Category Archives: The Editor’s Desk

Peggy O’Mara: An Interview

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

Photo on 2013-04-01 at 15.58As it turns out with so many of the most amazing people I have been privileged to write about, Peggy O’Mara—a mother of four who was an absolutely integral force in starting and carrying the Attachment Parenting movement for 35 years through her magazine, Mothering—didn’t set out to change the world.

But, wow, she sure did.

I always pictured Peggy as a high-powered magazine executive, but it became quickly apparent that she is just like you and me—first and foremost a mother, now a grandmother, who adores her family but also has a giving heart with a passion for helping parents at all points in their parenting journey.

To begin with, when I began our phone interview and apologized ahead of time for the interruptions from my children that were sure to happen—and did, over a box of Valentine’s Day cards—Peggy recalled a memory of the magazine’s staff, including herself, bringing children into the office and attending to them while pushing out stories and putting together the lifeline that Mothering was for so many mothers. Oh, and she said that sometimes she misses that part with the children underfoot.

While for many of us, Peggy O’Mara and Mothering are synonymous—one will always be linked to the other in our minds—I want this interview to celebrate Peggy as herself, because while Mothering magazine was a large part of her life, she is so much more.

RITA: You began with Mothering at a time very different from today, more than a decade before Attachment Parenting International was founded. What inspired you to begin your Attachment Parenting journey?

PEGGY: I was a La Leche League Leader before Mothering.

I gave birth to my first child in 1974. I was living in southern New Mexico (USA), which was a pretty rural area. My husband and I had moved there wanting to get back to the land. We just had that kind of mind-set. My parents were there, too. When I became pregnant, La Leche League was the first thing I found for any kind of support.

There was a really strong culture of volunteering in those days. Women were just beginning to work more outside the home. I became a La Leche League Leader in 1975. Because there were so few leaders in the area, I quickly took on other volunteer jobs within La Leche League. I did the area newsletter for a time, and then I took on the job of coordinating leader applicants. This job is really what prepared me for Mothering, especially talking to people about their parenting philosophies and learning how to ask questions. I learned so much from La Leche League.

RITA: And then came Mothering?

PEGGY: Most people think I founded Mothering, but I didn’t. I actually found Mothering in 1976, in a health  food store in Albuquerque (New Mexico, USA).

Addie Eavenson founded Mothering in southern Colorado (USA) in 1976 and then moved to Albuquerque. I moved to Albuquerque in 1978. Earlier that year, I had sent Mothering an article I wrote titled “In Defense of Motherhood.” I was reading all these bad stories of motherhood, but no one was saying about how ecstatic it was to be a mother. Addie called and asked me to be an editor! I was pregnant with my third child at the time and literally threw up because I was so excited.

Soon I found myself trying to work at Mothering with three kids under age 5.

Then Addie decided to sell the magazine. She was just ready to move onto something else in her life. She wanted a $5,000 down payment that I didn’t have. I went everywhere, talked to every banker, trying to get the money, but I couldn’t get any. So she was going to sell it to someone else, but then that fell through and I was able to buy the magazine without the down payment—though my husband and I had some pretty stiff monthly payments. It was a miracle! It really was a miracle, and that really influenced me to feel that could I do anything.

So I bought Mothering in 1980, and that was the beginning of that.

RITA: Why did you stay with the name Mothering? How do you feel about fathers?

PEGGY: Fathers are very essential. I think people didn’t think we appreciated fathers.

When I started with Mothering, I wanted to change the name to Whole Family Living. But Addie reminded me that she had named it Mothering to celebrate the act of mothering.  At the time the magazine was founded, mothering itself was really maligned. This was in the 1970s when some feminists called homemakers the family servant. I was among the first generation of mothers leaving the home to go to work.

It’s also important to recognize that fathers are more nurturing now than they were when Mothering was started. Fathers have come so far now that there is a stay-at-home dad’s conference in California (USA). That’s very different than it was in the 1970s.

A mother depends on the support of her partner at home. And here I mean same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples. Regardless of sexual orientation, our partner’s support is essential; it’s everything.

RITA: What was it like in the early days of Mothering?

PEGGY: The early days were very much “learn as you go.” All I wanted to do was be able to give information. I was very intimidated by the magazine industry. I didn’t want to read anything about it because I didn’t want to know how much I didn’t know, so I just did it one step at a time. I tried to publish what I wanted to see in a magazine: stories I wanted to read, stories from interesting people, beautiful photos, ideas that moved me.

We were hesitant about new technologies at first. Our first office machine was a copy machine in 1982. I remember being pregnant at the time and standing with my belly off to the side because I didn’t know if it was safe to be around the copy machine while it was running.

Getting our first fax machine was a big deal. And, of course, computers—Mothering grew up as technology did, but we were cautious because as a health-oriented magazine, we had published articles on the risks of computer screens to pregnant women. New screens reduced those risks.

RITA: When did Mothering seem to intersect with the wider natural living and Attachment Parenting movements?

PEGGY: Mothering really caught on in 1998. President Bill Clinton was in office, and the environmental movement was really getting going. Cloth diapers were big. There was a growing interest in social justice.

It used to be that anyone looking at Mothering was very much into the natural lifestyle. Anyone reading Mothering was either all in or all out. Then in the mid-1990s, I hired a couple of editors who were different than our traditional readership—they were athletes, really into fitness, and they found that natural parenting worked well with their lifestyle. This was a big change for Mothering: People were choosing natural parenting, but it didn’t define their entire life. The culture was changing quickly from a time when natural food and natural living considered “out there” to a time now when they are now integrated fully into mainstream life.

