By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).
In celebration of Attachment Parenting International’s 20th Anniversary, the “Featuring API Leaders” series honors the unique paths that inspired parents to pursue API Leadership:
Father involvement is key to healthy child development, so it is exciting to announce one of our newest API Leaders: Thiago Queiroz of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is also an excellent writer and has shared his story on API’s APtly Said blog. I am thrilled to bring you more through this interview.
RITA: Thank you, Thiago, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you discovered Attachment Parenting (AP).
THIAGO: My inspiration to start practicing AP with my son was bedsharing. At first, it was the logical thing to do, considering the amount of caring we had to give to him at night. But then I started reading more on this subject and ended up finding about AP and falling in love with it. Now, what inspires me is how it feels so right to have such a strong and deep connection with my son.
RITA: We are all introduced to Attachment Parenting in our own unique way and certain parenting practices will facilitate that close relationship with our children more than others. Cosleeping is one of my favorites, too. Have you encountered any challenges in practicing AP?
THIAGO: Oh, I found all sorts of problems! To start with, my mother didn’t understand very well what my wife and I were doing. I had to be very firm and confident when explaining to my family why we see AP as a better option for our reality [than the authoritarian parenting style he grew up with].
Besides that, I received some bullying at work for the choices I made in parenting. For my colleagues, I was the “weirdo, organic, hippie” who had a son born at home and who talked about weird things like exclusive breastfeeding, positive discipline, babywearing and things like that.
RITA: Did you seek out Attachment Parenting International out of the need for parent support yourself?
THIAGO: I found API by Googling on AP. I was so excited about AP that I wanted to read more and more, so I Googled it and found API and API’s Eight Principles of Parenting. My first contact with API’s staff was to offer help in translating the Eight Principles of Parenting into my language, Brazilian Portuguese. I thought it was so important to have this information available for people in Brazil that I did the translation.
RITA: And from there, you decided to become an API Leader?
THIAGO: If AP is not exactly something widely known and practiced in the United States, you can imagine how it would be in Brazil, where we can find so little material available in our language and so little local support for parents. I’ve always thought I had to be one of the people who would help make AP known in Brazil, so over an year ago, I created an AP Facebook group in Brazil. I started writing a blog about my experiences as a securely attached father, and then I decided it was time to prepare myself to become an API Leader. It was seeing how people needed and wanted support related to a more sensible and respectful way to raise their kids that inspired me along the way.
RITA: How did you find the API Leader Applicant process?
THIAGO: Oh, boy, the API Leader Applicant process was such a beautiful journey to self-acknowledgement! I absolutely loved being an applicant, as I was learning more not just about AP but about being a better human being. I learned so many things that I’m using in my life now that I could never thank API enough for this opportunity.
RITA: Now that you’re an API Leader, what are your plans of how to support parents locally?
THIAGO: I’m sure I’m going to love the meetings. Being able to share experiences and learn from other realities is a blessing. And on top of that, being able to see the babies that attend the meetings grow up is going to be priceless.
RITA: Are there any challenges of being an API Leader that you anticipate?
THIAGO: I believe the challenges of being an API Leader involve the relationships with other people. The ability to connect to other people, to be empathetic to their feelings, and to be able to hear without judging is the key challenge for anyone who wants to truly help other parents.
RITA: What of API’s resources do you think you’ll find most helpful as an API Leader in supporting other parents?
THIAGO: I have no doubt it will be the repository for the meetings. Meeting ideas and handouts are the sort of resources from API that will help me a lot on my job.
RITA: Thank you, Thiago, for your insights. I have one final question. You have already shared about projects that you started before becoming an API Leader. Has API Leadership inspired additional projects in your life to raise AP awareness?
THIAGO: The way I live and breathe AP inspires me to become a book writer and a positive discipline educator, but only time will tell!
By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).
My husband and I have three children, and we consider our family to be quite busy especially as our children grow older, develop their own interests and add their own activities to the family calendar. I am thankful for Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting as I feel the foundation for secure attachment that we laid in the early childhood years has helped keep us connected in spite of our full schedules. Still, it is mind boggling sometimes to think of what it would be like to add another child to the mix.
And then I met Margie Wilson-Mars of Salem, Oregon, USA. A parenting writer, Margie and her husband of almost 20 years, Robert, have eight children ages 27, 25, 23, 21, 14, 12, 9 and 8—seven sons and one daughter, three of the boys who are on the autism spectrum. Margie and Robert also have three grandchildren ages 7, 6 and 3.
