By Christy Farr Ferrelli, former executive director of API
**Originally published in the Fall 2006 Divorce & Single Parenting issue of The Journal of API
My experience as a single attachment parent started when my son was 19 months old and I was seven and one-half months pregnant with my daughter.
The Attachment Parenting (AP) practices that I chose before my divorce, such as breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing, become more like survival tactics for me as a single parent.
In my experience, the primary obstacle to AP single parenting is a monumental lack of resources.
Lack of Parenting Partner
The first resource I missed following my divorce was the loss of one half of my parenting team, my spouse. If the children had a need, it was up to me to meet it. When they needed to eat, I prepared the meal. When they needed a diaper changed, I changed it. Baths, bedtime, night waking, laundry, shopping, playing, nurturing, and educating – it all falls on the single parent.
Many stay-at-home parents with working partners experience the same situation, but as a single parent, there is no evening rescue parent or weekends of parenting partnerships to ease the load.
Lack of Adequate Income
The stress of single parenting was further complicated by the loss of financial resources experienced almost universally by single mothers. I handled the day-to-day care for my children, and at the same time had to make money to support my family. Unlike many other single parents, we received child support.
But courts don’t consider the children’s right to a secure attachment when deciding the amount of financial support a non-custodial parent should pay. They rarely order enough child support to keep a stay-at-home parent at home, even if the parents agreed to a one-income lifestyle when having the children.
Data entry from my home office, food stamps, and later earning a degree at the local university while living on student loans allowed me to continue as my children’s primary caregiver. My recent graduation was a huge celebration, but now the shocking amount of loans is due. Although the loans allowed me to be home with my children, they will be in the 40s before the loans are repaid.
Lack of Information
Another resource I find tragically insufficient for single parents is AP support. In our detached, Western culture, AP families often turn to trusted authors and publications, parent support groups, family-friendly organizations, and health practitioners with questions and concerns about childrearing. We read the sacred texts of the Sears’ parenting library, Jan Hunt, Katie Allison Granju, Alfie Kohn, Barbara Coloroso, and many others because the advice offered to mainstream families won’t work for us. We choose a gentler path of peaceful parenting.
I first encountered this support problem when my daughter was born and my son acquired a few new behaviors that concerned me. As I had done a hundred times before, I turned to my Dr. Sears books for support and solutions. I easily located the topic in the index, flipped to the page, and start to read – fully expecting to find help for my parenting dilemma.
The advice was simple enough: The mom should do this, and the dad should do that, and everything will be OK in a few days. But what, I wondered, should we do in the absence of a dad? I kept reading…to no avail. My parenting support books were written for families with two parents, and I was in trouble.
I called my AP girlfriends, and they did not have answers because I was the first AP mother they knew to get divorced and face the struggles of single parenthood. I took my concerns to a La Leche League (LLL) meeting…nothing. I found the same thing everywhere I turned – no one had experience doing AP alone, and all signs seemed to say, “You can’t do AP by yourself.” This resource shortage proved the most challenging for me, and I still wonder at times if I am “AP enough.”
No Answers for Unique Challenges
There are other challenges faced by single AP parents. Visitation with a non-AP parent is the first that comes to mind. I searched for ways to handle what I call the “post-visitation crash,” where the child returns to the safety of their primary attachment relationship and experiences a flood of the emotions they did not express while they were away. It is hard on everyone in the family, especially because parents can’t find anything about this in their trusted parenting books. I have found that talking about how they missed me and how hard it is to be away, then practically overdosing on physical contact, are the only real solutions.
Take Charge of Your Family Life
Without these resources, it falls on the single parent to create the solutions necessary to sustain their lifestyle financially and emotionally. The good is, it can be done! Priority number-one: Immediately begin to gather the village it takes to raise your children, because trying to handle everything alone will sabotage even the most capable parent.
I chose to swallow my pride and accept support from a variety of sources, because they allowed me to keep my “mommy promise” of connectedness with my children. A roof over our head from my mom, public assistance from my community, and an endless number of gifts, favors, and mental health breaks from my circle of LLL sisters allowed me to be home with my children for those first precious years. I realized my path to freedom was a college education, and for four and one-half years, a few of my closest friends and the teachers at a tiny preschool served as surrogate mothers while I took classes two days a week.
Ask for Help
The support system I developed for us empowered me to become the single AP parent my children needed and deserved. If you are a single parent who finds asking for help or accepting support too hard, please try to remember that you are not asking people to make your life “easy” and you are not passing off your responsibilities – you are gathering the tools necessary to build an attached relationship and a solid future for your children.
Seven years and million experiences have come and gone since I joined the ranks of single parents in the AP community. Today, single parents continue to experience this epidemic of insufficient resources, although API does provide resources to support single parents, including local parent support groups, leaders, or the API Forums (www.attachmentparenting.org/forums).
For More Information
Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way by M. Gary Neuman
Joint Custody with a Jerk by Julie A. Ross & Judy Corcoran
Mom’s House, Dad’s House by Isolina Ricci
Parenting After Divorce by Philip Michael Stahl
What Children Learn from Their Parents’ Marriage by Judith P. Seigel
Winning Custody by Deedra E. Hunter