All posts by The Attached Family

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.

Creative Education: An Interview with Dr. Carolina Blatt-Gross

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

Photo copyright Georgia Gwinnett College
Photo copyright Georgia Gwinnett College

It’s amazing how far our understanding of children has come in the last two decades since 1994, when Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker cofounded Attachment Parenting International (API). I was in middle school at that time, dutifully sitting in a desk all day and using rote memory to absorb classroom material as was expected. Two years later, my sister did the same.

But in another four years, my brother entered the same classroom. A brilliant but easily bored child, he was not content to sit in a desk all day, and he learned best by moving—a lot! Unfortunately the public school he was attending was not at all equipped to accommodate his learning style, and my brother struggled through to graduation. Life has done little to hold him back, though, and today he is a highly successful young man.

API doesn’t take a stance on educational choices, but whether we as parents decide to homeschool, unschool or enroll our children in a public, private or charter program, API supports making informed choices throughout the parenting journey, and that includes our child’s learning environment. One of my favorite people to discuss this topic with is Carolina Blatt-Gross, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Art at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA, who lectures on art education. She is the mother of two very active children and a proponent of progressive learning environments.

RITA: Thank you, Carolina, for fitting me into your busy schedule. To begin, can you share about your passion for encouraging progressive learning environments for children?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: I have been making art as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I earned my PhD in art education that I realized how important art is to our educational environments and how quickly the arts are disappearing from traditional education.

We have become so focused on the linear, positivist thinking measured by standardized tests that we have forgotten about encouraging our brains to think in diverse, critical and creative ways. Art is essentially an elaborate problem-solving exercise situated in the enormously satisfying experience of making something with your hands and/or body—which means if you learn kinetically, the arts offer a wealth of opportunities to physically grapple with ideas and communicate nuanced concepts.

Once I had children, my dedication to art education was no longer academic. It became imperative that my sons have consistent opportunities to make things and to solve complex visual problems.

RITA: Your CNN article, “Why Do We Make Students Sit Still in Class?” very much piqued my interest as many of Attachment Parenting families have children with “spirited” temperaments, including children who do not fit well in the traditional mold of sitting at a desk all day. What learning environments are better for enhancing learning for any child, whether spirited or not?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: What learning environment is best depends on the temperament of each child. Some children might flourish in a still, silent classroom. Those children might find movement and sound distracting.

Other children, like mine, require a more active environment that will allow them to filter learning through their bodies. For these children, focusing their energy on restraining their bodies is a waste of student and teacher resources. This does not mean that they should be permitted to run around the classroom screaming and flailing chaotically, but rather that their bodies should become part of the learning in a structured way.

RITA: You mention your sons in the CNN article. How old are they now and what learning environment do you have them in?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: My sons are now 18 months old and 3 years old. My youngest son stays with a caretaker in our neighborhood who is invested in including music and art-making in his day.

My older son attends Hess Academy, which is a progressive school in Decatur, Georgia [USA], dedicated to authentic and child-focused learning. The teachers are exceptional at identifying and supporting students’ physical, intellectual, emotional and developmental needs. The students get to regularly experience art, music, language, yoga, dramatic storytelling, outdoor classrooms and all kinds of wonderful kinetic learning.

Although traditional formal education often dismisses these hands-on activities as secondary to the educational “meat and potatoes”—math and literacy—the teachers at my son’s school recognize that physical learning is part of the main course. Their bodies actually become part of their learning environment rather than a detriment to it.

RITA: How is this trend of pro-movement learning environments progressing among formal public/private schools? Are these progressive learning environments more the exception to the rule or are more schools beginning to go this route?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Education seems to be heading in a more progressive direction, and it is easier to find teachers who are interested in alternatives to neatly aligned rows of silent students. Montessori schools have been taking this approach since 1907, but the quality can vary dramatically from school to school.

Fortunately, as we understand more about the brain and its mysteries, we are starting to translate some of the research into practice. We now know that different parts of the brain are active during different activities, so the more parts of the brain we can activate during learning, the richer the experience will be for students—and the more profound their understanding of a concept. For example, learning to speak a letter, write a letter, read a letter, make that letter with your body, sing about that letter, paint a picture of that letter and so on all require different, but related, skills. These concepts build upon one another to create a more profound understanding.

RITA: I live in a rural, conservative-minded area and yet hear of some teachers in the area experimenting with having children sit on bouncy balls rather than chairs. Are there some ideas that are catching on more than others?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Bouncy balls and rocking chairs as well as some sensory tools are becoming more common in classrooms and often with very positive results.

While there are likely benefits to allowing more movement in the classroom for some students, I would be wary of a one-size-fits-all approach, where all students sit on balls, simply because some are wiggly. This also seems like a palliative approach to a deeper problem. The bouncy balls might appease some students’ physical natures, but it doesn’t make that movement a meaningful part of the learning. It seems to be an easy fix but not a true embrace of the potential learning that could happen through students’ bodies.

