By Kassandra Brown, parent coach, www.parentcoaching.org
Attachment Parenting International offers Eight Principles of Parenting. The eighth principle is about balance in personal and family life. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some ways to bring balance into your marriage or intimate partnership. I hope that everyone who values strong relationships can find a few insights in the ideas of finding balance offered below.
Attachment Parenting is wonderful for babies. It helps children feel secure and loved. These children then grow into adults who are able to form secure attachments and who do not resort to violence to resolve discrepancies.
But is Attachment Parenting good for the marriage or partnership? When practicing Attachment Parenting, it can seem like babies and children always come first. When is the time for nurturing the relationship between parents? If the adult relationship is not nurtured, it will eventually deteriorate. The fear of this deterioration can lead parents to choose more authoritarian, distant or punitive parenting styles than they may otherwise prefer. Their motivation? To create space for the parents to still be intimate partners and individuals. If connection and attachment are correlated to loss of freedom and loss of self, it becomes much harder to embrace attachment principles.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Nurturing your children and nurturing your partnership are not mutually exclusive. Doing both at the same time does ask each parent to become more creative, loving and forgiving. It may ask each partner to grow and resolve old childhood wounds. In my opinion, this makes it more, not less, valuable as a parenting path. Let’s take a look at some ways to form and maintain strong connections with both children and adult partners.
Be realistic. Many of us have an after-birth image of the sexy mom with her body back in 20-something fitness and open for lovemaking within months of the baby’s birth. This image is hard to live up to for most women, but it is hard to let go of. A steady barrage of media lookism and behavioral expectations keep fueling the image of the woman who can do it all, perfectly, right now. A great deal of suffering happens when we try to make ourselves this woman and then judge ourselves as failures. The antidote comes in the form of connection. When we connect and talk with each other, we get a more accurate idea of what is normal. Relaxing into loving yourself as you are is another great antidote and wonderful aphrodisiac.
Take time for oxytocin. Bonding behaviors increase oxytocin. This is the hormone that helps during labor and birth, helps a mother bond with her new baby, and also helps with long-term pair bonding (that’s you and your partner!). Why not try three things every day like eye-gazing, forgiving a hurtful remark or massaging your partner’s shoulders?
Intimate connections. Sex can happen anywhere. It does not have to be in the parents’ bed, so fears of being inappropriate around a sleeping child or of not having any sex at all can be allayed by getting creative. Try different rooms and different positions. Remember being a teenager? Try it out. It might spice things up.
Make dates with each other and keep them. Then be flexible when children interrupt. One thing that inhibits a woman’s desire and responsiveness is worrying that a child will interrupt and that her partner will get angry or feel rejected.
A tip for dads—if you’re being loving with your partner and the baby or older child interrupts, you get bonus points for getting up and taking care of the child’s needs. Tell your partner to stay put and that you’ll be back. Then be flexible. Maybe the mood will be broken, and you’ll just share a melting hug or foot rub before one or both of you need to sleep. Being flexible and forgiving this time increases your chance of finding a partner who is willing and eager to try again next time.
Creatively use babysitters. If you find loving, reliable babysitters, teach them about Attachment Parenting. Show them how to use your sling or wrap. Then send them out on a walk or take a walk yourselves. Have a picnic in the park. Stay close to home initially so that these early excursions are good experiences for all.
Staying flexible and keeping expectations low will also help. If the first time you get a sitter you plan an extravagant overnight in a luxury hotel, you’re much less likely to do it again and much more likely to be disappointed if you don’t have a wonderful romantic connection. Keep it simple and you’ll be more likely to experience success. Success makes you more willing and eager next time.
Easy does it. Some children do not tolerate separation well. Especially if the birth was difficult or if there are underlying stressors in the home, children can strongly resist spending time with anyone other than their preferred caregiver. This is usually, but not always, mom. When this happens, it’s easy to see the problem as the child’s and try to force separation.
One woman I know had a daughter who would not reliably stay with anyone other than her or her husband until the daughter was 7. This was hard on the family. Part of the hardship was the advice and resistance from people outside the family. People labeled the child as having separation anxiety and said the mother was damaging her child by not insisting she stay with sitters. Instead, this mother trusted her instincts, the support she received from her parent coach, and what she had learned through API. She did not force separation. She gently encouraged it, looked for underlying causes of her daughter’s anxiety, and cultivated relationships where her daughter got to know other adults. When her daughter felt safe, she willingly went with one trusted friend. Soon after, she would go with a variety of caregivers. The change was swift and dramatic but not traumatic.
Sometimes change takes longer than we’d like. Please be patient, get help when you need it and trust your child and yourself.
Sequencing and seasonality can help. Trying to keep love alive and balance in your relationship can sometimes feel like a lot of work. What if you take things in smaller bites and let them happen according to their proper season or sequence? Taking a longer-term perspective can make it easier for both partners to see that, while sex may lull or take a backseat during the early months or years, this is not a permanent state of affairs. It does not mean the marriage is over and all the fun is gone.
Just like the earth goes into hibernation and returns to lush new life in the spring, so too can sexuality and ways of connecting go through phases. Intimacy may take on new forms. Sex may become less athletic and more about gentle connection. Other areas of the partnership may grow in ways that complement sexuality later.
All of these tips are easy enough to try, and yet trying to do all of them all at once can be overwhelming. The changes mentioned here may call on you to question some significant ideas in your worldview. That sort of self-examination and change are much easier with support. Please go slowly, ask for help, and remember that human beings learn by making mistakes. That means if you’re learning, you’re making mistakes.
Adult connection and intimacy are important. Attachment Parenting is not to blame when intimacy breaks down. There are creative choices you can make to bring the desire and intimacy back to your relationship. Along the way, you will grow as a person, parent and partner. I offer these suggestions as seeds to get your own creative juices flowing. Please share your ideas, successes and failures with us. What helps you find balance in your marriage or partnership and adult friendships?