All posts by The Attached Family

The Importance of Sharing Birth Stories

By Tamara Parnay. Originally published in the 2009 “New Baby” issue of Attached Family magazine.

 

Photo: Benjamin Earwicker
Photo: Benjamin Earwicker

Birthing is a hugely important subject for parents and parents-to-be. We have a great deal to learn from and share with others, but with this subject, due to its potential contentiousness, we may struggle in our attempts to tap into our collective wealth of knowledge and experience. While the purpose of this article is not to sway readers one way or another about where and how to give birth, it does intend to point out the availability of a wide range of firsthand birth stories, which—perhaps more effectively than any other form of childbirth education—encourages and enables expectant parents to inform and prepare themselves.

Cultivating an empathetic environment for the sharing of our birth stories is a first step towards returning to women the wisdom and control of giving birth. These stories are powerful and empowering. Childbirth is one of life’s most marvelous, miraculous experiences. Giving birth is not only about having babies; it’s also about motherhood. In the same light, sharing birth stories is not only about providing or collecting information; it’s also about community.

As for anything so personal, we need to start by providing a non-threatening environment conducive to open, heart-to-heart participation.

The topic of birthing is highly charged. The contention seems to arise mainly between those who have had natural births or homebirths and those who, for whatever reason, haven’t. One side may come across as patronizing, smug and self-serving. The other side may seem insecure, defensive, envious and even ill-informed.

The Best Birthing Option

Expectant parents who have researched and considered all the birthing options available to them, while taking into account their own values and beliefs, are making an informed, proactive decision. They may plan on any combination of options, such as an assisted or unassisted homebirth, a birth center birth, a natural hospital birth, a hospital birth with minimal pain relief, a hospital birth with maximum pain relief, and even a planned Cesarean section. Of course, there may be unforeseen events that could change Plan A to Plan B, and these changes may be completely out of anyone’s control. So, for instance, those planning on a natural homebirth would need to consider the possibility, remote as it may be, of ending up in a hospital having an emergency Cesarean section.

Maternity care providers in all steps of the process, from pre-pregnancy through postnatal care, need to move more in the direction of assisting people in having personalized birth plans and helping them to safely realize these plans. In other words, maternity care providers must consider the family to be an integral part of the decision-making process.

With informed planning, financial considerations need to be taken into account: Some families may not be able to afford private care. Risk factors must also be considered: It may not be advisable to plan a homebirth for a high-risk pregnancy. Some women might desire pain relief, even considering it to be a crucial part of their birth plan. They may not want to experience the pain of birthing. Pain sensitivity may vary greatly from one person to the next, which would mean that some women may not be able to cope with pain as well as others. If pain relief wasn’t available to some women during labor, their birth experience could be overshadowed, even complicated, by their overwhelming inability to cope with the pain. We can never know what another’s experience is truly like. Parents-to-be need to be realistic about their circumstances and thus deserve to be free to make informed and unfettered decisions about their birth plan. Once they have become informed, the best combination of options for any family is that which they feel best suits them at the time.

Natural vs. Medicated Birth, Hospital vs. Home

Some mothers who have experienced a natural birth may find it difficult to understand why others have not, cannot, or do not desire to do so. Some natural birthers have described to me how they were successful at getting themselves into the right zone, pointing out that they had made the right choices; they emphasized that they hadn’t given up when the going got tough; and they described how they felt in complete control during their birth experience.

For some who chose or needed medical intervention, doubts and “what ifs” may creep into their thoughts when they hear natural birthers’ stories, even if they have processed their birth experience and have come to terms with any disappointment they may have felt, assuming they were disappointed at all. I have heard comments such as, “I must not have been able to get myself into the right frame of mind,” “I think I made some bad choices,” and “Maybe I didn’t try hard enough.” Their insecurities and defensiveness may actually end up reinforcing and perpetuating the attitude that all women can control every aspect of their birthing experience and its outcome if they really want to.

For some who choose a homebirth, they may feel misunderstood, even humiliated, by hospital birth advocates who consider home birthers to be reckless with their baby’s and/or their own well-being. Comments such as, “It’s risky business to birth at home” or “Something could go wrong, and then your baby’s and even your own life could be in jeopardy,” may undermine the confidence of those who are considering a homebirth.

Competition at the Root of Contention?

What might cause these misunderstandings and ill feelings to develop? Perhaps the answer lies in our culturally driven need to compete.

Western society emphasizes individual competition. Competition is not only prevalent in mainstream settings, it also exists in alternative communities and social circles. Society instills in us the need to compare the many things in our lives in order to determine what’s better or what’s best. Then we generalize that “What’s best for me must be best for you, too.” In setting up a better than/worse than dichotomy, competition stifles our ability to empathize with each other.

According to the article “Competitive and Cooperative Approaches to Conflict” by Brad Spangler on BeyondIntractability.org: “Obstructiveness and lack of helpfulness lead to mutual negative attitudes and suspicion of one another’s intentions. One’s perceptions of the other tend to focus on the person’s negative qualities and ignore the positives.”

Unspoken irrational comparisons might take place, such as: “I had the shortest and least complicated natural birth,” “Oh! My natural birth took longer than hers” and “Oh no! How can I share my birth story? I didn’t even have a natural birth!” For many reasons, everyone loses in competitive situations like this. One unfortunate consequence is that non-natural birthers may feel uneasy about sharing their birth stories. We may all lose out on their valuable input, because we don’t end up having the chance to view the bigger picture.

