Category Archives: Striving for Balance: Personal & Family

For parents seeking personal and family balance.

Three Simple Communication Tips for a Happier Vacation

By Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling, www.sunnybrookcounseling.com

If you are anything like me, it is so easy to overdo it on a vacation. I am known among my friends for squeezing all I can out of a day, and sometimes it’s just too much. On the last Disney trip we took, when I thought my daughter would remember all of the rides, the shows and the interviews with fantasy characters, her favorite memory was sitting on her daddy’s shoulders watching the fireworks in the rain. Yes, the pouring rain. I could have done that in my backyard.3ä illustration: Travel rest from work.

Nevertheless, we will return to Disney this year with Grandpa. I’ve determined to remember that there isn’t a perfect day, not even at Disney. Each day holds beautiful moments and frustrating moments, moments of glory and moments of defeat.  It is realizing that we live in this blend that keeps me in check, keeps me in reality, even at the Magic Kingdom. I have found that keeping the balance and digging for gratitude in each beautiful or frustrating moment makes all the difference. That, and a few key phrases like the following: Continue reading

Date Night: Why and How To Make It Happen

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress and co-founder of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.attachmentparenting.ca.  Her date night blog is at www.datenightyyc.wordpress.com/about/.

In the movie Date Night, the characters played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey are in a long-term relationship that they try to spice up by1414109_13630179 candle going out to dinner once a week on a date night. The trouble is that their date night is monotonously predictable—they go to the same restaurant and order the same food on the same night every week. They start to notice the sameness when they become a little too clichéd even for their own taste by talking about the variation of the chicken quality instead of their feelings, week after week. One night they do something different—they dress up, pick a new restaurant and go to dinner in the city for a change. What happens next is hilarious, and they end up with an incredible evening tale, though probably one that no couple would wish for. The end result is that they had a renewed sense of each other as the people they loved, not just their roles such as parents, children, siblings, etc. (although those roles were strengthened, as well).

Why Have Date Nights?

No matter how long they have been together, couples need sparks, creativity and fun in their relationships. As the years pass, they need it even more. For centuries, organized religion has discovered that people need continuous affirmation of their faith in the form of weekly rituals such as church attendance. Relationships need the same kind of tending and care. Regular meetings are required in order to talk, have fun and spend time together.

We know that friendships survive on shared interests, yet as soon as we partner up with our very best friend, we tend to settle into domestic boredom and let the shared interests slide. Every relationship has peaks and valleys—moments where love is overwhelming and moments when you seriously wonder why you are still with your partner. Couples need to remind themselves of the qualities that they saw in each other at the beginning of the relationship and what they still love about each other. This is even more critical when mortgages, pets, children, jobs, laundry, broken appliances, normal conflicts and elderly caretaking occur alongside the couple relationship. These are normal stresses, but they can be overwhelming in a relationship without some nurturing buffers, such as date night and time together.

The “Date Night” Rules

  • Together, choose an evening of the week for date night, but make it the same day of the week so it’s not left by the wayside.

  • If you have children, hire a standing sitter to come each week at the same time. Try to get a sitter who drives, and pay the sitter well. If finances are a concern, consider finding or starting a babysitting co-op or have date nights at home after the children are asleep.

  • If you don’t wish to leave your children or if separation anxiety is a concern, plan date nights at home when the children are asleep.

  • Each partner takes a turn planning the date, executing, driving and paying. The other partner is the guest. Switch roles the next week. It’s more fun to keep plans a secret until you are both in the car or it’s the time of the date. Surprise is part of the fun!

  • The planner should hire the sitter and feed the kids before you go out.

  • Look your best, even for home dates. The only information the guest needs to know is what to wear and if he or she should eat before going out.

  • Try to plan an evening without friends so that intimate subjects can be addressed if need be. Some subjects are difficult to bring up, but with time and space, it’s better to broach the subjects and give them air time than to bury them. Couples who bury critical conversations end up with nothing to talk about in the later years and drift apart.

  • Be tolerant and enjoy the evening as much as possible, knowing that your partner put a lot of effort into making it special for you, even if he or she didn’t quite nail it that week.