RITA: Many public schools, in an effort to balance budgets with limited state funding as well as meet testing standards, are reducing time in schools in art, music and physical education classes as well as recess. What are your thoughts?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: There is plenty of research on the cognitive benefits of the arts. Studio Thinking (Hetland and Winner, et al.) and Arts and the Creation of Mind (Elliott Eisner) are two well-written sources. Unfortunately, in our test-centric culture, we often expect the arts to play a supporting role to subjects that are featured on standardized tests, and many studies attempt to understand how the arts can improve test scores.

However, the arts are worthwhile, satisfying and require complex thinking independent of their ability—or inability—to make us better at standardized tests. But that is more difficult to quantify.

Unfortunately, we tend to have a very narrow definition of intelligence that is generally limited to math and literacy skills, when in reality there are a multitude of different forms of thinking, communicating and problem solving. Forgetting about intellectual diversity is a myopic mistake, in my opinion. It not only alienates a large number of students but also creates a population with a limited, inflexible skill set and reduced intellectual resources.

Neglecting our bodies is never a good thing, either, both from a learning and fitness perspective.

RITA: What can parents do to advocate for more progressive learning environments in their local schools?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Parents can be vocal advocates for progressive education. Simply letting the administration know when a teacher is trying something that is successful with your child can provide powerful evidence that something is working. The bigger challenge is conveying that information to the governing bodies in education, since they typically establish the standards and testing requirements that teachers find so limiting.

RITA: Thank you, Carolina, for your insights. A final question: For parents who homeschool, what are some tips to setting up a home-based learning environment?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Parents who homeschool face the challenge of not having a whole team of educators with diverse skills, experiences and strengths to interact with their child. Take advantage of programs offered by local museum and cultural venues to get them exposed to topics and teaching styles that you may be unfamiliar with, particularly if your child does not share your learning style—which tends to be the natural basis for our teaching style. Also be sensitive and adaptable to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. If your student can’t focus on math because he wants to be outside all day, maybe it’s time to take the math lesson outside and start counting leaves.

Generation AP: An Interview with Patricia Mackie

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

In celebration of Attachment Parenting International’s 20th Anniversary, we are pleased to present two series of interviews with API Leaders. This article, the first in the “Generation AP” series, recognizes today’s second-generation Attachment Parenting parents.

Joe Mackie of Naperville“When I experienced major emotions, I would just shut down. My mom would sit with me for hours and wait for me to talk.”   ~Patricia Mackie

Attachment Parenting is no one-size-fits-all child-rearing formula: It’s about having a warm, joyful relationship with our children built on the foundation of sensitive responsiveness, empathy and trust. The need for a secure attachment is instinctually programmed into each of us so that we’re continually striving toward it, whether we recognize it or not. Every parent is on their own parenting journey, and all parents are doing the best they can with the knowledge and support available.

Still, it’s reassuring to know that we’re not the first generation to practice Attachment Parenting (AP).

At the time of this interview, Patricia Mackie of Naperville, Illinois, USA, was just a few weeks away from her third baby’s birth. Patricia is a passionate API volunteer and devotes time to several API projects, including Naperville API in Illinois as an API Leader, API Professionals Program, API Editorial Review Board, API Warmline and Journal of Attachment Parenting. In addition, Patricia is a marriage and family therapist, author of the “Three’s a Crowd” course for expectant and new parents, and founder of the Connecting 1 Day at a Time program for couples with children.

RITA: Thank you, Patricia, for squeezing me into your busy schedule, especially with baby coming soon. Let’s start by reviewing how your parents practiced AP.

PATRICIA: My parents grew into it. They practiced more Attachment Parenting with me than they did with my older sister.For the most part, they followed all of the principles.

We were very involved as a family in cooking and growing our own food.

I have great pictures of my dad with me on his back. Both of my parents wore me as a baby, more so when we were out and about than when we were at home.

They were also sensitive to us during sleep. Mom said I would not sleep in her arms. She would rock and nurse me for hours waiting for me to sleep. Then, she put me in the bassinet and I was out. My sister and I had our own beds, but my parents’ bed was always open for my sister and me.

My mom tried to do as much positive discipline as she could, but she was really young when she had children and didn’t have much support. She went through trial and error as all parents do.

RITA: It sounds like you had a family-centered lifestyle growing up. Please share a couple of your favorite memories.

PATRICIA: I grew up in Alaska, and Mom’s favorite thing to do was to go to this little pull-off on the road, Beluga Point. Sometimes when we were having a hard day or a really good day, or just because, we would go for a drive, get Subway sandwiches, go to Beluga Point, and sit and eat and watch the ocean and the mountain sheep. Sometimes Mom would go with both me and my sister, sometimes it was just me and Mom, but it was a connection point for us.