Now there’s a full household! I could hardly wait to share her Attachment Parenting (AP) story.
RITA: Thank you, Margie, for your time. To begin, how did you decide to first try out the AP approach?
MARGIE: By the time I found out there was an actual thing called AP, I had already been practicing it.
I was only 19 when I had my first son. My mother-in-law had been an oddity in the very early ’60s and breastfed her boys. My mother, who was 15 years older than my mother-in-law, was in my ear constantly with, “You just have to nurse for three weeks and then it does no good.” It was simply a reflection of her generation.
Even in 1987, I was the odd one out breastfeeding and refusing to let my son cry it out. I watched Dr. Jay Gordon on “The Home Show” on ABC—so radical then! My mom told me I was punishing myself.
RITA: Your mom didn’t agree with AP?
MARGIE: For the record, she was legitimately worried about me. It’s just what she knew. She was an amazing mom.
By the time my mother passed away, she was finally comfortable with my parenting style. Acceptance means the world to new moms, to all moms.
RITA: So who did you lean on for AP support?
MARGIE: When my daughter was born 19 months later, I found La Leche League meetings. I am a very solitary person, so in hindsight, I wish I’d participated more, but it did give me validation for what I felt.
I just got “worse” from there! I met Peggy O’Mara, went Dr. Sears happy—yeah, I was hooked.
RITA: And your husband is supportive of AP?
MARGIE: After getting remarried, my new husband instantly accepted and participated in AP. In fact, I don’t even recall discussing it. When our first son was born, he slept with us. Well, I should say he slept with his dad because he was only comfortable on Daddy’s hairy chest! Most of them did the same, but our last, preemie Adam, was partial to sleeping on his brother Mark or his “Sissy Mama,” our only daughter, Stephanie.
RITA: At one point, you mentioned to me that AP saved your life. Can you expand on this?
MARGIE: When my first baby, Steven, was born, we moved in with my parents because I was scared to death. When he was 2 weeks old, my older sister came upstairs into my bedroom and asked me what I was doing. Apparently I calmly answered, “I’m going to try and finish feeding this baby, and then I’m throwing him out the window and following.”
I honestly don’t remember how it happened, but I ended up at my mother-in-law’s house where she tucked me into bed for some much needed sleep and took Steven. She would wake me up to feed him, keeping an eye on us, and then send me back to bed.
Her gentle manner just blew my mind, the total opposite from my family. Even the way she bathed him was so soft and stress free. No more watching the clock between feedings or freaking out because he didn’t poop that day.
My depression ran deep, and it took getting pregnant with my daughter Stephanie before it totally lifted. Being constantly reassured that listening to my instincts was not only OK, but good, made all the difference. I have no doubt that if I’d continued on the path I was on, I wouldn’t have made it.
RITA: The quality of parent support can really make all of the difference. I’m glad you found support when you did.
MARGIE: There have certainly been huge bumps in the road since, but my mother-in-law set the tone for my parenting. No matter how rocky things got at times, our attachment was never affected. For example, when my daughter and I clashed through her teenage years, she told me she never felt like she couldn’t crawl into bed with me and know that everything would be OK. Her grandmother is truly the one to thank for that.
RITA: I’m thankful for her, too. The world needs more parents like you—and her! So how has AP worked out for your family as it has grown?
MARGIE: I think the best thing was the ease of taking care of the babies when they were little. When the oldest four were teenagers and the babies were little, we had a gigantic cushy spot—spots are very important in our home—in the living room where I could just be with all of the boys, yet stay accessible to the older ones. It also forced my autistic boys to be social with their brothers.
People are still astonished when they see how cuddly our autistic sons are.
RITA: What is it like seeing your oldest children becoming parents themselves?
MARGIE: Even though we still have little ones at home, seeing our daughter with her children—just wow! She’s the best mother, so instinctive and giving. Our oldest son is a newly single dad and so intensely bonded to his son.
The evolution of parenting, seeing them working so hard to correct the mistakes we made and become even better, closer parents to their children: It’s a beautiful thing to see.
We’re really doing the same thing with our younger boys—improving and evolving. It can be a struggle to stop feeling sorry for yourself and just move forward.
The bigger the family, the more you need Attachment Parenting.
RITA: You mentioned that AP seems to be helping in parenting your children with autism.
MARGIE: This is huge for us.