In 1998, Mothering went from a quarterly to a bimonthly magazine. We also started going to the Natural Products Expo. By the early 2000s, we started seeing babywearing everywhere. It grew to incredible popularity because of the fashion aspect, and along with it came many of the ideas of Attachment Parenting we had been heralding since the 1970s.

We also started seeing growth in Mothering’s influence. Ideas like the family bedroom and nursing past two—I never thought they’d be so accepted by society. It used to be that no one but those of us at La Leche League meetings was talking about these kinds of things. Now they’re part of the national conversation. They’re something that everyone is talking about and most new parents are considering, and many people are doing some parts of it or all of it.

RITA: And Mothering helped to inspire Attachment Parenting International as well.

PEGGY: I first met Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker [API’s cofounders] through La Leche League. They were leaders, too, and we would attend the same conferences. I think we were all influenced by a talk at one of the conferences by Dr. Elliott Barker of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, who explained how every violent criminal he had encountered had a history of extreme separation and insecure attachment as a child.

RITA: Certainly you had more influence through Mothering than you might have realized. And yet somehow, even the best of causes seem to find opposition. How did you handle Mothering’s critics?

PEGGY: In many ways, having critics means that you are affecting people, making them think and respond. I tried to offer explanations and evidence, but often critics respond emotionally, and Mothering is not for everyone. I took on controversial topics in print because I wanted parents to have important information to make decisions about their children now. I trusted that parents would sort out their own truth from what I offered, and I never pretended to be objective.

Online, our discussion forums grew rapidly and were ranked by Big Boards as the largest for parents online. This was in the early 2000s before Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest got so popular, and we had seen other online communities go out of control and implode. We drew some criticism for our moderation policies at that time, but they were intended to keep the discussions civil and focused on natural family living. At one time, we had 80 volunteer moderators.

RITA: When did you decide to transition Mothering from print to online?

PEGGY: Well, it wasn’t so much a decision as something about which there was no choice. Mothering in print was a small magazine, a niche magazine, with a 100,000 circulation. In the mid-1990s, we founded Mothering.com and the boards. In the 2000s, the growth of Mothering.com far eclipsed the magazine. By 2010, we were seeing 750,000 unique visitors per month. Parents everywhere, within and beyond Mothering, were going to the Internet.

That growth of Mothering.com paralleled with what happened to the economy. We had grown the business to a $2 million-per-year business. 2009 was our best year.

In 2010, we were seeing the beginnings of the recession. Our advertising dropped and so did our subscriptions. Nearly half of our subscriptions were traditionally gift subscriptions. During the recession, people weren’t giving gifts. They weren’t buying subscriptions. Advertising in print was down.

We were cutting expenses, but it got the best of us and Mothering developed a lot of debt to the printer and to our ad reps. The last three issues of 2010 were printing later and later because our cash flow was reduced. We were selling ads, but our January 2011 issue experienced the lowest ad sales in 10 years. We were just too far gone by then. It was all I could do to keep from going bankrupt, so I had to sell the business.

I stopped publishing the magazine in February 2011 and sold the website to pay off the print debt in July of 2011.

I became an employee of the new owners. I had a two-year contract and then was laid off in November of 2012. I was unemployed for the first time in decades but was able to get a reverse mortgage and reduce my monthly payments quite a bit.

Even though I am no longer associated with Mothering, others continue to think of Mothering and me as one and the same. I have no control over the editorial or advertising direction that Mothering is taking now, and yet I will always be associated with the business in many people’s minds.

RITA: That is so hard. I praise you for making it through.

PEGGY: Thank you. It has been hard.

RITA: And now?

PEGGY: I didn’t think I could do a digital magazine without staff, so I challenged myself to make a WordPress site. It gave me confidence after I lost so much.

I started www.peggyomara.com in August of 2013. I’m doing what I did in the beginning with Mothering—really connecting with writers and people who have interesting things to say. I’ve always been motivated by social justice and can focus more on that now.

I’m really having fun. There’s a lot less pressure, so I can be more creative now. I plan to grow the site just the way I grew Mothering.

RITA: The Internet has changed so much of how everyone communicates and how information is disseminated to the public. What are your thoughts?

PEGGY: I love blogging. I love the Internet. I like what the Internet has given us in access to information and freedom from isolation.

There are a lot of voices on the Internet. You’re able to choose your own reality, your own world. You choose what you really want to know, whom you want to listen to. The evolution of the online user is such that people eventually look for the authoritative voice so that the information they’re getting is something they can trust.

RITA: Do you feel that parents can get adequate support through online sources?

PEGGY: Parents can get a lot of information online, but it’s not a substitute for in-person support. What the Internet has increased so much is advocacy and social entrepreneurship.

RITA: With your history of advocating for natural parenting and Attachment Parenting, what advice can you give others?

PEGGY: Start by acknowledging the other person’s position. For example, through La Leche League meetings, I learned that even if I had a great experience breastfeeding, another might have had a lot of difficulty or felt tied down by the frequent nursings. In order to talk to and possibly help a mom with different experiences than my own, I have to understand my own biases and practice compassion.

