Listen to Your Baby!

The seeds for my organization, Parenting for a Caring World (PCW), were sown back in 1981 when I learned from La Leche League (LLL) International about the parenting approach that many now refer to as Attachment Parenting, though there was no name for it then.

mccarthyAbout the Author

Maureen McCarthy lives in Wayne, Indiana, USA, and has 1 grown child and 2 grandchildren. She is the Founder and Director of Parenting for a Caring World. It was her personal experience in Attachment Parenting that inspired Maureen to dedicate her life to infant advocacy, parent support and promoting peaceful conflict resolution and harmony at the societal level.

Maureen earned a Master of Arts in Parenting Education, Holistic Human Development and Counseling. Her professional experience is in parent education, counseling and support. Locally she also facilitates breastfeeding support groups, teaches infant massage and baby sign language classes, and sells slings to promote babywearing.

Mainstream American culture was telling me that my baby needed to cry to have strong lungs and to learn to become “independent.” But my doctor told me that a baby’s lungs did not grow stronger through crying, and LLL explained that it was through meeting my son’s dependency needs that he would grow into a truly independent adult—the kind of independence that is healthy and desirable: when our growing children and our adult children feel confident and capable and know when to turn to others for assistance, support or comfort and when to proceed on their own.

I learned to listen to my baby rather than to unasked-for advice, and I learned to follow my heart, responding promptly when he cried or otherwise communicated his feelings and needs.

I myself was not raised by warm and responsive parents, so it was often a struggle to be the kind of mother I wanted to be. When I didn’t know what to do in a specific situation—especially a stressful one—I reflexively followed the maxim, “Go with what you know,” which often was not a good thing.

I read books about positive discipline, but trying to fully understand and implement the concepts was like learning a foreign language, and I got discouraged. Though I often failed to live up to my high standards for mothering, and made many missteps, my son has continued to be a wonderful person and is a loving and responsive father to his 2 children.

Years later, I learned of Attachment Parenting International (API), founded by two LLL Leaders who wanted to continue promoting LLL’s philosophy of loving responsiveness and additionally address a broader spectrum of parenting issues.

I founded Parenting for a Caring World to support the efforts of these two wonderful organizations and to complement what they offer by focusing on a few special issues and research findings.

Read more about the foundation for Parenting for a Caring World in Maureen’s research paper on the goals, methods and results from the 2 major child-rearing philosophies in Western society.

For example, I share research findings about the harmfulness of behavioristic independence-training techniques such as leaving babies alone to “cry it out,” I use music and specific “imagination experiences” to help people feel what babies feel when left alone and I present evidence from neuroscience, anthropology and other fields that supports a warm, respectful, responsive and relationship-oriented style of parenting.

Attachment Parenting is based on API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, which are rooted solidly in more than 60 years of research. The goal is to create secure parent-child attachment, and the parenting choices center on warmth, trust, empathy, compassion, affection and joy. API welcomes all like-minded individuals and organizations to join the Attachment Parenting movement.

A lot happened between 1981 and 2011, the year I started working on the website for PCW. As my son grew older, I considered career options that involved offering parents the same valuable information and support I had received. I ruled out becoming a lactation consultant because I didn’t want to work in a medical setting, where most of the job opportunities are. So I started thinking about helping people with parenting issues beyond breastfeeding.

I had come to believe that many of our society’s serious problems, such as our high rates of bullying, anxiety, depression, addictions, domestic and street violence, child abuse and neglect, and corporate sociopathy could be prevented or at least reduced if we just met the emotional needs of our babies and children. I realized I would be happiest working in prevention rather than in remediation or crisis intervention. I modified the old adage to say: “Where children are concerned, an ounce of prevention is not worth a pound of cure—it’s worth a thousand pounds of cure.”

As a divorced single mother, I needed paying work but found only one opportunity in this field: writing a weekly research-based parenting column for my city’s newspaper. Eventually I decided to increase my employability and my effectiveness as an advocate by obtaining a Master of Arts. To prepare myself for this advocacy, I honed a variety of skills and gathered research findings from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, sociology, anthropology and health sciences, summarizing them for parents and professionals in charts, papers and “dialogues.”

Inspired by my readings about the “multiple intelligences”–bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, etc.–I decided to appeal not only to the rational mind through science but to the heart through music, so I wrote a song called “Where I Need to Be,” which conveys the feelings of a baby left alone to cry herself to sleep. I am currently working on a lullaby that shows how the experience of transitioning to sleep should be for little ones, with the mother there for and with her baby. I may make a version for dads some day, too.

My ultimate goal is extremely ambitious: to unite all advocates of Attachment Parenting, by whatever name they call this lovingly responsive parenting approach, into a powerful social movement that will, in the next 10 years or so, replace mainstream America’s behavioristic, independence-training child-rearing approach with one that is warm, respectful, responsive and relationship-oriented. Working together, we can more quickly create a better world for our children, one in which everyone’s feelings and needs are respected and in which compassion, patience and kindness guide and inform all our interactions, decisions and actions.