My third child, Mark, has Asperger’s syndrome. He is from the first wave of autistic children born in 1990 when it started to skyrocket. When he would nurse, he would pull his entire body away, trying so hard not to be touched any more than he had to. The more I’d pull him in, the harder he would fight. Autism wasn’t even on the radar. Mark self-weaned at 8 months old, and I was crushed. He was happy as could be as long as he was on his own.
When our sixth child, Nathan, was 3 months old, our oldest son kept saying, “Something’s wrong with him.” Teens are so subtle. We thought maybe he was just sensitive because he had suffered a birth trauma when my cervix was lipped over his head for over an hour while pushing during labor. An hour after birth, his face turned nearly black from the bruising.
Months later, while I was sick, my husband took Nathan for a checkup. We say that the baby we had died that day. Rob brought home this terrified, seemingly hollow baby we didn’t know. If there was something wrong before, it was a million times worse that day.
Having had Mark, I knew that holding Nathan, feeding him and snuggling him through his fears was the only way to go. People are amazed when they see how connected he is. If I didn’t have him, my husband did. If he didn’t have him, his big sister did. He is a little cuddle monster, and while he has full-blown autism, he shows no signs of “don’t touch me, don’t look at me.”
By the time Justin, baby number 7, came along, we knew fairly early and said, “Ah, we have another Aspie!” Sure enough, he has Asperger’s like his older brother, Mark.
The parents of autistic kids I know have them in day-long therapy, speech class, tactile class, et cetera, et cetera. There’s even one mom I met who put her 12-year-old into a group home when he hit her 4-year-old. She brings him home on Saturdays. I cried when I heard. It still breaks my heart to think about it.
The biggest difference is in how bonded we are to each other. It’s not unusual to see 140-pound, 12-year-old Nathan on his dad’s lap or mine, or finding them all in a big “puppy pile” playing video games. Our youngest, Adam, says, “My friends never sit on their mom’s laps. Isn’t that weird?”
RITA: My oldest, who was an early preemie, had major developmental delays that mimicked autism. She would’ve been diagnosed with autism if she had been born full term. The very day I received that news, I whole-heartedly dived into AP. Before that point, I was kind of wishy-washy. It took a long time to build that trust and connection with her, but today, I credit AP—along with various therapies by AP-friendly professionals—for helping her overcome her challenges. It’s validating, Margie, to hear your story. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
MARGIE: Recently, I’ve read a lot of parents online who have left AP. Most claim that AP parents are too militant and flip out if people stray from [API’s] Eight Principles. The parents that make these claims can scare off new moms who are maybe only breastfeeding and want to find out more, or can’t get a good night’s sleep but feel wrong letting their baby cry. I hope that parents think about these things before they make that [judgmental] comment to a new mom.
By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).
In celebration of Attachment Parenting International’s 20th Anniversary, we are pleased to present two series of interviews with API Leaders. This article, the first in the “Generation AP” series, recognizes today’s second-generation Attachment Parenting parents.
“When I experienced major emotions, I would just shut down. My mom would sit with me for hours and wait for me to talk.” ~Patricia Mackie
Attachment Parenting is no one-size-fits-all child-rearing formula: It’s about having a warm, joyful relationship with our children built on the foundation of sensitive responsiveness, empathy and trust. The need for a secure attachment is instinctually programmed into each of us so that we’re continually striving toward it, whether we recognize it or not. Every parent is on their own parenting journey, and all parents are doing the best they can with the knowledge and support available.
Still, it’s reassuring to know that we’re not the first generation to practice Attachment Parenting (AP).
At the time of this interview, Patricia Mackie of Naperville, Illinois, USA, was just a few weeks away from her third baby’s birth. Patricia is a passionate API volunteer and devotes time to several API projects, including Naperville API in Illinois as an API Leader, API Professionals Program, API Editorial Review Board, API Warmline and Journal of Attachment Parenting. In addition, Patricia is a marriage and family therapist, author of the “Three’s a Crowd” course for expectant and new parents, and founder of the Connecting 1 Day at a Time program for couples with children.
RITA: Thank you, Patricia, for squeezing me into your busy schedule, especially with baby coming soon. Let’s start by reviewing how your parents practiced AP.
PATRICIA: My parents grew into it. They practiced more Attachment Parenting with me than they did with my older sister.For the most part, they followed all of the principles.
We were very involved as a family in cooking and growing our own food.
I have great pictures of my dad with me on his back. Both of my parents wore me as a baby, more so when we were out and about than when we were at home.