A competitive atmosphere that develops surrounding the sharing of birth experiences is a clear sign that on an individual level, everyone needs to reflect more on their own birthing experience. If individuals find themselves proving others wrong in order to make themselves feel right, then they need to have a look at possible reasons why. They need to give themselves—and then each other—credit where credit is due, as well as acknowledge their good fortune.

According to Spangler, cooperative conversation is characterized by “‘effective communication,’ where ideas are verbalized and group members pay attention to one another and accept their ideas and are influenced by them. These groups have less problems communicating with and understanding others. … Friendliness, helpfulness and less obstructiveness is expressed in conversations.”

Sharing with Empathy

A practical idea for encouraging a less competitive environment is to discover what we do have in common. So, it would make sense to emphasize the ways we have promoted bonding with our newborns from the time they entered into our lives. It is helpful to “fast forward” to the present time and talk about what we are doing now—and tomorrow—to remain securely attached to our children.

When we can get beyond our feelings of competitiveness, we are able to foster a healthy dialogue because we are more receptive to what others have to say. In a cooperative setting, “members tend to be generally more satisfied with the group … as well as being impressed by the contributions of other group members,” writes Spangler. Through empathic listening, we are less likely to make assumptions about others’ views, motives and feelings and more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. We are able to:

  1. Reflect on others’ birthing experiences
  2. “Try on” their situation—their “truth”—by imagining ourselves in their place
  3. Give validation and empathy, but not in the form of an unsolicited therapy session
  4. Increase our own knowledge of and sensitivity to birthing issues
  5. Help each other move on to our current parenting situations by sharing ideas for remaining as securely attached as possible to our children today, tomorrow and in the years to come.

In a fully accepting and flexible atmosphere, people are safe to make themselves vulnerable by sharing their feelings, needs, disappointments, triumphs and dreams. Natural birthers are able to view non-natural birthers’ experiences and concerns with sincere, unbiased interest and empathy, and they will softly share their own birthing experience. Mothers who did not experience the birth they had hoped for will feel understood because their own birthing stories are validated, and they will be able to share in the joy of other parents who had the birth experience they had hoped for. Feelings of satisfaction we derive from feeling superior are fleeting; the good feelings we receive by helping other people feel good are long lasting.

Even the most informed people can run into unplanned, and sometimes serious, complications during the birth process. By no means is it justifiable for anyone to be made to feel negatively about whatever birthing options they choose or for whatever birthing experience they have had. We all deserve to have our birthing choices and experiences validated. Through our positive and non-judgmental contributions to this contentious topic, we create a collective harmony that enables everyone to leave the discussion feeling good. We bring these good feelings home to our families. Thus, the empathy we have given to each other touches the greatest gift we all receive in our birthing experience: our own children.

To read our growing collection of birth stories–or to find out how to share yours–visit Your Birth Stories on The Attached Family.com.

The Beauty of Breastfeeding: An Interview with Photographer Christine Santos

17c07995cc7d8d8c33150a54403b30f1_largeIn May 2013, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise funds for an innovative art exhibit featuring the work of photographer Christine Santos: “Nursing is Natural … Naturally Beautiful.” This exhibit was intended to revolutionize and challenge the way Americans view breastfeeding by portraying over 50 nursing mothers, inviting people to think differently about the way our society views breasts. API’s Rita Brhel asked Santos, a doula and birth photographer at Psalm 139 Studios (www.psalm139studios.com), to share more about the exhibit, which took place September 20-October 15, 2013, at the {Tay’-Cho} art gallery in Bartow, Florida.

Rita: Tell us about how the project began. What was the inspiration?

Christine: In February 2012, our La Leche League group sat discussing the impacts of a campaign that had been run in Texas to promote the normalization of breastfeeding and to bring awareness of the stigma associated with this act. The conversation turned to the cultural environment of the area in which we lived. We decided we needed to normalize breastfeeding for our sons and daughters. We needed to do a similar campaign in our county.

Rita: How did you become involved? What inspired you?

Christine: I offered to capture the images and be the liaison between the La Leche League group and the WIC program/Department of Health. After much conversation, it was revealed that WIC/DOH did not desire to utilize images of local women to promote breastfeeding in the area. The project stalled until an alternate option presented itself. I took part in an exhibit called “Trust Birth,” which gave me the idea that organizing an art exhibit might be a viable option for spreading awareness of breastfeeding.

After realizing an art exhibit could be the way to reach thousands of people to promote breastfeeding and challenge viewpoints, I reached out to local motherhood groups for volunteers. I knew if we were going to promote breastfeeding accurately, we would need women of all backgrounds, ethnicities and ages of children. The feedback from this model call was overwhelming.

43306b72fa87a958f96a2d8a94dac7a9_largeOver 30 ladies signed up to be photographed for the exhibit, and many more were turned away. The images and the idea of the exhibit gained momentum, and word spread through social media. It quickly became obvious this was something the breastfeeding community had been longing for. The support was phenomenal.

The event details caught the attention of a local television station, and I was interviewed. That interview spawned others, and the media attention went global. CBS, NBC, Latina magazine, Initiativ Liewensufank and Huffington Post were just a few of the media outlets that carried the story. Funding poured in, and something that began as a dream in a local La Leche League meeting became a reality.