Start with a certain gentleness. Share your experiences, and keep it personal. Talk from your heart rather than your head. Use I-messages, just as you would to talk to your child. Talking about your own experiences is better than anything, rather than lecturing.

At the same time, in the media, too much information is presented as opinion when facts do matter. There is a difference between opinion and facts. I always try to combine my instincts with the science if I can.

 

Take Time to Reconnect After the Work Day

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator and an API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska). Originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com in October 2008.

Boy & TeddyMy friend, Nicole, and her husband both work full-time. Their two-year-old daughter spends the day with a childcare provider who has watched her since she was six weeks old. Oftentimes, Nicole comes home after a 45-minute commute tired, wanting to relax and spend time playing happily with her daughter.

When her child was younger, Nicole would breastfeed to help reconnect in the evenings, but as her daughter grew into a toddler and weaned, the challenge of creating a peaceful evening has mounted. Her daughter, hungry for her attention, seems to push the limits constantly, often bringing home acting-out behaviors she’s learned from older children in her daycare. While Nicole believes that discipline is important, she doesn’t want to ruin the evening, and tends to discipline inconsistently, choosing not to discipline when it appears her child is starting a tantrum.

When you’ve spent most of the day away from your child, it’s natural to want to come home and spend a peaceful evening relaxing and playing together. But some busy parents have difficulty finding quality time to spend with their child. The parents’ priority may be to enjoy a phone conversation with a friend, to watch television for an hour, or to have a family dinner at a local restaurant. The children, anxious for their parents’ undivided attention, may express their frustration through tantrums and other acting-out behavior, quickly causing tension for the entire family. Should these parents, like Nicole, let discipline go by the wayside in an effort to have a more peaceful evening?

Consistent Discipline Always Important

Discipline is a very important component of Attachment Parenting (AP). As outlined by Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting, discipline is an essential tool in helping children to develop a conscience, especially as the child grows and becomes more independent. But a key part of AP discipline is teaching children, not by reacting to their behavior, but by meeting the needs that lead to undesirable behavior. The same holds true for stressed, dual-income families seeking quality family time in the evenings after the children come home from daycare and before they go to bed.

Reconnecting after being apart for a day is essential for working families, according to Jane Nelsen, EdD, in her 2005 article “Seven Ways Busy Parents Can Help Their Children Feel Special,” posted on www.positivediscipline.com.

“Helping your child feel special is a matter of planning and habit, not a lack of time,” writes Nelsen, who co-authored Positive Discipline for Working Parents.

Here are some of her tips to help parents to reconnect with their children at the end of the day:

  • Take time for hugs – Don’t underestimate the power of a hug in changing attitudes, yours and your children’s. Hugs can also be significant in stopping acting-out behavior.
  • Involve your children in rule-setting – Children are much more enthusiastic about following rules that they’ve had a part in setting. Help them come up with creative ways of getting their chores done or setting morning and bedtime routines, and brainstorm solutions for other issues that tend to be contentious.
  • Include your children in your chores – Your children will feel empowered when you ask them for help, instead of lecturing or scolding. Instead of getting angry that there are toys all over the floor of the family room, ask them to help clean it up.
  • Regularly schedule special time with the children – Set aside some one-on-one time together with each of your children. Nelsen recommends at least 10 to 15 minutes a day for young children and at least 30-60 minutes a week for school-age children, although many parents would argue that children need more one-on-one time with their parents than this. Actually putting this quality time in your calendar means you’re making it a priority, and even when an evening is particularly hectic, your children will know that you will be available for their special time.
  • Take time to listen and share – Ask your child to share her happiest and saddest moments of the day. Perhaps you do this during your special time together, or at bedtime as Nelsen recommends. Listen without trying to solve problems, and then take your turn to tell your own happy and sad moments.
  • Write a note to your child – Put a hand-written note in your child’s lunch box, on his pillow, or tape it to the bathroom mirror. The notes, like hugs, give children a boost during the day.
  • Take advantage of errands – Whether you’re going grocery shopping, to the bank, or dropping mail off at the post office, the drive time during these errands provides additional one-on-one time for your child. If you have several children, have them take turns. Take this time to listen to whatever your child wants to talk about, and share special stories from your life, such as when you were younger.

Children may act out because they feel they aren’t receiving enough undivided attention from their parents. By taking the time to reconnect with their children, parents are not only fulfilling children’s needs but also giving themselves exactly what they need – children who feel right with themselves and with their families, and who are less likely to act out. And if children do have a tantrum or act out, those who feel connected respond more positively to their parents’ discipline.

A key part of AP discipline is teaching children, not by reacting to their behavior but by meeting the needs that are leading to the undesirable behavior.

Dual-Income Families Can Be AP, Too

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family, API’s Publications Coordinator and API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska), originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com on October 21, 2008.

There is a widespread belief that to be a good Attachment Parenting (AP) family, one parent must stay at home with the children full-time and that parent should be the mother. To be sure, this is a myth.

Some parents are mistaken in thinking that “real” AP families don’t choose to put their children in daycare.

However, parents need to look beyond the specific practices to realize the true goal in AP: Whether or not parents stay at home with their children is not as important as being sure to raise their children with secure attachments. If a dual-income family strives to maintain a strong parent-child emotional bond, this family is just as AP as one in which the mother or father stays at home full-time.

While Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting describe a parent as the best caregiver to provide consistent and loving care, API also recognizes that a one-income family with a stay-at-home parent is not the ideal situation for all families. When, for whatever reasons whether financial or personal, both parents choose to continue working after their child is born, it is very possible for that family to be able to practice AP.

In many cases, one parent may choose to work part-time or parents may choose alternate shifts or work arrangements so that at least one of the parents can be at home with the children at all times. For example, some parents find ways to work from home or take their children with them to their places of employment, or one parent works the night shift while the other parent works the day shift.

And “if neither parent can be a full-time caregiver, then a child needs someone who is not only consistent and loving but has formed a bond with them and consciously provides care in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship,” according to the API website describing the principle of Providing Consistent and Love Care, found at www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/care.php. This caregiver could be a grandparent or other relative, close friend, or a trusted daycare provider – anyone who can form a strong attachment with their child.

Once the child is home from daycare, parents should focus on reconnecting with their child, such as holding and cuddling, playing one-on-one and including the child in daily chores, or using other specific AP tools like co-sleeping, babywearing, and breastfeeding. On weekends or other times when the family is together and the parents aren’t working, parents should focus on spending as much time as possible with their children. Quality time is especially important if the quantity of time is limited.

Whether or not parents stay at home with their children is not as important as being sure to raise their children with secure parent-child emotional attachments.

The Vital Importance of the Grandparent-Grandchild Bond

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family, API’s Publications Coordinator, API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska), originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com on November 8, 2008

It has only been about 20 years since Dr. William Sears coined the term “Attachment Parenting” in reference to a set of nurturing parenting practices, such as babywearing and breastfeeding.

Today, Attachment Parenting International has helped to expand this approach to parenting to include children beyond the infant years and secondary attachment figures including fathers and, yes, grandparents.

The Value of Secondary Attachment to a Child

Mothers have long since been the focus of Attachment Parenting information, the role of secondary attachments cannot be ignored. According to the article “Back to the Future: How Early Attachments Shape Your Relationships” in the Summer 2007 issue of Attachment Parenting: The Journal of Attachment Parenting International, all attachments whether parent-child or grandparent-grandchild play a crucial role in shaping what a child’s perspective of what “normal” relationships are like.

“It refers to the ‘image’ of love people carry inside them that consists of the positive and negative characteristics of all their childhood caretakers,” according to the article’s author and Imago Relationship Therapy therapist Rod Kochtitzky. As adults, “we are left with someone who both loves us in the ways we were loved in our family of origin and also hurts us in ways that we were hurt in our families.”

Grandparents Provide a Vital Relationship to Children

Obviously, grandparents whose grandchildren live with them or are being raised by them play a vital role as primary caregivers to those grandchildren.

But even grandparents whose grandchildren do not live with them have a critical role in supporting their grandchildren’s parents. Grandparents can be great sources of parenting tips – and affordable childcare – to their grandchildren’s parents.

But it is those whose grandchildren who are in high risk situations, such as poverty and stressful family events, who can really make a difference in helping to shape a child’s sense of normalcy in relationships.

The Protective Role of Grandparents

For example, the 2007 article “The Protective Role of Grandparents” by Kate Fogarty, PhD, in the University of Florida’s Family, Youth, and Consumer Sciences newsletter, explored the effect of a healthy grandparent-grandchild bond on the negative effects of maternal depression on parenting and a child’s functioning.

According to Fogarty, compared to non-depressed mothers, those with depression typically have minimal, inconsistent responses to their children’s needs; express more negative than positive emotions toward their children; and are less engaged when interacting with their children.

These parenting behaviors lead to inhibited cognitive development and increased behavior problems in the children of all ages. Teenagers feel these effects especially strongly, because they influence their social and academic functioning. Furthermore, school-aged children and teenagers of depressed mothers are significantly more likely to be depressed as adults.

Fogarty then referenced a study (Silverstein & Ruiz, 2006, “Breaking the Chain: How Grandparents Moderate the Transmission of Maternal Depression to Their Grandchildren,” published in Family Relations, 55) showing that the stronger the attachment of the grandchild to a grandparent, the less likely the child of a depressed mother is to experience depression in adulthood.

What Determines a Strong Grandparent-Grandchild Bond?

The Silverstein study listed these elements to be crucial in developing a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship:

  • The child feeling a sense of emotional closeness to his grandparent;
  • The child having regular contact with his grandparent;
  • The child viewing his grandparent as a source of social support.

A strong emotional bond with the grandparent effectively models a healthy relationship, lessening the negative effects of parenting by a depressed mother, who is often the primary caregiver. Imagine the very positive effect grandparents can have in their grandchildren’s lives, if they’re already receiving a healthy relationship model at home.

Interactions Shape the Brain, Young or Old

Daniel Goleman, PhD, discovered that every person-to-person interaction literally shapes the human brain – and that the more important the relationship, the more profound the effect of those interactions on brain development. This research was reviewed in Mark Matousek’s article “We’re Wired to Connect,” originally published in the January/February 2007 issue of AARP Magazine and later reprinted in the Summer 2007 issue of Attachment Parenting: The Journal of Attachment Parenting International.

“Young or old, people can affect our personalities,” writes Matousek. “…Anger-prone people, for example, can ‘infect’ themselves with calmness by spending time with mellower individuals, absorbing less aggressive behavior and thereby sharpening social intelligence.”

Matousek quoted Goleman in crediting his two-year-old grandchild in helping to maintain his emotional health, likening time spent with her as “a vitamin” or “an elixir.” Think of the influence of his emotions on an impressionable toddler!