They were also sensitive to us during sleep. Mom said I would not sleep in her arms. She would rock and nurse me for hours waiting for me to sleep. Then, she put me in the bassinet and I was out. My sister and I had our own beds, but my parents’ bed was always open for my sister and me.
My mom tried to do as much positive discipline as she could, but she was really young when she had children and didn’t have much support. She went through trial and error as all parents do.
RITA: It sounds like you had a family-centered lifestyle growing up. Please share a couple of your favorite memories.
PATRICIA: I grew up in Alaska, and Mom’s favorite thing to do was to go to this little pull-off on the road, Beluga Point. Sometimes when we were having a hard day or a really good day, or just because, we would go for a drive, get Subway sandwiches, go to Beluga Point, and sit and eat and watch the ocean and the mountain sheep. Sometimes Mom would go with both me and my sister, sometimes it was just me and Mom, but it was a connection point for us.
When I was 4, my parents bought a cabin, and we would go up there every weekend. It was our family time—time with everybody together, to play together, to work together, another connection time.
RITA: It’s important for families to spend time together in a positive environment. How did your parents react when emotions were not so positive? How did they respond to strong emotions in you, such as anger?
PATRICIA: It was an area of growth for my parents, but my mom had a way of knowing what to do.
When I was 7, I ran my bike through a stop sign, and there as a police officer who saw me. I think I scared him as much as he scared me, but he apparently wanted to make an impression and turned on his lights and yelled at me to slow down and watch what I was doing. He scared the daylights out of me! I came home really upset. Mom knew something was going on but didn’t know what, and I wasn’t talking. So she sat down with me and encouraged me to talk about it.
When I experienced major emotions, I would just shut down. My mom would sit with me for hours and wait for me to talk.
RITA: Is this what influenced your career in counseling?
PATRICIA: Growing up, my parents thought I’d end of in one of two careers: either a lawyer, because I was really good at arguing, or a therapist. At school, there was this little hill where I liked to sit. And my friends would come and sit and talk with me when they needed someone to talk to.
It felt so good to talk and be listened to. I grew up learning that when you have a hard time, you talk about it. It’s so simple and yet the very last thing we think about.
When I was a teenager, I had a negative view on life and was difficult to be around. But every day, my mom and I would have afternoon tea. I didn’t have to drink the tea or eat cookies, but I couldn’t get up from the table until I talked about what was going on. If I had a rough day, she helped me to look at the positives and to stop dwelling on the negatives. That was her way of teaching me without making me feel worse.
My mom also encouraged me in a way that she didn’t realize My sister and I had a very hard relationship growing up. We don’t see the world through the same eyes. Mom would threaten us, but never follow through, for us to either stop fighting or she would take us to therapy. I always wanted to go to therapy, because then my sister and I could learn to talk to one another.
Another big influence was my grandmother. She died when I was 12, and this really affected me. We had a very special relationship. It was from her that I grew up with high values for marriage and that you don’t give up on marriage.
RITA: Did you ever feel that the way your parents were raising you was different than how your peers were raised?
PATRICIA: I knew when I was very young that I was very lucky to have the parents I have, though I didn’t know why. I would go to sleepovers at friends’ houses and would be shocked to hear their parents fighting in the next room or when one of the parents would ignore the other parent.
RITA: Hmm, that’s interesting. So did you find it natural to practice AP with your own children?
PATRICIA: I was practicing Attachment Parenting before I knew what it was. To me, there was no other choice.
I remember one visit to the doctor when he asked me if I was going to breastfeed. I said, “Yeah.” And he put down his notebook, turned to me and said that in all his years of practice, not one time did a mother said “yes” that they would breastfeed without a second thought. They all said they would try.
However, positive discipline has been a challenge. My mom did some spanking when I was young, and she made threats. My mom didn’t get into the groove with positive discipline until I was a teen.
All the things that make my daughter a wonderful person also make it hard during discipline, just like I was for my mom. That’s the hardest part of raising her: She’s me.
My son is very different: very laid back, go-with-the-flow. I thought my daughter was an easy baby, and then my son was born and I realized, oh, she was a high-needs baby.
RITA: Many parents are plagued by the desire to be perfect in their parenting. How do you feel about parents who struggle with AP?
PATRICIA: It’s natural to struggle. I don’t think that everything in parenting comes naturally. I think of my sister. She doesn’t have that natural instinct to pick up her babies and snuggle with them. Some people don’t. We all struggle at some points.