Dear “Little Me,” a Letter from My Grownup Self

Dad and I are alone together in the small family room off the kitchen. He’s sitting on the sofa, and I’m perched on an old stool, looking through the window at the green hills of the neighbouring farm. It’s a view I’ve seen a million times; a view that always calms me. I love the colours of that hill, brown after harsh days of summer, fresh green in spring, dotted with big cows and small ones, blurred by sheets of fierce rains and golden in the afternoon sun. Its shades and forms are always in flux, but never its lines: They are always the same.

jessica talbot 2About the Author

Jessica Talbot is the author of Picaflor, and the article here is an excerpt of pages 222-225 of this book, used with permission. This excerpt details the visit to her childhood home during which Jessica learned the reason for her feeling of loneliness that had haunted her all of her life.

Attachment Parenting International (API) encourages all parents to identify and heal their childhood wounds as part of API’s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting.

PICAFLOR cover for Internet RGB (2)Jessica’s story in Picaflor begins in Melbourne, Australia, where she worked as a child psychologist for 7 years after growing up in New Zealand. She is suffering from a crushing depression, and out of desperation to begin her life anew, she flies to South America and embarks on a journey of self-discovery that culminates in a realization of her childhood attachment wounds and eventual path of healing through Attachment Parenting. Today, Jessica lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with her husband and son.

I try to animate the space between us. “Lola is so cute,” I remark. Lola is [my stepmother] Cheryl’s 2-year-old granddaughter.

“Yes, she is.”

“I was watching her earlier collecting stones and stuffing her pockets with them. She’s so curious and calm. And that mop of blonde curls is fantastic.”

Silence. I watch him as he slowly turns his hands around each other. Do I ask? Is this the moment? I wait, my heart beating faster. I move my weight, ready to leave.

“I don’t really remember you as a child.”

“I don’t remember me, either.” As soon as I say it, I want to take it back.

“I see little Lola and how much love she receives, and how much attention she needs…”

“Yes, they need a lot.”

A heavy pause hangs.

“Dad, what was I like as a child?”

“You were very sweet, so quiet. Then you stopped talking for a while.”

“What do you mean?”

“We sent you away to Ireland with your nanny. A couple of weeks, that’s all.” He laughs nervously, and then continues. “When she brought you back, you had stopped talking. You hid under the table at day care and wouldn’t come out.”

“What happened?” I’m scared to change my tone, in case he stops.

“I don’t think it was anything serious. I think you were just confused by being there, the accents, new people. You were very shy. She told us you hid under a tree in the yard most of the time you were over there.”

My mind blurs with conflicting thoughts. I don’t know what to say.

“I know you think that stuff is important, being a psychologist…” His voice fades off.

“Those kinds of separations are hard on kids.” I try to stay curious, dispassionate. I feel sick inside.

“Well, much worse things happen to children.”

“I know, Dad. But it does have an effect. Those early years are the emotional base of everything that comes later.”

“We dumped you all over the place.”

Dumped, he said dumped. My mind jams on repeat. I look at him. He’s still focused on his hands, as if he’s absorbed in the lines of them. He looks old and sad.

“It’s okay, Dad. Thank you for telling me. I know a lot was going on back then.”

“Yes… That nanny, I think her name was Margaret, she loved you. And you loved her. She went back to Ireland not long after you got back from that visit. We got you a new one. Irish, too. You liked her as well.”

Margaret, I say to myself. I fight with a veil that’s draped over my memories. I know it’s perhaps too long ago, but I sense something pulling at the edges of my mind. Soft white skin on her arms. I can’t see her face. I wonder if that’s why I feel so calm and happy in the presence of Irish people. I picture [my Irish friend] Bree’s wry smile. I miss her.

“Then later Nana came over and took me and baby Jonny back to New Zealand, right?”

“Yes. You two were happy with Nana. So chubby and tanned by the time we saw you again.”

“I’ve seen the photos. She sure liked to fatten us up.”

“Ah, I’ve got to mow the lawns before the party; Cheryl will kill me.”

He springs up and darts past me, mumbling to himself. I can’t help smiling.

“See you, Dad,” I say after his retreating back.

So few words, but some powerful glimpses into years of unsaid things. I am lost in thought, slightly stunned, happy that we’ve talked.

I find myself back in my old bedroom, in front of my childhood dressing table. It’s made of golden oak with neat small drawers each side of the oval mirror. Large drawers give it a strong base below. I rummage through each drawer, my hiding places for precious things. I find shells, dulled by the years; little coloured stones, hair ribbons and clips, a few coins. Then some things from teen years: dark eye shadow, lipsticks borrowed from Mum. I’m surprised to find an empty packet of contraceptive pills. I wonder why the drawers have never been cleared out.

As I’m combing through the years, I go over my father’s words. I have more questions, but my need to ask them has faded away. His intent was clear, the illumination enough. I’m light with relief, content, as if the final piece of a complex puzzle had just been pushed carefully into place. I understand more fully the feeling that has been chasing me all my life. I can let go now.

Then I find a crumpled plastic bag. I open it and out into my hand slips a pony tail of my little-girl hair, rubber band still in place at the cut end. The sight hits me like a punch.

I sit on the bed, hair in my hands, and decide to try something I have never done before. It helped with [my former boyfriend] Daniel, so maybe it will help with me, the little me.