The Valued Grandparent

Besides modeling what constitutes a “normal” relationship, grandparents provide children with a sense of safety and protection, a link to their cultural heritage and family history, and a companion in play and exploration, according to an article by Mary Gavin, MD, on http://kidshealth.org entitled “Bonding with Grandparents.”

Roma Hanks, PhD, speaks highly of the role of grandparents in her article “Connecting the Generations: The New Role of Grandparents,” published in the 1997 issue of The Harbinger at Mobile, Alabama: “It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century. …Today, there is a growing alliance of grandparents who will positively influence the lives of their grandchildren and the younger generations in their society, some by providing urgently needed daily care, others by building deep emotional connections with their grandchildren.”

“It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century.”
~ Roma Hanks, PhD

Playful Learning

By Rita Brhel, managing editor & API leader

I am quite happy with the preschool that my children attended, although it took a lot of interviewing teachers and visiting sites, and a bit of trial-and-error, to find a program that I agree with. And now that my daughter is entering Kindergarten, I wonder if we will begin the process of finding an appropriate, like-minded school all over again?

A major concern of mine about organized school programs outside the home is the lack of child-led play offered. The preschool programs that I turned down for my children were focused so narrowly on teaching reading, writing, and math for “school preparation” that they missed the best learning opportunities provided by a child’s natural inclination to explore. Preschoolers are wired to learn through play, not through deskwork.

Nicole Polifka, MEd, Head of Early Childhood Professional Development at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, shares my concern, adding that even childcare programs designed for infants and toddlers are increasingly becoming more geared toward academic testing and orienting away from free play.

“Play is very complex,” Polifka explained. “A very big difference between promoting intelligence in a child and just promoting academics: With the latter, there is a lot more they need to learn.”

Teachers tend to view play and learning as opposing forces when in fact they are synonymous for children, she said: “Play and learning are partners, not competitors. Learning is a whole-body experience. Learning by doing creates a ton of positive things for the brain.” Continue reading

Attachment Parenting Isn’t Asking Too Much…Our Society Is

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

There is still a lot of discussion centering on Attachment Parenting, even though the controversial TIME coverage was almost three weeks ago, which is equal to eons away in our instantaneous, cluttered, sensationalism-saturated mass media. You know that something – some issue, some news story – has made it big when it’s still being talked about this long after the buzz first began.

TIME is hardly the first to bring Attachment Parenting into mainstream light and not necessarily in a good light. In all fairness, the articles included in the TIME package on May 21, 2012, were probably the most fair, least biased of any mainstream coverage on the parenting style that I’ve seen. But it still perpetuated a lot of myths: One that particularly irks me is the claim that there is no research to back up Attachment Parenting, when in fact it is very well researched and one of the branches of research where there are very certain results, with studies all pointing in the same direction rather than some studies contradicting one another.

One of the myths that is particularly virulent – but then again, always has been – is that Attachment Parenting equals mommy martyrdom, that it asks too much of parents. I find this a little comical, because what does that say about you if you think that there is a parenting style that asks too much of you? As if your child isn’t worth it. Are there parents who think that way? I hope not.

What the argument is really, is revealing an overall lack of a sense of individual balance in our Western society. Asking us to do a little more for the betterment of our children, whom we love, wouldn’t be such a big deal if the majority of parents didn’t already feel tired and overworked and severely lacking some “me” time. If our emotional cups were already full most of the time. But they’re not. As a society, we seem to be constantly seeking contentment, chasing happiness.

There are plenty of theories abound of why this is, but I see it as our society asking too much of us. Mothers are supposed to work and raise children, and really, there are not many mothers who have a choice between working and staying at home. It isn’t a matter of selfishness but often out of necessity; rising food and fuel costs, access to affordable health insurance, debt, divorce – all these contribute to mothers’ lack of options. And at the end of the day, many mothers feel responsible for the housework as well.

What scares parents about Attachment Parenting is that it’s another thing to do, that it’s something else that they really need to do but just cannot get to, that not doing it could have real and lasting consequences and they already feel guilty of what they perceive to not be giving right now. Attachment Parenting isn’t asking too much of parents but too much of people who already have too much going on in their lives. To give our children as much time and energy that parents are imagining that we “attachment parents” give, well, it would require that they give up on something in their life – and that would probably be the only thing in their life that gives them any sense of personal balance. It would require them to completely overhaul their lifestyles and re-learn how to be content with a slower, simpler life – one where personal happiness wasn’t dependent on more, more, more.

This change in thinking would be daunting in the least – for some, impossible, unless they were willing to face and address their own unmet needs for emotional balance, and change the very way that they strive to meet that unquenchable void: by switching their priority away from materialism and instant gratification to quality relationships that require patience, commitment, sometimes hard work without meaningful results, and character strength.

That’s not the core of Western society, and that’s why Attachment Parenting isn’t yet mainstream. To “attachment parents,” it can be frustrating that attachment-promoting parenting techniques aren’t more widely accepted –shouldn’t love, that emotion that everyone desires to feel authentically, be an obvious way to raise our children? But for Attachment Parenting to become more mainstream, it couldn’t come by force or policy – that isn’t our way as “attachment parents,” anyway. It would have to come by a shift in our societal attitude.

