All posts by The Attached Family

API Reads August 2014: Attached at the Heart/Parenting from the Inside Out

download (1)We will be ending our discussion of Attached at the Heart (2nd edition) by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. The  topics we’ll be discussing in August will be :

  • Principle 8: Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life – Peace Within Creates Peace at Home

  • Chapter 10: Nurturing Children for a Compassionate World

  • Wrapping it all up

 

We will also begin our discussion of Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, and Mary Hartzell, MEd once Attached at the Heart is finished. Starting on August 17, we’ll be discussing the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2.

 We have a new and exciting launch to API Reads that will begin in September! We will be launching the option of reading a book focused on the younger child set (birth to preschool) and one focused on the older child set (school-age and above) to be read simultaneously. This will allow you to focus on the book that seems of the most interest to you at the time. We are truly excited about this new offering and hope you will be too. Come check out GoodReads to see what books are in the queue so far!

Our discussions happen on GoodReads, so don’t hesitate to join in the conversation. We read a chapter a week. Sometimes you can’t get through the chapter but you’ll find you’ll still be able to participate in the conversation. So come join the other 400+ members who are already part of the conversation!

World Breastfeeding Week 2014: The Real Breastfeeding Story

By Sheena Sommers, MA

World Breastfeeding Week 2014The recent controversies generated by depictions of Attachment Parenting in the Western media and elsewhere have revealed a fairly astounding degree of misinformation about infant and child development. Most especially, the media’s fetishist focus on “extreme breastfeeding” has revealed the tremendously wide chasm that exists between official medical recommendations about breastfeeding and the actual reality and perception of the practice on the ground.

Discussions generated by overly sexualized and highly sensationalized depictions of breastfeeding have often helped only to bolster a set of beliefs about the practice that are as dangerous as they are inaccurate. Though breastfeeding is touted by almost every recognized medical body as being one of the best things a mother can do to ensure the health and well-being of her child, the fact remains that very few infants are exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life and even fewer still are breastfed beyond their first year as official medical guidelines recommend.

Breastfeeding older babies, sometimes referred to by advocates as full-term breastfeeding, means different things to different people. Though some feel that nursing an infant past one year should be considered full term, others define it as breastfeeding a child past the age of two. Perhaps more important than any specific age reference is instead a commitment to continue breastfeeding until a child initiates the weaning process.

While beliefs and approaches to breastfeeding have certainly varied widely through time and place, the current level of societal discomfort breastfeeding engenders is without doubt an anomaly. What has since our earliest days been central to our very survival as a species has, more recently, been made to seem—by some of the more vocal critics at least—as an unnatural, immoral and even perverse practice when engaged in beyond the first year of an infant’s life. Thus, mothers who breastfeed their toddlers and very young children have been called everything from odd and eccentric to sexually perverse and even abusive.

What may therefore come as a shock to many in the West today is that from an historic and cross-cultural perspective, breastfeeding older babies and very young children is the norm. As Cornell University (USA) anthropologist Meredith Small, PhD, surmises in her groundbreaking work Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, the “hominid blueprint of the way babies were fed for 99% of human history indicates breast milk as the primary or sole food until two years of age or so, and nursing commonly continuing for several more years.”

Breastfeeding children until the age of three or four years has been the norm throughout much of human history and remains so in various parts of the world today. Even as late as 1800, an infant born in the United States could expect to be nursed for somewhere between two to four years.

What happened over the last 200 years to have so dramatically altered breastfeeding patterns is too complicated a history to review here. It is needless to say, however, that despite no shortage of scientific and medical evidence to support much longer-term breastfeeding, this has not been enough to sway popular practice or belief in any large measure. In the United States, Canada and elsewhere, breastfeeding beyond a year—or two for the more progressive types—raises eyebrows and even ire amongst some otherwise seemingly rational people. As discussed further below, though breastfeeding rates are on the rise, the increases are small, and breastfeeding older babies is still a far cry from the cultural norm in the West.

The Science

Not only does the historical and anthropological evidence suggest that weaning before age two is unusual, but from a purely biological perspective, nursing a child through the toddler years is not in the least bit abnormal. In fact, the typical age for child-led weaning from a physiological standpoint has been estimated to fall within the broad range of two and a half to seven years of age.

As Katherine A. Dettwyler, PhD, an anthropology professor at the University of Delaware (USA), has demonstrated, this large spectrum is based upon an analysis of various biological and physiological factors derived from comparisons to other mammals of similar size. When looking at the relationship between gestation times and weaning for instance, human babies are geared to wean somewhere around four and a half years of age. Other relevant mammalian comparisons also support a much longer breastfeeding duration, including:

  • the eruption of the first permanent molars—5.5 to 6 years
  • adult body weight—4 to 7 years
  • adult body size—2.8 to 3.7 years.

Even the most conservative estimate, derived from an analysis of human birth weights, would suggest natural weaning occurs between 25 and 32 months of age.

The health benefits of breastfeeding are, of course, much more widely acknowledged. Not only do breastfed babies suffer fewer childhood illnesses and recover faster when ill, but the benefits continue to accrue throughout their adult lives. In every scientific study comparing breastfed babies and formula-fed babies, the breastfed babies have been shown to have a lower risk of disease  and to score higher on cognitive functioning.

Breastfed babies have a much lower risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than do their non-breastfed counterparts; the formula-fed infants being, in fact, twice as likely to die from SIDS. According to “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding 2011,” formula-fed infants are also at a higher risk of common childhood infections, including gastrointestinal problems and ear infections, with the risk of the latter being a whopping 100% higher than in their breastfed counterparts.

The same report goes on to say that babies who are exclusively breastfed during the first four months of life have a 250% lower risk of being hospitalized for lower respiratory tract disease and a lower risk of respiratory infections. Breastfed babies also have a lower risk of developing leukemia. Formula feeding, as opposed to breastfeeding, is furthermore associated with an increased risk of some of the most serious chronic diseases of our time, including type 2 diabetes, childhood obesity and asthma.

While the early months are by far the most important with regard to the benefits of breastfeeding, research has shown that the health benefits of breast milk are cumulative. Thus, babies breastfed for 18 to 24 months do better than those breastfed for only the first six months, though as mentioned, the early months are certainly the most crucial.

While as of yet no large scale studies have been published on the specific health benefits of breastfeeding past two years of age, as Dettwyler and others have convincingly argued, there is little reason to believe the rewards cease immediately upon a child’s second birthday. Research has conclusively shown that the specific qualities of breast milk change over time in order to meet the nutritional needs of children as they grow. As such, there is evidence to suggest that breastfeeding beyond two years continues to offer important health benefits. As one of the foremost experts on the subject, Jack Newman, MD, at the International Breastfeeding Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, argues, “Breastmilk still contains immunologic factors that help protect the child even if he is two or older.”

Mothers benefit enormously from the breastfeeding relationship too. For instance, it has been shown that the longer a woman spends breastfeeding, the lower her risk of ever developing breast cancer. Likewise, women who have never breastfed have a 27% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to women who have breastfed for some period of time. Studies have also shown that breastfeeding for longer can maximize these protective effects. Overall, the report by the U.S. Surgeon General cited above concludes that “exclusive breastfeeding and longer durations of breastfeeding are associated with better maternal health outcomes.”

Breastfeeding Rates

The “Breastfeeding Report Card—United States, 2012,” published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that while national breastfeeding rates are on the rise, there is still a very long way to go in terms of meeting guidelines set out by almost every recognized medical body or health association across the globe.

While current recommendations as set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and echoed by many other organizations suggest that breastfeeding be continued for two years or longer if mutually desired by mother and child, the majority of infants in the United States are weaned by six months of age. Thus, although 76.9% of women in the United States initiate breastfeeding at birth, just under half of these women are nursing at six months and only a quarter of them are still breastfeeding at one-year postpartum.

WHO guidelines likewise stress the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life. Exclusive breastfeeding means giving the baby nothing but breast milk during this time. Again, despite the slew of data on the vital importance of following these recommendations, according to the U.S. National Immunization Survey (latest data for 2008), only 14.6% of babies are exclusively breastfed at six months.

As surmised by the Surgeon General’s 2011 Call to Action, although “many mothers in the United States want to breastfeed, and most try … within only three months after giving birth, more than two-thirds of breastfeeding mothers have already begun using formula.” This statistic is hardly surprising when one considers that in a study co-funded by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it was found that almost half of breastfed newborns were being supplemented with formula while still in the hospital.