Hi little Jess. It’s me, grown up you. I want to talk to you about life. I want to help you feel less sad and lonely. I know you try very hard to behave well. I know you stay quiet so you won’t bother people. That’s okay, but you don’t have to be good all the time. I want you to know you can be angry, too. Mum and Dad love you, but they’re distracted by lots of things and don’t always show it. They haven’t been there enough for you, and you’re allowed to get mad about that. If you don’t let yourself feel all the different emotions, you will get stuck. It will hurt your insides and make you sick. You feel what you feel and that tells you important things. Don’t hide from it.

You are brave. I want you to stay curious and to open your eyes wide to the beautiful things in the world. You will find a lot of good people in your life. You just have to let them into your world. It’s going to be hard growing up, but I’m here for you. You are not alone. Talk to me when you need to. I’m always here. Try not to let the sadness eat you up. Go and enjoy playing in the park when it’s full of flowers. Get your little hands all messed up with pretty coloured paint. Play with your furry animal friends. Write your quirky stories and don’t worry about the spelling.

And please, know you will have lots of love in your life and lots of hugs. Be patient. Ask for what you want and believe you are special, because you are. I’m hugging you right now. You are loved.

As I say the last words, a flood of emotions and memories rushes through me. I pull back my arms from the imaginary hug. After sitting dead still for a long time, a calm lightness begins to pour in. With each measured breath I feel clearer, braver.

I tell myself I’m not that child anymore. She’s part of me, but now I can finally free myself from the patterns and thoughts that started in her mind and gained strength over the years that followed. I’m an adult now, who can construct every day a new truth for myself. It’s time to look forward, to shake free from the past.

Read more about Jessica’s journey to heal her childhood wounds in this API article, also included in this “Inspired Parents” issue of The Attached Family.



Finding “Home” and Healing with Attachment Parenting

For most of my life I struggled with the sensation that there was a hole in my life, a loss of something vital. It felt as if there was a fuzzy-edged void somewhere inside, floating in my chest. I didn’t understand where it came from, just that it was there from before I had words and that perhaps it had been there from the beginning.

jessica talbot 2About the Author

Jessica Talbot lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with her husband and son.  A native of New Zealand where she earned her master degree in psychology and a post-graduate diploma in clinical psychology, Jessica moved to Melbourne, Australia, where she worked as a child psychologist for 7 years–before relocating to South America with the hope of finding her way out of a crushing depression.

PICAFLOR cover for Internet RGB (2)The rest of her story can be read in her 2014 book Picaflor, which follows Jessica’s search for self that culminates in a realization of her childhood attachment wounds and eventual path of healing through Attachment Parenting.

When I was younger I tried to block out the sensation with alcohol while I tried to fill the hole with boys. Then as I got older, I tried to fill it by helping others, and with more grownup boys. When I wasn’t desperately trying to throw things into the hole to fill it up, I sank into the grey world of depression and resigned myself to loneliness.

With nothing to lose, and a glinting light of hope, I flew to Peru. During the journey and the years that followed, I kept meeting other people who seemed to also be struggling with something similar. These people were searching, too, for the way to fill in the missing bits.

Most of these wanderers had lost important people in their lives, or were detached somehow from families back home. They were trying to find a place to belong in the world, a place where they could love and be loved.

It was during my long journey to find my “home” that the floating hole filled up. My book, Picaflor, was the product of a desire to tell that story in the hope that it may help others vanquish the void, and to prevent the same sensation from occurring in their children.

The journey was painful, but I learned many things. I saw how important connections and family are to Latin American people–how children are so much a part of everything, and just how much people, big and small, were touched and kissed and hugged daily.

I dived in, and it started to heal me. Now, I know just how necessary that touch is if we are to survive the harsh edges of life.

Read more about Attachment Parenting International‘s Fourth Principle of Parenting: Use Nurturing Touch.

While creating a new family in a country far from my birth place, New Zealand, I also made peace with my past and reconnected with my family.

It was during the process of writing and then releasing Picaflor that I had many talks with my mother and father. These conversations gave me what I needed to understand why I had always felt so detached and why I had never quite felt worthy enough. I finally saw what the “little me” missed out on and what the “big me” now had to create for myself.

Read an excerpt of Picaflor in this API article, also included in this “Inspired Parents” issue of The Attached Family.

I saw, too, what my parents were missing and how they tried to give me the solid base I needed, but were unable to for many reasons. The relief that came from understanding was amazing, and forgiveness came easily after that.

When I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t rush into reading parenting manuals and books. I knew I would figure it out when the time came. I already knew how important attachment was from my training as a child psychologist and from the experience of having shaky foundation blocks. I wanted to trust my instincts.

After he was born, I realized it was way harder than I imagined! But I let things flow in the way that felt right for me, baby and family. Without even knowing about Attachment Parenting (AP), I became an AP parent. I watched, I listened and I let him be as close as he wanted, for as long as he wanted.

And now I have a happy, independent, snugly, empathic 5 year old as a result. When he’s tired or worried about something, he still wriggles up very close and puts his hand over my heart. I feel it inside out and outside in. We all need nurturing touch.

Part of the reason I named my book Picaflor (“hummingbird” in Peru) was because they are the only birds that can fly backwards. I believe sometimes we need to go back, to mend things, so we can fly forward again. When you are freer from pain and anguish and anger, you can see more clearly around you and you can see what your children truly need.


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The Artist’s Way for Parents with Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way movement began more than two decades ago as author Julia Cameron shared her ideas with a few friends in her living room. Since then, Julia’s instruction through books and courses has helped millions of people around the world discover–and recover–their creativity, including parents.