RITA: When did you find API and learn that what you’re doing is AP?
PATRICIA: When I needed support because my daughter wouldn’t sleep, I would go online and search the mommy boards looking for answers. I was reading all the horrible stuff that people do to their kids and was thinking, I need to find people who think like I do.
RITA: Now that you have a name for your parenting approach, how do your parents feel about Attachment Parenting?
PATRICIA: Because my sister lives closer to my parents than I do, and she does not practice Attachment Parenting, they are more familiar now with her parenting style than mine. But they are very supportive of me, and we are able to talk about our differences in parenting views.
RITA: And what about your husband—did he come from an AP family, too?
PATRICIA: No, at all. He was an only child, and he had no experience with children or babies whatsoever. But he has always been very much okay with what I do.
It’s hard with his parents. Over the years, though, they’ve grown very curious about Attachment Parenting. They’ve accepted that’s the way we do things, because clearly it’s working.
RITA: Thank you, Patricia, for your insights. One final question: What is a way that others can see the effects of Attachment Parenting?
PATRICIA: All of my daughter’s preschool teachers say they can’t believe how empathic she is. She’s not trying to please anyone. She’s just aware of everyone’s emotions and readily goes to comfort an upset child.
Four in 10 babies don’t develop the strong emotional bonds–what psychologists call “secure attachment”–with their parents that are crucial to success later in life. Disadvantaged children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems when they grow older as a result, new Sutton Trust research finds today [21 March].
The review of international studies of attachment, Baby Bonds, by Sophie Moullin (Princeton University), Professor Jane Waldfogel (Columbia University and the London School of Economics) and Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook (University of Bristol), finds infants aged under three who do not form strong bonds with their mother or father are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.
The Trust is urging the government to do more through health visitors and Children’s Centres, with their strong focus on improved outcomes for disadvantaged families, to support parents with babies and toddlers.
About 60 percent of children develop strong parental bonds. The 40 percent who lack such secure attachment are split into 25 percent who avoid their parents when they are upset, because they ignore their needs, and 15 percent who resist their parents because they cause them distress.
This is an issue for families from all social classes, but where families have multiple problems up to two-thirds of children have weak parental attachment. The report finds that boys’ behavior is more affected than girls’ by early parenting.
The research finds that insecure attachment is associated with poorer language and behavior before school. The effect continues into later life, with insecure children more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training. In one US study of disadvantaged children, the quality of parent care and attachment in the first years was a strong predictor of graduating from high school, alone predicting with 77 percent accuracy whether children graduated or not. Neither IQ nor test scores improved upon this prediction.
The report also finds that securely attached children are more resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Boys growing up in poverty are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school if they formed secure attachments with parents in their early years.
Where mothers have weak bonds with their babies, research suggests their children are also more likely to be obese as they enter adolescence. Parents who were insecurely attached themselves, are living in poverty or with poor mental health, find it hardest to provide sensitive parenting and bond with their babies.
Today’s report explains how sensitive and responsive parenting in the first years of life is crucial to attachment. Simple, and often instinctive, actions such as holding a baby lovingly, and responding to their needs, are key to the development of attachment. Equally important might be acknowledging a baby’s unhappiness with facial expressions and then reassuring them with warm, happy smiles and soothing tones.
Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said: “Better bonding between parents and babies could lead to more social mobility, as there is such a clear link to education, behavior and future employment. The educational divide emerges early in life, with a 19 month school readiness gap between the most and least advantaged children by the age of five.
“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances. More support from health visitors, children’s centers and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap.”
Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook, Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol, said: “Children who are secure in their parents’ love and care feel surer of themselves. And, because they feel secure, they are better able to manage their feelings, behavior, be resilient and relate to others. But mums and dads who face insecurity, economic or otherwise, will find it harder to provide the sensitive parenting needed for secure attachment.”
The report Baby Bonds by Sophie Moullin, Professor Jane Waldfogel and Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook is available on the Sutton Trust website.
About the Sutton Trust
The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programs that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
We’ve started talking about Giving the Love That Heals by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. The topics we’ll be discussing in April will be:
Growing Yourself Up
The Stage of Attachment
The Stage of Exploration
The Stage of Identity
The Stage of Competence
So far we’ve learned how our unconscious mind has controlled most of our parenting based upon our own upbringing. We do have the power to change these unconscious decisions though. We can do so through our actions and our intentional dialogue with our children. We’ve been having a few deep discussions. Our discussions happen on GoodReads.