From a purely economic vantage point, these findings are extremely important. In fact, a study published in the April 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics examined the costs (adjusted to 2007 dollars) associated with various illnesses including SIDS, hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infection in infancy, atopic dermatitis, childhood leukemia, childhood obesity, childhood asthma and type 1 diabetes, and found that if “90% of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months,” the direct and indirect savings of medical expenses would equal some $13 billion annually.

Challenges and Barriers

As evidenced above, it is quite clear that the widely available wealth of information concerning the array of physical, physiological, social, emotional, cognitive and even fiscal benefits breastfeeding provides has not been enough to alter public practice on a large scale. Thus, though the medical evidence is unambiguous and educational campaigns to shore up support for breastfeeding are now common, very few families seem to be able to actually put these recommendations into practice.

Why might this be? As revealed by a 2005 U.S. National Survey conducted by the nonprofit Families at Work Institute, more than 60% of mothers of infants and young children work outside the home. U.S. law requires only 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave be afforded to new mothers and this only for companies with 50 employees or more. A report by the National Partnership for Women and Families found that almost two-thirds of women are left without access to employer-provided short-term disability benefits, while nine out of 10 members of the workforce are unable to draw upon employer-provided paid leave to care for a new infant.

Another study published in the February 2012 issue of the journal American Sociological Review revealed that those women who breastfeed their infants beyond six months see a steeper decline in their earnings than those working women who use formula or wean their babies earlier. As Phyllis Rippeyoung, one of the study’s researchers suggested, the results of the study demonstrate that “at least as work is organized right now in the U.S., there does seem to be an incompatibility between breastfeeding for a long duration and working for many women.”

This is, of course, not to say that women who work outside the home do not, or cannot, practice longer-term breastfeeding. However, as only about a third of even the largest companies in the United States provide women with a secure area to express breast milk, doing so can often require an extremely high level of ingenuity and commitment.

Studies like those above highlight a reality too often ignored in breastfeeding campaigns: breastfeeding is both time and labor intensive. Without adequate economic, political, practical and community support for breastfeeding—spanning from the institution of much better maternity leave policies to more family-friendly workplace arrangements—many mothers will continue to face a variety of obstacles that make conforming to ideal breastfeeding practices extremely challenging at best.

Though these barriers certainly require redress if exclusive and full-term breastfeeding is to become more common, providing better maternity leave by itself may not necessarily translate into major improvements. If one looks at the Canadian situation in which maternity leave policies are a good deal better, the numbers are almost as dismal. At three months postpartum, less than half of Canadian mothers are exclusively breastfeeding, and by six months, only 14% are offering nothing but breast milk. At 12 months, about a quarter of Canadian infants are receiving some breast milk, a number only marginally better than the U.S. figures.

It seems, therefore, that something else must also be afoot. As Small and others have pointed out, underpinning these very real structural barriers to breastfeeding is a belief system that is fundamentally at odds with the biological imperatives of infant and child development. In a culture in which independence and autonomy are so highly prized that infants as young as a few months are expected to self-soothe, parents are all too frequently made to feel conflicted about responding to the cues of their infants.

This rather peculiar state of affairs has unfortunately also led to the abandonment of a host of practices that have historically been integral to exclusive and full-term breastfeeding. Regrettably, many of the practices that have traditionally helped to ensure the success of the breastfeeding relationship have become marginalized and, in some cases, even vilified in the West.

The practice of cosleeping—which had been the norm throughout most of human history and continues to be in much of the world today—though never fully eradicated, was until very recently effectively forced underground by a campaign of misinformation. Practices such as cosleeping, babywearing and comfort nursing (soothing baby with the breast instead of a breast substitute such as a pacifier or bottle), to name just a few, support breastfeeding by allowing for unrestricted access to the breast. Unrestricted access encourages a mother’s milk production and ensures a healthy feedback loop. Unrestricted access is, however, precisely that which is so often lacking today.

In sum, the abandonment of practices that support breastfeeding necessarily hampers the effect of even the most progressive policy initiatives on the ground. Simply declaring the importance and sanctity of the breastfeeding relationship, however vociferously, will have very little effect in a society that in actual fact values, and even incentivizes, mother-infant separation from an early age. Unfortunately, we live in a time in which mainstream culture sanctions by both word and deed an approach to parenting that is totally out of sync with the needs of our children. As such, the hyperbolic reactions generated by images of older babies breastfeeding and the dire state of actual breastfeeding practices are together merely twin symbols of the very widespread misunderstanding of the attachment relationship and of infant development more generally.

The fact remains that while educational initiatives and institutional changes may help to increase breastfeeding initiation among new mothers, without a fairly dramatic re-evaluation of our current beliefs, practices, values and priorities surrounding infant and child care at large, exclusive and full-term breastfeeding will continue to be a practice of only a minority.

You can read more in the double "Voices of Breastfeeding" issue of Attached Family magazine, in which we take a look at the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy as well as the challenges still to overcome in supporting new parents with infant feeding. The magazine is free to API members--and membership in API is free! Visit www.attachmentparenting.org to access your free issue or join API.
You can read more in the double “Voices of Breastfeeding” issue of Attached Family magazine, in which we take a look at the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy as well as the challenges still to overcome in supporting new parents with infant feeding. The magazine is free to API members–and membership in API is free! Visit www.attachmentparenting.org to access your free issue or join API.

Different, Not Disordered: An Interview with Dr. Barbara Probst

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA). Originally published in the 2013 “Loving Uniquely” issue of Attached Family magazine (available free of charge to API members–and membership in API is free).

Headshot_(2)_copyWe often hear the importance of treating children fairly, but at Attachment Parenting International (API), we advocate rather to love each of our children uniquely. Because every child—just like every adult—is one of a kind, each individual parent-child relationship forms to the distinctive shape of each other’s differences in temperament, interests, opinions, aversions, conversions and other subtle nuances of what makes each person and their interactions unique.

API celebrates every person’s unique traits, but some children’s differences set them apart from societal expectations enough that daily interactions—whether at home, childcare or school—can be challenging. Rather than viewing our children through the lens of understanding, however, our society’s response is often to see these differences as “symptoms” of a disorder and to follow up with treatments that may not resolve the problem.

I am excited to share a discussion with Barbara Probst, PhD, LCSW, author of When the Labels Don’t Fit, on her approach to facilitate understanding among parents and teachers in order to discover a new relationship with sometimes-challenging children based on appreciation and respect instead of illness.

RITA: What inspired your alternative approach to “treating” children whose differences often lead them to being diagnosed with disorder?

DR. PROBST: I feel quite strongly about the way our culture seems to be viewing every difference, difficulty, struggle and quirk—every extreme or unusual behavior—as a disorder, especially when it comes to kids!

The idea for When the Labels Don’t Fit really grew out of my experience as a clinical social worker. So many parents were coming to me with kids who were intense, complex, confusing, rigid, provocative, volatile, inconsistent—challenging children who had either been given multiple diagnoses and treatments, none of which really helped, or whom no diagnosis seemed to fit.

These parents were understandably looking for some kind of explanation, some way to make sense of their child’s behavior. Yet the only thing they were offered was a negative framework, a way to categorize their child by what was supposedly wrong or missing.

There was no framework that also took into account a child’s strengths, talents, affinities, needs, style, temperament—the things a child loves and gravitates toward—as tools for understanding how that child responds to the world and who he or she really is. There seemed to be an assumption that “naming the disorder” was the key to assessing what was going on and making it better—as in the medical way, “fixing the problem” by diagnosis and cure—but it was obvious that this narrow approach wasn’t really helping anyone, neither kids nor their parents.

I got curious and started to investigate the whole “diagnosis explosion”—more and more kids receiving psychiatric labels, at younger and younger ages, for fewer and milder symptoms. The statistics are pretty staggering! For instance, one in every five American children meets current criteria for a psychological disorder, with three times as many kids now being diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disorders than were diagnosed 15 years ago. It makes you wonder if there’s really something wrong with 20% of our kids or something wrong with our definition of “normal.”

As a culture, we’ve pathologized a whole range of traits and ways of interacting with the world that used to be part of the variety of human experience. Some of the difficulties come from a poor fit with the environment, some from the struggles that are just part of living and growing up, and some are from unrealistic expectations and intolerance for kids who push the envelope or make us uncomfortable.