Lisa  kids-cc (2)About the Interviewer

Lisa Lord lives in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and two children, where she works as an editor for Firecrest Clinical. She serves as the Assistant Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International (API).

TAW_ParentsJulia lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. She is the author of 30 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including The Artist’s Way for Parents. Whether you are new to her work or have a bookshelf filled with years of your Morning Pages, whether you are an aspiring blogger or simply wishing to experience more creativity in your parenting, Julia shares inspiration appropriate for every family.

Julia’s tips fit specifically within API’s Eighth Principle of Parenting: Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life as well as API’s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline.

API: In your work, you talk about creativity as a spiritual pursuit. What do you mean by this?

julia-photoJULIA: I have been teaching for about 25 years, and I have found that as people work on their creativity, they wake up to their own spirituality.

When they use the tools of paying attention and Morning Pages, it’s actually a form of prayer. In this way, they come to feel that they have a benevolent connection with a higher power–or the universe, the Tao, the force, it doesn’t really matter what you call it.

When we work on our creativity, we find ourselves feeling guided. In the actual moment of creating, we find that we have a sense of something larger than ourselves guiding us.

In working with creativity tools, people are building a spiritual radio kit.

API: What are the greatest benefits of parents tapping into their own creativity in parenting, in terms of the parent, the child and the relationship?

JULIA: When you pay attention to the creativity of your child, you are connecting to a part of your child that is timeless.

When you try to connect to your child’s creativity and sense of wonder, you reawaken your own creativity and your own sense of wonder.

So if you focus on making it a safe and benevolent environment for your child to have self-expression, you then find yourself with a desire to have a safe, protected environment for yourself. The home becomes a sort of sanctuary, not only for your child’s creativity but for your own.

API: It seems that the very intention to foster your own creativity and your child’s creativity brings more connection to parent and child as well.

JULIA: Yes, they form a very special kind of bond. The children appreciate this sense of safety that the attentive parent gives them, and the parent appreciates the whimsy and originality that comes forward from the child.

API: It’s not uncommon for people to feel, “Oh, I’m not creative.” Why do you think so many people feel this way and what effect might it have on their lives?

JULIA: I think we have a mythology around creativity that is very destructive. We tend to believe that only a few people are genuinely creative, that they are born knowing they are creative and that they go through life with that creative spark undimmed.

We need a new mythology around creativity, one that says we are all creative, we all have a divine spark within us, we all have the capacity to tap into our originality and we all have gifts whether we recognize them or not.

When you start using just a few simple tools like Morning Pages and Creative Expeditions, you begin to wake up to your own thoughts and impulses.

API: You offer 3 basic tools for a foundation as parents begin to explore their creative impulses. Can you tell us about the first one, Morning Pages, a tool you recommend to all of your students and readers?

JULIA: Morning pages are 3 pages of long-hand morning writing about absolutely anything. I assign them to anyone trying to wake up their creativity. What they do is clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day that you’re going to have.

As you lay out on the pages your secret thoughts, you begin to become more authentic and you begin to know yourself much better.

API: Why might Morning Pages be especially useful for parents, the very ones who may feel they do not have the time or energy for writing?

JULIA: A lot of times Morning Pages are extremely important for parents, because we have a lot of emotions about taking care of our children that we feel we shouldn’t be having. We may feel resentful, lonely, angry and frustrated.

If you get those feelings down on the page, it’s as though you are confiding them to a greatly listening friend. You begin to take comfort. You begin to have ideas about what you can do differently in order to feel more connected to your child, more connected to the universe, more connected to the idea that your child is connected to the universe and so on.

It’s just very important.

API: What do you say to parents who feel they can’t make time for Morning Pages? Are there alternative ways to fit them into busy lives?

JULIA: A lot of times people think they don’t have time for Morning Pages. I will tell them to just take a dash at the page, get as much done as you can, then as you settle into your day’s routine, sneak in extra writing time until you have your 3 pages completed.

API: Tell us about the second tool, the weekly Creative Expedition, during which parent and child together plan a fun weekly outing.

JULIA: It doesn’t have to be high art. It’s just an expedition that intrigues you. You might to go an aquarium store. You might go to an art gallery, though you probably wouldn’t when your children are small.

You take this expedition, which bonds you further with your child but also gives you an end to claustrophobia. We need to have expeditions outside of the house where we interact with other people.

API: The third basic tool is Highlights. Can you tell us about that?

JULIA: Highlights are a nightly ritual, which may be done before or after reading to your child, when you single out the high point of your day and share that with your child, then ask the child to do the same.

This builds a habit of optimism and of gratitude.

You may find that it’s a genuine spark of connection, because the same thing was a highlight for both of you, such as when you took your dog to the dog park and watched the puppies playing.

Other times your Highlights may be very different, and you get to know your child’s unique personality through listening to the Highlights.

API: You also recommend walking as a creativity tool. How does that work?

JULIA: Very often, when you walk out with a problem and you walk for 20 minutes, you may find yourself walking back in with the solution. Walking helps integrate the insights you receive from the other tools.

It’s wonderful to put yourself in touch with nature, even if nature is just looking at the window boxes in the neighborhood. You also put your child in touch with nature, and this leads to a sense of connection.

