Category Archives: 4. The Growing Child

From age 4 to age 9.

Attachment Parenting International’s (R)Evolution: An interview with cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker

By Julie Artz, originally published in Summer 2008 issue of API’s newsletter

API-Logo-20th-themeI’ve interviewed some big names in my writing life, so I was surprised at how nervous I felt at the prospect of interviewing Attachment Parenting International’s co-founders, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, about the organization’s beginnings, their book on Attachment Parenting (AP), and the challenges of founding and running a not-for-profit organization.

My anxiety couldn’t have been more displaced. Barbara and Lysa, despite their high-profile positions within Attachment Parenting International (API), are a delight to interview and tell an amazing story of how two young mothers–who were also special education teachers–went from having, as Barbara put it, “our own little support group,” to founding a global not-for-profit organization with the vision of helping parents achieve a more compassionate relationship with their children through AP.

JULIE: How did you two meet?

lysaparkerLYSA: Let’s begin at the beginning. Barbara and I met at a La Leche League (LLL) meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, in 1980. She had just moved from Texas, USA, and was a LLL leader applicant. We started talking and found out we had a lot in common. We were both special education teachers, and our husbands were singers/songwriters. Both our husbands were from Texas, so they knew some of the same people. That’s how our friendship began. Because of our friendship, Barbara shared with me what she learned through LLL and was a great support.

I remember worrying about whether or not AP was right when I was a new mother. What if it’s not right? What if I damaged my child? Because we didn’t know anyone who had kids who were APed. It helps to know someone personally who’s been there. Even moms today in our API circles want to talk to people who have raised children this way.

barbaranicholsonBARBARA: The founders of LLL are seven mothers with an average of about five children each and that was one little light at the end of the tunnel–witnessing generations of their families continuing on with what their mothers started. I always tell my boys, “I’m learning on the job,” but at least you see me reading, trying, and that’s all I ask of you is to keep trying and growing. It is wonderful to see so many of our API and LLL friends becoming grandparents and watching their adult children parent in such loving ways. We feel very confident that our sons will be great parents, too!

LYSA: In 1985, we moved to Alabama, USA, due to my husband’s new work. I became a LLL leader in 1986 and went back to teaching in 1990. It was a real culture shock for me, because I’d gone from this world of loving, caring mothers surrounded by babies and young children where everybody is nurturing toward their children and each other. I found myself stuck in a portable classroom with rambunctious seventh- and eighth-grade students with learning disabilities. Many were emotionally disturbed; they were already initiating for gangs, and one student was already a father. I remember looking in their folders and seeing the problems they had in kindergarten and wondering why no one intervened–believing in my heart that AP could have prevented so many of these problems.

BARBARA: I remember thinking as my children got older, “I can’t imagine going back in the classroom knowing what I know.” I would feel like I wasn’t really serving the students if I didn’t promote AP.

I see prevention as the answer. Maybe 10-15% of these special education children had a true learning disability, and the rest of them just needed someone to sit and hold them and read to them and give them attention. Even in the late 1970s when I was teaching, it was hard to find a parent who was taking the time to give their children special attention. Parents wanted the teachers to take care of that for them, and when the children got home from school, they sat in front of the television. And this was surburban America, not high-risk or inner-city schools; it was a middle-class area, not poor.

isabellefoxDr. Isabelle Fox (a member of API’s Advisory Board) has been telling us very similar stories. She started her practice in the late 1950s, worked through the 1990s, and the shift in the culture that she has seen during that time is profound. When she was first a young therapist, the mother usually stayed home with the children. So if something went wrong with a child, the mother could give the therapist information about the background of the child or what might have led to fears or anxieties. In the present day, Dr. Fox said the mothers don’t know what goes on in the child’s life, because they’re in substitute care with many changing caregivers. If it was a nanny, which is what she recommends for substitute care, at least it would be one stable caregiver who would know the child well. But in most situations, it’s not one stable caregiver; it’s a constant rotation, even in the best daycare situation.

JULIE: When did you realize you wanted to found API?

BARBARA: We were reading these great books, like High Risk: Children without a Conscience by Ken Magid. We actually met him later; he was a real catalyst. Then we read For Your Own Good by Alice Miller. All of a sudden, light bulbs were going on about why parents were having such a hard time learning about positive discipline with their own children: because most of us had not been parented that way. You are so deeply imprinted by the way you were treated as a child. Reactions people think of as instinctual would not be the normal reaction if you’d been raised lovingly. That was a huge “ah ha” moment for us.

I subscribed to a journal published by the National Association of Parents and Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth (NAPPSAC), and the publishers, Lee and David Stewart, had reviewed Alice Miller’s book. So there was this explosion of ideas in the late 1980s. We knew about AP from Dr. William Sears and LLL, but then you have these psychologists giving us the cultural overlay: the punishing culture we live in, that parents only knew what they learned as they were raised.