It’s not that a child’s struggles aren’t real or that some kids aren’t truly hard to raise. Certainly, there are kids who do things that seem odd or excessive at various points in their development, and of course it’s painful for parents when they can’t seem to reach or handle a child they love. And it’s not that “anything goes” or that kids don’t need to understand limits and develop empathy. But finding a disease-based category for the child’s problems isn’t the answer either! Just because a child has difficulty managing stimulation or frustration, hates change or needs to ground herself through touch, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those difficulties are indicators of an underlying pathology.

RITA: This is what many parents refer to as “spiritedness” or “high needs.”

DR. PROBST: I knew there had to be a better, more direct way to understand and help these challenging kids and their parents. I began focusing on the specific issue or trait, rather than the label that “explained” the trait as a symptom of one or another disease, zooming in to the feature, like perfectionism or impatience, that lay behind the problematic behavior. I wanted to understand who a child is, not what disorder he or she has—to be truly solution-focused and figure out why the roof was leaking instead of how to reward the child for mopping the wet floor.

RITA: That’s a great analogy. How did this approach work in the field?

DR. PROBST: I began to apply this new approach in my work, looking for a “difficult” child’s core features as the key to what made that child tick. Again and again, this new approach brought practical and positive results where nothing had helped before—in an amazingly short time!

I began to give presentations and workshops to parents, educators and mental health professionals, showing them how to use the temperamental map I’d developed to figure out how unusual or extreme traits interact with elements of the environment, and then how to target strategies—concretely and proactively—to a child’s specific features. It was so empowering! It gave parents real hope.

They began to see their challenging child as someone intriguing instead of someone to control or fear. What a great experience!

RITA: What temperamental differences do you find create the most friction? How would you define a “challenging child”?

DR. PROBST: Let me start by saying a word about temperament. Temperament is your essential nature, your innate way of being in the world. The early view of temperament, however, like the model Chess and Thomas developed in the mid-1970s, tended to present temperament as a series of good/bad polarities: attentive or distractible, adaptable or inflexible, and so on. I find that quite biased and value-laden, to be honest, like another set of pejorative labels.

It’s really about the fit between traits and context, not about some traits being intrinsically better than others. After all, a highly tenacious child who won’t cede her turn at the kindergarten easel until she’s satisfied with her painting is seen as resistant and antisocial, but she’s seen as admirably persistent in the science lab.

More broadly, if we lived in a culture that valued curiosity and responsiveness instead of order and self-restraint, we’d think that a child who could sit still for an hour, ignoring all the interesting people and impressions around him, as having “attention surplus disorder”!

So it varies, and traits that seem to be problematic in one situation or at one age can be an asset in another, the seeds of a child’s authenticity and fulfillment.

In addition, temperamental traits exist on a continuum, like a high need for stimulation or a low tolerance for change. Although traits in the middle may make you more mellow and adaptable to a wider range of contexts, no trait is inherently “better” or “worse” than another.

Think of it descriptively, rather than judgmentally: Some kids go off on tangents, some can’t bear to leave something unfinished, some find comfort in order and repetition or, on the contrary, always want change. Some like to plunge right in while others take time to warm up and then need to disengage slowly. Within each dimension, there’s a range, with a child tending toward the high or low end when he’s stressed.

Friction is more likely to arise, then, when a trait or its manifestation is at one of the extreme ends of the continuum, especially when the environment has a narrow zone of tolerance. A fixed time schedule—“It’s 10:00, put away your journals and get ready for recess”—can cause a shrieking tantrum in a child who has to “complete his mission” or needs to stop incrementally. A classroom full of stimulating choices can make a perfectionistic child, overwhelmed by all the roads not taken no matter what she chooses, highly anxious or irritable.

RITA: What about temperamental difference between a child and an adult?

DR. PROBST: By “environment,” I also mean the people in the child’s world. If you’re a parent who thinks spontaneity is fun, for example, and you have a child for whom that’s distressing and who really needs to know ahead of time exactly what to expect in order to feel safe, or vice versa, you’re more likely to encounter misunderstanding and conflict. For example, does your child prefer to know what she’s getting for her birthday, or does she want to be surprised?

So it’s often the mismatch, rather than the trait itself, especially when a child hasn’t matured enough to develop a repertoire of coping strategies or is blamed by adults who expect him to be the one to do all the adapting, rather than being curious and open to small changes in the environment that might create “wiggle room” or a “margin of tolerance.”

It’s also important to remember that different traits can lie behind the same challenging behavior, so you need to step back and figure out why your angry child won’t go to bed. Is it because of an irregular inner rhythm or pajamas that “don’t feel right”? Does he need to disengage a bit at a time because of high intensity and focus? Does she need to finish her game because she’s a perfectionist who can’t bear to leave something incomplete? Does he need a set of tactile markers to anchor the verbal instructions?

Threats, logic, cajoling, even offers of kindness and generosity—“how about an extra story?”—may have nothing to do with the reason your child refuses to go to bed. It’s like throwing solution darts at a situation in the hope that one will somehow stick! It’s not a matter of changing the exterior result—getting the child to “behave” and go to bed—but of understanding the interior cause and the child’s interaction with elements of the environment, including space, timing, tempo and sensory factors.

So a “challenging child” is one whose unusual, extreme or erratic traits have been misunderstood and mishandled, often due to a poor contextual fit. Your child’s need for movement or silence or control still must be met proactively, but a need that’s been respected and met, even partially, tends to lead to far less “challenging behavior” than a need that’s been ignored, denied or shamed.

RITA: What steps would you suggest for a parent seeking to learn a different way to look at and act toward their child?

DR. PROBST: One of the most powerful things parents can do is to change their language. Describe your child, to yourself and to her, as organized rather than obsessive, curious about life rather than distractible. Instead of calling her picky, tell her: “You sure do know what you like!” Instead of stubborn: “You’re not a quitter!” That helps her feel she’s not fundamentally defective and helps you feel more open and positive, which results in a less tense relationship that benefits everyone.

You can also use language to put borders around troublesome behavior. “You’re the kind of person who has a tough time with disappointment (or waiting, feeling rushed or feeling there are too many rules for how to do something).” That gives a precise, bounded and concrete place to begin, rather than making a child feel globally wrong or defective.

When a trait like low adaptability, for instance, is likely to pose a problem, talk about it in advance. Name it, predict and use respectful curiosity to help your child make a plan: “It really bothers you when kids change the rules for Capture the Flag. Variations aren’t fun to you; it just feels like they’re ruining the game. So what’s your plan if that happens today? Any ideas about what you can do?”

If your child has had a successful experience of managing a similar situation in the past, remind him of his past success and let him be the expert: “Remember how well you handled things that time the pizza place turned out to be closed? What was the secret of your success?”

If he’s not yet been able to handle it well, offer a suggestion in the spirit of experimentation. Collaborate with your child as detectives or scientists on a quest for data: “Well, I know something that tends to help people who like things to stay the same. Are you game to try and let me know if it helps?”

Tell your child: “I see that you really like to make your own decisions.” Include that feature in advance, rather than punishing your child afterward for asserting her desire to be in control. Give her a way to be involved in the decision about how to clean up, for example, before it’s time to clean up.

This kind of practical, respectful approach is so much more effective than trying to maintain complicated systems of points and penalties! Remember that your child is doing the best he can under the circumstances, given his limited resources. It’s not about reward and punishment, but about the power of self-knowledge. Your goal, in the end, is to help your child be happy and successful because of who he is.

RITA: Some parents still struggle to set limits with their children. It’s as if they and their child aren’t talking the same language.

DR. PROBST: A few core principles lie behind the more than 60 practical strategies in When the Labels Don’t Fit. One principle is to proactively and concretely match the strategy to the feature. For instance, a child who has difficulty feeling time needs a way to organize externally what she can’t organize internally. Tell her: “Two more times going down the slide,” (a unit of action), rather than, “Five more minutes till we have to leave the playground.”

A child who can’t bear disappointment needs a backup plan that’s already in place right from the beginning. For example: “My Plan B is chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream if they don’t have rocky road.” Your child can figure out his backup plan before getting in the car to go out for ice cream, then write it on an index card and put it in his pocket. Unexpected let-downs are harder, but the Plan B approach will be more likely to be accepted if your child has already practiced it in other situations.

A child with a ten-minute attention span needs a planned break after eight minutes.