API: These tools are ways to create rituals, and you encourage people to incorporate other rituals into their lives, as well. What are the benefits of rituals?

JULIA: What we are talking about is creating a sense of safety. Rituals bring a sense of safety to the child and to the adult. As you pause and perform your daily ritual, whether it’s grace before meals, a bedtime prayer or sharing Highlights with children, these rituals tell them that there is safety in the world.

API: In terms of creativity, I would imagine that bringing a sense of safety for yourself, with ritual or the other tools, perhaps means your mind is less occupied with worrisome thoughts, which opens the door for even more creativity because you have a freer channel to connect with your creativity. Do you feel that’s the case?

JULIA: I do.

API: You say “the act of spending time doing something we want to do as opposed to something we have to do takes courage,” and you encourage parents to include enjoyable activities in their day, even if only for 15 minutes. Why is this so important?

JULIA: Children learn from what they see us doing. They learn when they see us valuing ourselves.

In the book [The Artist’s Way for Parents], I gave the example of an editor who felt he had no time to read his favorite classics, because he was so busy being a parent. He loved reading, so I suggested he read for 15 minutes a day. He said he didn’t have 15 minutes, so I asked him to just try.

He tried reading a book that he loved, Moby Dick, and his son noticed he was reading and asked him about it. They began to have a conversation about the book. About a week later, he found his son sitting in his reading chair with a book. When the father asked about the book, the son said, “Oh, Dad, it’s another book about a whale—Pinocchio!”

API: You feel that structure and limits lend themselves to creativity. Can you tell us about how to use structure with time to create freedom and creativity?

JULIA: We often think in our mythology that creativity demands great swathes of free time, and we don’t have that.

Instead, I have found that if you have a careful structure that allows for some play time and allows for your child to unwind, then they can turn to their homework or to their lessons with a renewed sense of self. When you have scheduled free time, the child is willing later to turn to lessons and what we might think of as self-improvement.

API: Our technology-filled lives often don’t leave any room for boredom, which you define as “being ready for the next idea.” Children and parents alike may be almost constantly stimulated by technology in one form or another. What impact do you feel technology has on our willingness to be bored and therefore on our creativity?

JULIA: I think that when we say we’re bored, what we’re doing is actually a manipulation. We are saying, “Fix it for me.”

If you resist the impulse to meddle and instead say to the child, “I’m sure you can figure out what you want to do next,” then it imparts to the child a belief in their own resiliency and their own originality.

If you suggest that together you spend an hour without any screens, and you put your own phone aside and don’t go near your computer, then you find yourself coming up with new ideas.

In the book [The Artist’s Way for Parents], I talk about a child who was so over-scheduled by his mother’s determination that he be the best and brightest. I suggested to the mother to give him an hour’s free play with no screens. And when she did this, he picked up a pen and started writing a short story.

API: Speaking of education, our children’s current learning culture outside the home is often based on test results, where there is always a right and wrong answer. Can you talk about the effects of this on creativity?

JULIA: I want to say you should hang tough!

What happens is that when kids turn about 7, they start to be given standardized tests [in public and private schools], and the focus of the classroom becomes how well they do on the tests. It teaches children that what matters is not the process of learning, which is where creativity lies, but the product, which is the test result.

The emphasis on testing well means that the focus is on performance. It’s very competitive. Originality is not valued. Spontaneity is not valued. What is valued are rigid responses.

I think parents sometimes fall into the trap of believing that they have to make their children test-worthy, and they reinforce in their children beliefs in the rigidity of responses.

What I would say is you need to create an environment where there is an appreciative response for creative thinking. If this doesn’t happen at school, that is all the more reason for it to happen at home.

API: Can you talk about process versus product and how this contributes toward creativity?

JULIA: Creativity is the art of making something out of nothing, the art of making something new out of something old. It’s a moment-by-moment action in which you become entranced with your own imagination.

Our job as parents is to appreciate the process that our children go through rather than trying to correct it into a more rigid form. For example, if you have a child who makes a green pony, you say, “Oh a green pony, that’s wonderful,” instead of telling the child ponies aren’t green.

API: So judging and making statements about something being right or wrong, good or bad, are not necessarily helpful. Nurturing the child’s interest and appreciating whatever the product is would be far more helpful, so the child comes to enjoy the process?

JULIA: Yes, that’s it.

API: Can you talk about the danger and futility of seeking perfection, whether it be in our endeavors or our children’s, our bodies or our physical surroundings?

JULIA: Perfectionism is probably the biggest creativity block I run across. When we speak of perfection, we actually are reaching for an unattainable goal, because as human beings, we aren’t perfect.

If we look to perfection to judge our work by, we will always fall short. So it’s very important to model that it’s OK to be imperfect and that there are such things as rough drafts.

For children to realize that practicing imperfection over and over again is moving a little bit at a time toward an ideal, is a much kinder way to go than demanding that the first job or the first attempt be perfect. That can stop a child’s or anyone’s creativity in its tracks.

API: What effect can a gratitude practice have on our experience of daily life, our interactions with each other and our overall creativity?

JULIA: Gratitude is a form of optimism. I have people write out gratitude lists of things that they feel are right with their life, and very often, it creates a complete shift in focus.