When I was 4, my parents bought a cabin, and we would go up there every weekend. It was our family time—time with everybody together, to play together, to work together, another connection time.

RITA: It’s important for families to spend time together in a positive environment. How did your parents react when emotions were not so positive? How did they respond to strong emotions in you, such as anger?

PATRICIA: It was an area of growth for my parents, but my mom had a way of knowing what to do.

When I was 7, I ran my bike through a stop sign, and there as a police officer who saw me. I think I scared him as much as he scared me, but he apparently wanted to make an impression and turned on his lights and yelled at me to slow down and watch what I was doing. He scared the daylights out of me! I came home really upset. Mom knew something was going on but didn’t know what, and I wasn’t talking. So she sat down with me and encouraged me to talk about it.

When I experienced major emotions, I would just shut down. My mom would sit with me for hours and wait for me to talk.

RITA: Is this what influenced your career in counseling?

PATRICIA: Growing up, my parents thought I’d end of in one of two careers: either a lawyer, because I was really good at arguing, or a therapist. At school, there was this little hill where I liked to sit. And my friends would come and sit and talk with me when they needed someone to talk to.

It felt so good to talk and be listened to. I grew up learning that when you have a hard time, you talk about it. It’s so simple and yet the very last thing we think about.

When I was a teenager, I had a negative view on life and was difficult to be around. But every day, my mom and I would have afternoon tea. I didn’t have to drink the tea or eat cookies, but I couldn’t get up from the table until I talked about what was going on. If I had a rough day, she helped me to look at the positives and to stop dwelling on the negatives. That was her way of teaching me without making me feel worse.

My mom also encouraged me in a way that she didn’t realize My sister and I had a very hard relationship growing up. We don’t see the world through the same eyes. Mom would threaten us, but never follow through, for us to either stop fighting or she would take us to therapy. I always wanted to go to therapy, because then my sister and I could learn to talk to one another.

Another big influence was my grandmother. She died when I was 12, and this really affected me. We had a very special relationship. It was from her that I grew up with high values for marriage and that you don’t give up on marriage.

RITA: Did you ever feel that the way your parents were raising you was different than how your peers were raised?

PATRICIA: I knew when I was very young that I was very lucky to have the parents I have, though I didn’t know why. I would go to sleepovers at friends’ houses and would be shocked to hear their parents fighting in the next room or when one of the parents would ignore the other parent.

RITA: Hmm, that’s interesting. So did you find it natural to practice AP with your own children?

PATRICIA: I was practicing Attachment Parenting before I knew what it was. To me, there was no other choice.

I remember one visit to the doctor when he asked me if I was going to breastfeed. I said, “Yeah.” And he put down his notebook, turned to me and said that in all his years of practice, not one time did a mother said “yes” that they would breastfeed without a second thought. They all said they would try.

However, positive discipline has been a challenge. My mom did some spanking when I was young, and she made threats. My mom didn’t get into the groove with positive discipline until I was a teen.

All the things that make my daughter a wonderful person also make it hard during discipline, just like I was for my mom. That’s the hardest part of raising her: She’s me.

My son is very different: very laid back, go-with-the-flow. I thought my daughter was an easy baby, and then my son was born and I realized, oh, she was a high-needs baby.

RITA: Many parents are plagued by the desire to be perfect in their parenting. How do you feel about parents who struggle with AP?

PATRICIA: It’s natural to struggle. I don’t think that everything in parenting comes naturally. I think of my sister. She doesn’t have that natural instinct to pick up her babies and snuggle with them. Some people don’t. We all struggle at some points.

RITA: When did you find API and learn that what you’re doing is AP?

PATRICIA: When I needed support because my daughter wouldn’t sleep, I would go online and search the mommy boards looking for answers. I was reading all the horrible stuff that people do to their kids and was thinking, I need to find people who think like I do.

RITA: Now that you have a name for your parenting approach, how do your parents feel about Attachment Parenting?

PATRICIA: Because my sister lives closer to my parents than I do, and she does not practice Attachment Parenting, they are more familiar now with her parenting style than mine. But they are very supportive of me, and we are able to talk about our differences in parenting views.

RITA: And what about your husband—did he come from an AP family, too?

PATRICIA: No, at all. He was an only child, and he had no experience with children or babies whatsoever. But he has always been very much okay with what I do.

It’s hard with his parents. Over the years, though, they’ve grown very curious about Attachment Parenting. They’ve accepted that’s the way we do things, because clearly it’s working.

RITA: Thank you, Patricia, for your insights. One final question: What is a way that others can see the effects of Attachment Parenting?

PATRICIA: All of my daughter’s preschool teachers say they can’t believe how empathic she is. She’s not trying to please anyone. She’s just aware of everyone’s emotions and readily goes to comfort an upset child.

The Chemistry of Attachment

By Linda Folden Palmer, DC, member of API’s Editorial Review Board and author of The Baby Bond (www.babyreference.com).

