When it comes to raising children, a very old but true adage applies: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
Who says to a contractor building a skyscraper that he’s making more trouble for himself by making sure that everything is perfect, level, all materials are up to building code, all permits are in order, and inspecting every last detail to make sure that when that building is finished, it will stand? Sure, that’s the hard way of building a building. But it’s also legally the only way. To cut corners about it will be hazardous – now or in the long run.
How much more so a child? Just like that building, if you’re goal is raising children the easy way, you’re not going to have a stable one. Yet parents still hear arguments from neighbors, languidly leaning on a fence as they pass out salted wisdom of the old wives’ club. “If you pick him up when he cries, you’re just making it harder on yourself.”
It’s illogical that “hard” and “easy” should be arguments of why you should or shouldn’t raise your child a certain way, or do things for your child, or take care of them when they cry.
My goal, my job is to raise a person – one who is secure in his place in the world, who knows he was not a mistake, who knows what it is to be loved for who he is, so he can in turn sow love in the world and not hate and destruct. Maybe I’m in a minority, but I am in fear and awe of the immensity of my job. To me, it’s not hardship but joy. His soul is beautiful. It saddens me that not everyone looks at their children and sees that in them.
Yes, Attachment Parenting is the hard way, because it’s the right way. For me, it’s always been the only way.
When I was in college (some time ago), one of my journalism professors claimed that you couldn’t find an ad with the word “easy” in it. He promised extra credit to anyone who could, because “easy” still had a negative connotation for that generation. Easy was the lazy way out.
Now we have the Easy Button. Quick and easy meals. So easy a caveman could do it. I would have never noticed this certain societal shift myself if it had not been for my old professor. Now we have shifted so much that easy is desirable, and if it’s not easy, it’s wrong. Even to the proper taking care of our children. Books that advocate crying it out could say “Raising Kids the Easy Way!”
Real love is not easy. It’s sacrifice. Few people think that is even valuable anymore. Maybe because they weren’t sacrificed for. Now they’re raising an even more broken and detached generation.
No thanks, I’ll do it the hard way.
My goal, my job is to raise a person – one who is secure in his place in the world, who knows he was not a mistake, who knows what it is to be loved for who he is, so he can in turn sow love in the world and not hate and destruct.
Raising babies and small children is hard work. Physically, there is a lack of sleep and just the constancy of keeping up with toddlers. Apart from times of illness, I enjoyed the experience and found it relatively stress-free. All I had to do was go with the flow.
The challenge began when I had to take my son, Guy, to school.
The Problem with School
Guy was bright, well-behaved, and a delight to be around, but this was a time of great sadness for him as he found out that other five-year-olds did not believe in the same things he did. As he grew older, this feeling of being disappointed in the kindness of others continued. He was extremely trusting and honest, so he thought others would be in return. I remember in the sixth grade, he told me that he had learned to pretend to be “normal,” to not care about others as much.
A Different Kind of Education
After living in an apartment in Hong Kong for five years, we moved onto a boat for six months. During that time, we found great happiness in not having to go to school and be with others. The marina we lived in was out of Hong Kong, and it was like being in another world. Guy would spend hours studying fish and sea creatures, learning things from the local boat crews. Both Guy and his brother Dean would entertain themselves with creating things from paper, blue tack, and other random items they had available to them. They were never bored! When my husband was home, he taught our sons boat-related skills, such as how to tie knots and fix things.
Loving Each Uniquely as They Grew
Guy and Dean showed great interest in the arts growing up, both having been into music, drama, and the fine arts. From an early age, it was evident that they would pursue careers in a creative space. Today, they both work in the design and production of computer games. Although they share many passions, they have always done their own thing. It was obvious they were very different from the beginning, and my husband and I have always tried to respect those differences.
I do not think there is anything that can prepare a parent for the teenage years. It is always going to be hard. I never tried to be their friend, and Guy once told me, as a young adult, that he was grateful for that I had cared enough to say “no!” That is not to say that he liked it at the time, or that we did not have many arguments. Guy always needed to see the justice in any situation, and he felt everything more intensely than most.
Guy was much more concerned with fitting in, and Dean seemed not to care. I think Dean had learned so much from watching Guy cope with adolescence that there were many experiences he just did not have to go through. Dean decided, at 12 years old, that school was too much of a social circus, and he chose to homeschool. He spent his time attending an adult art school, while pursuing his drama and personal sporting interests. He fitted his studies in around the things that mattered to him, and life was much easier for him.