A child who needs to control and becomes angry at not being in control needs a safe avenue to express power with temporal and spatial boundaries. What can she control? Can you give her a Magic Coin that she can “spend” each day on something where she can be the “boss”? That helps her learn to make and live with choices. Remember: If the only power you give a strong-willed child is the power to refuse, she will surely use it.

And so on. Once you get the idea that it all stems from “the kind of kid this is,” it becomes so much easier to be effective.

Another important principle is to show your child that you “get it.” Don’t try to make your child feel better by telling him that “it’s not a big deal”—to him it is—or that he doesn’t really feel what he feels. A child who’s hurt or angry at being rejected needs you to respect his reality and his temperament. If you deny or dismiss his experience, he’ll think you’re lying or don’t care or both. It’s better to say, “I get that it really hurts.”

Then think about his temperament. Is he the kind of person who feels better when he plunges into a new activity or when he has a quiet space to be alone? Does he tend to ruminate and thus need diversion to interrupt the cycle, or does he lock his feelings away and need help bringing them to the surface?

Too often, unfortunately, we end up rewarding a child for not being himself. A child who needs to touch or move, for instance, gets praised for not touching or not moving, rather than being given a safe way to meet his temperamental need for touch or movement. Then we’re surprised when that child becomes depressed or anxious or hostile.

Begin at the level where success is possible and build from there. Lowering the necessary dose gradually can be an empowering way to help a child manage her need for movement, praise, control and so on.

RITA: How do parents know when they may need more help, when a child should be evaluated for ADHD, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, et cetera?

DR. PROBST: Certainly there are children whose difficulties go beyond an unusual temperament or poor temperament-environment fit. It would be just as wrong to dismiss a serious condition as it would be to over-diagnose a minor one. When we call every moody adolescent “bipolar” or every fidgety preschooler “ADHD,” we trivialize the very real suffering of those who truly do merit the label.

Deciding if a child may have an enduring problem beyond a quirky temperament is a complex process. It’s important to remember, however, that there’s no objective test for any of these diagnoses like there are for medical conditions like asthma or diabetes; the determination is always a subjective one. The criteria rely heavily on words like “frequently” and “often” and on checklists completed by adults rather than on a child’s self-report.

But if difficulties persist despite strategies to reduce stress and maximize adaptation, are present under a wide range of circumstances and cause significant impairment, then it may be wise to seek an outside evaluation.

It’s also important to remember that a child may still need help, even if she doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria for an official mental health diagnosis. The way our insurance reimbursement system is set up requires some diagnosis in order to justify the need for treatment under the principle of “medical necessity.” So the mental health clinician may select the label that seems the closest match, the least stigmatizing or the most likely to get the child the services he needs.

Yet in working with the child, what’s often more significant than the formal label are the specific impairing traits, which may or may not correspond to items on the official symptom list. For instance, “doesn’t feel time” and “is a perfectionist” aren’t on the list for any of the educational or mental health categories, even though they’re common problems.

RITA: Thank you so much, Dr. Probst, for your time and insights! Can you share any final thoughts on this topic?

DR. PROBST: It’s vitally important for us to keep questioning the idea that “difficult” or “different” means disordered! We need to reject the idea that every child who’s hard to handle or doesn’t fit in has a psychiatric disorder.

Many children go through tough times or seem extreme, eccentric, provocative or immature at various points in their development. But that doesn’t mean they have a disease that needs to be cured, medicated or taken as the most important aspect of who they are.

We need to ask the right questions. Instead of trying to figure out if a child has ADHD, Asperger syndrome or bipolar disorder, we need to take the labels apart, zoom in to understand each feature and find specific places where change is possible.

We need to identify the source of a problem—usually in unmet needs, discord and imbalance, not from something inherently wrong or missing in the child’s makeup—before trying to solve it by generic approaches. We need to tailor every strategy to fit a child’s specific traits and needs, and to take responsibility for how we, too, need to adapt. We can’t ask our kids to do all the work.

TAF2013lovinguniquelyYou can read more in the “Loving Uniquely” issue of Attached Family magazine, in which we delve into temperament and how it intersects with parenting and the development of attachment style, and we challenge the notion that every hard-to-handle child needs a diagnosis. The magazine is free to API members–and membership in API is free! Click the link above to access your free issue or join API.

Separation Anxiety?

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com.

Photo credit: Helene Souza
Photo credit: Helene Souza

When my children were young, it was common for me to take them when I traveled for speaking engagements. At their stages of development, they still wanted and needed to stay close to me.

I recall a psychologist friend of mine doubting my decision to take my then two-year-old with me. “If he cries it will help him to recover from past experiences of separation,” she said. She felt that the best way to get over separation anxiety is to encourage separations.

However, my child had no past experiences of separation to overcome, and I wanted to keep him free of such experience as long as he needed my uninterrupted closeness.

By nature there is no such a thing as “separation anxiety.” Instead, there is a healthy need of a child to be with her mother. Only a deprivation of a need creates anxiety. If we honor the need for uninterrupted physical closeness as long the child needs it, no anxiety develops. The concept “separation anxiety” is the invention of a society that denies a baby’s and child’s need for uninterrupted connection. In this vein, we can deprive a child of food and describe her reaction as “hunger anxiety,” or we can let her be cold and call her cries “temperature anxiety.”

My son, Lennon Aldort, says it well: “Our modern society and the nuclear family are large-scale experiments in extreme deprivation of the needs of both children and parents.” Parents are doing their best to move away from denying children their needs. Yet sometimes even the most securely attached parents, under pressure from extended family and friends, expect a child to live up to external expectations.

Some parents feel pressure to compare their children to others: “How come the other child is willing to be without his mother?” I always reassure parents by pointing out that the other child is a different person, and it is possible that the other child has, unfortunately, given up on what is best for himself. If your child is insisting on what is best for her, it is a reason to rejoice and to know that your parenting approach is empowering her self-confidence.

Stages of development

The confusion starts when we see a child as seemingly regressing. She was happy to stay without you at age two, and is suddenly back to needing you all the time at age three. But should we call this a “separation anxiety?” Or is it our own “intolerance for changing back and forth anxiety?”

Children try new things for a while only to recapture their old “baby” ways with gusto a year later. These changes are part of their steps forward. There is no rule that says that once a child achieves something, she must stick to it. In fact, observation tells us that most children go through such changes. They sometimes return to a former familiar stage to establish more confidence and gain a new momentum. Normal development in the early years may be two steps forward and one step back, a balance between exploring autonomy and feeling the need for security. They must feel secure and know that the door behind them never shuts, or they will not dare to try new territory.

Another reason children try things and then retreat is precisely because they become more aware. The world appears quite simple and safe to a toddler: Mommy, Daddy, couch, kitchen, doggy, yard, street, et cetera. As the child’s awareness grows, everything becomes larger and scarier. There is so much more unknown and so much that can happen. The child must be sure that springing out of the familiar doesn’t burn the bridge behind her. Being sure of that, she can try more new experiences with confidence.

Loving solutions

Sonya asked for my advice about her five-year-old child’s “separation anxiety.” “Haya wants to be with me at all times,” she said. “She even joins me in the bathroom.” Such a need can be natural even in a child who was never pushed too soon to be away from mom. But in Haya’s case, there was an early attempt to leave her at a nice, small preschool for half days. She seemed to enjoy the school but was having a hard time departing from her mother in the morning. “She was fearful and clingy, and over time she started to be more whiny at home and less happy,” her mother said.

I suggested stopping taking Haya to preschool. The result was immediate and dramatic:

“I got my child back,” Sonya said. “She is happy again and self-engaged, but she is still unable to be away from me.” Haya will regain her trust and confidence. She needs time in which there is no reminder of her experience of separation. She must know that it is up to her to be without mom. When we respond to the child, rather than try to manipulate her development, she can stay content. Keep a benign attitude of trust and peace with no hints of future expectations. On the other side, stay away from drama about her need for you. With no agenda, the child will act from within.

What if parents work away from home?

In many families, one or both parents work outside the home. Regardless of what options you may have, if you leave the baby or young child before she is ready, she is likely to develop anxiety about losing you. There are ways to alleviate the hurt and reduce the anxiety. If possible, the baby or child could stay in a familiar and loved space, such as at home or in another familiar home, with one or two intimately familiar people who love her, like Daddy, a grandparent or another consistent and loving caregiver.