1402625_19862838Human babies are born helpless, needing to be entirely cared for and protected. Luckily, they are born with all the necessary tools and “instructions” to attain such care for themselves, and to become a loved and loving part of their family and society. The ingrained neural and hormonal interactions provided for parent and child to assist them in this process are among the most powerful in nature. The hormonal cues are clear and compelling, and our instincts can provide us with all the appropriate responses. Without taking great efforts to avoid and ignore such urges, parents will naturally follow the advice of their neurons and hormones, nurturing their babies and maintaining physical closeness with them.

Once born, baby’s hormonal control systems and brain synapses begin to permanently organize according to the human interactions she experiences. Unneeded brain receptors and neural pathways are disposed of, while those appropriate to the given environment are enhanced.

Oxytocin and Bonding

Oxytocin is a chemical messenger released in the brain chiefly in response to social contact, but its release is especially pronounced with skin-to-skin contact. In addition to providing health benefits, this hormone-like substance promotes bonding patterns and creates desire for further contact with the individuals inciting its release.

When the process is uninterrupted, oxytocin is one of nature’s chief tools for creating a mother. Roused by the high levels of estrogen (“female hormone”) during pregnancy, the number of oxytocin receptors in the expecting mother’s brain multiplies dramatically near the end of her pregnancy. This makes the new mother highly responsive to the presence of oxytocin. These receptors increase in the part of her brain that promotes maternal behaviors.

Oxytocin’s first important surge is during labor. If a cesarean birth is necessary, allowing labor to occur first provides some of this bonding hormone surge (and helps ensure a final burst of antibodies for the baby through the placenta). Passage through the birth canal further heightens oxytocin levels in both mother and baby.

High oxytocin causes a mother to become familiar with the unique odor of her newborn infant, and once attracted to it, to prefer her own baby’s odor above all others. Baby is similarly imprinted on mother, deriving feelings of calmness and pain reduction along with mom. When the infant is born, he is already imprinted on the odor of his amniotic fluid. This odor imprint helps him find mother’s nipple, which has a similar but slightly different odor. In the days following birth, the infant can be comforted by the odor of this fluid.

Gradually over the next days, baby starts to prefer the odor of his mother’s breast, but continued imprinting upon his mother is not food-related. In fact, formula-fed infants are more attracted (in laboratory tests) to their mother’s breast odor than to that of their formula, even two weeks after birth.

By influencing maternal behavior and stimulating milk “let down” (allowing milk to flow) during nursing, oxytocin helps make the first attempts at breastfeeding feel natural. Attempts at nursing during the initial hour after birth cause oxytocin to surge to exceptional levels in both mother and baby. Mothers who postpone nursing lose part of the ultimate hormone high provided for immediately after birth. Powerful initial imprinting for mother and baby is intended to occur chiefly so that mother and baby will be able to find and recognize each other in the hours and days after birth.

Yet a lifetime opportunity for bonding and love is not lost if this initial window is missed. Beyond birth, mother continues to produce elevated levels of oxytocin as a consequence of nursing and holding her infant, and the levels are based on the amount of such contact. This hormonal condition provides a sense of calm and well-being. Oxytocin levels are higher in mothers who exclusively breastfeed than in those who use supplementary bottles. Under the early influence of oxytocin, nerve junctions in certain areas of mother’s brain actually undergo reorganization, thereby making her maternal behaviors “hard-wired.”

As long as contact with the infant remains, oxytocin causes mother to be more caring, to be more eager to please others, to become more sensitive to others’ feelings, and to recognize nonverbal cues more readily. Continued nursing also enhances this effect. With high oxytocin, mother’s priorities become altered and her brain no longer signals her to groom and adorn herself in order to obtain a mate, and thus a pregnancy. Now that the child has already been created, mom’s grooming habits are directed toward baby. High oxytocin in the female has also been shown to promote preference for whatever male is present during its surges (one good reason for dad to hang around during and after the birth). Prolonged high oxytocin in mother, father, or baby also promotes lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate as well as certain kinds of artery repair, actually reducing lifelong risk of heart disease.

Although baby makes her own oxytocin in response to nursing, mother also transfers it to the infant in her milk. This provision serves to promote continuous relaxation and closeness for both mother and baby. A more variable release of oxytocin is seen in bottle-fed infants but is definitely higher in an infant who is “bottle-nursed” in the parents’ arms rather than with a propped bottle.

Persistent, regular body contact and other nurturing acts by parents produce a constant, elevated level of oxytocin in the infant, which in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant’s stress hormone responses. Multiple psychology studies have demonstrated that, depending on the practices of the parents, the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain—promoting lasting “securely attached” or “insecure” characteristics in the adolescent and adult. Such insecure characteristics include anti-social behavior, aggression, difficulty forming lasting bonds with a mate, mental illness and poor handling of stress.