Looking Through an Adult Child’s Eyes
When I asked my now-grown sons about the benefits of being raised AP, 21-year-old Dean said that the key to parenting is holding the baby a lot. And Guy, 26 years old, said that AP’s about developing a strong emotional bond so that the parents know their children well enough to know who they are as individuals, and then using that to guide them in developing into their own individual personalities, likes, and dislikes.
All I do know for sure is that I do not regret a moment of the time I spent mothering, and my advice to all is to enjoy each day and to just do what feels right. Looking now at Guy and Dean, I am pleased that they seem so emotionally secure. They are successful, sensitive, independent, and extremely honest young men. I’d like to think that their start to life, in the way I parented them as babies and young children, played a part in helping them become who they are today.
As he grew older, this feeling of being disappointed in the kindness of others continued. He was extremely trusting and honest, so he thought others would be in return.
Looking back at life often brings understanding. As I look back at my life as a mother, I have more questions than answers. I don’t really know what made me mother the way I did, and I know at the time it often seemed I was swimming against the stream. However, I felt there was no other way to approach it.
Researching Parenting Approaches
It was 1981. I was living in Melbourne, Australia, and expecting my first child. My husband and I had moved back to Australia the year before. I had met my husband while he was flying to Sydney, and he was living in Papua, New Guinea. I followed him to New Guinea for six months before he decided it was no place for a young wife – just 21 at the time – and we returned to suburbia in Melbourne. Within months of being settled in a home of our own, I felt a huge need to have a baby. I was always into researching and set about finding out all I could about having babies and raising them. It was hard to find much information – sadly, no internet then – and even harder to find any books I agreed with.
Even then, I had some ideas on how it should be. Attachment Parenting (AP) had not been heard of in Australia at that time – not sure it was being talked about anywhere. Having been briefly in New Guinea, I was aware of how simple life with a baby could be if they were breastfed and being carried in some way. Even the poorest children seemed happy. It was actually illegal to sell formula in New Guinea without a prescription! This had been introduced by the World Health Organization to save the babies’ lives from a suspect water supply.
Beginning with Breastfeeding
I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I had suffered from terrible allergies as a child, and in order to reduce the chance that my child would develop allergies, I wanted to breastfeed for at least six months and hopefully longer. My mother had only breastfed me for the then-prescribed three months, and whether or not this was the cause of my allergies, I believe it may have contributed.
Armed with my well-read Nursing Mother’s Handbook and a will to succeed, I set off to hospital full of hope and expectation.
Nothing really went as planned with the birth, and once I had a healthy little boy, Guy, in my arms, I found that although the hospital was encouraging breastfeeding, it was by no means really supporting what my was told to me in the book. I found that although rooming-in was allowed, babies were whisked away if any sign of problems occurred and given complimentary formula feeds to settle them down. The nurses were much more concerned with the welfare of the new moms than the babies. I became obsessed with keeping Guy with me, only leaving for a shower if my husband was there. I escaped the hospital as quickly as I could – five days back then!
Once home, I felt free to do what felt right: I put him in our bed and relaxed. Our son was thriving; he hardly slept and fed almost continually! Feeding was a challenge, as Guy decided that he would only feed from one breast at a time, and for the first few weeks, he sucked so hard that he created blisters and one breast was constantly engorged and leaking. I was constantly feeding: He would sleep for 30-minute intervals and would feed again. I just accepted this, and we slept together – when we could.
Choosing to Co-Sleep
Co-sleeping was not considered a good idea. People in those days said it was unhealthy and the child would not get over it. Also, husbands were supposed to be threatened by a baby in the marital bed; my obstetrician warned me it would break up the marriage. So, I just did not tell anyone I was doing it. The baby health nurse was of the old school and told me to put my baby into a cot and let him cry, that he would soon learn!
This nurse also suggested, at six weeks, that I should give him orange juice. When I asked why – after all, he was putting on a pound a week and was happy – she just said that is what we do! I ignored her and found another community nurse.