When the Going Gets Tough – Babies, Toddlers & Teens

Research shows that the first five years of a relationship are the most difficult because of career-building demands, money woes and especially the parenting of babies and toddlers. The lack of sleep, child tantrums, worry and differing parenting styles can tear down the closeness and caring of even the most loving couples, as we tend to take our parenting frustrations out on each other. This can be toxic to relationships. We need frequent reminders to be kind and caring to each other in the good times and especially in the challenging times. Continue reading

Instill Creative Discipline During Screen-Free Week

By Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling and Music with Mommie,  www.stacyjagger.com

As a mother of two children and a newborn, I understand completely how media can become a crutch and a babysitter at times for our children, even for those of us who are mainstream TV-free, and who rely on educational programs, family-based movies and school-based computer enrichment activities. Our world has become more “virtual” than real, and it is sometimes necessary and healthy to take a break altogether to regroup, refocus and reconnect with our children, our spouses and ourselves.1187577_84255851 girl in spring

What better opportunity to experience this than Screen-Free Week? It’s a time to get back to the basics and reflect on why connection-based parenting is not only our parenting theory but the way we actually choose to live our lives.

Here are three thought-provoking, guilt-free ways to instill creative discipline in our families while reconnecting with our children during Screen-Free Week.

1.     Put the TV and computer in the closet for the whole week.

“What!? I can’t do that,” you may be thinking. Many of us won’t. Some of us will. But isn’t our reaction telling us about how much the media has power over us? It’s one measly week, a seven-day respite where the cell phone, computer and TV are not calling the shots. What in the world will we do?

There was a period in my life where I desperately needed to unplug. My husband and I did not have children yet, but we proactively and adventurously decided to pack up our belongings, put them in storage, and live in an 1850s cabin for 18 months, without even electricity. EIGHTEEN MONTHS?! Yes, 18 months. And the first day was the hardest. The first day I literally looked at my watch every five minutes and felt like it had been at least three hours. I didn’t think I would survive. I thought, “Oh dear God, what have I done? I surely made a terrible mistake.” As I sat on the rickety front porch I thought, “This is it. I have officially lost my mind.”

But as the minutes and the hours ticked by, my mind and heart began to slow down. I began taking in life in real time. And I began to realize that life in real time was slower than I had ever imagined.  Little things like the whistling wind, the green rustling leaves, the sounds of the cattle farm next door, and most of all the quieting of my mind began to take on a new meaning. And it wasn’t so bad after all. It was a rest I had never known but one that I had needed for some time, probably for most of my life.

I learned many lessons from my cabin adventure, and the one that stands out the most is that the busyness of life had robbed me of experiencing life itself, life that happens in the now. This was not something I was willing to surrender anymore.

So whether you choose to lock your media in the closet for one hour, one day or the whole week, I hope you will find an adventure and connecting presence in your “virtual-free” time and see that “busyness” and “life” are not one in the same.

A great tradition worthy of starting is a “Technology Turn-Off Time” each evening where we turn off our cell phones, televisions and computers, and just sit and read with our children, play a game or go for a walk. Twice a year, we could even have a “Technology Turn-Off Trip,” where we vacation away or staycation at home and remember to experience life without virtual means.

2.     Look your children in the eyes and feel your feelings.

In our media-saturated world, our computers, televisions and cell phones have taken the place of simple eye contact, even with those we love most. To gaze in your child’s eyes, using words or no words, is a healing and bonding experience at any age. It helps us to get in touch with our most primary emotions, many of which we have unfortunately left behind in order to survive our adult world.

A therapist friend explained the concept to me that the word “intimacy” is “into me see.” We teach this type of “into me see” early on with our children. What we don’t realize is that when we forget to bond with our children while feeling our feelings and empathizing with theirs, we are sending them an important message for the rest of their lives. We are saying, “This is too hard,” “I am too busy for you,” “I am not comfortable with this.” This message eventually matures into their adult relationships where it is no longer parent-child, but spouse-to-spouse.

We can use the “replacement principle” in this matter and, instead of sending those negative messages, forgive ourselves and take the time to bend down, look our children in the eyes, giving the message, “You are important,” “I like you,” “My time is well-spent with you,” “I want to know you.”