When an infant does not receive regular oxytocin-producing responsive care, the resultant stress responses cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic cortisol elevations in infants and the hormonal and functional adjustments that go along with it are shown in biochemical studies to be associated with permanent brain changes that lead to elevated responses to stress throughout life, such as higher blood pressure and heart rate. Mothers can also benefit from the stress-reducing effects of oxytocin: Women who breastfeed produce significantly less stress hormone than those who bottle-feed.

Nor are fathers left out of the oxytocin equation. It has been shown that a live-in father’s oxytocin levels rise toward the end of his mate’s pregnancy. When the father spends significant amounts of time in contact with his infant, oxytocin encourages him to become more involved in the ongoing care in a self-perpetuating cycle. Oxytocin in the father also increases his interest in physical (not necessarily sexual) contact with the mother. Nature now provides a way for father to become more interested in being a devoted and satisfied part of the family picture through his involvement with the baby.

With all of its powers, oxytocin is but one of a list of many chemicals that nature uses to ensure that baby finds the love and care he needs.

Vasopressin and Protection

Although present and active during bonding in the mother and infant, vasopressin plays a much bigger role in the father. This hormone promotes brain reorganization toward paternal behaviors when the male is cohabiting with the pregnant mother. The father becomes more dedicated to his mate and expresses behaviors of protection.

Released in response to nearness and touch, vasopressin promotes bonding between the father and the mother, helps the father recognize and bond to his baby, and makes him want to be part of the family, rather than alone. It has gained a reputation as the “monogamy hormone.” Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust, says, “Testosterone wants to prowl; vasopressin wants to stay home.” She also describes vasopressin as tempering the man’s sexual drive.

Vasopressin reinforces the father’s testosterone-promoted protective inclination regarding his mate and child, but tempers his aggression, making him more reasonable and less extreme. By promoting more rational and less capricious thinking, this hormone induces a sensible paternal role, providing stability as well as vigilance.

Prolactin and Behavior

Prolactin is released in all healthy people during sleep, helping to maintain reproductive organs and immune function. In the mother, prolactin is released in response to suckling, promoting milk production as well as maternal behaviors. Prolactin relaxes mother and, in the early months, creates a bit of fatigue during a nursing session so she has no strong desire to hop up and do other things.

Prolactin promotes caregiving behaviors and, over time, directs brain reorganization to favor these behaviors. Father’s prolactin levels begin to elevate during mother’s pregnancy, but most of the rise in the male occurs after many days of cohabitation with the infant.

As a result of hormonally orchestrated brain reorganization during parenthood, prolactin release patterns are altered. It has been shown that fathers release prolactin in response to intruder threats, whereas childless males do not. On the other hand, nursing mothers do not release prolactin in response to loud noise, whereas childless females do. In children and non-parents, prolactin surges are related to stress levels, so it is generally considered a stress hormone. In parents, it serves as a parenting hormone.

Elevated prolactin levels in both the nursing mother and the involved father cause some reduction in their testosterone levels, which in turn reduces their libidos (but not their sexual functioning). Their fertility can be reduced for a time as well. This reduction in sexual activity and fertility is entirely by design for the benefit of the infant, allowing for ample parental attention and energy. When the father is intimately involved with the infant along with the mother, there should be some accord between the desires of the two, and oxytocin and other chemicals provide for heightened bonding and non-sexual interest in each other, which serves to retain a second devoted caretaker for the infant.

Opioids and Rewards

Opioids (pleasure hormones) are natural morphine-like chemicals created in our bodies. They reduce pain awareness and create feelings of elation. Social contacts, particularly touch—especially between parent and child—induce opioid release, creating good feelings that will enhance bonding. Odor, taste, activity and even place preferences can develop as the result of opioid release during pleasant contacts, and eventually the sight of a loved one’s face stimulates surges. Opioid released in a child’s brain as a conditioned response to a parent’s warm hugs and kisses can be effective for helping reduce the pain from a tumble or a disappointment.

Parents “learn” to enjoy beneficial activities such as breastfeeding and holding, and infants “learn” to enjoy contact such as being held, carried and rocked, all as a response to opioid release. Babies need milk, and opioids are nature’s reward to them for obtaining it, especially during the initial attempts. The first few episodes of sucking organize nerve pathways in the newborn’s brain, conditioning her to continue this activity. This is the reason that breastfed babies sometimes have trouble if they are given bottles in the newborn nursery: Early exposure to bottles creates a confusing association of pleasure with both bottle nipples and the mother’s breast. In fact, any incidental sensations experienced during rocking, touching and eating that aren’t noxious can become part of a child’s attachment and will provide comfort. It could be the warmth of mother’s body, father’s furry chest, grandma’s gentle lullaby, a blanket or the wood-slatted side of a crib.