Breastfeeding is nature’s magical way of telling you to stay close to your baby and toddler. When you go to work without your baby, do express milk for her but also minimize the time you are away. If after you return home your baby cries a lot, or your child is cranky and clingy, give her your full attention, validate her feelings and let the tears flow so she can heal.

Always validate and give outlet to self-expression. “You want mommy to stay with you. I know. I miss you too. I love you so much. Tell me about your day.” Make peace with your child’s anxiety about your absence, so you are not anxious yourself. Your child needs a secure parent who can listen to her.

Denial teaches denial

Some parents believe that by denying the child’s need repeatedly and consistently, the child will develop the “muscle” and learn to be comfortable away from mom. Unfortunately, the child does learn to be away from mom, but in doing so, she must detach emotionally and ignore her own inner voice. The process is not one of developing inner strength, but of resignation and of losing trust.

What we see externally is not always what the child experiences inside. As one three-year-old said to her mother: “At daycare I look smiling outside, but I am crying inside.” The innate drive of the child to please us and seek our approval causes her to comply rather than choose authentically. She learns to deny her own inner voice and follow external expectations instead because she yearns to fit in with our world. In order to do this, she must shut down her feelings and her sense of connection. Training your child to give up on herself and follow others leads to insecure teenagers and adults who, thoughtlessly, follow peer pressure, media and other external influences.

Each family must make the child care choices that they feel are best, and we must learn to love the life we have so the child will develop emotional resilience. But do allow for crying, validate the feeling and know that she may develop a separation anxiety that you will want to keep healing.

Rejoice in your child’s connection

When children rage and refuse to separate, I always celebrate. “Your child is not a tameable one,” I say. “You must have done a wonderful job of protecting her authentic being.” The more the child is rooted in herself, the less you can sway her away from who she is. We call it confidence.

When your child tells you confidently in words or actions, “I want to stay with you all the time,” and you respond to her need, she learns, “I can trust myself. My mom trusts me and takes my cues seriously.” The child who relies on herself and does not deny herself in an attempt to please you is developing self-reliance and confidence. She stays connected not only to you but to herself, creating bridges of love and inner independence.

 

Spotlight On: The Girl Behind the Door

tgbtd-ebookcov_03-600The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks chronicles a father’s experience from the adoption of his only child to her suicide in her teen years, including the exploration of the role of an attachment disorder. 

Editor’s Note: This book contains references to parenting practices that are counter to API’s Eight Principles of Parenting but they are not provided as advice, rather as facts as the author reflects back on his personal story. The author also includes ways he could have incorporated the Eight Principles more in his parenting role, as he reflects back on his adopted daughter’s life.

API: Tell us about your book.

John: In 1991, my wife Erika and I adopted our daughter, Casey (née Joanna), from a Polish orphanage at age 14 months. She was weak and sickly from a year of institutionalization. We believe she spent much or most of her time in her crib while her dedicated and valiant caregivers essentially performed triage on the older disabled children at risk for self-harm. But within days in our care, Casey’s developmental rebound was nothing less than astonishing. Over the years, she blossomed into a beautiful, smart, popular young lady living, by most measures, a privileged life in the San Francisco Bay area. But she wasn’t perfect. She suffered violent meltdowns and tantrums, crying jags and hypersensitivity, and seemed completely impervious to discipline, all in a manner out of proportion to age or circumstance. What were we doing wrong? Therapist after therapist, who knew full well about her past, told us “just be tougher with her.”

In the fall of 2007, she accomplished her dream–she was accepted at prestigious Bennington College for the fall of 2008. She never made it. In January of that year, she took our car, drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Her body was never recovered.

The Girl Behind The Door is my search for answers to Casey’s suicide. Why did she do it? What did everyone–especially the professionals–miss? What could we have done differently? What could we share with other adoptive families? Through research and interviews with adoption and attachment experts, I learned about the attachment issues and disorders that burden so many adopted children and result in the behaviors we saw in Casey. It explained everything about her. I share with the reader everything I learned about parenting and therapy techniques that have proven effective in helping orphaned children cope with the lasting effects of birth trauma, abandonment and emotional deprivation.

There are numerous books on adoption and attachment from a clinical perspective. Other personal adoption stories seemingly end with wheels up from Moscow or Beijing, implying that the heavy lifting is over when it has only just begun. The Girl Behind The Door integrates a tragic personal adoption story with information from the experts to teach other families what we learned too late.

API: What inspired you to write the book?

John: I think that many parents who’ve lost a child feel compelled to do something to give their life meaning. Parents join grief and advocacy groups, and lobby for new laws to protect others from tragedy, among other things. I’ve joined the fight to install a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge–the deadliest structure on Earth for suicide. But my journey led me beyond the bridge to determine what led Casey there in the first place. So I wrote a book.

API: How will this book benefit other families?

John: Much more is known today about the effects of abandonment and adoption than was known in 1991, before researchers had an opportunity to study the long-term effects of deprivation on Romanian orphans. Today attachment resources and therapists are still difficult to find, even in big cities. Many therapists are still unschooled in specialized attachment therapies and treat adopted children as they would any other children. While I don’t claim to have uncovered every attachment resource (see my Resources section), I’ve found many that readers can use as a starting point for their own journey in trying to get help for themselves and their children. I’m not a professional, and I don’t diagnose or dispense advice. But by raising awareness to the challenges that adoptive families face even today, I hope to make a difference.

API: Is there any special message you have for parents of children with attachment disorders?

John: It is important to note that not all adopted children and adults suffer the effects of their early life trauma, but many do. Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Prospective adoptive parents need to be thoroughly schooled by a qualified professional before they get on that plane or head for the delivery room. In all likelihood, that schooling will not come from the adoption agency or facilitator. Even better, these parents should meet adopted adults and hear about their life experiences.

2. Have your child tested and diagnosed by a qualified professional [if you suspect problems]. All too often, attachment disorder or reactive attachment disorder are convenient catch-alls when other disorders may be at work and difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate, such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, Asberger’s syndrome and autism. If your child isn’t properly diagnosed, he or she can’t be properly treated.

3. It is absolutely vital to find the right kind of help. A qualified adoption therapist knows what questions to ask and how to ask them.

4. Be prepared for the kind of parenting and family experiences that may not be comfortable for you but are necessary for your child’s well-being.

API: What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing? How does your book work within our mission statement?

John: I think that API and the support and practices it promotes for families are exactly what is needed for the adoption community. Not only are its resources invaluable, but providing a sense of community is very important for parents (like us) who often feel beaten, desperate and utterly alone. That sense of belonging to others with a shared experience is a powerful coping tool.

API: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

John: I think the book makes clear that, despite our difficulties, Casey meant everything to us. She was our entire world. And despite her tragic loss and the shards of our broken family left behind, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad. I could never imagine a more magnificent daughter.

API: Where can people find more information about your book or your work?

John: Readers can visit my website www.parentingandattachment.com.

A limited number of books are also available for purchase in the API Store.

 

Traumatic Birth, Healing Birth: Melissa’s Story

By Melissa Brennan

imageMy name is Melissa, and I am a mama to four kiddos. I’ve been an Attachment Parenting mama since before I knew it was a phrase. For me, having the “perfect birth” with my first baby was The Most Important Thing Ever. I really can’t stress enough how tied up I was in having a perfect birth: dim lights, soft music, soft voices, at home, with just a doula and my then-husband. I would catch the baby in my arms, and we would cry and laugh, and I would heal so quickly, and life would be perfect.

Editor’s Note: As one of the Eight Principles of Parenting, Attachment Parenting International encourages parents to prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting, which includes informing themselves about healthy birth and birth options. API birth stories are published for the purpose of giving parents a voice in telling their birth stories, and these stories include decisions and understandings that represent various levels of understanding about optimal birth choices. The author’s description of her experiences should not be considered medical advice or representative of API Principles. Representative of the API Principles in this birth story are the pursuit of education, knowledge, and empowerment as a parent to guide the choices that suit the well-being of one’s own family.

Then reality struck. At 20 weeks pregnant, my baby was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction, and I was told I had a placenta previa. This meant immediate bed rest with the strong possibility of a Cesarean section later. I was crushed.