Before it, we may be grumpy or feeling sorry for ourselves and generally negative. When we try to practice gratitude, then instead of saying, “My house is too small and messy,” we might say, “I have a snug house with a secure roof, and I can work at decluttering it and making it more liveable.”

We often have so many things to be grateful for, and it’s particularly true in our human relationships. We may focus on what is wrong, but then we realize, “Gee, my husband really has a wonderful sense of humor.”

API: So with our children, stopping to take a minute to be grateful for all of their good qualities changes things right there and then in that moment. It allows us to look at them completely differently.

JULIA: Yes, that’s right.

Creativity Tools from The Artist’s Way for Parents

  • Heightening Downtime–List 10 “frivolous” things that make you happy but that you believe you no longer have time to do, such as cooking for yourself, listening to classical music and knitting. Now choose 1 of these things. This week, spend 15 minutes a day indulging in it. Fifteen minutes is a lot more than no minutes—and 15 minutes is enough.

  • Modeling Imperfection–Fill in this blank 5 times: “If I didn’t have to do it perfectly, I would try ___________.” Try modelling imperfection for your child. Choose something you know you will not do perfectly and allow your child to witness this. Now ask your child, if she could try any creative activity she’s never tried before, what would it be? See if you can devise a way for her to take a small step into the realm she mentions. Allow yourself—and your child—to be imperfect as you work with this exercise. You are after fun, not finesse.

  • Grateful for Gratitude–Both you and your child will benefit from expressing gratitude. Together, take turns naming 1 thing you are grateful for. Gratitude relieves pressure, and this exercise will naturally restore emotional balance. Choose 1 item you named and ask your child to do the same. Now make a “creative offering,” referencing the thing you are grateful for—draw a picture of it, write a song about it, make up a poem. As you and your child share your offerings with each other, you cherish and honor that which you are grateful for.

From The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron with Emma Lively. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2013.


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Writing for Balance, an Attachment Parenting Tool

The other morning, when we were already late for school, I found my two young boys using cans of foam soap to cover the bathroom in snow scenes. As one son stabbed a foam snowman in the face with a giant carrot, I surveyed the mess and thought, “This is good material.” Instead of blowing up, I wrote it down. It was even funnier on paper!

Lisa  kids-cc (2)About the Author

Lisa Lord lives near Dublin, Ireland, with her husband and two children, where she works as an editor for Firecrest Clinical. She serves as Assistant Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International (API).

Though you may not read about it in many parenting books, writing can be a powerful and dependable tool for any parent, even if you don’t feel all that writing-inclined. It is a good fit for API’s Eighth Principle of Parenting: Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life, though it could be argued that it has as much of a place within API’s Third Principle of Parenting: Respond with Sensitivity in that writing can help parents problem-solve and unlock solutions to child-rearing challenges.

Parenting is emotional work that requires flexibility and creativity. Writing can help us acknowledge and understand our emotions and lead us to creative solutions to problems. Writing allows us to slow down and notice life as it unfolds, moment by moment. Writing allows us to record our individual journey through parenthood and capture the moments that will fade from memory. Writing is a two-way street: It is a creative outlet at the same time that it clears a path for creativity to flow inward.

Writing has become a lifeline for me as I navigate my way through parenting. Journal writing is a comforting and enjoyable semi-daily ritual that I’m happy to rise early for. In challenging times, writing is also a critical source of wisdom and support. I recently stewed in anger for hours after a minor argument with my husband.  Five minutes of writing uncovered that the problem was not my husband at all; it was my unwillingness to set a boundary for myself, a discovery that melted my anger and infused me with compassion for both of us. Since I tend to take life too seriously and overreact when stressed, writing helps me keep perspective in moments of exasperation.

Why Writing Works

Freelance writer and veteran blogger Abigail Green of Abby Off the Record says that writing is an important source of self-reflection: “I truly relate to the sentiment shared by E.M. Forster: ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’ Writing helps me process things.”

There is plenty of science to support this perspective. The key factor is creating a narrative about emotional life events, as Daniel Siegel, MD, and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, explain in their 2011 book, The Whole-Brain Child: “This is what storytelling does: it allows us to understand ourselves and our world by using both our left and right hemispheres together. To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order using words and logic. The right brain contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions and personal memories, so we can see the whole picture and communicate our experience.”

James Pennebaker, PhD, is one of the most well-known researchers on the benefits of expressive writing. In an article he co-authored with Janel D. Seagal, PhD, “Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative,” the authors explain how writing narratives about emotionally difficult experiences can improve mental health: “Constructing stories facilitates a sense of resolution, which results in less rumination and eventually allows disturbing images to subside gradually from conscious thought. Painful events that are not structured into a narrative format may contribute to the continued experience of negative thoughts and feelings.”

Writing can benefit more than just mental health. As summarized by Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm in their article “Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing,” research by Pennebaker and others shows that expressive writing can lead to:

  • improved immune system function
  • decreased blood pressure
  • improved organ function
  • a feeling of greater psychological well-being
  • improved mood and emotions
  • better working memory.

Expressive Writing

Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas, USA, offers some general guidelines about expressive writing, though he also encourages people to modify the instructions to suit their needs:

  1. Write continuously for a minimum of 15 minutes on 3 to 4 consecutive days.
  2. Write about something you have been worrying about, avoiding or feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way.
  3. Let go, fully admit and explore your feelings in your writing. Write with the intention that no one else will ever see your writing, which will allow you to be more open and honest.