Forget Child- or Parent-Centered…Think Family-Centered

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

Various parenting approaches are usually categorized as either child-centered or parent-centered, and there is great contention about which is better for both children and parents. Child-centered, critics say, compromises a parent’s sense of balance and may lead to children feeling entitlement. Parent-centered, critics counter, compromises a child’s need for parental attention and attunement.

But is this polarization, this black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, reality? Should we be debating for which is the better of the two “evils”?

The fear centered on Attachment Parenting is that, because it involves a parent to be attuned to her child around the clock, that it must be synonymous with or at least bordering on permissive parenting. Scary music please… Permissive parenting is that style of parenting that conjures thoughts of dread in as many parents as abusive parenting does. Permissive parenting indicates a seriously imbalanced, child-centered parenting style where parents bend to the will of the child in everything, perhaps out of fear of rejection or out of pure indifference, without setting behavioral limits. It can lead to where the parent has no rights to her own sense of self, because the parent will forgo her own needs to satisfy her child’s wants.

The reaction by critics of Attachment Parenting is – instead of understanding the ins and outs of what it indeed means to have a secure parent-child attachment bond – is often to recommend a complete overhaul on the parenting principles: shut the child in the bedroom and let him cry himself to sleep alone, schedule feedings, punish and shame and ignore requests. As if doing the very opposite of their perceived fears is anymore healthy? Continue reading

Attachment Parenting, Illustrated

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API Leader

“The question should not be, ‘Are you mom enough?’ The questions should be:

  • Are you responsively parenting your child in a timely way?
  • Are you attuned to his or her individual needs?
  • Are you providing a safe, protected, and predictable environment?
  • Do you understand and respond to the developmental differences between infants, toddlers, and older verbal children?
  • Are you available and empathetic when your child needs you or is under stress?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, you are practicing Attachment Parenting.  You can reasonably expect that your child will become emotionally secure, will be able to give and receive affection, and will lead a productive and successful life.”~ Isabelle Fox, PhD, author of Growing Up: Attachment Parenting from Kindergarten to College, in response to Time magazine’s feature article “Are you Mom Enough?” on May 21, 2012

What does Attachment Parenting look like? That depends on who you ask.

  • William is a stay-at-home father with his infant son. An environmental engineer, Crystal works two days in the office and three days from home. William travels with Crystal during her frequent business trips so that she can continue breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing after the workday has ended.
  • Jason, a prison guard, works shifts opposite his wife, Becky, a physical therapist, so that one of them is always home with their infant son and toddler daughter. Becky is tandem-nursing, and the family cosleeps.
  • Shell is a stay-at-home mom to her toddler son. Her husband, Dusty, owns his own electrical business, so they often eat lunch at the job sites and he can take a day off here or there to spend more time as a family. Shell breastfed, coslept, and babywore their son, and she plans on homeschooling.
  • Rita is a stay-at-home mom to her three children and a full-time work-from-home mom doing communications. Because her husband, Mike, works 60-hour weeks at the factory, it’s not uncommon to see Rita bring at least one of her children in with her to a work meeting. Her two older children attend morning preschool, and her baby is her first exclusively breastfed child. Rita and Mike also cosleep regularly with the younger two children.
  • Jamie works full time at a bank, and her husband, Anthony, is a church pastor. She breastfeeds and pumps milk to be bottle-fed to her baby at the childcare center where both of her children attend. The center operates on values consistent with Attachment Parenting. At home, the baby sleeps in his parents’ room in a crib, and his toddler brother sleeps in his own room.
  • Cristin is a stay-at-home mom to four children. Her husband, Jon, travels extensively for his job as a computer technician. Their oldest two children attend public school, leaving Cristin home with a baby and a toddler. She is breastfeeding the baby who sleeps in her room in a bassinet.
  • Lindsey is a single mom who used to work at a large childcare center. She now provides childcare out of her home, in order to spend more time with her infant daughter. She breastfed until recently, when she ran into supply issues, but has enough breastmilk stored up to last another six months when her daughter will turn one.
  • Britney is a stay-at-home mom to a toddler daughter. Her husband, Steven, farms. Britney breastfed and babywore her daughter.
  • Leslie has been working as a full-time school teacher for the past ten years but has been seeking a half-time position since her daughter, now a preschooler, was born. She’s seriously considering taking a year or two off from working to spend more time with her daughter. Her husband, Spencer, a college instructor, supports her decision.
  • Traci is a stay-at-home mom during the day and spends her nights cleaning houses. When her pilot husband, Chuck, is away flying airplanes, her two school-age boys and preschool daughter sleep over at Grandma’s until Traci’s shift ends.
  • Brian and Karen both work full time. When a favorite childcare provider raised her rates, Karen spent a lot of time reviewing and interviewing potential providers for her toddler daughter before deciding on a nearby in-home daycare. When her daughter was a baby, Karen breastfed her until she returned to work at six weeks and then switched to formula. Karen never coslept, but she and Brian always got up for her daughter in the middle of the night, soothing her back to sleep by holding and rocking her.

Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing, independent of a parent’s lifestyle. What this means is that instead of centering on specific rules, such as that a mother must breastfeed or bedshare or stay-at-home, the Attachment Parenting approach shifts the parents’ focus to meeting the individual emotional needs of each child, interdependent with the needs of the parent and the family as a whole. It is a family-centered approach to parenting through which children are responded to consistently and sensitively, depending on their development, but treated with the same respect and value as an adult, yet without sacrificing the parents’ needs for personal balance. Continue reading

Stop Hitting! An interview with Nadine Block, cofounder for the Center for Effective Discipline and SpankOut April 30th

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

There is a fine line between physical punishment and child abuse, at least as the law sees it. Just where does the line lie between the two? Most people who use physical punishment will tell you that spanking, whether with the hand or another object, is considered safe if not done in anger or excessively. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. The law protects adults from assault – otherwise known as hitting – even in prisons, which are clearly meant to be a punishment. Why not the same for children?

At the center of the annual SpankOut Day April 30th is an equality movement with the goal of giving children the same rights that adults enjoy. But it’s not as simple as telling parents and schools to stop spanking. Changing from a punishing mindset to one where children are given the same respect and courtesy as adults – where parents’ goals are no longer to force and coerce but to preserve a trusting, compassionate, forgiving attachment bond with their children – takes a complete overhaul of a person’s, and a society’s, beliefs.

The good news is, the alternative to physical punishment is a much larger array of discipline options that are far more effective at influencing a child’s behavior while eliminating the need for fear-based parenting approaches where the parent must always be in control and the child must always obey, or else.

Recently, I had the privilege to interview Nadine Block, cofounder with Bob Fathman of the Center for Effective Discipline, the organization behind SpankOut Day. Nadine is the editor of a new book, This Hurts Me More than It Hurts You, a unique read contributed by children who’ve been spanked. In it are their stories and drawings about their thoughts toward spanking, their parents, and themselves. It is eye-opening – and empowering. It opened up a discussion between me and my children that was long overdue – about why some of their friends’ parents spank, about their views on the subject, and a pact that I would never stop using positive discipline with them. I believe that this book has the power to change homes, and lives.

RITA: Good day, Nadine! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Let’s start by exploring how you first became interested in promoting positive discipline for children, particularly in advocating for an end to physical punishment? Continue reading

Responding to Lying Positively

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Like many new parents, I naively believed that once I got past the first few years of physically intense infant and toddler care, that surely the rest of childhood would be comparatively easy. By the time my third child came along, I learned to relish those early years. Children don’t get easier to raise the older they get, and they don’t necessarily get harder either. Every age and stage has its own joys and challenges.

One of the challenges I’ve encountered lately that has really made me think has been my five-year-old daughter’s tendency to lie. My four-year-old is an expert storyteller but she tells wildly imaginative, make-believe stories to entertain (“and there was this octopus and it stood on the barn and ate cheese”) and will readily tell the truth if asked. My five-year-old, on the other hand, tells stories to try to get her sister in trouble. Not that it works. I’ve maintained since the beginning that I value truth-telling, even when the child is admitting a wrong. So, say, my daughter breaks a lamp and she tells me what happened truthfully, I look beyond the broken lamp and value the trust that’s there. I don’t react negatively; we just clean it up. But, the problem is when a child blames her sibling and her sibling blames her sister; there is no punishment, but we have to spend a lot more time talking and trying to figure out what the whole story is. I still don’t react negatively, but lying is something that concerns me because it violates my trust. I see it as a sign of a relationship issue. I give a reminder as to what lying is and why we don’t lie to one another, and ask questions to see if there is indeed a relationship issue such as that my daughter feels that I don’t give her as much attention as her sister or if she feels hurt by me for something earlier in the day. It seemed, though, that this wasn’t ever the case; my five-year-old daughter would say all was good, that she wasn’t sad or mad, but she continues to try these lies.

I pondered how my five-year-old learned this behavior for the longest time. I could not understand how she conjured up lying to avoid getting into trouble when being in trouble at our house doesn’t mean anything upsetting. The punishment she seemed to be trying to avoid, by the fear I could see in her eyes, never materialized. She would leave the conversation happily, skipping off to her next play activity. But, before long, we were talking about lying again. Puzzling.

Then, a mother whose child goes to the same preschool suggested that my daughter was learning the behavior at school – that some of her playmates lie to avoid punishment in their homes and were bringing that behavior into the classroom. My daughter was likely just trying out a behavior learned from her friends. This makes sense, as I’ve seen my daughters playing that they were putting their dolls into timeout when we do not use timeout in this family. And we’ve gone through phases when both girls were saying questionable words like “darn” and “stupid,” again words not spoken in this family.

But this lying “phase” has persisted more than a few weeks, and I was beginning to wonder if my approach was developmentally appropriate or if there was something more I could do. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long before I got an answer. Recently, parenting educator Patricia Nan Anderson, PhD, of Seahurst, Washington USA, held a teleclass on this topic, expanding also into cheating and stealing.

Celebrate Lying?

I have heard from some parents and parent educators alike that lying should be celebrated in a way, because it signals that the child has reached an appropriate developmental milestone. I’m not throwing a party, but this does mean that parents don’t have to fear lying as the basis of future juvenile delinquency. Lying is normal and a sign of positive brain development.

“Once a child understands that others have thoughts of their own, they understand that others can do something on purpose but also that things can happen accidentally,” explained Anderson. This ability doesn’t happen until at least age four. Somewhere between age four and seven, depending on the child, guilt and shame develop. And that’s when children are able to lie.

Furthermore, the ability to delay personal gratification, otherwise known as patience, develops by age two in some children but not until age eight. This plays into why some children have the propensity to lie more than others.