At 35 weeks, though, my spirits were renewed when the doctor found that my placenta had moved, so a vaginal birth was now a possibility. However, since my little one still wasn’t growing very well, I would remain on bed rest and would not be allowed to have a homebirth. My now ex-husband was in the Marines, and “allowed” is the exact word for how pregnancies were handled by our military hospital at that time.

No one asked about my birth preferences, but I had a printed birth plan. It is my understanding that my husband was asked about circumcision, but neither of us was asked about formula, sugar water or pacifiers. My husband was aware of my feelings about circumcision, that I preferred the baby be left intact. I explicitly stated in my birth plan that I wanted to breastfeed within an hour of giving birth and that the baby was not to receive bottles or pacifiers.

Labor came on quickly one night when I was nearly 40 weeks along. I had no pain or even real discomfort, and then suddenly, BAM, full-blown labor. I managed to call my husband, who came home from his second job, saw how very in labor I was, freaked out and called the ambulance. By the time I got to the hospital 20 minutes later, I was 7 cm dilated and fully effaced.

The hospital handled my birth in the same controlling way they handled my pregnancy:

“No! Of course you’re not allowed to get out of bed!”

“What? Why would you want to eat or drink right now? You’re in labor, get back in bed!”

“Yes, you HAVE to have an IV.”

“This is your first baby; you have no idea what you’re doing.”

That last line is what I heard when I said that I thought labor was going a lot faster than I thought it would, and I didn’t think it would be too much longer before baby got here.

Hearing those words was the final straw. I was 19. I was in horrific pain. I was tethered in bed with the IV, monitor and cables so I couldn’t get up or move. I was being talked down to. I started to cry. Then I started to yell. That’s when a nurse walked in and said, “The doctor says you can have this for the pain.” With that, she stabbed me with a needle and emptied a syringe of what I later discovered to be Demerol into my arm.

I remember I was on the phone with my mom, trying to tell her what was happening, but as I was speaking to her, the room became dark, and I suddenly couldn’t hear anything. I was blind, deaf, mute and in horrible, horrible pain. Pain was all I could feel. I passed out.

Then three things happened simultaneously: I awoke; my water broke, gushing green, smelly, meconium-filled fluid everywhere; and I screamed involuntarily.

Nurses came running, the doctor came in and everyone started yelling at me, “Stop pushing! Stop pushing!”

I gritted my teeth and yelled back, “I’m not pushing!” The baby was coming. I couldn’t stop it. I wasn’t pushing.

At that point, I reached out for my husband, who was standing off to the side in shock. I put my hand on his arm. A nurse slapped my hand away from him. She said, “He’s your husband, don’t do that to him.” My husband just stared, his jaw agape.

Then, with one tiny push (the only one I was “allowed”), out came my beautiful baby boy. And I passed out.

When I awoke four hours later, my baby had been through the hospital’s baby assembly line: immunization, circumcision, bottle of formula. (Despite my feelings, my husband made the  decision to have the baby circumcised.)

I did eventually establish breastfeeding, but due to the lack of support and lactation services in the small town where we moved just after the birth, breastfeeding was very difficult. We dealt with a month of thrush, hyperactive letdown and oversupply issues. Eventually, Riley went on a nursing strike, and I ended up switching to formula.

I suffered severe postpartum depression lasting over eight months following Riley’s birth. I was in the last days of my marriage, only 19 years old and very much alone. I received no support and no help. I didn’t even know where to go for help.

I am still dealing with the emotional trauma of Riley’s birth. The hospital left me feeling powerless and small. Telling my story helps me feel like I’m doing something about it. I’ve had three more children since Riley, and each birth has been immeasurably better than Riley’s, which has definitely helped a lot.

My second birth was with Mason, a late baby born at just over 42 weeks. It required two procedures and three days to get labor started. I had a pretty aggressive doctor, and I was too overwhelmed to speak up and ask for the C-section I felt I needed. Mason nearly died at birth from complications of shoulder dystocia. He was in the NICU for a few hours, but luckily he recovered quickly and was back with me by the next morning.

I don’t compare Mason’s birth to others, because of the complications. The doctor had no way of knowing that there would be an issue of dystocia. That whole situation came down to what was necessary, and not what anyone “wanted.” I don’t feel bad about his birth or particularly good about it–I’m just thankful he survived.  As far as circumcision goes, Mason’s dad and I discussed it at length, and I agreed to let him make the decision. He chose to circumcise. I am at peace with that decision because I know that someone who loves my son very much made that choice with love. While I don’t think it was the best choice, it was his dad’s choice, not the hospital’s.

My fourth birth was a scheduled early induction to avoid complications, because the doctor and I both suspected that Harry was going to be a big baby. Given the situation with Mason’s birth, we felt good about proceeding with an early induction. Labor lasted just over two hours. I asked for an epidural, but it failed, so I felt every second of those two hours. Overall, I feel good about this birth, too. And I’m happy to say that Harry is an intact [uncircumcised] baby. He just turned two and is still nursing, thanks to all of the wonderful support I received from La Leche League and the local lactation consultants.

However, I think the birth I felt best about was with my daughter, my third child. On my due date, my water broke on its own at around 10 a.m., before contractions started. I took a shower, got dressed, called the sitter, cleaned the house, and just generally took my time getting everything ready for the baby. At about 3 p.m. my husband and I headed to the hospital. I was started on some Pitocin, and things moved fairly quickly after that. I labored while moving around, walking, eating freely, drinking water and juice whenever I felt like it, with my husband holding my hand and rubbing my back. We watched movies and played cards. Labor was intense but manageable, and the nurses were happy to leave me to it. I had telemetry monitoring, so I could go wherever and do whatever I wanted.

By about 9 p.m. the pain was bad enough that I couldn’t walk or talk or move, so the nurse offered to check me. I was at a very disappointing 3 cm, so I asked for an epidural. The epidural must have made my body relax because my daughter was born less than an hour later after only two pushes.

The doctor laid her on my tummy, and they left the cord alone until it stopped pulsing. The nurses asked if they could please take her to clean her up. They had her back to me, weighed, measured, wiped down and swaddled within 10 minutes. The staff cleared the room fairly quickly, and the lactation consultant stopped by to offer support. I was given a breastfeeding kit (not formula), as well as information on renting a pump and getting an SNS (supplemental nursing system) “just in case.” After that, I was left alone with my daughter and my husband for the rest of the night.

No one questioned my authority in making the decisions regarding my care or the care of my daughter. The two interventions I had were both necessary, and I have no regrets about them. I had good friends who offered advice and assistance in the months leading up to Lana’s birth, and I had a husband who wasn’t afraid to stand up for me.

Having what I considered to be a nearly perfect birth experience gave me hope. For the first time, I stopped blaming myself for the way things went with Riley’s birth. I had always felt like somehow I was the problem in that. But I realized it was just those particular nurses and doctors.

I guess if I had to sum it up in one sentence, I’d have to say that the biggest difference was that with Riley’s birth I was treated poorly and I was the least important person in the room, but with Lana’s birth I was part of the team and the person with the most input.

Featuring API Leaders: An Interview with Thiago Queiroz

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).

API-Logo-20th-themeIn celebration of Attachment Parenting International’s 20th Anniversary, the “Featuring API Leaders” series honors the unique paths that inspired parents to pursue API Leadership:

Father involvement is key to healthy child development, so it is exciting to announce one of our newest API Leaders: Thiago Queiroz of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is also an excellent writer and has shared his story on API’s APtly Said blog. I am thrilled to bring you more through this interview.

RITA: Thank you, Thiago, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you discovered Attachment Parenting (AP).

THIAGO: My inspiration to start practicing AP with my son was bedsharing. At first, it was the logical thing to do, considering the amount of caring we had to give to him at night. But then I started reading more on this subject and ended up finding about AP and falling in love with it. Now, what inspires me is how it feels so right to have such a strong and deep connection with my son.

RITA: We are all introduced to Attachment Parenting in our own unique way and certain parenting practices will facilitate that close relationship with our children more than others. Cosleeping is one of my favorites, too. Have you encountered any challenges in practicing AP?

thiago_queiroz_1THIAGO: Oh, I found all sorts of problems! To start with, my mother didn’t understand very well what my wife and I were doing. I had to be very firm and confident when explaining to my family why we see AP as a better option for our reality [than the authoritarian parenting style he grew up with].

Besides that, I received some bullying at work for the choices I made in parenting. For my colleagues, I was the “weirdo, organic, hippie” who had a son born at home and who talked about weird things like exclusive breastfeeding, positive discipline, babywearing and things like that.