Many local businesses helped with the sponsorship of the exhibit, but three contributed both in time and money: Punger Family Medicine, Effortless IT, and Lorrie Walker Public Relations. Their commitment to the success of the exhibit and to the promotion of the normalization of breastfeeding helped make the exhibit the success it was. Without their hard work and dedication, “Nursing is Natural” would not have been able to happen.

Rita: How will this project contribute to the breastfeeding community, parenting and other segments of society?

Christine: This exhibit has helped promote the normalization of breastfeeding in a big way. It has sparked conversation and caused people to question their previously held views about breastfeeding. It has opened the doors for other artists to promote similar work in their cities, thus opening the door for further discussion about breastfeeding. We have seen heart changes happen as open dialogue occurs between nursing mothers and skeptics. These were the goals of this exhibit, and we see them happening still, even months after the exhibit’s initial opening.   

DSC_0066Our hope is that we will be able to find other galleries in which to show the images. That we can continue to spark dialogue through open sharing and discussion. That we can normalize breastfeeding so our children can one day breastfeed their own children without fear of backlash. That the nursing that was once the norm for the care and comfort of our children will be the norm once again.

Rita: How will this exhibit benefit families?

Christine: This exhibit has benefitted families in that it has helped empower women to take a stand for their babies and their right to feed their babies how they see fit. It has enabled them to find their voices, to speak up for what they believe is the best choice for their babies, and to stand up against those who would shame mothers for making that choice. It has given fathers a voice to stand up for their families’ choices and for their partners’ and babies’ rights. It has allowed dialogue to occur that puts parents and families on the same page, or at the very least with an understanding of where each of them are coming from. This exhibit has fostered solid communication for the benefit of children and families.

Rita: What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing?

Christine: There are many organizations that are helping to facilitate this type of communication. We believe Attachment Parenting International is one of those organizations. API works hard to promote the bond between care providers, families, and children. API stresses the importance of family and tribe support, and they encourage parents to take a more active role in their children’s developmental years. These concepts work hand-in-hand with what Psalm 139 Studios is trying to do in the world of bellies, birth and beyond. We are excited to see what the future has in store for both organizations.

Bf 2014 Challenges smAvailable now! The Attached Family magazine “Voices of Breastfeeding” double issue. This fantastic resources is free to API members–and membership is free. Get your copy today!

API Announces New Attached Family Edition: “Voices of Breastfeeding” Double Issue

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

Bf 2014- Advocacy CoverThe core of Attachment Parenting is responding with sensitivity.

API recognizes that breastfeeding can be difficult in our society. It is hard to do something different than our family and friends, who are our social network prior to becoming parents, and to find a new support system for our choices. It is hard to navigate new motherhood relatively alone, compared to other cultures where family rallies together to give the mother a “babymoon”—a time when mom and baby can bond uninterrupted while housework and caring for other children are taken up by others in her life. It is hard to make the choice to return to work and then try to integrate a child care provider into our way of parenting. It is hard to pump while away from baby. And it is hard to continue to push through difficulties, whether they be a poor latch or milk supply issues or teething or night waking, when so many others in our lives are trying to convince us to just give a bottle of formula.

But breastfeeding, like any choice made through the lens of Attachment Parenting, is ultimately about responding with sensitivity to our babies (and toddlers). There are great nutritional and health benefits to feeding breast milk, but what makes breastfeeding special enough for many mothers to continue despite societal pressure and their personal hurdles is that breastfeeding is more than a way to feed their babies—it offers the beginnings of a relationship with their child that cannot be easily replicated another way.

The human mother was designed to breastfeed so that a relationship is borne from the effort—from the mother and her baby learning about each other and what will work or not, from the gaze between each other, from the oxytocin rush each receives, from the gentle discipline necessary in teaching baby not to bite or to eventually night-wean, from the mother finding her balance while caring for her baby, from the mother learning to be flexible as baby grows and needs change. We can find a bit of each of Attachment Parnting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting within the act of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding behavior is very literally the embodiment of responding with sensitivity to our babies—and responding with sensitivity is a skill and art form that all mothers need no matter their child’s age.

In this special edition of Attached Family, through the “Voices of Breastfeeding: Advocating for Acceptance” issue, we take a look at the cultural explosion of breastfeeding advocacy, as well as the challenges still to overcome. API writer Sheena Sommers begins this issue with “The Real Breastfeeding Story,” including a look at “Extended Breastfeeding Around the World” by API writer Rivkah Estrin, followed by API Professional Liaison Patricia Mackie’s interview with the founder of Breastfeed, Chicago! and finally, I present researcher Jeanne Stolzer as she makes “Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding.” Scattered throughout this issue are parent stories, project highlights and additional resources from around and beyond API.

Bf 2014 Challenges smThat said, not all mothers are able to breastfeed.

Thankfully, the key behaviors of breastfeeding can be mimicked while giving a bottle of expressed milk or formula to a baby. A mother-baby pair unable to breastfeed, therefore, is not necessarily unable to form a secure attachment. That is the beauty of Attachment Parenting.

The reason breastfeeding is considered a key element in Attachment Parenting is because it is this very act that is nature’s best teacher for new parents in how to sensitively and consistently respond to their babies, forming the foundation of reciprocity of a healthy relationship meant to serve the parent-child dyad for a lifetime.

Largely due to cultural pressures, even when mothers are able to get breastfeeding off to a good start, there is a sharp overall decline in breastfeeding rates in the weeks and months after delivery. If mothers do not have adequate support when breastfeeding problems arise, premature weaning often happens. There is even less support for teaching mothers who feed by bottle how to do so within the parent-child relationship framework.