My husband was often flying at night, so he did not really care how I managed, so long as I did. And when he was there and sleeping in the day, my husband was happy when Guy and I would join him for naps. The rest of the time, I found that the easiest way to cope was to wear Guy in a sling. All was peaceful. If my husband came home at 4 a.m. and found a baby to play with, this pleased them both.
Other mothers around me adhered to schedules, and their babies must have read the right books, as they slept much more than mine did! Or maybe they just kept up the story to be good moms?
Encouragement from an Unlikely Source
The next year, we moved to Houston and found that people there were even more hostile about nursing babies. Most mothers nursed briefly, if at all. The fact that Guy was nearing his first birthday and still happily nursing I kept to myself. I was even told by some mothers that it was indecent to nurse babies of that age! I did not even bother to tell the doctor until Guy got pneumonia and I managed to nurse him though the whole thing, saving a trip to the hospital and an I.V. drip. The doctor said I probably saved his life!
That doctor gave me some good advice, saying: “A mother knows her child better than anyone, and if the doctor does not understand that, find another doctor!”
I nursed Guy until his second birthday, when one day, I suggested that big boys do not nurse and he promptly stopped. I was shocked and a little sad.
Guy continued to sleep with us most of the time until after his fifth birthday when his little brother arrived. In his first five years of life, we moved six times and lived in three different countries. I am not sure he would have coped with all the moves and changes to his life without the security of sleeping with his parents. He was, by this stage, an extremely sensitive, mature, and intelligent child! He had been high need and would continue to be for many years, but he was a delight to know and be with.
The Beginning of a Cultural Shift, Sort of
During my pregnancy with my second son, Dean, I found a book by Dr. William Sears, Nighttime Parenting. Finally, someone who agreed with what I had done instinctively.
This time, I was having our son in Brisbane, Australia. Everything had changed! Suddenly, my ideas were greeted with support, and I was considered an enlightened mother. Wow, it felt good to be appreciated and even better not to have to hide my beliefs.
My husband was now working in Hong Kong, and two weeks after Dean’s birth, I flew to Hong Kong with the baby and a five-year-old. Hong Kong, it turned out, was not at all friendly toward breastfeeding. The first few days there, I went to a doctor for the beginning stages of mastitis. This doctor was embarrassed by my condition, refused to look at my breasts and prescribed me Valium – even though I had explained I was nursing!
Very few mothers in Hong Kong nursed babies. There was a small group of La Leche League mothers, but they lived in another part of the country. Everyone around me bottlefed. Breastfeeding women were removed from restaurants, and there were no mothers’ rooms available anywhere.
Once again, I was back in an environment where what I was doing was considered all wrong. At least, this time, I had a book that agreed with me. If only we had had the internet back then…back when fax machines were new.
I did not really care what anyone thought. I was exhausted and prepared to do whatever I needed to do for my survival. I was lucky to find a doctor who agreed with my ideas – sadly most did not. Dean happily slept with us and fed nearly all night for more than two years.
Today, my husband and I have been married for 29 years, and we are enjoying being a couple again, although when the time comes, we would love to be involved and supportive grandparents. I am always hoping that young parents will choose to experience the joys of what is now commonly referred to as AP.
I spend my time giving young pregnant women lots of good information from my experience and through books I have collected on birth, breastfeeding, and parenting in general. There is so much more information available today, so many more studies and experts proclaiming the benefits of all that I instinctively knew was right. I like to think it is easier for mothers to follow their instincts these days, but there are so many other pressures competing for their time that I know that AP is just as big a challenge as it was in my day.
Attachment Parenting had not been heard of in Australia at that time – not sure it was being talked about anywhere. Having been briefly in New Guinea, I was aware of how simple life with a baby could be if they were breastfed and being carried in some way. Even the poorest children seemed happy.
By Susan Esserman-Schack,Leader of API of Bergen County, NJ
I have a new baby in my family – he is now 17 months old. My last baby was born 10 years earlier. The one before that was born two years prior to my second. When I look at my new baby, all I see is joy and love in his eyes. All his intentions are true and pure. He is my newest angel. I know that he does not manipulate or judge, his wants are his needs, and I have no problem meeting them. He nurses and all is right with the world. He sleeps and truly looks like an angel, our dream has come true.
I remember looking adoringly at my first two babies. I loved to watch them sleep – and trusted their souls completely. I watched them grow, and they taught me so much about what it meant to be a happy family. They knew what they needed, and had no problem letting me know. They both nursed until they felt that they did not need to breastfeed any longer.