LYSA: If we had learned about Attachment Theory in college, we didn’t remember, so we’d go to the library and it was like a treasure hunt. We found out about Dr. John Bowlby (known as the “Father of Attachment Theory”) and Dr. James Clark Moloney.

“Attachment Parenting is in many ways the practical application of my father’s [John Bowlby] theory.” ~ Sir Richard Bowlby Bt, Attached at the Heart

richardbowlbyMeet Sir Richard Bowlby Bt, advocate, lecturer, member of API’s Advisory Board and speaker at the 2014 API Conference on September 27 at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, USA. Richard Bowlby, the son of Dr. John Bowlby who first developed Attachment Theory, worked as a scientific photographer in various medical research institutions where he produced visual aids for communicating research findings.

He retired in 1999 to promote a wider understanding of Attachment Theory to healthcare practitioners and interested lay people. His present concern is the psychological impact on babies and toddlers being cared for by unfamiliar people in day care who do not develop long-term secondary attachment bonds to one caregiver. He also gives lectures to a wide range of health care professionals using video material and personal insights to promote a much broader understanding of his father’s work on attachment theory. He focuses on wider audiences using video material to help communicate the emotional significance of Attachment Theory, a potentially dry academic subject with very personally challenging significance.

He supports a range of organizations that address various attachment issues and is seeking ways to help the general public benefit from a better understanding of childhood attachment relationships. His eventual goal is to find ways of “crossing the species barrier” between academics and the general public, to liberate the professional knowledge of Attachment Theory into the population at large. He is developing a broader knowledge of associated subjects, especially the emerging research about the role of fathers and the long-term significance of their early relationships with their children.

We got photocopies of a book of Dr. Moloney’s from Susan Switzer, an LLL leader in Georgia, USA. Dr. Moloney was a psychiatrist who had been sent to Okinawa right after World War II as part of a team processing folks who had suffered greatly during the war. He found that, in spite of everything that had happened to them, they had happy dispositions. They weren’t bitter but were resilient, kind, calm, and it piqued his curiosity. He observed them, and what he found was that their parenting created a culture of compassion. Moloney called it “permissive parenting” at the time, where the child is the sole occupation of the mother for the first two years, then the siblings become part of the care of the child. Okinawan parents were very respectful of the children, contrary to what he had observed in the United States. He came back to the United States to work with the Cornelian Corner (a group of progressive pediatricians at Wayne State University) and started teaching American parents how to parent like the Okinawans. Even though the program wasn’t considered a success, it ultimately had its influence through Moloney’s association with LLL International.

So then we started scheming: What can we do? We wanted to start an organization.

BARBARA: So we wrote a letter to Dr. Elliot Barker, who founded the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (CSPCC), asking if we could found an American chapter. He had given a talk at a LLL conference that was
reprinted in Mothering (magazine). The day I moved into this house, October 1, 1992, we got the phone plugged in and it rang. It was Dr. Barker calling from Canada. I had to go hide in a closet and try to sound professional. I dropped everything to talk to him, while people were carrying in boxes downstairs. I thought he was going to tell me how to join, but actually he told us if he had it to do over again, he would do so much more than just publishing Empathic Parenting (the CSPCC’s quarterly journal published from 1978-2003). He mentored us from then on and told us to use a grassroots approach. It will start slow and it will build, he said, but that’s what’s going to change the culture.

LYSA: Dr. Barker emphasized having a strong mission and a strong vision, because he’d seen organizations get watered down over time and ultimately fold because they didn’t stay true to their mission. He wrote letters to important people asking them to send letters of endorsement, which they did, and suggested forming a strong advisory board of well-known experts. Thanks to Dr. Barker, we believe we found our spiritual calling: He made us feel that this is what
we were meant to do.

Our very first website was created in 1995 by a computer lab teacher at my school. This website became the open door to parents around the world. In 1997, we were contacted by some AP moms in Seattle, Washington, USA, who wanted to start an API group. We asked them to help us pioneer the support group model for us, which they agreed to take on, and they helped us come up with our very first support group materials.

BARBARA: About that time, we hired our first employee: fellow LLL Leader Zan Buckner, who started out just doing filing and then helped us so much with our early materials. We had a wonderful group of LLL friends who wanted to expand their horizons. They were excellent parenting resources. At the conferences, you could really expand on the philosophy of LLL and move into AP, and that’s where we heard so many fantastic speakers. So many LLL leaders were ready to do more, so they joined us.

Our first LLL conference as co-founders of API was in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, with our exhibit that looked like a science fair project: a cardboard, three-sided exhibit with magazine cutouts. We’ll always be school teachers at heart!