This time of learning how to parent is crucial to the mother-infant relationship. Attachment Parenting helps mothers—whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding—view infant care in the context of the holistic parent-child relationship and learn how that give-and-take interaction that builds the foundation of secure attachment can be applied beyond feeding with love and respect.

Through the “Voices of Breastfeeding: Meeting Challenges with Compassion” in this special edition of Attached Family, we take a look at the “other side” of breastfeeding advocacy—championing compassion for the mother who encounters challenges in breastfeeding and who may not be able to breastfeed at all. API’s The Attached Family.com Editor Lisa Lord opens this issue with “When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work,” followed by a look at a “Mom-Inspired Milk Bank” by API writer Kathleen Mitchell-Askar and the debute of API’s Parent Support Deserts project—each with accompanying parent stories (including that of Sara Jones Rust, who graces the cover), project highlights and additional resources from around and beyond API.

While we at API wish that breastfeeding was possible, and fulfilling, for all mother-baby couples, it is as Wendy Friedlander of New York City, USA, says on page 8: “In the end, it doesn’t matter because they loved her. When it comes to a situation where you are low on reserves and low on support, there is only so much one person can do. Your children are getting served by love. That is the number-one thing that serves them.”

Attached Family magazine is free for all API members–and membership is free! Click the link to download your copy or join API today.

 

Navigating Military Life with API’s Eight Principles of Parenting

By Kathryn Abbott, API Leader. Kathryn led an API Support Group in Skagit County, WA, in 2011-2012 and then served as a Co-Leader for San Diego County API in 2012-2013. She plans to start a new API support group in Norfolk this year.

Kathryn Abbott FamilyBoth the joys and the challenges of parenting provide parents opportunities to grow and develop into our best selves. As we undergo this process, we are the model for our children, leading by example and showing them our core values.

For families in which one or both parents serve in the military, there may be a set of unique circumstances that shapes some of those joys and challenges. These circumstances may include moving (on average every two to three years), deployments or long separations, being far from family and friends, interrupted relationships with health professionals, changing schools and jobs, making new friends and finding community, just to name a few.

In my family, my husband serves in the military and I am a stay-at-home parent. We have found that using API’s Eight Principles of Parenting has helped us more easily navigate the life changes that come with serving in the military. It has also helped us maintain consistency for our children during times of change and stress in their lives, leading to more secure attachment. Many nonmilitary families also face the challenges of moving, being far from family and friends, or having to parent separately, so it is my hope that this article will be helpful to military and nonmilitary families alike.

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

This principle addresses the need to be prepared for the experiences of pregnancy, birth, the postpartum period and ongoing parenting though all its stages. It encourages us to become informed about the choices we will make for our care during our pregnancy and birth, as well as to become familiar with the stages of child development.

As part of our preparation for birth, my husband and I took a birth class. During the class, we were asked to do a drawing exercise that led us into labor and birth and then from birth into the postpartum period.  When I looked up during my drawing, I saw that my husband was finished with his picture, while I was only about one quarter of the way done. We had a chance to talk about this difference. “I will be getting ready for and then going on deployment three months after our baby is born, so my postpartum experience won’t be long,” he reminded me. Oh, right. For a large part of our newborn’s life, my husband would be working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, getting ready for deployment, and then he would be gone.

As a military spouse, I am not alone in this experience; many parents are home alone for long days caring for their families or are parenting solo while a spouse is deployed. Many members of the military miss the birth of their child, or they may miss most of the pregnancy and make it home just in time for the birth.

Part of working with this challenge is being prepared for it. Talking about expectations, seeking out the support needed during these times, and finding ways to involve the physically absent partner in the experience of the pregnancy or birth are all strategies families can use to be better prepared for the many transitions to come.

In families in which one parent may be absent from the children for months, understanding child development is vital. For example, the 18-month-old a partner returns home to will be quite different from the 1-year-old he or she left. For the partner at home, sharing the development of the children through emails, letters, phone calls, texts, Skype or Facetime can be very helpful for the parent who is away.

Feeding With Love and Respect

This principle encourages us to meet our children’s need for physical nourishment throughout their lives. Preparing nourishing meals and developing mealtime rituals can be a wonderful way to provide consistency and connection even during the transitions military families must face.

Our family has used our mealtime rituals of sharing meal preparation, eating together as a family and saying a blessing at meals as a way to nurture our whole family during moves, deployments and daily life. Even if our meal is a simple one served on a paper plate while sitting on the floor of an empty house, we come back to the security of preparing meals and eating together.

Respond with Sensitivity

This principle encourages us to respond to our child with sensitivity throughout his or her life. Whether we are holding our crying infant or sharing the joys and challenges of our teenager, we are building a relationship based on trust and empathy.

For families in the military, especially for the parent who is serving, it can be hard to hear our child’s sadness at leaving their home, their friends or perhaps even a pet behind. Choosing to respond to these feelings and expressions with sensitivity only strengthens our relationship with our child.

As the parent, we might need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we didn’t create this sadness for our child on purpose. Nor is it ours to take away. We can hold our child and say to her, “I am sorry we moved and your best friend is so far away.” And when she is finished sharing her feelings with us and is ready for a solution, we can help her write a letter or email, or make a phone call or Skype with that friend. And then we can support her through the process of making another new friend.  

Use Nurturing Touch

Using nurturing touch is a wonderful way for all parents to help connect with their children. From babywearing to hugs, tickles and massage, there are many ways to meet your child’s need for nurturing touch.