RITA: Did you seek out Attachment Parenting International out of the need for parent support yourself?

THIAGO: I found API by Googling on AP. I was so excited about AP that I wanted to read more and more, so I Googled it and found API and API’s Eight Principles of Parenting. My first contact with API’s staff was to offer help in translating the Eight Principles of Parenting into my language, Brazilian Portuguese. I thought it was so important to have this information available for people in Brazil that I did the translation.

RITA: And from there, you decided to become an API Leader?

THIAGO: If AP is not exactly something widely known and practiced in the United States, you can imagine how it would be in Brazil, where we can find so little material available in our language and so little local support for parents. I’ve always thought I had to be one of the people who would help make AP known in Brazil, so over an year ago, I created an AP Facebook group in Brazil. I started writing a blog about my experiences as a securely attached father, and then I decided it was time to prepare myself to become an API Leader. It was seeing how people needed and wanted support related to a more sensible and respectful way to raise their kids that inspired me along the way.

RITA: How did you find the API Leader Applicant process?

THIAGO: Oh, boy, the API Leader Applicant process was such a beautiful journey to self-acknowledgement! I absolutely loved being an applicant, as I was learning more not just about AP but about being a better human being. I learned so many things that I’m using in my life now that I could never thank API enough for this opportunity.

RITA: Now that you’re an API Leader, what are your plans of how to support parents locally?

THIAGO: I’m sure I’m going to love the meetings. Being able to share experiences and learn from other realities is a blessing. And on top of that, being able to see the babies that attend the meetings grow up is going to be priceless.

RITA: Are there any challenges of being an API Leader that you anticipate?

THIAGO: I believe the challenges of being an API Leader involve the relationships with other people. The ability to connect to other people, to be empathetic to their feelings, and to be able to hear without judging is the key challenge for anyone who wants to truly help other parents.

RITA: What of API’s resources do you think you’ll find most helpful as an API Leader in supporting other parents?

THIAGO: I have no doubt it will be the repository for the meetings. Meeting ideas and handouts are the sort of resources from API that will help me a lot on my job.

RITA: Thank you, Thiago, for your insights. I have one final question. You have already shared about projects that you started before becoming an API Leader. Has API Leadership inspired additional projects in your life to raise AP awareness?

THIAGO: The way I live and breathe AP inspires me to become a book writer and a positive discipline educator, but only time will tell!

Saved by AP and Now 8 Kids Later: An Interview with Margie Wilson-Mars

By Rita Brhel, API’s  publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).

photo (1)My husband and I have three children, and we consider our family to be quite busy especially as our children grow older, develop their own interests and add their own activities to the family calendar. I am thankful for Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting as I feel the foundation for secure attachment that we laid in the early childhood years has helped keep us connected in spite of our full schedules. Still, it is mind boggling sometimes to think of what it would be like to add another child to the mix.

And then I met Margie Wilson-Mars of Salem, Oregon, USA. A parenting writer, Margie and her husband of almost 20 years, Robert, have eight children ages 27, 25, 23, 21, 14, 12, 9 and 8—seven sons and one daughter, three of the boys who are on the autism spectrum. Margie and Robert also have three grandchildren ages 7, 6 and 3.

Now there’s a full household! I could hardly wait to share her Attachment Parenting (AP) story.

RITA: Thank you, Margie, for your time. To begin, how did you decide to first try out the AP approach?

MARGIE: By the time I found out there was an actual thing called AP, I had already been practicing it.

I was only 19 when I had my first son. My mother-in-law had been an oddity in the very early ’60s and breastfed her boys. My mother, who was 15 years older than my mother-in-law, was in my ear constantly with, “You just have to nurse for three weeks and then it does no good.” It was simply a reflection of her generation.

Even in 1987, I was the odd one out breastfeeding and refusing to let my son cry it out. I watched Dr. Jay Gordon on “The Home Show” on ABC—so radical then! My mom told me I was punishing myself.

RITA: Your mom didn’t agree with AP?

MARGIE: For the record, she was legitimately worried about me. It’s just what she knew. She was an amazing mom.

By the time my mother passed away, she was finally comfortable with my parenting style. Acceptance means the world to new moms, to all moms.

RITA: So who did you lean on for AP support?

MARGIE: When my daughter was born 19 months later, I found La Leche League meetings. I am a very solitary person, so in hindsight, I wish I’d participated more, but it did give me validation for what I felt.

I just got “worse” from there! I met Peggy O’Mara, went Dr. Sears happy—yeah, I was hooked.

RITA: And your husband is supportive of AP?

MARGIE: After getting remarried, my new husband instantly accepted and participated in AP. In fact, I don’t even recall discussing it. When our first son was born, he slept with us. Well, I should say he slept with his dad because he was only comfortable on Daddy’s hairy chest! Most of them did the same, but our last, preemie Adam, was partial to sleeping on his brother Mark or his “Sissy Mama,” our only daughter, Stephanie.

[Editor's note: Visit the API website to learn more about infant sleep safety and download API’s Infant Sleep Safety Guidelines brochure.]

RITA: At one point, you mentioned to me that AP saved your life. Can you expand on this?

MARGIE: When my first baby, Steven, was born, we moved in with my parents because I was scared to death. When he was 2 weeks old, my older sister came upstairs into my bedroom and asked me what I was doing. Apparently I calmly answered, “I’m going to try and finish feeding this baby, and then I’m throwing him out the window and following.”

I honestly don’t remember how it happened, but I ended up at my mother-in-law’s house where she tucked me into bed for some much needed sleep and took Steven. She would wake me up to feed him, keeping an eye on us, and then send me back to bed.

Her gentle manner just blew my mind, the total opposite from my family. Even the way she bathed him was so soft and stress free. No more watching the clock between feedings or freaking out because he didn’t poop that day.

My depression ran deep, and it took getting pregnant with my daughter Stephanie before it totally lifted. Being constantly reassured that listening to my instincts was not only OK, but good, made all the difference. I have no doubt that if I’d continued on the path I was on, I wouldn’t have made it.

RITA: The quality of parent support can really make all of the difference. I’m glad you found support when you did.

MARGIE: There have certainly been huge bumps in the road since, but my mother-in-law set the tone for my parenting. No matter how rocky things got at times, our attachment was never affected. For example, when my daughter and I clashed through her teenage years, she told me she never felt like she couldn’t crawl into bed with me and know that everything would be OK. Her grandmother is truly the one to thank for that.

RITA: I’m thankful for her, too. The world needs more parents like you—and her! So how has AP worked out for your family as it has grown?

MARGIE: I think the best thing was the ease of taking care of the babies when they were little. When the oldest four were teenagers and the babies were little, we had a gigantic cushy spot—spots are very important in our home—in the living room where I could just be with all of the boys, yet stay accessible to the older ones. It also forced my autistic boys to be social with their brothers.

People are still astonished when they see how cuddly our autistic sons are.

RITA: What is it like seeing your oldest children becoming parents themselves?

MARGIE: Even though we still have little ones at home, seeing our daughter with her children—just wow! She’s the best mother, so instinctive and giving. Our oldest son is a newly single dad and so intensely bonded to his son.

The evolution of parenting, seeing them working so hard to correct the mistakes we made and become even better, closer parents to their children: It’s a beautiful thing to see.

We’re really doing the same thing with our younger boys—improving and evolving. It can be a struggle to stop feeling sorry for yourself and just move forward.

The bigger the family, the more you need Attachment Parenting.

RITA: You mentioned that AP seems to be helping in parenting your children with autism.

MARGIE: This is huge for us.

My third child, Mark, has Asperger’s syndrome. He is from the first wave of autistic children born in 1990 when it started to skyrocket. When he would nurse, he would pull his entire body away, trying so hard not to be touched any more than he had to. The more I’d pull him in, the harder he would fight. Autism wasn’t even on the radar. Mark self-weaned at 8 months old, and I was crushed. He was happy as could be as long as he was on his own.

When our sixth child, Nathan, was 3 months old, our oldest son kept saying, “Something’s wrong with him.” Teens are so subtle. We thought maybe he was just sensitive because he had suffered a birth trauma when my cervix was lipped over his head for over an hour while pushing during labor. An hour after birth, his face turned nearly black from the bruising.