By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words For Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International Leader (API of Portland, Oregon, USA), www.kellybartlett.net. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.
“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”
This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.
“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”
He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”
This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.
A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding
Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.
When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.
I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.
Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle
Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.
Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.
Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.
Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.
Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.
Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.
Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!
The Family Part of Eating
Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.
This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!
Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.
This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.
Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home
I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?
Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:
· Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.
· Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!
· Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.
· If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!
· Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.
· Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.
We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.
I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.
Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.
They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.
Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.
I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.
The Importance of the Family Table
Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:
· Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).
· Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).
· Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).
· Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).
· Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).
· Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.
· A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.
You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:
Children are in our care for a limited amount of time, generally spanning two decades. During that time, their needs change drastically yet gradually from year to year. I’ve always found it odd that the principles of Attachment Parenting are criticized as promoting dependence in children when, if you analyze the proper development of independence in childhood, the attachment style would be considered the ideal method for raising competent adults.
Attachment style parenting is based on Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. These principles are designed to guide decision making with a focus on infancy. But the overwhelming theme of the attachment style is the sensitive responsiveness of the parent toward the child. This responsiveness is directed at meeting the child’s needs in a loving and respectful manner.
The meeting of needs is a critical concept.
The end result of meeting a child’s needs is varied yet always positive. A child whose needs are consistently met learns that his voice is heard, his communications are valued, his needs are worthy, he can rely on the world to be a safe and secure place, he can trust his parents both for comfort and guidance, and he is competent.
We are most effective leaders when we teach from a place of love and trust.
Think about a time when someone tried to change you or what you were doing. How did you feel? Now think about how you felt about that person. Did you believe the person had your best interests at heart? If you did, you probably felt positive about the experience, whether you accepted the advice or not. If you believed the person did not understand you, did not care about you, or was only trying to promote their own interests, then you probably felt bad about the experience and certainly rejected the advice. We can only create true change from a position of love and trust. This is a truth of humanity.
Why do so many people worry about Attachment Parenting leading to dependent kids?
Those who don’t understand API’s Eight Principles of Parenting can often confuse meeting a child’s needs with stifling independence. An infant is at the beginning of her experience as a human. She begins her life without the ability to help herself in any way. She is entirely dependent on her caretaker. One aspect of meeting her needs is understanding what her needs are. She has not reached the stage in her development yet where she is capable of independence or desirous of it. The securely attached parent recognizes this need and attends to her accordingly.
The result of this sensitive attendance to the child’s needs is a child who has a secure foundation to begin her journey toward independence.
How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?
The drive for independence is as natural to humans as breathing, sleeping and eating. The securely attached parent is able to recognize when the child needs and wants independence and not only allow him to stand on his own two feet, but encourage him as well.
Independence occurs gradually, throughout the two decades of childhood. We do not need to force it upon a child before she is ready and should not hold her back when she is.
Responsive parents can see when their 2-year-old is demanding to pour her own milk and allow her to so. This is meeting a need. It’s a new need, different from those in infancy, but a need nonetheless. So she is allowed to develop necessary skills as she is ready.
As soon as a child is capable of caring for himself, he should be allowed to do so.
Connected, responsive parents can observe when their child is ready for independence and are able to encourage him. He wants to dress himself? Allow him. It doesn’t matter what he wears. It matters that he is able to care for himself. If he still needs to be close to his parents when he sleeps at night, that’s okay, too. It’s about fostering the child’s desire for independence. It’s about meeting needs. His need for independence is as legitimate as his need for security. Both are met with sensitivity, predictability and love.
What the child learns as she grows is that she is capable and secure. She learns that independence is a positive experience for her, as she masters each new skill. She learns that all of her needs will be met, regardless of what they are or how someone else feels about them.
As the child progresses through childhood, her need for independence will increase while her need for physical closeness to her parents will decrease. But the confidence she has in her parents is what links the two.
What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?
I’ve seen articles proclaiming that parents must detach from their children during the teen years. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what attachment is. The attachment is the relationship, the sensitivity, the unconditional willingness to meet the child’s needs. A securely attached parent is able to recognize that the child’s needs during the teen years have changed and will continue to change to adulthood.
The securely attached teenager has experienced life with his parents knowing that when he speaks, he will be heard. He knows that his ideas, thoughts, opinions, and experiences are valued by them. He knows that he is competent. He knows that he can seek independence and he will be supported in his efforts. He knows that he can go to his parents for emotional support and they will be there for him. He knows that they know him well, they always have, and their primary goal is to support him. He knows this because that has been experience since the day he was born.