Nurturing touch can especially be of value during times of change, which can be stressful even when we are happy about them. Remembering to give children extra time for snuggles or foot rubs at bedtime can help them relax in a new home or give them time to share their fears about a parent’s absence.

When a parent returns from a time away from the family, nurturing touch, whether through snuggles or horseplay, can be a wonderful way for the family to reconnect.

In our family, my husband and children have a goodbye/goodnight ritual that includes a hug, kiss, nose rub, butterfly kiss (using the eyelash on a check) and ends with deciding who has the hardest head. Of course, it is always our children who knock him down amid much laughter. This is something they will even do over the phone or Skype, and they love hearing him fall on the floor, even if he is 3,000 miles away.  

Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally

This principle encourages us to meet our children’s needs for security, even at night. This will look different in all families and can include a variety of different sleeping arrangements. These arrangements can and should be flexible to meet the needs of the individuals of the family. Cosleeping (where the child is in the same room as the parents) or bedsharing (where the child sleeps in the bed with the parents) can be invaluable tools for the benefit of both parents and children. (Click to read more about API’s Infant Sleep Safety Guidelines.)

As a new mother, I shared a bed with my newborn to facilitate ease of breastfeeding and maximize my sleep and rest. My husband slept in the other room so he could be sure to have enough rest to fly safely the next day, and later he was on deployment. This sleeping arrangement meant I was better able to care for my infant and myself.

Bed sharing and cosleeping have continued to serve our family well, as they ease our children’s fears in new places, provide an opportunity for warmth and reconnection when my husband returns from deployments or trips, and often allow me, as the solo parent when he is gone, to get some much needed rest.

For families who find that separate sleeping places serve them best, providing assurance to a child through a bedtime ritual (and a nightlight if needed) and responding to their needs at night are ways that help children to feel secure throughout the night.

Provide Consistent and Loving Care

For military families in which the one consistent thing is change, this principle can provide us with a way to help ease some of the insecurities that can arise for our children and ourselves.

It our family, we planned that I would be the stay-home parent. We felt that having one consistent caregiver, especially as we moved, would be the most beneficial arrangement for our children. Since the birth of our oldest daughter eight years ago, we have moved four times. Being able to give our children consistent and loving care has truly been a gift to our family. There is no added sense of loss or insecurity that may come with changing child care as the result of a move.

For some families, both partners need or want to work, but they may also want to find consistent and loving care for their children. Some creative ways I have seen military families meet these needs include: having another family member, such as a grandparent, live with them and provide full-time care for the child; using an in-home nanny; or arranging for child care with a friend who stays home with his or her children.

For the many military parents using a local daycare as their child care option, finding ways to reconnect at the end of the day becomes essential. Taking time to spend some one-on-one time each day, giving extra hugs or having a special date with your child once a week can go a long way in creating and maintaining a secure attachment with you. Seeking out a child care provider who is consistent with your philosophy and acts as your partner in caring for your child is truly a benefit to the whole family.

Practice Positive Discipline

This principle encourages us to use discipline that is empathetic, loving, respectful and that strengthens the connection between parent and child. Positive discipline is the hardest for me when I am under stress. That stress can come, for example, at the end of a long day when there won’t be a partner coming home to relieve me, or when my children are balking at going to the dentist because they have never met this new dentist, or when my house looks like 143 boxes have just been unpacked and nothing has been put away (although really that’s just how it looks after the girls have been busy playing!).

Practicing positive discipline, even if you were raised with it, can be hard. For me, this is the area where parenting calls me to become better than I am right now and also calls me to be as gentle with myself as I can. When I remind myself that I value relationships over things, that I want my children to feel and know what it means to be respected, that I want to repair any disconnect my child is feeling with me, then I can help myself reframe whatever stressful situation I may be in and make the connection with my child.  

Sometimes in order to practice positive discipline, I need to give myself a break. I simply tell the children, “I am feeling angry [or frustrated or upset] and I am going to go outside and take some deep breaths. When I come back we will figure this out.” I give myself that pause and time to de-stress so I can reconnect with the love I have for my children and then reconnect with them.

For the military parent, practicing positive discipline can have an added element of challenge since much of military culture is based on giving and following orders. This is an area where both parents will need to talk through how positive discipline will be used within their family and how to support each other in this practice.

Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

This principle comes last on the list, but it is really the foundation all the others. If you are not able to have time for yourself and time to nurture your relationship with your partner, it will be more of a challenge to nurture your children and your family.

For military families, this principle can have an added layer of challenge. Moving often requires rebuilding community: you must all make new friends and start over in favorite activities, and there may be new schools and new jobs. When you are far from family and friends and don’t have a trusted child care provider while your partner is away, finding time to recharge can be a challenge.

To help find balance in your days, consider:

  • Attending a support group meeting. Attending (or starting) API support group meetings has been invaluable for me. My children can come, and I get some time with other like-minded parents.

  • Arranging play dates. When my oldest was younger, I had three close friends who all had same-aged children. Once a week, all the children would go to one house for play time and snacks while the other three moms went to do whatever we wanted. Anything from cleaning the floors to doing yoga was on the list! Our children were safe and happy, and we each got a much needed respite.

  • Wake up early. I don’t wake myself early on purpose, but I find that if I am awake before my children, I have time in my day to read, check email or just think.

  • Celebrate the moment. Whether I am making myself a really nice cup of tea or spending 20 minutes on the phone with my sister, I recognize this time as time for me to recharge.