API returns to Indiana…Make plans to attend the 2014 API Conference on September 26 at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana! Registration is only $75 for a day packed with AP speakers and fun family activities

One of the founders of LLL, and their new executive director was there. They were so supportive of what we were doing. Since then, we have met every founder, and they have all said they wish they could have done what we were doing–expand their mission into parenting. There wouldn’t be API without the experience of breastfeeding our babies–learning to trust our bodies and ourselves as parents. Some of us were the first generation in several generations to breastfeed.

JULIE: Can you talk a little bit about the struggles of founding a not-for-profit?

LYSA: Every time we’ve gotten to the point where we were about to give up because we didn’t have enough money or resources or we were burned out, someone or something has come along and helped us out. What we’re going through right now is proof of that. If it’s meant to be, it will survive. It’s a constant miracle in our lives to see how API keeps hanging in there.

To us, it’s so important and nourishing to hear from parents and professionals. We’ve talked to people who knew John Bowlby, and they’ve said he would be proud of what we’re doing. His quote that I love is: “If a community cares for its children, it must cherish its parents.” He held support groups for parents when he was practicing medicine at the Tavistock Clinic in London. What an inspiration!

JULIE: And in 2007, you turned over API’s day-to-day operations to a small volunteer staff to work on a book about Attachment Parenting.

Attached at the HeartLYSA: The book, Attached at the Heart, is a culmination of the last 20 or more years since we had our first conversations about wanting to help children and parents. In our book, we paint the big picture and give the reader the reasons why AP is important, as well as the principles and the research to support those reasons. We’re different than most parenting books; we want to give parents the researched information and empower them to make their own informed decisions.

BARBARA: The other important message of our book is the title: Attached at the Heart. We want people to trust their heart when all else fails. When it’s the middle of the night and the baby’s crying, and the pediatrician and the mother-in-law have both said to let the baby cry, we want parents to trust their instincts. Instead of worrying, “Is my baby going to be messed up if I hold her for 15 more minutes?”, we want them to trust their heart. Mothers wouldn’t be in a cold
sweat or crying when their children were hurting, if they instinctively knew to always default to the most loving, connected thing to do.

We really wanted to have something about nurturing, or connection, in the title to capture all of these philosophical concepts we’ve been talking about.

JULIE: A lot of the philosophies you’ve discussed fault what you called a “punishing culture.” How do you go about changing culture to something more AP-focused?

LYSA: You can’t change generations of behaviors in one generation, but you can begin the change. So often, AP is blamed for troubles in a relationship or with children. But really, it has to do with the individual and collective experiences we bring to a relationship. You’ve got to raise your consciousness about yourself so that you’re more conscious with your children. Our children are grown now, but we’re still working on this with them and will be with our grandchildren.

BARBARA: Sometimes we hear of parents who say their own parents stayed together for the children, but did not work on the issues in their marriage. The children were so emotionally damaged, because they had absorbed the dysfunction in their family. They had been given a horrible model for a healthy relationship. We’re proud that our book and our organization emphasize how important it is for couples to model positive, loving interactions and ideally to work on their issues as a couple before they become parents.

LYSA: In the last 15 years, we can say without a doubt that we have seen the cultural shift begin, and AP is becoming more mainstream. It’s reflected in the media with celebrity parents in magazines wearing their babies, talking about breastfeeding and cosleeping; in television and movies where babies are worn in slings or carriers are a normal part of the scenery or with plots that include issues that are AP-oriented. AP businesses have popped up all over the Internet;
people from all over the world contact AP for advice and resources.

BARBARA: We dream of the day when the term “Attachment Parenting” is just “parenting,” and our organization isn’t needed anymore! Until then, we hope the parents who are out there setting such a good example in their communities will continue to nurture their children and each other, family by family creating a more compassionate world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Separation Anxiety?

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

Photo credit: Helene Souza
Photo credit: Helene Souza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stages of development

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

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

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

Loving solutions

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

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

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

What if parents work away from home?

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

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

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

Denial teaches denial

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

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

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

Rejoice in your child’s connection

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

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

 

Spotlight On: The Girl Behind the Door

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

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

API: Tell us about your book.

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

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

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

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

API: What inspired you to write the book?

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

API: How will this book benefit other families?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featuring API Leaders: An Interview with Thiago Queiroz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RITA: Your mom didn’t agree with AP?

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

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

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

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

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

RITA: And your husband is supportive of AP?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARGIE: This is huge for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Anissa Thompson
Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating connection

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

Visits and gifts

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

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

Taking them out for ice cream

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

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

Going to the movies

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

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

Choose the kind of grandparent you wish to be

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Photo copyright Georgia Gwinnett College
Photo copyright Georgia Gwinnett College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generation AP: An Interview with Patricia Mackie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RITA: Is this what influenced your career in counseling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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