We are in essence saying to ourselves: I may not have received this when I was a child to the degree that I wanted or needed it, but I recognize the importance and choose to slow down, guard this bond, reconnect and repair from what is familiar to me. I can do this. I can slow down and be with myself and with my child, minute by minute. And when I fail, I can repair. I can humble myself and say I’m sorry, I was wrong. Please forgive me. Now let’s go have some fun!

3.     Experience nature.

One of my heroes is Richard Louv, and his wonderful book, The Last Child in the Woods, literally changed my life and way of thinking. What was in my heart, he put into words. What I knew to be true, he communicated brilliantly. Childhood completely separated from the natural world may be no childhood at all. There may be a forever void in children who are more comfortable plugged-in than unplugged. Children were made to be outside. Media is a wonderful tool that can enhance our lives. It is our job as parents to limit our children’s access to media, and to give them the tools to combat our culture’s message that unstructured time playing outside is a waste of time. It is just the opposite.

Time children spend in nature is a natural healer. It teaches them the circle of life, how long things actually take to grow, how to work together as a team. It really is a child’s first classroom for creativity, problem-solving and emotional and intellectual development. Connecting with nature goes hand-in-hand with connecting with people. Children learn the value of life, the value of a moment, and how moments pass quickly. Children need time to be children. Excessive media robs that from them.

So for this week, turn off the screens. Sit in the silence. Feel uncomfortable. And let it pass. Then watch the birds, the bees, the trees, and find the magic in the moment. With yourself. With your child. Experience life in real time, and then write about it. I would love to hear from you.

Balancing Attachment Parenting and Intimate Relationships

By Kassandra Brown, parent coach, www.parentcoaching.org

Attachment Parenting International offers Eight Principles of Parenting. The eighth principle is about balance in personal and family life. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some ways to bring balance into your marriage or intimate partnership. I hope that everyone who values strong relationships can find a few insights in the ideas of finding balance offered below.SONY DSC

Attachment Parenting is wonderful for babies. It helps children feel secure and loved. These children then grow into adults who are able to form secure attachments and who do not resort to violence to resolve discrepancies.

But is Attachment Parenting good for the marriage or partnership?  When practicing Attachment Parenting, it can seem like babies and children always come first. When is the time for nurturing the relationship between parents? If the adult relationship is not nurtured, it will eventually deteriorate. The fear of this deterioration can lead parents to choose more authoritarian, distant or punitive parenting styles than they may otherwise prefer. Their motivation? To create space for the parents to still be intimate partners and individuals. If connection and attachment are correlated to loss of freedom and loss of self, it becomes much harder to embrace attachment principles.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Nurturing your children and nurturing your partnership are not mutually exclusive. Doing both at the same time does ask each parent to become more creative, loving and forgiving. It may ask each partner to grow and resolve old childhood wounds. In my opinion, this makes it more, not less, valuable as a parenting path. Let’s take a look at some ways to form and maintain strong connections with both children and adult partners. Continue reading

Grief in Children

By Margie Wagner & Callie Little, Child Development Media, www.childdevelopmentmedia.com, reprinted with permission

It goes without saying that the grieving process is a complicated and intensely personal one. It is difficult enough for adults to deal with the loss of a loved one, but it can be even more difficult for children, particularly if their adult caregivers are working through their own grief. Understanding how grief affects children at various developmental stages and knowing the best ways to assist children as they grieve can help children to process their grief in the most healthy way possible. Keep in mind that, while grief is usually associated with a death, there are many circumstances under which children grieve. Separation due to the dissolution of a relationship or due to a military deployment or job-related separation can also cause grief in children.

Reactions to Loss and How to Help

How old a child is at the time of loss certainly affects the child’s perception of the event.  Although babies are unable to express themselves verbally, they will certainly exhibit reactions to loss. They may seem more fussy, inconsolable, or have changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. Very young children, ages 2 to 4, are egocentric: they think the world revolves around them, and their concept of death is limited. They may think that death is reversible, and their main reactions to death may be that their daily routine and care are altered. The adult whom they have lost, or who is also grieving, will be either absent or unable to care for the child in the accustomed manner. At this age, reactions are often regressive, exhibiting themselves in eating, sleeping, or toileting disruptions. Children this age need reassurance and consistency. Try to maintain regular routines and to be comforting, giving hugs and kisses and lots of gentle touches. Keep the discussions of death short, but keep interactions with the child frequent. Even if you feel like the baby or young child cannot understand your words, they will understand your interest in their feelings and your wish to console them. Keep talking – it will help you to get used to the discussions that will become longer and more detailed as the child gets older, and it will help you to figure out what to say.