  • Make a date with yourself. When my husband is home, I go on a yoga date with myself and he has a father-daughter date with our children. Many gyms also offer child care if that is something you and your child are comfortable using.

Making time to nurture your relationship is key. Though you will have seasons in which you are more  or less connected with each other, it is important to find ways to keep the relationship strong, especially when you have young children who have many needs. For military families, an added challenge to the parental relationship is the extended separations. These separations can add more stress to a couple in an already stressful situation. Again, being prepared, seeking out resources and using creative solutions can help you maintain your relationship. Simply making the time once a week (even if it is in the early morning!) to maintain your connection to your partner will support and sustain your relationship.

Practicing Attachment Parenting and striving to use API’s Eight Principles of Parenting doesn’t mean my life will be perfect. But I know that when my house is a mess, my children are adjusting to a new home with all that it entails, and my spouse has been gone for more days than I want to count, the tools we use to help maintain connection and build trust and empathy will help us through those times of challenge and those times of joy. These tools help me as I strive to be the person I want to be.

 

40 Percent of Children Miss Out on the Parenting Needed to Succeed in Life

Press release issued March 21, 2014, by the University of Bristol.

1396049_89871050Four in 10 babies don’t develop the strong emotional bonds–what psychologists call “secure attachment”–with their parents that are crucial to success later in life. Disadvantaged children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems when they grow older as a result, new Sutton Trust research finds today [21 March].

The review of international studies of attachment, Baby Bonds, by Sophie Moullin (Princeton University), Professor Jane Waldfogel (Columbia University and the London School of Economics) and Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook (University of Bristol), finds infants aged under three who do not form strong bonds with their mother or father are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.

The Trust is urging the government to do more through health visitors and Children’s Centres, with their strong focus on improved outcomes for disadvantaged families, to support parents with babies and toddlers.

About 60 percent of children develop strong parental bonds. The 40 percent who lack such secure attachment are split into 25 percent who avoid their parents when they are upset, because they ignore their needs, and 15 percent who resist their parents because they cause them distress.

This is an issue for families from all social classes, but where families have multiple problems up to two-thirds of children have weak parental attachment. The report finds that boys’ behavior is more affected than girls’ by early parenting.

The research finds that insecure attachment is associated with poorer language and behavior before school. The effect continues into later life, with insecure children more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training. In one US study of disadvantaged children, the quality of parent care and attachment in the first years was a strong predictor of graduating from high school, alone predicting with 77 percent accuracy whether children graduated or not. Neither IQ nor test scores improved upon this prediction.

The report also finds that securely attached children are more resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Boys growing up in poverty are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school if they formed secure attachments with parents in their early years.

Where mothers have weak bonds with their babies, research suggests their children are also more likely to be obese as they enter adolescence.  Parents who were insecurely attached themselves, are living in poverty or with poor mental health, find it hardest to provide sensitive parenting and bond with their babies.

Today’s report explains how sensitive and responsive parenting in the first years of life is crucial to attachment. Simple, and often instinctive, actions such as holding a baby lovingly, and responding to their needs, are key to the development of attachment. Equally important might be acknowledging a baby’s unhappiness with facial expressions and then reassuring them with warm, happy smiles and soothing tones.

Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said: “Better bonding between parents and babies could lead to more social mobility, as there is such a clear link to education, behavior and future employment. The educational divide emerges early in life, with a 19 month school readiness gap between the most and least advantaged children by the age of five.

“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances. More support from health visitors, children’s centers and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap.”

Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook, Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol, said: “Children who are secure in their parents’ love and care feel surer of themselves. And, because they feel secure, they are better able to manage their feelings, behavior, be resilient and relate to others. But mums and dads who face insecurity, economic or otherwise, will find it harder to provide the sensitive parenting needed for secure attachment.”

The report Baby Bonds by Sophie Moullin, Professor Jane Waldfogel and Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook is available on the Sutton Trust website.

Further information

About the Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programs that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.

An Ever-Changing Village: The Importance of Parent Support for Military Families

By Kit Jenkins, Master babywearing educator for Babywearing International, Event Liaison for API and a co-founder of The Carrying On Project (www.carryingonproject.org).

Photo courtesy of The Carrying On Project
Photo courtesy of The Carrying On Project

We are celebrating Attachment Parenting International’s 20th anniversary this year. One of the main reasons people join API groups and stay involved is the sense of community these groups provide. Parents enjoy and come to rely on the parental support of like-minded individuals, who may be going through the same joys and challenges or seeking guidance from those who have been there in the past. While social media has made constant and instantaneous connection easier, there is nothing quite like going to a meeting and interacting with other parents and their children in real time. It is so much more personal than an Internet encounter.

With April being Month of the Military Child, we want to take a moment to talk about how important a sense of community can be to military families and how much of a difference “finding your village” can make. It is not uncommon for military families to move every year or two, and have every child born in a different state or even a different country! As a military spouse myself, one of the first things I do when I find out that we are moving or going somewhere for a lengthy training is look for similar-minded parenting groups. These groups often become our lifeline; they are where we find an extension of our village, which can make transitioning to our new location easier.

However, sometimes it can be hard to break into these groups, since everyone in the group knows each other and has been friends for a while. Especially for families who have recently had their first child, or who have just started to find their groove for leaving the house after a spouse is deployed, the support and comfort to be found in an API group meeting or informal meet-up can make a huge difference in the lives of the parent and children. We know (and love) that everyone practices AP in their own way, but simply having an API group means having  a common thread to help create a safe, still space for a family whose world is constantly in motion.