Think about this teen for a moment. This is what all parents want. This is a teen who knows when she has a problem, she can trust her parents as a resource. She will talk to them about it. She doesn’t rebel. She has nothing to rebel against. Her parents are allies in her life. They always have been. Nothing magically changes because of her age. They are still watching her, listening to her, anticipating what she needs from them and responding to her with sensitivity. She will take their advice more often than not. She knows that they want the best for her. They don’t disregard her, brush her aside or bully her. They never have. Sure, she might make mistakes. Everyone does and teens are more susceptible due to their inexperience and youth. But she has parents to guide and teach her. And she is still willing to accept their love and support.
We all want the same things for our children. We them to be happy, successful, independent, competent, kind, loving, empathic, responsible adults when they leave to go out into the world. We are not always so sure how to get there. While we all have to find our own way as parents, this I do believe: you can never go wrong meeting your child’s needs, no matter what the needs may be.
By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words for Kids, API Leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator, www.kellybartlett.net.
After infancy comes the age of autonomy. It’s a time when a child’s physical activity takes off, language flourishes and parents hear frequent exclamations of, “Me do it!” During this time, our kids’ personalities blossom, and we start to experience the full range of their spirit. After infancy, positive discipline can become a natural extension of Attachment Parenting, as it is about providing limits for behavior while respecting a child’s needs and natural temperament. Just as close contact strengthens the parent-child relationship in infancy, positive discipline preserves that relationship throughout childhood.
However, discipline can also challenge the parent-child relationship, especially when a child is very spirited in nature. When kids are very active or react strongly to disappointment, positive discipline tools can be difficult to put into place. Many parents get frustrated with their child’s seeming lack of response to a non-punitive discipline style and are often at a loss as to how to discipline such exuberance.
Dr. Jane Nelsen is the author of Positive Discipline and founder of the Positive Discipline Association. She trains parents, teachers and caregivers all over the world to use positive discipline to strengthen parent-child relationships and to teach children how to become responsible, respectful and self-reliant. I had the opportunity to speak with Jane about her thoughts on responding to strong emotions when it comes to positive discipline and spirited kids.
KELLY:As you know, children who are described as “spirited” are typically very active, very verbal, highly emotional or some combination of all three. I’ve often heard from parents of spirited children that using positive discipline can be a challenge because their kids’ personalities are naturally so strong-willed. What do you think? Is there a place for positive discipline in families of strong-willed, “spirited” children?
JANE: I think using positive discipline is even more important with spirited children because you need to guide that strong will they have. As children grow out of infancy, they want—they need—to use their power, whether we like it or not. And they’re good at it! Celebrate that you have a spirited child and then take a lot of opportunity to guide that child into using that strong will in contributing ways.
KELLY: How do we do that with spirited kids?
JANE: One of the foundations of positive discipline is to be kind and firm at the same time. Many parents know how to be kind … until they get upset. Then they know how to be firm without being kind, and they vacillate between the two: being kind until they can’t stand their kids (who develop an entitlement attitude) and then being firm until they can’t stand themselves (feeling like tyrants).
I think we all know the mistakes made in the name of firmness without kindness: punishment. However, many do not know the mistakes made in the name of kindness without firmness: pleasing, rescuing, over-protecting, pampering (providing all “wants”), micromanaging in the name of love, overdoing choices, and making sure children never suffer.
KELLY: When you say “never suffer,” what do you mean?
JANE: I often say we should allow our kids to suffer. Not make them suffer—we should never do that. But we need to allow them to suffer such that they can have their feelings.
KELLY: You’re saying when our kids are expressing their unpleasant emotions we shouldn’t console those feelings away?
JANE: Right. Parents shouldn’t worry about not being attached if their children ever have to cry. I think it is impossible for any child who is being raised by a parent who is interested in Attachment Parenting to not be attached. It’s not possible; they’re in tune with meeting their child’s needs.
But being too focused on keeping a child happy can lead a parent to constantly (unintentionally) rescue a child from his feelings. The child then develops the belief of, “I’m not capable of dealing with these feelings.”
They should have their feelings and be allowed to work them through. And when they do—which they will eventually—they will feel a sense of. A sense of, “I am capable.” A sense of, “I am resilient.” A sense of, “I can survive.” All children need that opportunity.
KELLY: It seems hard to know when to offer comfort and ease strong feelings and when to trust kids to work through them on their own.
