proximity to our daughter.

  6. Interesting read. I’ve never considered myself an attachment parenting mum, but I guess I fit the bill; breastfeeding, baby wearing, cosleeping. I’m on my 4th baby and will go back to work again after my mat leave just like the other 3. I’m part time though, so is hubby, so we split childcare between us. Our 2yo goes to nursery 5 mornings s week and loves going. He also loves coming home. Our 4 & 6 yos are in school now but they loved nursery at 2 & 3 too. My personal experience was that it was much more stressful for us to leave the kids than it was for them to be left. I believe that attachment parenting gives kids the confidence to be away from us, they know we’ll be back, they know we wouldn’t put them in harms away, and they’re too busy having fun and adventure anyway.

  7. It isn’t all or nothing. Carers who will look after your baby like another attachment figure do exist. Childminders, nannies, grandparents… Some couple even both go part time and share their baby’s care with slings and cuddly naps and everything. If you work near home, breastfeeding can even continue during the working day with the right childcare arrangements. A nanny or relative can meet you somewhere warm and comfortable at a break time and/ or lunch. It really isn’t completely impossible in all jobs, but it does require creative thinking and a bit of bravery about any comments. Lastly, babies who go to nursery part or full time can still be benefit from being close to their parents at times they are together -why not?

  8. Well the answer is definately no! We should raise our child with positive attatchnent and then if we must return to work choose the best child ar possible, family or nanny preferably as they allow one to one attchment. This is not about a fashionable parenting choice but actual scientific understanding of the plasticity of babies brains and the importance of attachment in the early years for later health. Hope that helps a bit!

  9. As a child carer who is now met with increasing numbers of children who have never even been put down in a different room, let alone encouraged to separate from their mother I agree that this is a thorny problem. I still think it is possible to parent in a gentle, child friendly way…but I wish more parents would consider that, just as later on they will teach their child how to hold a pencil, wash their hands, ride a bike, they could give thought and attention to how they can help their young child learn to fall sleep, engage independently with the world and to be comfortable with other care givers. I work very hard to give children a feeling of safety and security, but I can’t attachment parent because I am not their parent, I can’t co-sleep because it would be inappropriate and obviously I can’t breast feed. Parents can do these things, but I wish they also included ways of comforting and settling their child that could be replicated in a caring child care setting if they need or want to return to work.

  10. I returned to work when baby as 13 mo but chose to send him to a childminder who would hug, kiss, tickle and cuddle him as much as he needed. I looked at nurseries and didn’t like the lack of contact but found that a CM was the answer for us. He is now 4 and she still kisses, tickles and cuddles.

  11. This seems to express a fundamental misunderstanding of attachment theory. Attachment style parenting allows the childs brain to develop a strong ability to form healthy attachments. The first three months are the vital window, where the child develops neural pathways in response to their needs being met. For example, “when if feel hunger and cry it get fed” and the brain forms that important link. Once positive attachment has been made the child is confident and feels secure in the world. This neural development allows the child to then form positive attachments to other care givers

    • That’s what I was thinking. You have to pick good childcare but if your child is securely attached to you they will become securely attached to their nursery key worker. My eldest rushes joyfully into my arms when I pick her up but the other week she did a thing that made me feel a little odd, but good – ran up to me and cuddled me, then did the same to her key worker, then me, then her… it was the best illustration I’ve ever seen of what it means to have your children securely attached to their childcare person.

  12. What a lovely and heartfelt post πŸ™‚ You did a lovely job of explaining the dilemma many women face. I have noticed my own wife struggling with the tensions between the messages she gets from society and the intimate experience of looking after our lovely boy. On the one hand she was encouraged to breastfeed, and be close to our son. On the other she is expected to re- join the world of work. Balancing the two is difficult.

    Our son latched on quickly and she breastfed him for more than a year. She enjoyed every moment of it. We enjoyed co-sleeping, but more for the practicality of it at times. One of the dilemma’s we faced was childcare costs. It was so high that we decided together that she would stay home a bit longer. We moved home closer to my work and reduced our expenses. This allowed me to take over routines in the afternoon and night. Over time our son gradually weaned himself as he spent more time with me. I did this purposefully as I felt that society places too much emphasis on the mother having to be the primary caregiver. This, combined with some of the trends in attachment parenting and government messages that parents need to return to paid work places mothers in a difficult position. I felt the only way to lighten some of that burden was to take up a more active role as a father. To do that I had to give up some privileges. I had to spend less time outside the home, and I had to pause my career development. We also had to make financial sacrifices. My son also got used to having more than one attachment figure in his life, without becoming overly reliant on his mother. So, in short, I think that one way to have the best of both worlds and address the dilemma you point out in the article is for fathers to take a more active role, and give up some privileges, to free mothers more.

    A last point I want to comment on is your question about the effect of the focus on attachment parenting on our children. Although I think attachment experiences in early life form the foundation for future relationships, I do not believe attachment is completely stable. I work with adolescents and I can tell you that attachment ruptures can be created, and repaired at all stages of life. I do think however that prior to age 4, and during adolescence our children are slightly more vulnerable to these ruptures. This however does not mean that all children will be negatively affected. It depends on temperament as well. If, overall, you have consistently met your child’s emotional and physical needs I do not think separating from them as they spend more time out of the home will suddenly ‘damage’ them (even if you used attachment parenting). I thinks it takes more than that. Children are adaptable, and can form more than one attachment figure. They can also adapt to different adult styles and responses in different settings. I think they can cope with people doing different things in different settings.

    The last paragraph of your post points to the response of parents. Attachment styles are important for adults as well. Our own attachment difficulties are sometimes triggered by our children. Our own experience with our children can both mend or aggravate our own underlying patterns. I wonder how much some of the letting is due to our own insecurities as parents, and not so much about our children. πŸ™‚

    I apologise for the long comment πŸ™‚

    Gerhard (Familiality)
    http://www.familiality.abft.co.uk

  13. I’m really glad you’re enjoying it all and I would totally agree that if full time work isn’t compatible there’s nothing wrong with not going back. It’s a short time in their lives when they need you this much.
    Having said that… it’s not only the working world that can be difficult to integrate with attachment parenting. It would be very difficult to do this if you have two children close together or have twins. Baby wearing with twins works up until about 4 or 5 months, when they get too big to wear together, and they start wanting to sleep at different times. And with the extra workload of two children lots of people start appreciating the benefits of having their kids nap to a schedule (i.e. at the same time) rather than just as and when, so you have some free time. Thinking about my own experience with my twins I was at home with them exclusively for the first 2 years and I remember one of the nannies who frequented the toddler groups saying when she thought of me she would always remember me with one toddler hanging off one arm and one off the other. In that way we were quite attachment. But we had quite regimented bedtimes and sleep training, bottle feeding so my husband could share the work more… they still seem to be securely attached. I guess what I’m saying is if full on attachment parenting suits you you should thoroughly enjoy it, but don’t underestimate your little one’s ability to adapt should you want to change things as well. (I predict that by the spring things will look different – at about 21 months there is a definite moment when they go off on their own a little – and then by this time next year you’ll have a stroppy toddler on your hands. They are hilarious at this age, something to really look forward to).

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