Prolonged elevation of prolactin in the attached parent stimulates the opioid system, heightening the rewards for intimate, loving family relationships, possibly above all else. Just as with codeine and morphine, tolerance to natural opioids can occur, which will reduce the reward level for various activities over time. But this is not a problem for attached infants and parents, because higher levels of oxytocin, especially when created through frequent or prolonged body contact, actually inhibit opioid tolerance, protecting the rewards for maintaining close family relationships. On the other hand, consuming artificial opioid drugs replaces the brain’s need for maintaining family contacts.

Once a strong opioid bonding has occurred, separation can become emotionally upsetting and, in the infant, possibly even physically uncomfortable when opioid levels decrease in the brain, much like the withdrawal symptoms from cocaine or heroin. When opioid levels become low, one might feel like going home to hold the baby or like crying for a parent’s warm embrace, depending on your point of view. Sometimes alternate behaviors are helpful. For instance, thumb-sucking can provide some relief from partial or total withdrawal from a human or rubber nipple and can even provide opioid-produced reminiscences for a time.

Norepinephrine and Learning

Breastfeeding also causes dopamine and its product, norepinephrine (adrenaline), to be produced, which help maintain some of the effects of the early bonding. They enhance energy and alertness along with some of the pleasure of attachment.

Norepinephrine helps organize the infant’s stress control system, as well as other important hormonal controls in accordance with the nature of the early rearing experiences. It promotes learning about the environment—especially learning by memorization that is carried out by oxytocin, opioids and other chemical influences.

Pheromones and Basic Instincts

How does the man’s body know to initiate hormonal changes when he is living with a pregnant female? How can an infant accurately interpret mother’s “odors” that adults often can barely detect? The answer is pheromones. Among other things, pheromones are steroid hormones that are made in our skin. Our bodies are instinctually programmed to react accordingly when we detect these pheromones around us.

Newborns are much more sensitive to pheromones than adults. Unable to respond to verbal or many other cues, they apparently depend on this primitive sense that controls much of the behavior of lower animals. Most likely, the initial imprinting of baby to odors and pheromones is not just a matter of preferring the parents’ odors but is a way nature controls brain organization and hormonal releases to best adapt baby to its environment. Baby’s earliest, most primitive experiences are then linked to higher abilities such as facial and emotional recognition. Through these, baby most likely learns how to perceive the level of stress in the caretakers around her, such as when mother is experiencing fear or joy. Part of an infant’s distress over separation may be caused by the lost parental cues about the safety of her environment. Of course, the other basic sensation an infant responds to well is touch, and coincidentally, body odors and pheromones can only be sensed when people are physically very near each other.

What the World Needs Now…

Infants universally cry when laid down alone. If we allow ourselves to listen, our neurons and hormones encourage us in the proper response. Babies are designed to be frequently fed in a fashion that requires skin-to-skin contact, holding and available facial cues. Beneficial, permanent brain changes result in both parent and infant from just such actions. Contented maternal behaviors grow when cues are followed. The enhancement of fatherhood is strongly provided for as well. A father’s participation encourages his further involvement and creates accord between father and mother. Frequent proximity and touch between baby and parents can create powerful family bonding, with many long-term benefits.

Sadly, over the last century, parents have been encouraged by industry-educated “experts” to ignore their every instinct to respond to baby’s powerful parenting lessons. Psychologists, neurologists and biochemists have now confirmed what many of us have instinctually suspected: that many of the rewards of parenthood have been missed along the way and that generations of children may have missed out on important lifelong advantages.

API Announces “Voices of Breastfeeding” Double Edition of Attached Family

New Magazine Issue Advocates for Increased Support of Compassionate Infant-Feeding Choices

Bf 2014 Challenges smIn honor of the millions of women who have come together throughout history to support one another in motherhood, Attachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce the latest edition of Attached Family magazine. This double “Voices of Breastfeeding” issue spotlights both the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy as well as the challenges still to overcome.

“This issue of the magazine has been a long time in the making,” said Rita Brhel, Editor of the Attached Family and API Publications Coordinator. “We wanted to create a resource that is helpful to all mothers, both those who were able to breastfeed their babies and those who were unable to.”

The “Voices of Breastfeeding” edition of Attached Family is divided into an “Advocating for Acceptance” issue that identifies the ever-growing movement of mothers inspired to campaign for society’s embrace of breastfeeding, and a “Meeting Challenges with Compassion” issue that recognizes that there are circumstances when breastfeeding is difficult, if not impossible, highlighting the importance of empathetic support for all infant-feeding choices.

“Ideally, I would have liked to have breastfed all three of my children,” Brhel said. “But Attachment Parenting International supports parents in all walks of life, including mothers who are unable to breastfeed, and I was able to learn how to meet my child’s attachment needs through sensitive responsiveness beyond breastfeeding.”

This edition of Attached Family was also made in appreciation of longtime magazines like Mothering, New Beginnings and Breastfeeding Today, which paved the way to widespread support for breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting conversations among mothers, and now fathers, and by extension, contributing to the breastfeeding movement that eventually influenced the research and medical communities.