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Ten Tips for Raising a More Peaceful Child

By Bill Corbett, author of Love, Limits & Lessons, www.cooperativekids.com

The General Assembly of the United Nations declared September 21st as the International Day of Peace. Since the first year of celebration, many schools around the country have used that commemoration to influence children on the importance of world peace. So this past September 21st, I took a film crew with me to an amazing Montessori school deep in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, to see what they were doing.

Meagan Ledendecker, the school’s director of education, asked each of the classes to create a project that would represent their own celebration of world peace. I thought this was an awesome day at the school and featured Meagan and some of the school projects on my television show. You can watch the clip on my website.

Everything I teach in my parenting program and all that I feature on my television show are dedicated to increasing the peacefulness in families and classrooms. If we hope to have less war and conflict in the future, and more love and compassion for one another, then it’s up to us to cultivate that in our children, who will be responsible for carrying out the plan. Here are ten things any parent or guardian can begin doing immediately to raise more peaceful children.

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When Relatives Criticize

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

Q:  My relatives criticize Attachment Parenting. They question my ability to parent and tell me that I am jeopardizing the children’s development and keeping them dependent and attached for too long. How can I best fend for my views and protect my children from my relatives’ intervention about breastfeeding, bedsharing, and wanting to be with me?

 

A: One of the main reasons we find it so hard to inspire respect from relatives and friends is because we seek their agreement. When my children were young, my father used to interrupt every one of my attempts to explain our parenting philosophy; he would say, “That’s rubbish” followed by, “Let me tell you how it works.” He never heard what I had to say. Continue reading

Transitioning Home: An interview with Catherine Myers, director of the Family & Home Network

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

Many new parents or parents-to-be would like to stay at home with their children but find the transition from a professional career to a stay-at-home lifestyle to be a bit bumpy. I certainly did. I was used to fast-paced days as an investigative news journalist and often nights and weekends as an assistant managing editor. I wanted to stay home after my first baby was born, but I had quite the learning curve as my life slowed to the pace of caring for a baby. I wouldn’t have traded any of those amazing moments of watching my children grow, but it would’ve made for a smoother first few years if I had been more prepared for how life changes with a new baby, especially if you’re a newly minted stay-at-home parent.

Recently, I had the chance to interview Catherine Myers, director of the Family and Home Network (FAHN) about their new Transitioning Home online program, offered to parents wishing to explore this option to practice the Attachment Parenting International sixth parenting principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care.

RITA: Catherine, it is so good to talk with you. Can you tell us about FAHN’s mission and what you offer parents?

CATHERINE: Family and Home Network, founded in 1984 and originally named Mothers at Home, is a nonprofit organization offering affirmation, information, and advocacy to parents. Our mission is to advocate for parents and children concerning their need for generous amounts of time together and to support parents by affirming the choice to be home or to cut back on paid employment. For almost three decades, we’ve been listening to parents and learning from them. We are nonpartisan and recognize that there are many perspectives on almost any question faced by parents. We aim to serve as a clearinghouse of information and to offer parents lots of opportunities to learn from each other. Advocacy is an important aspect of our work; it includes speaking out to the media and to policymakers, promoting inclusive family policies and encouraging parents to speak up for themselves.

For 22 years, FAHN published the award-winning monthly journal Welcome Home; we also created four books, other special publications for parents, and information papers for policy makers. Today, FAHN continues to reach parents throughout the world with its publications, website, social media outreach, and online workshops. Our Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies calls on policymakers to respect parents’ choices about the ways in which they meet their income-earning and caregiving responsibilities.

RITA: Why did you decide to found FAHN? What was your inspiration?

CATHERINE: The organization was founded by three at-home mothers whose goals were:

  1. To help mothers at-home realize they have made a great choice;
  2. To help mothers excel at a job for which no one feels fully prepared; and
  3. To correct society’s many misconceptions about mothering.