JANE: I think parents get confused between the needs and the wants. There’s a fine line between understanding when it’s appropriate to comfort your children and when to let them work through their feelings on their own and realize their own capabilities for handling them. I just think that’s a grey area for a lot of parents.
KELLY: So where is that balance? How do we know what is an appropriate response?
JANE: A lot of it is education. If you have the knowledge, then you go into your heart and you know. Parents need to understand that children are always making decisions based on their life experiences. They are answering for themselves, “Am I capable? Am I not capable? Can I survive the ups and downs of life, or can I not?”
If parents don’t allow their children to have those experiences of emotional upsets, they rob their children of developing the belief that he or she is capable. What we want to do is give our children experiences that help them develop healthy beliefs and a sense of trust, autonomy and initiative. Children need to develop their disappointment muscles, their capability muscles and their resiliency muscles. Wise parents allow children to do that.
KELLY: So it is possible for firmness, kindness, strong will and attachment to co-exist? No matter how spirited our children are (or their responses to discipline), we can set boundaries with kindness, let kids have their feelings about them, and still maintain a secure attachment?
JANE: Yes. And I think this is what parents of highly-spirited kids need to know. Sometimes it’s really hard to be firm without being punitive. And also, it’s easy to be permissive when your kids are strong-willed and you’re worried about maintaining attachment.
You know, I used to be permissive with my kids until I couldn’t stand them. Then I would be controlling and punitive until I couldn’t stand myself. So I’d be pampering and punitive because I didn’t know there was something in between. There’s a balance. A great example is saying, “I love you, and the answer is no.” Kind and firm. Then let kids have their feelings.
KELLY: And parents should still be there, too, “on the sidelines” so to speak?
JANE: Exactly. Children need to be able to manage their feelings when there’s a loving, supporting advocacy–that’s the benefit of Attachment Parenting. You’re providing that energy of support, that validation and foundation for allowing children to use what they’re learning.
For more articles about “spirited” kids, be sure to read the latest issue of Attached Family magazine, the Loving Uniquely issue, available for free download here!
An interview with author Amy Hatkoff about her book You Are My World.
Tell us about your book. What was the inspiration?
Today, more than ever before, there is a burgeoning body of scientific research confirming that babies develop on every level through the give and take of relationships. And the science is telling us that babies with secure attachments have the best outcomes in life. Study after study shows that attuned, sensitive and responsive parenting leads to optimal development.
I have always felt that parents were the last to receive critical information about babies and often make decisions based on cultural myths and misconceptions. It seems that child development is one of the best kept secrets in America! I wanted to synthesize the research into a language that was easy for parents to understand and apply to everyday interactions with their babies. I wanted to “picture” what attachment parenting looks like and communicate what it feels like from a baby’s point of view.
You Are My World provides an opportunity for parents to visually, emotionally and intellectually experience the impact they have on their babies. I also wanted to give a voice to babies and celebrate all that they do, know and are–right from the start.
How will this book benefit families?
The book is meant to resonate with the wisdom of a parent’s heart. We know how important love is for a baby–it is everything. But so much can stand in the way of our accessing or expressing our love. In my years of working with parents, I realized it takes more than information to help people make a shift or to really integrate a concept. I had been looking for a way to bypass the defenses of our minds and untie the knots created by personal experiences, cultural beliefs and historic ideas. You Are My World uses the voices and beauty of babies themselves to speak directly to our hearts.
I also believe that less is more. I think people can glaze over with too much information. I was trying to distill the information into its simplest and most readily accessible and absorbable form.
I hope the book will help parents feel more confident and empowered. You Are My World celebrates the power of a parent’s love and portrays the extraordinary impact of the ordinary acts of parenting. Every parent can hold, soothe and smile at their baby. The book shows that it is the seemingly insignificant moments with the significant people in a baby’s life that shape who that baby will become. I hope the book will encourage parents to listen to their hearts.
What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing? How does your book work within our mission statement?
I think API is essential and doing a fantastic job of encouraging Attachment Parenting, which is known to be so critical for healthy development.
The dedication in the book is: “To parents everywhere, whose love has the power to change the world.” While I believe this intuitively, I thought I might be going a little bit overboard in making this statement. But the more I read, the more research I find that makes a connection between Attachment Parenting and peaceful children–and ultimately, the hope for a peaceful world. My hope is that we can all continue to find ways to free our hearts from the confines of culture, history and our personal pasts and become free to truly nurture our children.
Where can readers find out more about the book and your work?