There are two big move cycles every year in the military, during which many families are moved to new stations, and the summer cycle is coming soon. Having a village to belong to is one of the most vital “survival tactics” of being a military family. You can help ease the transition by making an effort to include military installations and communities in your outreach. If you see parents (military or not) who look like they might benefit from a support system like the one your group has fostered, be the one to reach out and invite them to a meeting. They may not have found you yet, or might not have known exactly what they were looking for. If you are someone who either has their village or is looking to create one, don’t be afraid to say “Hi!” to the new mom with her baby in the sling at the grocery store or the new family at story time. Membership in API is free, but the benefits are priceless.

 

API Cofounders Featured in Parenting with Presence Summit

lysaparkerbarbaranicholsonWorld peace, for many, may seem like an unattainable ideal. Not so for families finding support through Attachment Parenting International (API), whose research-backed parenting approach promotes healthy relationships rooted in nonviolent communication and respectful interactions, extending a model of peaceful living into the community.

API cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker celebrated the organization’s 20th anniversary during a teleseminar hosted by parent educator and author Susan Stiffelman, as part of an online parenting conference on March 18-21. A Shift Network event, the API-cosponsored Parenting with Presence Summit gathered together 25 parenting experts and visionaries to share their perspectives on parenthood. The event was available to the public at no cost.

“Ultimately, we’re wanting world peace,” said Nicholson, who presented a session sharing the title of the book she coauthored with Parker, Attached at the Heart: 8 Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. “The mother-father-baby: that little unit is really the core of it all.”

Stiffelman agreed, concluding that many people who are moved toward furthering world peace can make a profound impact without ever leaving home: “The fact is, under our own roofs, if we have children, we can make a dramatic difference in our world.”

Throughout their session, Nicholson’s and Parker’s core message echoed what API has promoted from its beginning—that parents can be nurturing, warm and sensitive while raising emotionally healthy, responsible children. API can provide the guidance and support for parents who need it.

“We didn’t want to spank our children,” said Parker about what inspired API’s foundation. “We wanted to practice more positive discipline, but we were still at the beginning stages. We were each other’s support. The essence of API is parent support.”

Leading up to 1994 when API was first organized, there was a budding awareness in the professional community regarding the importance of attachment research on child development. However, there were no widely circulating resources offering this information to the public.

“We felt there needed to be an organization to get all this information to parents,” Nicholson said.

Fast forward 20 years: Parent education, rooted in attachment science and neurobiology, has permeated much of Western society. API continues to educate and support parents and professionals in adopting healthier approaches to raising children, as well as to introduce new areas of research that further validates API’s Eight Principles of Parenting.

“The Eight Principles are not rules you have to follow, but there is science supporting each of them,” Parker said.

For example, the latest edition of Attached at the Heart covers new information on ultrasounds during pregnancy as well as a new scientific field called epigenetics, which intersects the nature-nurture debate to demonstrate that the choices that parents make can influence the genetic expression for their grandchildren.

“We’re now beyond learning the importance of nurture,” Nicholson said. “It’s exciting but also very daunting. Who we hang out with, what we do, how we eat—everything affects our genetic code.”

During the Parenting with Presence Summit session with API’s cofounders, Stiffelman also explored myths of Attachment Parenting and practical tips to help parents and grandparents bond with a baby beyond breastfeeding, and how API strives to empower parents in following their biological intuition, rather than going along with conflicting conventional wisdom, in raising their children.

“The message is about knowing what’s best for you and your child,” Parker said.

API Reads: Giving the Love That Heals

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

  • Growing Yourself Up

  • The Stage of Attachment

  • The Stage of Exploration

  • The Stage of Identity

  • The Stage of Competence

So far we’ve learned how our unconscious mind has controlled most of our parenting based upon our own upbringing. We do have the power to change these unconscious decisions though. We can do so through our actions and our intentional dialogue with our children. We’ve been having a few deep discussions.  Our discussions happen on GoodReads.

We’ll be discussing Giving the Love That Heals this April and May. 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’ll join us and add your voice to the discussion!

 

Pocket Full of Feelings: An Interview with co-creator Dr. Ann Corwin

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

Karin Lombardo
Karin Lombardo

 

Ann Corwin
Ann Corwin

Part of the core of Attachment Parenting is teaching our children about emotions—what they’re feeling and what to do about it, as well as how to empathize with others—a skill referred to as “emotional literacy” by parenting consultants like Ann Corwin, PhD, MEd, of Laguna Niguel, California, USA.

We know more than ever that emotional literacy is critical for healthy human development. Unfortunately it’s a skill that was not regularly nurtured in past generations, and many parents are learning about difficult emotions like jealousy and disappointment alongside their children. It was evident as I talked with Ann, mother to two grown children, that her life’s passion is in empowering parents in strengthening their relationships with their children and that emotional literacy is very much central to her work.

RITA: Thank you, Ann, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you came into your line of work?

ANN: I have my master’s degree in education with an emphasis in early child development and behavior. I started out very early in my career with an interest in relationships. In fact, my bachelor’s degree is in sociology. I went on to earn my PhD in marriage, family and child therapy.