Pennebaker says that many people feel more negative or emotionally raw immediately after writing, but these feelings generally resolve after a few hours.

That said, some people may benefit from therapy to work through painful past events. Writing is not a substitute for necessary therapeutic intervention.

Pennebaker and colleagues developed a computer analysis program to identify types of word usage in subjects’ writing. The greatest physical and emotional benefits are attained when people use a high rate of positive words, a moderate amount of negative words (as opposed to a high or low amount) and an increasing number of insight and causal words (such as understand, realize, because, reason).

Beyond the expressive writing studies, writing in other genres, such as personal essays, poetry and fiction, has also been shown to impart psychological and emotional benefits. The purpose of this article is to explore the benefits of writing about one’s own parenting journey.

It follows that creating coherent narratives about childhood wounds, painful past events or current problems may help parents respond more sensitively, constructively and creatively to their children. Mothers may find it particularly therapeutic and empowering to revision difficult birth experiences through their writing.

API provides guidance to mothers (and fathers) exploring their emotions surrounding their childbirth experiences, as they write their birth stories for publication or personal use. Review API’s Birth Story Guidelines as well as articles like “Heal Thyself Through Birth Storytelling” and “The Importance of Sharing Birth Stories” on API’s The Attached Family.

Expressive writing can be done sporadically as needed, or it can be worked into a regular writing practice. Profiled below are 3 noteworthy practices that have helped many parents tap into the creative power of writing:

1) Morning Pages

Author and creativity teacher Julia Cameron urges all of her readers and students to write what she calls Morning Pages: 3 pages of writing done by hand upon waking about any topic whatsoever. In her 1998 book, The Right to Write, Cameron explains: “At root, Morning Pages are profoundly helpful. They calm us down. They cheer us up. They console us. They inspire us. Morning Pages are for Westerners a uniquely potent form of meditation. They allow us to empty our minds and hearts of disturbing distractions and simultaneously open our minds and hearts to deeper reflections.”

Read more tips from Julia Cameron in this API interview, also included in this “Inspired Parents” issue of The Attached Family.

In her latest book, published in 2013, The Artist’s Way for Parents, Cameron recommends Morning Pages as the bedrock creativity practice for parents. Since the pages are not meant to be shared, parents can use them to openly examine the myriad and sometimes troublesome emotions that come with parenting, emotions many parents may find it hard to accept in themselves or share with others. This then frees parents to be more present to their lives and their children.

For parents who feel they don’t have the time for morning writing, Cameron suggests doing as much as possible first thing in the morning, even if it’s only for a few minutes, then finishing the pages as time permits throughout the day.

2) The Mother’s Notebook

In her 2008 book, Writing Motherhood, and followup courses, writing instructor Lisa Garrigues explains how to keep a Mother’s Notebook. Though Garrigues’s work is focused on motherhood, the principles and practices of the Mother’s Notebook can easily be extended to fathers or other caregivers.

The basic practice is to write every day for 2 pages or about 15 minutes. Each day’s writing is based on a topic, which Garrigues calls a “writing start,” although she also encourages her students to use their notebook for whatever calls to them, from recording moments in their family life to planning birthday parties to sorting through major life traumas. Garrigues explains: “I like to think of the Mother’s Notebook as a big sister to the diary or journal. In the pages of our Mother’s Notebook, we tell our stories at the same time that we hone our craft. The goal is to make our way as writers and mothers.”

Garrigues has been teaching her program for many years and has witnessed how writing can bring creativity and inspiration to parenting: “Mothers often arrive in my classes feeling physically exhausted and emotionally spent—in some cases ‘brain dead,’ their imagination and creativity anesthetized by the rigors and routines of daily life. In just 8 weeks of writing, they discover that motherhood does not have to be an impediment to creativity. On the contrary, it can be a limitless source for story—a mother lode, if you will.  Again and again, my readers tell me that the moment they open their Mother’s Notebook, they notice a physiological change: Their hearts settle, their pulses regulate, their breath steadies. They grow calm and clear. As they continue to write, they gain insight into their children’s behavior, and they better monitor their own. Eventually, they see solutions where before they saw none. In this way, writing is much more than a tool for documenting our lives. It is a path for navigating the rocky ridges and lush valleys of motherhood.”

Garrigues has been keeping Mother’s Notebooks for over 25 years and has seen firsthand the benefits of a regular writing practice: “Every seed of my creative life was planted in the pages of a notebook. Every article I have written, every class I have taught, every talk I have given, my first book and now my second—all started in my Mother’s Notebook.”

3) The One-Sentence Journal

Author Gretchen Rubin offers a handy solution to those who want to write but are not able to commit much time to the practice. The name says it all: The One-Sentence Journal is a journal in which you write down only one sentence, or a few, from your day. It doesn’t take much time, and by the end of a year, you will have captured 365 moments in your family’s life.

With children around, there are many of those moments, and they could be easily forgotten, like the time I asked my 3-year-old what he wanted in his lunchbox, and he answered after some thought, “A kiwi and a bunny rabbit!”

Writing and Parenthood in Action

Professional writers Abigail Green and Amy Wright Glenn share how motherhood and writing intersect and complement each other.