Months later, while I was sick, my husband took Nathan for a checkup. We say that the baby we had died that day. Rob brought home this terrified, seemingly hollow baby we didn’t know. If there was something wrong before, it was a million times worse that day.

Having had Mark, I knew that holding Nathan, feeding him and snuggling him through his fears was the only way to go. People are amazed when they see how connected he is. If I didn’t have him, my husband did. If he didn’t have him, his big sister did. He is a little cuddle monster, and while he has full-blown autism, he shows no signs of “don’t touch me, don’t look at me.”

By the time Justin, baby number 7, came along, we knew fairly early and said, “Ah, we have another Aspie!” Sure enough, he has Asperger’s like his older brother, Mark.

The parents of autistic kids I know have them in day-long therapy, speech class, tactile class, et cetera, et cetera. There’s even one mom I met who put her 12-year-old into a group home when he hit her 4-year-old. She brings him home on Saturdays. I cried when I heard. It still breaks my heart to think about it.

The biggest difference is in how bonded we are to each other. It’s not unusual to see 140-pound, 12-year-old Nathan on his dad’s lap or mine, or finding them all in a big “puppy pile” playing video games. Our youngest, Adam, says, “My friends never sit on their mom’s laps. Isn’t that weird?”

RITA: My oldest, who was an early preemie, had major developmental delays that mimicked autism. She would’ve been diagnosed with autism if she had been born full term. The very day I received that news, I whole-heartedly dived into AP. Before that point, I was kind of wishy-washy. It took a long time to build that trust and connection with her, but today, I credit AP—along with various therapies by AP-friendly professionals—for helping her overcome her challenges. It’s validating, Margie, to hear your story. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

MARGIE: Recently, I’ve read a lot of parents online who have left AP. Most claim that AP parents are too militant and flip out if people stray from [API's] Eight Principles. The parents that make these claims can scare off new moms who are maybe only breastfeeding and want to find out more, or can’t get a good night’s sleep but feel wrong letting their baby cry. I hope that parents think about these things before they make that [judgmental] comment to a new mom.

For Grandparents: When Your Adult Kids’ Parenting Drives You Crazy

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com.

Photo credit: Anissa Thompson
Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

Q: My daughter-in-law is into a way of raising our grandchildren that includes cosleeping, organic food, wooden toys and so on. She and our son are very protective of their ways and forbid me from bringing certain gifts and doing “grandma” kinds of things with them, like going for ice cream, taking them to a movie or buying toys. How can I have more relationship with my grandchildren in spite of these limitations?

A: As grandparents, we are in love with the little ones and yearn to be part of their lives. Your question is, therefore, very useful for every grandparent. And yes, there is a way to nurture the connection with your grandchildren when the parents are choosing loving ways that differ from yours.

I recall counseling a family when the young father said to his parents, “You did your parenting experiment, raising me and my sister. We are doing ours with our daughters.”

“Experiment?” The grandpa was horrified and offended. “We didn’t experiment. We knew how to be parents,” he said confidently.

“Did we?” asked an honest grandma, with a twinkle in her eye. “I often didn’t know what I was doing. I think our son has a point. Their way could be better, and anyway, it is their turn to be parents in their own way.”

Your children may be happy adults, so it is easy to feel sure that what you did was the best. But can you really know? Can you know how they would have matured if brought up in a different way? We cannot know, and it is indeed always an “experiment” to raise a child. There is more than one loving way to nurture a young one.

Creating connection

Some young parents follow the footsteps of their parents and welcome a grandparent’s ways, while others blaze a new trail. Your son is obviously on a different parenting path. Let’s imagine two different grandmas in this same dilemma, handling it in two different ways. One grandma wants do things her way, while the other respects her children’s parenting wishes. Who of the two is going to build more connection with the grandchildren and with the whole family?

Visits and gifts

In scenario one, Grandma arrives for a visit with gifts. She enters the house, and right away there is tension. As she gives the gifts to the grandchildren, the parents share glances of distress. They go to the other room to discuss how to get rid of what they see as harmful toys. They have worked so hard to keep the children away from such toys or influences, and they will tend to view Grandma as an enemy rather than an ally. Such parents call me for advice and say with anguish, “She is ruining everything.” If they try to talk to Grandma about it or get rid of the toys, there will be arguments instead of connection and joy.

The other grandma, who decided to honor her children’s ways, arrives either with gifts that have been agreed upon in advance or without gifts. After a while she may say, “I would love to see what you may want me to get for you from the wonderful catalog your mom told me about.” Everyone sits together excitedly, and the connection is strong. Grandma includes the parents in making the buying choices. Or Grandma’s treat may be going to the zoo or some other experience that the parents feel good about. Giving experiences together is a lifelong gift of love and connection.

Taking them out for ice cream

What about the ice cream? Some parents may be comfortable allowing treats like ice cream, for special occasions or more often, while others prefer not to. In our example, the first grandma either takes the kids for ice cream against the parents’ will or knowledge, or she doesn’t but she resents it. Either way there is secrecy and a sense of disconnection and anger. If the kids get a treat without the parents’ knowledge, the parents will probably find out eventually, and it will erode trust, connection and honesty between parent and child.

The second grandma is delighted to learn what natural sweets are available at the health food store or what the parents are making at home that is wholesome and sweet. She is learning something new and feeling excited and belonging. She may buy a recipe book for sweet treats without sugar and contribute to the whole family. She may also ask the parents for suggestions on where to take the children for special treats.

Going to the movies

The first grandma may have an argument with the parents and end up not going to the movie but feeling angry and disconnected. The children may feel that their parents are preventing them from having fun, and after Grandma leaves, they become aggressive and resentful toward their own parents. The parents resent Grandma and may reduce the visits with her. Or, if this grandma does get her way, the resentment will be even greater. The children may want more movies, toys related to the movie, and other items and experiences their parents were trying to protect them from. Grandma will end up with less connection, as she will be resented and not trusted to spend time with the children on her own.

Meanwhile, the grandma who chooses to respect the parents’ choices is spending her afternoon in the park instead of the movies. She is naturally connecting with the grandchildren but also staying connected with her grandchildren’s parents. This is not her turn to choose how to parent. She enjoys the freedom to follow rather than lead. She joins the ride and enjoys herself. When she observes something her old ways tell her to change, she questions her own convictions and opens herself to new ways of thinking. She doesn’t need to agree, only to respect. She has a wonderful time with the grandchildren and will be welcomed to visit or host the grandchildren often.

Choose the kind of grandparent you wish to be

What will bring more connection between you and your grandchildren, and between you and your children—defending some “rights” (which you don’t really have) or joining their ride?

When we defend our position, our “rights” and our opinion, we create separation, confusion, misunderstanding and struggle. When we defend, we are set on manipulating the people and conditions to fit our agenda, and it often hurts and brings stress into the relationships.

We are not talking here about parents who hurt their children but about loving parents whose ways differ from yours. When your son was four and wanted to play in the sand, you honored his wish, and he played his way. Now that he is a father, support him by offering to be with the children in a way that respects his well-thought-out efforts.

We often don’t realize that by exposing a child to something his parents oppose, we set him up against his mother and father, creating much strife even after our departure. The words “Mom, I want … Grandma said it is OK. … ” are dreaded by parents everywhere. If, instead of manipulating  people and conditions, we respond to their loving ways, we create the connection we want, and we build trust. Your son is more likely to listen to you when you show up as his ally.

Of course, you can express your concerns and opinions, just don’t expect your son and daughter-in-law to follow your advice. It is their turn. It is the time for you to follow and not lead. If you want to have an easier time, try to understand them, read the parenting books or articles they are reading, or listen to the CDs they are inspired by. Some grandparents contact professionals for advice in order to learn and support their children’s ways of parenting. Go for the ride as a passenger, not a driver, and you will have the greatest connection any grandparent can have.

 

API Reads June 2014: Attached at the Heart

downloadGet ready… we are beginning the long awaited discussion of Attached at the Heart (2nd Edition) by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker.

The  topics we’ll be discussing in June will be:

  • Introduction

  • Charting a New Course: Breaking the Ties That Bind

  • Principle 1: Prepare Yourself for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting – What Every Parent Needs to Know

  • Principle 2: Feed with Love and Respect – Beginning the Attachment Process

  • Principle 3: Responding with Sensitivity – Learning the Language of Love

Our discussions happen on GoodReads. We’ll be reading Attached at the Heart (2nd Edition) for the months of June, July and August.