I started out as a postpartum consultant in a hospital. I was also a childbirth educator, a Lamaze instructor. It was then when I started to make the psychological connection between birth and biology and neurobiology, and this naturally led to an interest in attachment. I was excited to learn how attachment affects our brain, how the amygdala—which manifests our emotional and relational responses—can regenerate itself, so that even if our attachment is crummy, it can be regenerated.

At the time, I was working with Dr. William Sears [pediatrician, author of the Sears parenting library and member of API’s Board of Directors] as well.

I wrote my [PhD] dissertation on parenting in pregnancy. Basically this is teaching parents how to parent during pregnancy, so while they’re learning about the stages and phases of pregnancy, they can also learn about the stages and phases of child development to know what to expect and what is required for healthy development.

RITA: And then you opened your private practice, The Parenting Doctor (www.theparentingdoctor.com).

ANN: I was inspired by Attachment Theory. I am fascinated by how we establish a relationship and how we maintain it and how you take that long term. For example, I have been married for 37 years to the same man and feel that we both really had to understand attachment to maintain our relationship through the rocky spots.

My whole career as a parenting consultant is driven by attachment.

RITA: And you are supportive of Attachment Parenting International (API).

ANN: I have always admired API and have always kept up with Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker [API’s cofounders]. I see Attachment Parenting as what I’m practicing. I may be on a little different road, but we’re associated—we’re both trying to get emotional literacy, which is steeped in Attachment Theory, rooted in the mainstream.

I don’t think Attachment Parenting is one way to parent—it’s the only way.

I’m eclectic in that I think you can take pieces from any parenting program and those pieces can be useful to parents. But attachment education is needed by every parent.

RITA: You have developed an emotional literacy curriculum called “Pocket Full of Feelings.” Can you share more about this?

ANN: Pocket Full of Feelings started 15 years ago.

The primary question people would ask me was how to help them keep their child from doing something. How can I keep my child from having tantrums? How can I keep my child from getting kicked out of preschool? How can I get my child to warm up to Grandma? Basically, help me with this immediate problem. I always ask them: Would you rather figure out why your child is doing this and how to have a better relationship with him or her, or do you just want to stop the behavior? Fortunately, 99 percent of parents say they’d like to have a better relationship with their child.

I teach how the most powerful part of the brain is the emotional brain, because in all circumstances we feel the feeling first and then act upon that feeling. Because while our number-one need is survival—food, water, shelter—our immediate number-two need is relationship with others. This is our need for attachment. The way we do this—attach to others—is through eye contact, touching and talking.

When we feed a baby, we are making eye contact with our baby, we are touching our baby and we are talking to our baby. If you were to put milk in a bottle, give it to your baby and turn your back on your baby without talking, your baby might begin to suckle on his own but he will stop after a couple of sucks. He needs connection with you or he will suffer from failure to thrive.

We have to have a relationship with another human being or we literally can’t survive.

My daughter handmade me a burlap pocket chart, and I would use little bears to demonstrate how we carry around our emotions and how these drive our behavior. Inevitably, everywhere I went, people would ask me where they could get one of those pocket charts. And they couldn’t get one anywhere because that was the only one there was.

Then, six years ago, I met Karin Lombardo, a mother seeking solutions for an undesirable behavior her daughter was expressing. I pointed out the feeling I thought was the root cause of her daughter’s undesirable behavior (envy), went through the  simple three-step emotional literacy process with Karin, and let her take the pocket chart home with her over the weekend to practice talking about the feeling at large (envy) with her daughter. When she brought it back, she said that every parent should learn this—that instead of saying “don’t be mad” or “don’t be sad,” to tell their child that these feelings are going to come and here’s how to deal with it.

It turned out that Karin has her MA in Narrative Psychology, so I asked her to go into business with me to develop this idea. We cofounded Generation-EQ, a company committed to providing tools and solutions to aid in the development of emotional literacy and home of Pocket Full of Feelings (www.pocketfulloffeelings.com).

Pocket Full of Feelings took several years to develop, as we had to write all of the content and then we had to test it. It’s now available everywhere.

RITA: How do you hope to benefit society?

ANN: Emotional literacy has been around actually for a long time. It’s emotional intelligence, that EQ we hear about. There have been a lot of books written about it, and a lot of people talk about it. But it’s not mainstream.

We hear parents say how they have to teach their child how to read, but we don’t hear how they need to be teaching emotional literacy. We need to make emotional literacy just as much a priority to parents as school readiness. There is absolutely and positively evidence now that kids do better academically if their social-emotional needs are met.

My goal really is for parents like you and me sitting at a park and having a conversation, and maybe we ask each other about preschools. Then, we move on to talk about how our children know their colors, and then how they’re learning what emotions go with those colors and what to do about it when they have those feelings.

I don’t want this to be just some kind of sideline thing.

In this Technology Age, especially with texting, we can communicate with one another without ever hearing tone of voice or seeing facial expressions, which are vital to relationships. I saw a dad and his three-year-old child the other day, and during the entire walk, the father and child never spoke. The child never looked at his dad, because he was looking at a handheld screen. We need emotional literacy even more now than before.

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words For Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International Leader (API of Portland, Oregon, USA), www.kellybartlett.net. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”

This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.

“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”

He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”

This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.

When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.

I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.

Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.

Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.

Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.

Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!

The Family Part of Eating

Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.

This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!

Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.

This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:

·         Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.

·         Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!

·         Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.

·         If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!

·         Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.

·         Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.

I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.

Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.

They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.

Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.

I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.

The Importance of the Family Table

Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:

·         Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).

·         Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).

·         Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).

·         Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.

·         A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.

 

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears