Tag Archives: natural parenting

Peggy O’Mara: An Interview

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

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

But, wow, she sure did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RITA: And then came Mothering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEGGY: Thank you. It has been hard.

RITA: And now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Parenting for a Sustainable World: Cultivating a Reverence for Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man Behind a Movement

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

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

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

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

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

Attachment Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating a Conscience

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

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

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

Parenting for a Sustainable World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parenting and Permaculture

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

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

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

The 3 Ethics are:

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

The 12 Principles are:

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

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

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

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

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

What Attachment Parenting is…and is Not

Maybe you never knew there was a name for it – the unique way you raise your child – but it’s in tune with your child’s needs and with your own needs, and your family lives it out daily. Or, perhaps, you do know there is a name for it, with many synonyms and variations, but you live it out without being defined.

It’s hit the news, blogs, social media, and forums where parenting approaches are more contentious than politics or religion.

Some may know what they know about it from a critique or a comment. But, every day, growing numbers of parents find the name and the communities that come with it – and breathe a sigh of relief to find welcome, encouragement, information, and freedom from judgment.

From professionals to media, it’s not just parents who are discussing Attachment Parenting.

The Latest Fad, or Something More? Time for some clarification and a reality check…

Attachment by Accident: One Family’s Alternative Parenting Journey

By Joe Diomede, author of Cycles of a Traveler and owner of Cloughjordan Cycle Co-op in Tipperary, Ireland, CloughjordanCycleCoop.com


Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that is defined by Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. Alternative parenting styles, such as that practiced by the author, and which include natural parenting and instinctual parenting choices, may include Attachment Parenting but do not define Attachment Parenting. API takes no position on homebirth, vaccinations, elimination communication, non-consumerism, and other choices made by this particular family. For more information on Attachment Parenting, visit www.attachmentparenting.org.

When my wife, Angie, and I became parents, a whole new world was opened up to us. We had read books and talked to friends as everyone does, but in the same way that you cannot learn what a good Indian curry really tastes like until you experience it for yourself, being a parent and all that that entails was still only conceptual until the day our son arrived.

On that day our world changed — and not just because we now were three. Just five weeks after Louis was born, we moved to a tiny village in the Loire Valley of France and, in doing so, found ourselves in the situation of being cut off from friends, family, and such networks in a way that rarely happens to new parents in today’s world. It was during this time that we came to deeply connect with a part of ourselves that is buried within all of us and continually trying — sometimes even screaming — to be heard: our instincts.

As parents, we are generally not allowed the space to be able to connect with our inner feelings. There is constant bombardment from all sides telling us what a baby and mother need to be happy, well adjusted, and healthy. While many of these sources may be well-meaning, none of them are without an agenda: Governments, in conjunction with the powerful medical/pharmaceutical industry, want us to raise our children a certain way within their system of medicating and vaccinating our children to excess; baby food and formula manufacturers discourage breastfeeding so we spend on all the accessories to complicate a totally natural process. As new parents we are so vulnerable. We instinctively want to do everything right for our child, but with powerful influences like these, many of us are left shell-shocked and blind to what feels instinctively right. If somehow we could pull away from all of the people trying to sell us and tell us, we would be able to reconnect with ourselves and realize that we are the experts, and that is exactly how nature intended it to be.

The Offer

A couple of months before the birth, a friend of Angie’s offered us her empty house in the Loire Valley of France — an opportunity we didn’t pass up: house sit and redecorate for her, both of us be there for our child’s first months of life, grow our own veggies, and have a totally different beginning as a family. It wasn’t going to cost much and we had some money saved, so there was not much to lose. We felt it was a perfect move.

It soon transpired, though, others felt very differently: “Your baby will be a newborn. What about a doctor, a phone, a car, your family and friends – your support network?” I can honestly say we didn’t listen to a word. Yes, it’s true our decision to move was made before the little guy arrived. We had not held that small baby and felt his warm fragile body. We had not known what protective instincts would come over us when our child was out of the womb. All we could do was be strong and go with what felt right.

The Birth

Louis arrived after a 14-hour drug-free labor. The first part of the day was spent walking on the beach connecting with nature and each other. Angie was determined that if she could keep in touch and go with the feelings that were happening to her rather than panic and try to get away from them, then everything would be fine. She also had me to remind her and keep her grounded when things became a bit too much. With labor now behind her, Angie constantly tells people of her belief that a normal labor is about 75% mental and 25% physical and that all the negative programming we hear, often in the guise of education, before giving birth can only disempower and weaken the inbuilt ability that women have to give birth naturally.

A Life-Changing Move

So when Louis was five weeks old, the move was made down to France. Angie’s college-level French came into its own, and with our neighbor’s help and a few borrowed tools, we had some beautiful, weed-free, brown earth ready to be planted.

Louis seemed quite content to lie near us on a shaded blanket and watch the birds and insects fly by as we worked in the garden. We were enjoying every minute of our lives. We had all day and night to spend with our son, no pressures, and the best thing we actually had was time to really get in touch with ourselves. We were able to make so many decisions without any interference. It’s true that we were miles from any social support systems, such as friends and family, and there were certainly times when we might have liked a word of reassurance or a home-cooked meal from a friend or relative, but Angie and I discovered depths of strength we never dreamed existed and the three of us developed a bond beyond anything we had ever known before.

When Louis was eight weeks old, we put a second-hand car seat, which Angie bulked up with comfortable padding, into a bicycle trailer. Now Louis and Angie could accompany me on my four-mile round-trip cycle ride to the nearest town with a market. Louis loved his first ride so much that we started exploring the wider area as a cycling family and became somewhat local celebrities. People were attracted by the novelty of the whole thing and became instantly smiling and friendly when they saw us. It just added to our status already as the quirky foreigners with the cotton diapers hanging on the washing line. I guess this was the reason we didn’t get any strange looks from the olive and cheese stall holder the first time we asked him to weigh Louis on his scale. It was almost expected.

Our veggie patch prospered, Louis was healthy and seemed happy, and our nights were basically calm with him in our bed. Each decision — like co-sleeping and long-term breastfeeding — was less a choice and more an obvious path.

We stayed in that tiny village for ten months. Louis was such a healthy boy that we never needed to call on the services of the local doctor, who also happened to be our next-door neighbor.

Finding Other Attached Families

In March, we were heading back to New York for a year. It was a great opportunity for Louis to be introduced to his large Italian American family and for us to come to New York for the first time as parents.

It was when we got to New York that we went to our first La Leche League meeting and met other attached parents. The instinctive way of bringing up a baby that Angie and I had followed actually had a name, a legion of followers, and libraries of books attesting to its virtues! We were relaxed with ourselves as parents and now had some like-minded friends. We were also introduced to baby sign language, which benefited all of us. Our choices spoke for themselves, and some of my family were actually enjoying the world we were opening up for them as well. Louis’ fruit-eating capacity and his love of ethnic foods gained him two nicknames: “Mr. Spicy” and “The Goat.”

I had to defend our decision not to vaccinate Louis to my well-meaning cousin who is a doctor in New York. Funny enough, two years previously, Angie and I had to defend our decision to have a homebirth to the same cousin. But demonstrating by example, hearing and seeing us standing strong and confident in our position, and seeing the living proof in Louis, I believe we have possibly opened up otherwise closed subjects to his medically-orientated mind.

Back Home with a New Lifestyle

After leaving New York, we headed back to France — this time to our own house in rural Brittany. Growing gardens was becoming a major part of our life. We were getting hooked on living away from it all, and our instincts were taking us down a path towards a simple lifestyle of non-consumerism: Our bike riding had never diminished as much as grown, as we tried as much as possible not to get into the car we had purchased for the further afield shopping trips. We enjoyed living in our small house in the countryside, growing our own food and being “creatively poor” as we liked to call it.

When Angie became pregnant ,we came across a book called Diaper Free. It interested us, and we thought we would give it a go. Raising Francesca diaper free proved to be a challenge, but at the same time was an incredible opening to a world that forced us to rethink some other pre-conceived ideas that, until then, we had never thought to question. It also made us realize just how much small people, even at six weeks old, are capable of, and how truly sentient a human child is.

Since we had fallen off the mainstream path in many ways, my family in America and Angie’s in England were not surprised about our new foray into alternative parenting. It was an incredible journey and humbled us in our realization that, like an onion, we have many layers to yet peel back.

Parenting by Instinct

The attachment style of parenting has always had its benefits in watching our children be a part of their own process of growth and maturation. They have taught us more about ourselves in their short time with us than any self-help course could ever do. We encourage them to safely explore their instincts and to try to work problems out for themselves.

Our instincts brought us together as a couple, then helped lead us to where we are now as individuals, parents, and a family. This is not to say that we are perfect — far from it: Angie is fond of saying that parenting is the hardest, most wonderful, frustrating, fulfilling, amazing thing that can ever happen to you, and the biggest catalyst for personal growth in the world! I whole-heartedly agree.

Instincts have been around a long time. They have helped us survive and evolve as a species, so we are pretty comfortable trusting that they will help us to tread the path of parenting in the challenging years ahead. When in doubt, we always turn to books that have inspired us in the past or new ones that find their way to us. We also look forward to reading other sources such as good magazines, websites, or words of encouragement and advice from friends and others on similar paths. These resources are invaluable as guides, but remember, the inner voice should always have the last word.

Recommended Reading

These are books that Angie and I have found, and continue to find, helpful in our parenting journey:

  • How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Mendelsohn
  • Vaccination: The Medical Assault on the Immune System by Dr. Veira Schreibner
  • The Vaccination Bible by Lynne McTaggart
  • Spiritual Midwifery by Ina Mae Gaskin
  • Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlisch
  • The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedoff
  • Superimmunity for Kids by Dr. Leo Galland
  • Yoga and Birth by Janet Balaskus
  • Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth by Suzanne Arms
  • The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
  • The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Go Green with Holistic Parenting

By Nancy Massotto, PhD, executive director of Holistic Moms Network

Everywhere you look, there is a growing interest in eco-conscious choices, natural solutions, and organic products.

While these trends are significant in the marketplace, they are also apparent in a movement toward parenting and lifestyle choices that focus on promoting awareness of environmental conservation, natural remedies, and the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling.

But living a greener life means more than incorporating green ideas into daily living; it’s a mindset. Parents who are seeking and living this lifestyle are practicing holistic parenting.

Green Parenting

Holistic parenting springs from an awareness of how our choices are interconnected. Like Attachment Parenting, holistic parenting seeks to build and strengthen connections – between parent and child, between our lifestyle and our health, and between our choices and their impact upon the Earth. It’s about understanding the relationship between mind, body, and spirit and trying to find balance.

When you are out of balance emotionally, physically, or spiritually – or when your environment is toxic – it is a sign of illness. Making choices that embrace these interconnections and working with nature and our innate knowledge helps us to restore balance.

Holistic parenting is also about becoming informed and being cognizant of how different options affect our health and well-being, as well as their impact upon our communities and the world. Being conscious of our choices enables us to think on a larger scale and to do what is best for our families.

Although holistic parenting can take many routes, here are some simple things every parent can to do to begin their holistic living journey:

  • Stay informed – Being informed in our parenting and health care choices are cornerstones of whole living. From childbirth options to nutrition, from education alternatives to discipline, holistic parenting seeks a natural path. Parents should look beyond the surface to assess the risks and benefits of their choices to understand how their choices impact their lives on physical, spiritual, and emotional levels. Modern technology has enabled parents to access a wealth of information and to become aware of less conventional perspectives. Parents need to become advocates for themselves, their children, and our planet, and to be open to information that resonates with them regardless of whether or not the data confers with “mainstream” perspectives.
  • Cultivate trust – Living holistically starts with a shift in your perspective away from fear and uncertainty and toward trust in yourself, your body, and nature’s healing power. Cultivating this trust is challenging, but uncovering it is a source of empowerment. From childbirth and breastfeeding to natural healing, trusting in the body and its amazing abilities enables us to recognize that nature holds many miracles. This also means trusting in the needs of our children. We all know babies have needs and wants, but our society tends to minimize their levels of consciousness and awareness. If we trust in our babies’ abilities to know what they need, we will parent more successfully.
  • Tune into your wisdom – Deep within ourselves lies our inner wisdom and intuition. What feels right to us may not be the most traveled path but often will best serve our families. This wisdom guides not only our parenting styles but also simple choices we make everyday. Many times, we may wonder if something is really “good” for us, even if it is considered “safe” by the authorities. If your wisdom is questioning, become informed and seek alternatives. Parenting from the heart and trusting in our instinct honors our own wisdom and abilities.
  • Go natural – The preponderance of chemicals in our food, homes, and environment is wreaking havoc on our health. A 2004 article in The Journal of Pediatrics advised pediatricians to discuss the neurological risks of exposing babies to pesticides, whether through foods or environmental exposure on lawns. In the article, it was noted that the blood-brain barrier in babies is easily crossed by chemicals, thus reducing exposure is essential. They also noted that “we are currently able to characterize pediatric risks for only a handful of the approximately 80,000 man-made chemicals that have entered the environment since World War II.” We need to look for safe, non-toxic products to care for our homes, and to eliminate artificial ingredients, preservatives, and pesticides from our food for the health of our families, and our environment.
  • Live lightly on the earth – Living holistically means recognizing the interconnectedness of our choices. Treading lightly by supporting industries that nurture the earth (such as organic farming), incorporating green practices into your life (such as recycling), and giving back of yourself through volunteer work are essential components of natural living. As parents, we can educate our children to take simple but important steps to conserve, reuse, and to live simply and thoughtfully for themselves and future generations.
  • Find support – While all things “green” may be increasingly popular, living a holistic lifestyle continues to be considered “alternative” and often garners criticism from our own families and friends. Interacting with others who share similar philosophies is empowering and helps parents find the tools they need to grow a healthy family. Social support itself is health creating. Recent studies show that being socially connected to others can improve your physical health and is linked to lower mortality rates. Connecting with like-minded parents can help you learn and share as you continue your journey to a more natural and balanced life.

About the Holistic Moms Network
The Holistic Moms Network (HMN) is a nonprofit organization connecting parents who are passionate about holistic health and green living. For more information, visit www.holisticmoms.org.