Over the years, the organization’s goals have evolved and expanded to include at-home fathers, as well as families in which parents share and/or divide the income-earning and caregiving responsibilities. Family and Home Network has become both more inclusive and more focused on the critical importance of nurturing relationships between children and parents.

As for my involvement in the organization, it began in the mid-1980s, when my children were young and I was a reader of the monthly journal Welcome Home. Soon after I moved to the Washington, D.C. area, I answered a call for volunteers and began my decades-long involvement with the organization. I learned so much from my colleagues, and was inspired to return to college to finish my degree. Weaving my work and my studies together, I graduated recently with a Bachelor of Individualized Studies in Human Development, Parenting, and Policy.

RITA: Why did you create the Transitioning Home program?

CATHERINE: In listening to parents, FAHN realized that although support is important to all parents, those who have just decided to leave the workforce to be at-home parents are especially in need of information and affirmation. To meet the needs of these parents, we first created a book, Discovering Motherhood, and then a workshop series, Transitioning Home. Meeting once a week for six weeks, the Transitioning Home workshops offer parents opportunities for reading, reflecting, and discussing. The workshop materials include informative articles, essays written by parents that explore thoughts and feelings, and both individual and group exercises designed to help parents clarify values, tasks, and goals. First piloted in 2004, the Transitioning Home workshops were re-introduced last spring using new technology—Google+ hangouts. Participants can join in right from their homes. Those interested in future Transitioning Home workshops can sign up at www.familyandhome.org/content/transitioning-home-discussion-groups.

API Auction Item!

For the API Auction running from October 18-31 during the 2012 AP Month, FAHN is offering a custom Transitioning Home workshop, to begin between January and April 2013. The winning bidder invites up to eight people to participate–we meet online right from our homes. Catherine Myers will be facilitating this workshop, and she looks forward to thought-provoking discussions and once again witnessing the power of parent-to-parent support!

RITA: Why do you believe that it’s important that parents are able to choose to stay home with their children?

CATHERINE: As API knows, there is an abundance of scientific research showing the importance of providing consistent and loving care to children. Parent-child relationships require time–and each family must weigh many factors in making decisions about time. Other factors include health and special needs, job requirements of one parent (such as travel or long hours), commuting distance, and career preferences. Current public policies offer a panacea: support for parents who use paid child care. Meanwhile, parents who choose (or want to chose) to care for their children themselves are ignored. Highly-respected scholars have proposed inclusive policies such as a early childhood benefit. This benefit would give low- and moderate-income families a choice: spend the funds on child care services or use the funds to replace some of the lost income of a stay-at-home parent. Our current public policies offer only one option: child care—and this is often not the best choice for children or the choice parents want to make. We must remember that families do not make one choice and stick with it—many parents’ decisions about employment change. Flexible, inclusive public policies would support families as they change and adapt over time and with the changing needs of their children.

RITA: Thank you so much for your time and insights, Catherine. Is there anything else you’d like to offer?

CATHERINE: It’s important for parents to speak up to their elected officials. Corporations contribute millions of dollars to advocacy for “working families” (among these contributors are child care corporations). Lobbyists for working families focus on policies designed to help parents stay in the paid workforce. Families with an at-home parent have no such lobbying presence. FAHN has just added an advocacy tool to our Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies. We hope to see lots of API parents speaking up for inclusive family policies!

Caring for Our Children

Explore the API parenting principle of Providing Consistent and Loving Care by reading the “Caring for Our Children” issue of the Attached Family magazine. Inside, you’ll read:

  • Barbara Nicholson & Lysa Parker, API’s cofounders, on why this principle is just as fitting for stay-at-home parents as working parents
  • Richard Bowlby–that’s right, son of the “father of Attachment Theory,” of which Attachment Parenting is based–on how a baby chooses an attachment figure
  • On whether preschool is necessary for child development by Naomi Aldort
  • And much more.

Join API to access your free electronic copy!

Parenting for a Sustainable World: Cultivating a Reverence for Life

By Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International, coauthor of Attached at the Heart, www.parentslifeline.com

**Reprinted with permission from Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine, www.pathwaystofamilywellness.org

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I truly understood the deep connection between early childhood experiences and how they affect our relationship to the earth and all living things. In my work with children, I found that many kids seem to have a natural affinity to nature, but this affinity must be nurtured, or it gets buried like so many other gifts.

