This article was first published in Mammazine: Call me Mum! – available from Amazon.
How are we parenting?
By Ashlee Sturme
Before you had children, did you have many preconceived ideas on how you would raise your children? Was it as simple as, “I don’t want to be like my parents” or “I really liked how my mum and dad bought me up in this way.”? Did you see other children, and think, “my children will never do that.”? Had you decided that your children would be well-mannered, never watch tv, call you by your first name, vegans, lawyers-in-training, and that you wouldn’t smack, you’d make sure they always wore a sweatshirt in the cold, and you would be a fun parent that let the kids do what they wanted?
I did. I had a few ideas. I had done over 500 hours of babysitting (I knew this because I had to put this on an au pair application!). I was then a nanny for a short time. I had siblings. I thought I was well equipped to become a mother. But I never knew about parenting styles.
Traditionally, you’ll find most resources refer to a set of 3 parenting styles:
Authoritarian parenting – where the parents are in control (“because I said so”) and have an expectation of obedience.
Authoritive parenting – where there are rules and expectations but a bit more lenience and nurturing rather than punishment.
Permissive parenting – where the parents have very little rules or even control over their children, children self-regulate their behaviour, and parents are more like friends.
There are several versions of these styles, with names which include jellyfish parent, sergeant, democratic, coach, and non-directive. And there is the one which attracts the most judgment, and that is attachment parenting.
I think to look at how we are parenting, we need to look at the ‘why’ are we parenting? Why have we had this baby? To control a mini-me? Or to raise kind, caring, generous children, who will make a positive contribution to this word, while we unite in a mutually-benefit and rewarding relationship?
And so, if we have made the decision to have a child, then won’t we bring up this child to meet their needs, wholly and explicitly? From the moment of conception, when we give up our bodies, don’t we make the sacrifices that make us a ‘mother’? After all, it is from that moment that we pass up the ham sandwiches, go to the toilet 15 times a day, and start to plan the beginning of our new lives.
If you are going to be a parent, then you are giving up yourself as an individual. Not forever, that’s for sure. And not entirely, because you are YOU and you need to foster that. But certainly for pregnancy and early infanthood, you are no longer a woman, but a mother. You have become the most important role in the world.
So we’ve worked out the ‘why’. We want to raise children. WANT, being the operative word. We have committed to dedicating our time, our finances, our patience and our whole beings to raising a little human or two. Most of us want to raise children who are respectful, caring, confident. We want our children to be self-sufficient, understanding of the world around therm. We want them to embrace culture and new ideas. We want them to believe they can be anything, and we want our children to be true to themselves, and to be happy. We want our children to make decisions that are best for themselves and those around them, and respect our planet too. Most of us would say we want our children to be the positive change in this world, to make a difference.
So why would we raise our children with an attitude of ‘because I told you so!’. Why would we dominate our children and command obedience, when we ultimately want them to make their own decisions and be their own people? Do we want our children to conform, or stand up for what they believe in?
Is your parenting style contributing to the kind of child you wanted to raise?
After I learnt a bit more about parenting, and thought about how I wanted to raise my children, I decided that my parenting style was going to be positive. I have taken a couple of parenting courses, and read, and read, and read some more.
You aren’t able to be a doctor without years of learning and study. You aren’t able to be a professional sport player without years of practice. You aren’t even able to step into a temporary job without receiving instruction and learning. So why do we expect our nation to become parents – one of the hardest jobs ever! – without any training?
And then, when you are a parent, you become the subject of our society’s most hurtful and judgmental comments. Hands up if you HAVENT ever been on the receiving end of critical and negative comments like, “you’re damning your child with formula!” or “your child needs a good smack.”
Hands up if you’ve never heard about a stranger saying, “breastfeeding after the age of 1 is going to damage your child,” or “we never slept with our babies, you’re making a rod for your own back.” Hmmm… thought so! I can’t see any hands!? That means we’ve all heard something horrid and judging, at a time when we needed support and encouragement.
Ultimately, you have to remember that you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. The only way to get it right is to either a) raise your children as society wants you to so that you are creating conformists (I warn you, that society doesn’t actually know how they want children raised, and thus is prone to changing viewpoint), or b) raising your child as it feels right to you, in that you are meeting your child’s needs and the needs of your family (your partner, yourself, the other children). I hope that you have the backbone to stand up and choose option b, and uphold integrity. I can promise that option b is not the easier route, but it will be the happiest and most rewarding.