“API is pleased to give a voice to our breastfeeding struggles, those related to society’s acceptance as well as those shared by mother and baby,” said Samantha Gray, Executive Director of Attachment Parenting International. “Emphasizing healthy attachment and relationship, it is natural that we speak up collectively to further advocacy efforts and gather together regularly to give personal support. Our contributors, led by Rita’s editorial vision and passion for breastfeeding support, have captured that perspective in this double issue.”

Scattered throughout the “Voices of Breastfeeding” edition of Attached Family are parent stories, project highlights and additional resources from around and beyond API, as well as the following features:

·         “The Real Breastfeeding Story” detailing exactly how far industrial society has come in accepting breastfeeding, yet also how far we have yet to go, which includes a look at “Extended Nursing Around the World”

·         “When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work” explains the hard decisions some mothers made regarding their infant-feeding choices

·         An interview with Katrina Pavlik, founder of “Breastfeed, Chicago!” and an accompanying photo essay of breastfeeding families in Chicago, Illinois, USA

·         “Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding” featuring Attachment Parenting researcher Jeanne Stolzer from the University of Nebraska, USA

·         A recap of the past century’s infant-feeding landscape in “The History of Formula Use”

·         API’s debut of the Parent Support Deserts project with a presentation of infant-feeding support deserts within the United States

·         “Why Relationship with Your Baby Matters” by API’s Knowledge Base Coordinator Art Yuen

“This edition of Attached Family continues API’s goal of providing research-backed information in an environment of respect, empathy and compassion in order to support parents in making decisions for their families and to create support networks in their communities,” Brhel said.

API thanks cosponsors of this special edition of Attached Family: Arm’s Reach Concepts, Katie M. Berggren, Green Child Magazine, Momzelle and The Infant-Parent Institute for their generous contributions.

Access this double issue free of charge with API’s free membership.

 

How Parents Can Support Their Budding Performers: An Interview with Actress Elisa Llamido

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

elisaheadshotFrom the beginning, 20 years ago, Attachment Parenting International has been a community of parents coming together to support one another in raising their children with trust, empathy, affection, compassion and joy. We may come from very different backgrounds and cultures, but we are all alike in our approach to relationships with our children and our willingness to advocate for this in our communities around the world.

I’m excited to introduce television and theatre actress Elisa Llamido (www.elisallamido.com), who lives in Los Angeles, California, USA, with her husband, 18-year-old stepson and a 4-year-old son.

RITA: Thank you, Elisa, for your time. To begin with, please tell us about your career in acting and theatre.

ELISA: I’ve had some fun roles in The Unit, Invasion and Numbers. I’m also a martial artist and acrobat, so I did stunts for the kids’ shows Power Rangers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. For theatre, I did a number of shows at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre [California, USA], including the world premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s first straight play, The Doctor is Out. I’ve also been seen in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theater in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, with Los Angeles Opera in The Imaginary Invalid, with Will and Company, and with Shakespeare Festival/LA.

RITA: Many parents value involving their children in the arts, including theatre, and we’d all like our children to do well in their activities. As an actress, how can parents support budding performers?

ELISA: Children who learn how to perform on stage learn how to present themselves to the world. They learn control of their bodies, projection of their voices and how to be themselves even when someone is looking at them. No matter where a child goes in life, these are valuable skills that they can take with them.

The caveat, of course, is that these skills can only be learned in a loving environment. Parents can very easily make performing, which is an intensely personal act, into a terrible experience where children can feel as though they have done their best and been rejected. It’s important to remember that your “goal” as the parent of a performer should not be to make them the best no matter what the cost. It is highly unlikely that this is what they want or need. Your goal should be to nurture and accept your child and do what you can to help them reach their own goals. What you say makes a difference.

RITA: It sounds like theatre is a great option for Attachment Parenting-minded families seeking activities for their children. How did you first become interested in Attachment Parenting?

ELISA: My mother was a very sensitive mother who thought that children were just little people and deserved the same respect that adults did. When I became a mother, I brought that ideal with me.

When I was pregnant, my mother researched parenting books and bought me a copy of Dr. William Sears’ The Baby Book, which made a huge impact on me. I had never thought of cosleeping before—I thought it was dangerous to do before I was educated—and although the idea of babywearing seemed convenient, I learned that it is very good for the baby, too.

I spent so much time when I was pregnant doing research about natural childbirth, Attachment Parenting, child brain development and pregnancy!

RITA: That is wonderful that you had a great role model in your mother and that you had the foresight to prepare for parenthood during your pregnancy, as API advocates through the first of our Eight Principles of Parenting. How has Attachment Parenting benefited your family?