The challenges began as they grew.
I always believed in following my instincts about parenting and caring for my babies. There was no word for Attachment Parenting when I had my first, and I really just relied on what my heart was telling me to do. As I parent now, I still do the same thing. No rules to follow, just follow my heart. I know I cannot make a mistake this way, as my instincts and my children will lead the way. As my children grew, there was an abundance of information about what they “should” be doing and when they “should” outgrow aspects of their babyhood/childhood. I just continued to trust that they knew what they were doing and however they were doing it was appropriate for them. This felt right for me.
I had to make adjustments to accommodate their interests, and I too began to become interested in the things that they wanted to learn about. We took a multitude of field trips with friends to discover new places and new things; we spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors and bug collecting. They truly taught me everything, as I grew up with only one sister, and here I was with two little boys! Listening became a big part of my job – hearing what they had to say, waiting for them to figure out how to say it.
AP & School-Age Children
As my boys became older, my job as a mom continued to grow – now I was also teacher after school – and tutor. I was eavesdropper as they spoke in the car to each other and with their friends. I was given the big window into their lives in the car. The car became the place where we all reconnected. In the car, there was no competition for any of our attention. We spoke of many things in the car, and learned all about boy-girl relationships and sex. For some reason, they always asked me the hardest questions while I was driving them. Part of the advantage to this was that they could not see my face and my shock in the innocence of their intense questions.
I made myself available to them whenever they needed. I tried to not interfere with their burgeoning independence. I tried not to act hurt when they acted like I was a “stupid woman.” I say this with a smile, as I know it is a stage that all pre-adolescents go through, thinking that they are the all powerful and all knowing and their parents are just simply stupid and know nothing! My friends and I would laugh about all this, and actually feel proud of our children and how confident they were in their power and knowledge. What a good feeling!
AP & Teens
Now my older children are 11 and 13. My first teenager has bouts of intense love for me and intense anger about anything. He will just come up to me and hug me and tell me that he loves me. The next day, he will tell me I am ruining his life. I continue to follow my heart and love him everyday, and let him know it. I love hearing about everything that is going on in his life – as much as he is willing to share with me. I keep an open mind and let him know of my availability to him to talk about anything. I respect his privacy and his decisions. We have made certain agreements about his being able to call me and have me fish him out of any uncomfortable situation he finds himself in – no questions asked – no punishment offered. He is teaching me everyday, again, about growing up and being a teenager – about separation and attachment.
What he is going through is strikingly similar to what my toddler is going through. Two steps forward, one step back. Independent one day, leaning on me the next. Growing and learning about his new body and intelligence and power and strength. Learning how to handle all the new feelings in his body. Learning how his parents fit into the big picture. He is a bright, articulate, strong young man who has his future at his feet. He has every opportunity in the world before him. I have to learn patience as he takes his steps in navigating his unique journey in this world. I need to learn patience and trust in his process, and trust that he will make decisions that are right for him. I must learn when to talk and when to stay quiet.
How AP Changes as Children Grow
I take time to talk with other parents with kids the same ages. Some of these parents have been my “co-workers” in my parenting career since our older babies were the littlest of babies. Hearing what they have to say comforts me as I learn that, once again, what my children are doing is normal. Expectations must be adjusted once more, as even though our children are literally big, they are still very focused on only themselves, at times. Autonomy ebbs and flows. They move at their own pace. I must believe that what they are doing is the right thing to be doing at their age and stage of development.
Touch is still an essential tool in my parenting practices. Hugs, kisses, telling them “I love you” are daily activities. Taking affection any way I can get it from them, while understanding that it may come in odd ways – like wrestling with my boys! I continue to be emotionally available to them, at the drop of a pin. My boys keep busy, but we must be careful not to over-schedule, as they still really need their down time. I must learn more about being involved without being intrusive.
Babies, toddlers, and adolescents – strikingly similar. Parenting through it all and following my children’s lead has been my mantra. I make decisions based on what works for today. I continue to follow my heart and my instincts. I may make mistakes along the way, all of this is part of learning. I understand now how quickly they grow, and I cherish my time with all three of my sons – knowing one day they will be gone from my home and in their own with children of their own…and I will miss them tremendously.