When my oldest son was an infant, he was always calmest when we were outside. He could be in a full wail, but as soon as we went outside his crying stopped. To this day he loves to be outdoors, and when he feels the need to get centered and calm, he will go to his favorite place in a nature preserve or a park. There is a spiritual, unknowable, meditative energy in nature that evokes awe and reverence if we will be still, listen, and observe.

Check Out This Issue of Pathways Magazine to Get a New Perspective on TIME’s AP Coverage

Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine highlights Attachment Parenting in its newest edition featuring TIME cover mom Jamie Lynn Grumet in a real-life family portrait. This issue includes features by Jamie Lynn, API cofounders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, and other experts providing a historical perspective of the AP Movement, a biocultural anthropological overview of child-led weaning, and a discussion of the TIME cover and its cultural backlash in the context of a consciousness shift toward global wellness.

The Man Behind a Movement

While doing research years ago for another project, I learned about the work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) and his contributions to humanity. He was a theologian, medical doctor, philosopher, scholar, speaker, writer, musician, and humanitarian. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for building a hospital in West Africa and devoting his life to treating the people there, who suffered from disease, famine, and the ravages of war.

As I was doing research for this article, about the relationship between Attachment Parenting and the environmental movement, I kept coming back to Dr. Schweitzer’s work. He is best known for creating an ethical philosophy in 1915 called “Reverence for Life,” a philosophy that he considered the basis for morality, which he referred to as a universal principle of ethics. In his 1923 treatise, Civilization and Ethics, Schweitzer wrote: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Rever­ence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm, or to hinder life is evil.”

According to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship website, Dr. Schweitzer stressed “the interdependence and unity of all life,” and is considered by many to be the forerunner of the Environmental and Animal Welfare movements. In 1962, author Rachel Carson dedicated her revolutionary book, Silent Spring, which ignited the environmental movement, to Dr. Schweitzer.

The Reverence for Life ethic may seem obvious to those who have highly developed capacities of empathy and compassion for all living things; for others, it takes an awakening of conscience, with some re-educating about how our actions impact living systems. The family system is one that has been neglected for too long and is our only hope for future generations, so we have to view all living systems as integral parts of the whole. What we do, how we interact with each other, and what we teach our children will determine how they treat others and engage in the world. Being the quintessential observer and philosopher that he was, Dr. Schweitzer understood this well and addressed the importance of teaching children, stating: “Adults teach children in three important ways: The first is by example, the second is by example, and the third is by example.”

“As the middle child of five born to a hard-working father and a stay-at-home mom, the main tenets to maintain sanity and stability were practicality and resourcefulness. There was always a purpose behind our collection of four-legged friends. We raised sheep, rabbits, ducks, and a goose. Each of the children had husbandry chores in addition to house­hold responsibilities. Mother always had a large garden. I have very fond memories of the apple cider assembly line production in the front yard. Mom and Dad still have the apple press in their kitchen, albeit as an ode to the past. A lot more time was spent harvesting food at home than time spent grocery shopping, or any type of shopping; mom sewed, and the clothes moved from one child to the next. With four girls, this was a cost-effective approach. When I recently decided to start our gentleman’s farm (three Nigerian dwarf goats, six free-range chickens, two dogs, and a cat), it was to recreate that synergy for my son, which had developed in me a strong work ethic and a great appreciation and respect for nature’s generosity.” ~ Cathleen K.

Attachment Parenting

Someone said, “When you change the way you view the world, the way you view the world will change.” That’s what happened to me 30-odd years ago when I became pregnant and read Suzanne Arms’s book, Immaculate Deception: My world view changed and the activist in me was born. I was later introduced to the breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting world through La Leche League meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, where I discovered my passion and mission in life, to advocate for children and their families.

Initially, my journey into Attachment Parenting was one of trepidation, because I didn’t know anyone who had older children that had actually parented this way. With the support and experience of other mothers at the meetings, and watching them interact with their children so lovingly and respectfully, I couldn’t resist my awakening intuition that told me it was right.

“In general, my daughter has less stuff because we followed some attachment principles. We didn’t buy things like a baby monitor, a play gym, a baby bathtub, pacifiers, mobiles, or most things meant to soothe or occupy a baby. We kept her close, and her entertainment was whatever we were doing.” ~ Carrie N.

At one meeting, I met Barbara Nicholson, and we became lifelong friends and sisters in this journey ever since.

In the early 1990s, we learned that many Attachment Parenting groups were popping up across the country, but there was no distinct or cohesive movement or clarity about what this new phenomenon actually was. Everyone seemed to have their own interpretation. The term “attachment parenting” (AP) was coined by Dr. William and Martha Sears, and was defined by the principles they called the “Baby Bs” as a way of helping parents learn to empathize and become more attuned to their infants. (These included “birth bonding,” “breastfeeding,” and “belief in a baby’s cry.”) Their books were our lifeline, because no other pediatricians, let alone mainstream society, were supporting our choices.

As educators, we saw the disconnection of our students due to dysfunction in their homes, and we felt strongly that it was due in large part to parents not having ac­curate parenting information or support. In 1994, Barbara and I formed our grassroots, non­profit organization, Attach­ment Parenting International (API), to provide parents with the evidence-based information they need to debunk the bad advice of many popular parenting books (some still popular today), and created parent support groups around the country and internationally.

At that time, many AP families were also involved in the Environmental Movement, but we knew that we had to keep our message simple and focused strictly on principles related to the parent-child attachment relationship, just as La Leche League International later decided it had to focus on breastfeeding rather than par­enting. It didn’t mean that we didn’t value or appreciate natural living lifestyles, just that we knew we had all we could handle in terms of promoting the attachment message. We also understood that if we could help par­ents raise empathic children, then that empathy would carry over in all aspects of life.

Some felt that the Searses had created a parenting formula, but what they really taught us was to trust our intuition and the reasons why this empathic style of parenting was so critical to children, the family, and society. Their overarching message helped us learn to respect and trust our baby’s cues and our own instincts; the baby will tell the parent what she needs through her body language and cries, and the parent’s sensitive response to her cues will teach her the first lessons of trust. And that was just the beginning.

“I was already very involved in the environmental movement before I had children and had learned not to ac­cept things at face value and consider what is truly best for families and the earth. So when I had children, attachment parenting was a natural fit. It is more about connection and less about material things. Now our eight-year-old son is helping our family with recycling, gardening and composting. I also homeschool using Waldorf methods and philosophy, which is all about inculcating reverence for life, and I think that really helps, too.” ~ Kara C.

Creating a Conscience

The Searses have long taught that when we see the world through our children’s eyes, our worldview changes. We begin to feel more respect and empathy for our children’s feelings, and act accordingly. The way we are treated as children and the example our parents set for us are the primary determining factors in develop­ing a conscience.

Every child’s brain has the capacity to develop empathy, compassion and remorse, all of which comprise the inner workings of the conscience. The brain is a “use it or lose it” organ, so the window of opportunity to develop these capacities is in the early years of a child’s life. These early experiences don’t rest solely on our interpersonal relationship, but also in what we are taught about our relationship with the ex­ternal environment—teaching the value of and express­ing appreciation for the natural world.

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.” ~ Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Parenting for a Sustainable World

With the Searses’ permission, API expanded on the Baby Bs to create The Eight Principles of Parenting. These are intended to provide guidance for the optimal development of children that we can strive for, but they are not intended to be standards of perfection. They can be used as core principles, regardless of what name is used for the parenting style: Attachment Parenting, natural parenting, conscious parenting, or original parenting. API recognizes that there are many configu­rations to what constitutes a family and, depending on their life circumstances, parents are encouraged to use what works in their family and leave the rest.

With the Reverence of Life ethic in mind, these Eight Principles are designed to be respectful of the needs of the newborn child who comes into this world with a set of expectations: to be held, fed, protected, and loved in a multi-sensory bath of smells, touch, and loving words. There is an intimate connection, also known as attunement, that arises out of the day-to-day care to the point where the mother or primary caregiver can begin to intuit what the child is feeling and what his needs are before the child has words to express himself.

The principles themselves are based on respecting the natural systems–the less interference, the better. For example, “Feed with Love and Respect” encourages breastfeeding as the ideal attachment model: It’s natural, it’s designed for the human infant, there’s no waste, and there is respect for the hunger cues of the infant, rather than adhering to rigid schedules. In environmental terms, it is a natural, closed-loop system that has a natural flow or rhythm.

With slight adaptations, the principles can easily be adapted for older children as well.

  1. Prepare for Parenting: Become knowledgeable about your child’s emotional, developmental and cognitive levels.
  2. Respond with Sensitivity: Stay emotionally responsive.
  3. Feed with Love and Respect: Strive for optimum physical health.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch: Maintain a high-touch relationship with your child.
  5. Engage in Nighttime Parenting: Develop and maintain positive sleep routines.
  6. Provide Consistent, Loving Care: Be physically present and emotionally available for your children.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline: Preserve the connection with your child.
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life: Navigate the challenges of modern society.

“Becoming pregnant was akin to opening the flood­gates: My intuition increased tenfold, my artistic juices overflowed. I was genuinely fascinated with the evolution of pregnancy, and invited a commu­nity of friends and family into the delivery room to welcome Jackson into each daily adventure. The tenets of Attachment Parenting make complete sense to me. Even though I was introduced to the work after Jackson was born, I had already embod­ied much of the ideology. I consider parenthood a privilege and a responsibility. I think of mother­hood as the invitation to create, contain, and let go. I cherish every cuddle, knowing a self-possessed nine-year-old is around the corner, and then I will have to be satisfied with hurried pats on the back. Why rush it? I have surrendered my ideas of how I thought it would/should be and accepted the messes and the madness. I do pick my battles—holding strong on ritual (family dinners and reading books before bedtime) and respect for the adult and the child. It’s amazing what we hear when we really listen. If I’m consistent, he will be too. I may be raising an only child, but I am clear that how I treat him will affect how he treats others through­out his life, including his own family.” ~ Cathleen K.

Parenting and Permaculture

There are a multitude of similarities between Attachment Parenting and the Green Movement, particularly the Permaculture Movement. Sometimes parents are attracted to Attachment Parenting, because it already fits their lifestyle and philosophy. More often, parents find Attachment Parenting, because they are looking for a better way of raising children, and as a result find their own consciousness awakened, realizing that their children present a greater purpose for society, and as such, feel more obligated to teach them to be good and compassionate stewards of the earth.

The concept of permaculture can be difficult to define. Some describe it as “a connecting system between disciplines,” or “observing nature and the natural flow of systems.” Permaculture ideally is “a closed-loop system, taking responsibility and producing no waste.” Many AP parents consciously choose to take responsibility to minimize material things that create waste.

David Holmgren, one of the originators of the permaculture movement, helped to create 3 Permaculture Ethics and 12 Principles as the framework that can be applied in ecosystems, businesses, communities, and the nation. I would add families to that list.

The 3 Ethics are:

  1. Care of the Earth
  2. Care of People
  3. Fair Share (for everyone)

The 12 Principles are:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns and details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

To learn more about the 12 principles, go to www.permacultureprinciples.com/freedownloads.php.

In Australian, filmmaker Peter Downey’s film Anima Mundi, collective voices speak of the urgent need to help the earth achieve balance—that we must “evolve or perish, grow up or die,” because, like it or not, the world is changing. As we witness various groups and politicians point fingers of blame, our reality remains the same: Our populations continue to increase, while our resources dwindle away and the climate continues to change. We can and must raise new generations of children who will become adults who are conscious, concerned and committed to helping heal the earth. Attachment parenting families are doing just that.

As humanity slowly comes to the realization of the damage we have done to this living organism we call earth, we have learned some hard lessons along the way. We must take personal responsibility, and teach our children well.

“I think it’s because we are very mindful of our choices. Just as we care for our children by making decisions to do everything in their best interests (whether that’s babywearing, cloth diapers/wipes, organic foods, etc.), we extend that same mindfulness and respect to others in our families, neighborhoods, and environment. I think because Attachment Parenting has such a core value of respect, we don’t only respect our children, but also everyone around us. We want the earth to be a good, clean, and healthy place for our children to grow up, and for everyone else’s children, too.” ~ Jennifer Y.

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.