ELISA: My husband and I have an extremely close relationship with our son. He’s an extremely bright, fearless boy who is endlessly creative and so much fun for us. I also got a wonderful bonus that I never expected: Through the unconditional love that I give to my son, I have finally been able to accept myself in all of my gloriously flawed humanity. I never realized how hard I was on myself before I was a parent. Now, in showing my son how to love himself, I’ve become as kind to myself as I am to other people!

My son was definitely what Dr. Sears calls a “high-need baby,” who just needed more than other babies do. He didn’t want to be on his own at all for the first few years, but because I gave him such a secure base and never forced him to be “independent,” when he was ready, he went forth on his own. Now as he approaches his fifth birthday, he is a very articulate, confident child who loves to perform on stage, go to school and do other things on his own with joy. Because we have such a strong, securely attached relationship, when he comes home, he loves to tell me all about his day and any things that happened that concern him.

Before I became a parent, I had always heard that until you have a child, you will never experience the depth of love that parenting brings. That is definitely true. But Attachment Parenting has brought so much more to us than just love: It’s brought a sense of confidence and self-worth to my son—and to me.

 

API Reads May 2014: Giving the Love That Heals

Giving the Love Book ImageWe’re finishing up talking about Giving the Love That Heals by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. The  topics we’ll be discussing in May will be:

  • The Stage of Concern

  • The Stage of Intimacy

  • The Possibilities for a Conscious Future

  • Wrapping up the book

Our discussions happen on GoodReads. The next book up for discussion in June, July and August will be Attached at the Heart, 2nd Edition by Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson.

We hope  you can join the discussion!

Screen-Free Week: An Interview with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

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

for-white-TEE-e1390923415217Television, computers and other technology can offer a lot in terms of education and entertainment. Living in a temperate region with bitter winters and sweltering summers, there are seasons when my outdoors-loving family prefers time inside, and I have found creative ways to turn screen time into interactive family time as needed.

However, I also have to admit that it can be tempting, especially in the seemingly endless winter months, to overdo the screen time. Screen-Free Week—being observed this year from May 5-11—serves as an annual reminder to balance screen time with time away from technology.

Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes a balance of screen time within the family as one of the many ways to prioritize the parent-child relationship. Each year, API’s online magazine, blog, social media sites and other online resources go quiet in support of Screen-Free Week. We’re excited to be able to bring you this interview with Sara Adelmann, MA, with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, home of Screen-Free Week, to further inspire your family to take part in this international event.

RITA: Thank you, Sara, for your time. I understand that this is a very busy time of the year for you as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) gets ready for Screen-Free Week. API embraces Screen-Free Week as an opportunity to educate and support parents in reducing screen time in their homes. Let’s start by learning more about CCFC and Screen-Free Week.

SARA: CCFC is the proud home to Screen-Free Week. We set the dates each year, provide resources and help spread the word. But it’s the thousands of individuals all over the world who organize local events. Anyone can organize Screen-Free Week in a classroom or entire school, with a scout troop, faith community, neighborhood association, at a local library or in any community group. Organizers and volunteers promote the week, reach out to partners, and help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.

Screen-Free Week celebrations vary from family to family, school to school and town to town. Every year, we hear from organizers and participants around the globe about all of the fun screen-free activities they’ve discovered. Visit www.screenfree.org to find out how you can get involved—for the children in your life, for yourself and for a more positive, healthier future.

RITA: Screen-Free Week is an innovative project and so needed in our tech-heavy culture. What originally inspired CCFC to organize Screen-Free Week?

SARA: Reducing children’s screen time and advocating for screen-free, commercial-free time and space has always been essential to CCFC’s mission. That’s why when the Center for Screen-Time Awareness closed its doors [in 2010] and asked us to become the new official home of what used to be called “TV-Turnoff” [since 1994], we leaped at the chance.

Children are spending way too much time with screens—a staggering 32 hours per week for preschoolers and even more for older kids. And now, with mobile devices, children are immersed in screens, and the things they sell, nearly every waking moment. Regardless of content, excessive screen time changes children’s fundamental connection to the world. It deprives them of hands-on creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to wrestle with life to make it meaningful. And the costs are extraordinary: poor school performance, childhood obesity and problems with attention are just a few.

Turning off screens for seven days helps participants realize that life without screens is not impossible and is actually fun. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and develop more productive and healthy habits. Giving children the chance to play actively, develop relationships and learn to evaluate options will help them become more well-rounded people, better educated citizens and more alert consumers.

RITA: API loves how Screen-Free Week promotes families spending time together beyond technology, but we recognize that in many families, at least some screen time is the norm. How much screen time is too much?

SARA: Research links excessive screen time with many of the health and social problems facing children today, including learning, attention and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. In addition, the more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults and in hands-on, creative play—two activities proven to be important for learning. It also exposes kids to lots of harmful advertising and can be habit forming.

It’s vital that parents monitor the amount of time their children spend with screen media. With so many different devices available these days, parents might not realize how much time their children are spending with screens—minutes can easily turn into hours. Setting rules early on about when, where, what and how much is important.