Lying, as well as cheating and stealing, in children older than age nine may be a sign that the child feels powerless on her own. Parents can help the child empower themselves.

“All of this stuff is normal,” Anderson said. “Every parent encounters these behaviors. Every child has a normally over-developed sense of greed and a normally under-developed sense of ethics. Your job is not so much to squash the bad thoughts than to strengthen the good thoughts.”

How to encourage moral development:

  • Model moral choices out loud – This is more than leading by example, which is important in itself; this is talking to your children about your thought process in making choices. Children see their parents as perfect, never tempted and never making mistakes, Anderson said. They need to know that you, too, have to play tug-of-war between greed and ethics. For example, say you’re eating cookies: While you’re dividing the cookies among you and your children, say out loud “Mmm, I love cookies. I could eat all of these cookies myself, but I love each of you and want you to have a cookie, too.”
  • Analyze media-based dilemmas together – This not only pertains to managing screen time or discerning which media programs to view or games to play or books to read, but also to discuss what is going on with characters’ choices in the story plot. For example, say you’re watching a TV show about the three little kittens that lost their mittens: “Oh, those kittens are so sad that they lost their mittens. And when they told their mother, she said they couldn’t have any pie. Oh, that makes them sad. What do you think they should do?”
  • Ask the child’s opinions about moral dilemmas – This isn’t a guess-what-Mom’s-thinking exercise, Anderson said; there isn’t one answer. Parents can use the child’s answer as a clue to his current moral development. For example, say your son and daughter are arguing over a toy: Ask each of them “What do you think you should do?”
  • Celebrate your child’s good moral choices – This is just as it sounds. Recognize your child when she makes a choice that aligns with your family values.

Discipline for Lying

Guilt and shame are two of the most uncomfortable feelings that a person can feel, and lying is a natural reaction to not feel guilt and shame, said Anderson, as well as to avoid punishment. But, by viewing lying as part of normal development, punishment doesn’t have to be the rule. How to respond positively to lying:

  1. Never try to catch your child in a lie – If you know the truth, don’t act like you don’t. This only sets him up to lie. And if you don’t know the truth, phrase the question differently: Instead of asking “Who broke my lamp?” say “I see that my lamp has been broken. Tell me about that.”
  2. Never punish your child for telling the truth – Parents who practice Attachment Parenting strive not to punish for any reason, but it’s especially important not to react negatively to a child telling the truth, no matter what that truth is. This is especially important with older children and teens, said Anderson.

And what if your child does lie? Positive discipline techniques depend on the child’s age and development, explains Judy Arnall, parenting educator from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in her book, Discipline Without Distress.

Preschoolers, ages three to five, are typically just learning the difference between reality and fantasy. This age group doesn’t so much tell out-right lies than use story-telling to explain their wishes. Parents can help preschool children by teaching them how to get their needs met without lying, as well as reading books about lying. Anderson’s advice in rephrasing questions is helpful, too. Instead of asking “Did you take that toy from John’s house?” say “I see you have one of John’s toys. We need to give it back.”

Children age six to 12 lie to avoid consequences or to fit in with peers, said Arnall. Teaching by example is important in this age group, as is teaching problem-solving to get needs met. She agrees with Anderson to never punish for truth-telling, no matter what the truth involves. She emphasizes for parents to avoid labeling and over-reacting, but also to avoid dismissing the behavior. Telling the child that while telling the truth can be hard, you appreciate it and reassure the child that he won’t be punished for it.

With teenagers, Arnall advocates being straightforward. Parents should continue not punishing for truth-telling and to teach problem-solving for the original issue, but I-statements are effective in communicating why lying is not acceptable, such as “I’m upset when I’m not told the truth. I find it hard to trust you.”

Put It in Perspective

Parents often fear that lying is a sign of a larger psychological problem in their children. In a small percentage of children, there is a pathological reason, but this is rare; Anderson advises parents to only consider it if your child’s behavior appears compulsive. For the great majority of children, lying is simply a normal part of growing up.

“Think of the times you were tempted as a child or now,” Anderson said. Virtually every person has told a lie at one point in their life. Lying may be morally wrong, but it’s common. Be understanding of your children.

Cheating

Cheating happens because winning feels good. While cheating can be done with the intention to deceive, children typically resort to cheating simply as a way to level the playing field, Anderson said – when she feels at a disadvantage, is frustrated with the situation, and feels in need of an accommodation. Think of a younger child playing a game with older siblings. How to respond positively to cheating:

  1. Provide your child a script to opt out of an activity when tempted to cheat, without admitting that he finds the game difficult, such as “I’m not having fun, so I’m going to go do something else.”
  2. If your child cheats on a school exam or assignment, talk to the teacher about it being a sign that your child is frustrated with the material.

Stealing

Stealing in children age eight or younger often occurs when a child is seeking boundaries, during which she steals something in plain sight or tells you about taking something, or as a result of poor impulse control. With a younger child, it could be a misunderstanding of what it means to borrow. Parents should view stealing in these years as an exploration of relationship rules, and to react by explaining the rules for each incidence.

It’s when stealing becomes intentional that parents need to take notice, said Anderson. Children who are at least nine years old may use stealing as a way to fit in with his peers, to boost self esteem, on a dare, as a form of revenge, or as recreation. Children don’t develop the full ability to consider the consequences of their actions until their late teens, so if your child is stealing intentionally, the first step to resolving it is to figure out why. Second, parents should use the event to teach family values.