Green, who writes articles and essays in addition to writing for clients, has been blogging steadily for 8 years: “Blogging heightens my sense of being in the moment, because I’m noticing and recording events that I otherwise may not have paid much attention to. I think the practice of noticing things and shaping day-to-day events into a narrative definitely makes me a more creative parent. If my son is struggling with a homework assignment, I might suggest a few different ideas of how he could approach the assignment, just as I would when considering how to approach an essay or writing assignment myself.”

Just as writing can lead to creativity in parenting, parenting can also be a source of inspiration in writing. Says Glenn: “Some of my very best ideas—including titles for articles or even fully formed sentences—come to me when nursing my son down to sleep. So, there is a well of creative energy that opens in mothering. Occasionally, after meditating, I’ll find that poems come through me. How does writing a poem impact the way I respond to my husband and son? Well, it gives me pause and helps me remember how truly precious each moment, each breath, each day is. In this sense, meditation and writing are both wake up calls for living as authentically and clearly as possible.”

Both Glenn and Green attest to the restorative effect of writing on their parenting and overall mental health. Glenn explains: “I am an avid journaler. Writing has been and continues to be very therapeutic for me. I really find that I can dive into the true beauty and pain of my life in personal writing that is for my eyes only. And I have at times drawn from these writings to compose certain pieces that I choose to share.”

And Green shares: “I feel like the personal writing I do, on my blog or in my essays, is crucial for my happiness. I’m someone who requires a creative outlet, some form of self-expression, and a tangible result in order to thrive. Those times when I feel like Sisyphus pushing a mountain of dirty laundry up a hill day after day, I can look at my writing and think, ‘There. There’s proof that I’ve actually accomplished something.’ The impact it has on my parenting is that it makes me a happier mom.”

How to Make Writing a Habit

No matter the method used, writing requires a parent’s most precious resource: time. Some parents may feel they just don’t have a minute to spare. But writing can quickly become a self-sustaining habit: Once you get started, you may wonder how you could live without it.

Gretchen Rubin, who is finishing a 2015 book about habits, Better than Before, says that doing something every day is often easier than doing it less frequently. Once writing becomes part of your daily routine, you won’t have to think about the how, when and why.
She adds that that putting something on the schedule, especially first thing in the morning, means you will be more likely to follow through.

However, Garrigues reminds us to take advantage of the pockets of time we may find throughout the day: sitting in the carpool line or during public transportation commutes, waiting for an appointment, during a lunch break at work, while the kids are occupied with homework or friends, while the baby naps and so on. Carrying your notebook wherever you go makes it possible for you to take advantage of these moments.

The wonderful thing about writing is that even if it takes a long time for a solid writing habit to be established—and no matter how many times it’s interrupted—it’s always possible to pick up your story right where you are.

From Personal to Published Writing

Many people want to take their writing in a creative direction and possibly share it with the larger world. Beyond the expressive writing studies, writing in other genres, such as personal essays, poetry and fiction, has also been shown to impart psychological and emotional benefits. For example, a 2012 study highlighted in API’s Journal of Attachment Parenting suggests that blogging is associated with feelings of connectedness and well-being for new mothers.

Whether writers choose to craft fictional characters for stories and novels, to spin tales about their own lives, or to research and write articles about their favorite topics, there are countless possibilities for writing in the public sphere. How-to books and classes, online or in person, are available for every type of writing and level of experience. In addition, writing groups can be a wellspring of guidance and support for both new and veteran writers.

The Inner Critic: A Writer’s Nemesis

One question that plagues even the best writers is, “Am I good enough?” Many writers, perhaps most, have an active inner voice that constantly criticizes their writing. The best way to combat this critic is to ignore it and keep writing regularly—and quickly. Many writing teachers tell students to keep the pen (or fingers on the keyboard) moving, especially when working on a first draft or their own personal writing.

Lisa Garrigues offers this advice in Writing Motherhood: “Forget the rules. Rules encourage us to think of writing as correct or incorrect, right or wrong, good or bad. When you write your Mother Pages, forget about punctuation, grammar, spelling, accuracy, logic. You can do the housekeeping later. For now, just write.”

Cameron says that perfectionism is the biggest creativity block she encounters. One reason is that writers may try to both communicate with people and impress them. She suggests a shift in perspective:  Writers should try to listen to what wants to be communicated through them. She explains in The Right Way to Write: “When writing is rooted in the process of taking down the next thought as it unfolds itself to us, then it is less about our brilliance and more about our accuracy.”

Keep in mind that the polished gems you pick up in the book store or read in your favorite online publication probably didn’t start out so perfect. Most published writers work with editors who point out problems in spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage, and guide the writer in clarifying the message and fine-tuning the words for maximum impact on the reader.

Parenting Creatively cover (495x640)Writing for API

If you are an aspiring or experienced writer who feels passionate about Attachment Parenting (AP), we encourage you to consider writing for API. Whether you are a professional looking to share your knowledge, a writer interested in researching a topic that fascinates you or a parent wanting to share your unique perspective about how AP has touched your life, your idea may be a perfect fit for one of API’s publications.

The API Publications team works with writers of all levels of experience in providing developmental editing and compassionate coaching to help them improve their writing to become better advocates for AP.

API accepts original, unpublished articles and personal narratives related to the API’s Eight Principles of Parenting and following API’s Writer Guidelines on an ongoing basis.


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