How do you know what feels right? How do you know you are doing it right? What even makes something ‘right’? I think we need to turn to ourselves, and simply trust ourselves and our children more. Do you ever trust your instincts?
Doesn’t it seem obvious that when a baby cries, a mother is programmed to respond? The crying pierces her, makes her angry/upset/frustrated and cry too… and when she soothes her baby, not only does the baby calm down, but the mother is calm too. So if the ‘expert’ books tell you to place your baby in a strange place where they can’t move (i.e a cot), and you walk away, understandably your baby will be most confused, frightened and upset. That will make most mothers question their actions, feel guilty and upset within themselves, and try and convince themselves that they are doing the ‘right thing’.
Then doesn’t it also seem obvious that when you hold your baby close, and nurse them to sleep, that you are also programmed to respond. The hormones from breastfeeding relax you, and you watch your baby’s eyes roll in sleepy ‘drunkenness’, content with a tummy full of breastmilk. You curl up to sleep yourself, your husband’s arm resting on your hip, your own arm protectively cocooning your baby. You feel that this is ‘right’.
The mother who is reading the book is trying to be the best mother she can be. When she gives up breastfeeding on the advice of her neighbour, her own mother, or a friend, she picks up the tin of formula thinking she is doing the next best thing, the right thing. When she pushes her baby in the pram to rush to coffee group, she is doing the best she can. When she leaves her baby in a child care centre to return to work, she honestly feels she is doing what is right.
None of the above scenarios are wrong. This mother is doing her absolute best for her baby, and she should be applauded! But imagine if she picked up a different book, one that told her to sleep with her child instead of leaving him to cry for hours at night. If she has read the first one, her thoughts on this second book would be confusion, disbelief, and possibly denial. If she tried it, it may feel unnatural or ‘wrong’. But imagine if she had picked up this second book and had never read the first one. She might feel strange at first, or she might feel positive, intuitive. But imagine the different path she would take as she raised her child.
And this is what brings me to attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is another ‘style’, another way of being. It is another approach, just like being authoritive or jelly-fish. It is the most natural, being mother-and-child/family focused (compared to either parent OR child focused), yet it is the most misunderstood and judged style.
Imagine these parenting styles on a scale. With the Authoritarian approach on one side, where the very very end is abuse (physical, mental, emotional, sexual), scaling towards the middle, where ‘authoritive’ sits. Moving along is the permissive approach, with uninvolved parenting at the very end of the other side of the scale. In society, we do not like abuse, at one endof the scale, and we do not like abandonment, at the other end. We want something in between. Thus, most parents aim for an authoritive approach, the bit in the middle, occasionally sliding a little to the left and a little to the right as circumstances and stages in life pass.
But what if, holding up the scale, was another approach. A style that formed a solid base, with a scale somewhat smaller. This base is listening to the child, responding to that child’s needs, while balancing and meeting the needs of the rest of the family. The scale is smaller, because responding to the child is such a simple concept. This is not a power struggle between parent and child. The scale simple exists to acknowledge that there are many aspects of this approach, different ways of achieving the same goal.
This approach is attachment parenting.
If you look at attachment parenting with a closed, narrow mind, you may be repulsed by extended breastfeeding, think that its damaging to let a child sleep in the parents bed, feel it is dangerous to feed babies whole foods and not mush, stupid to homeschool, and judge and speak unkindly about a group of parents who are ‘hippies’ at best, ‘crazy and misguided’ at worst.
But if you look at this approach with an open mind, perhaps gleaning some new ideas, you will see that these children are happier, and more secure. They do not cry so much, and they are as respectful of their parents as their parents are of them.
Since it is unwise to judge what you do not know, perhaps we should look at what attachment parenting is. In short, it is responding to your needs and your baby’s needs, fostering communication and respect. There are no ‘right’s or rules, just basic guidelines/tools which allow you to best achieve the above goal.
Some aspects include:
- preparing for birth and baby bonding, which may include delayed cord cutting, lotus birth, skin-on-skin, not being separated (except for medical reasons), and being prepared for parenting by spending your pregnancy educating yourself.
- feeding by breast, or bottle nursing if necessary, baby led weaning, modeling good eating, feeding on cue and not by clock, extended feeding
- keeping baby close, using baby wearing (slings and baby carriers), massage and touch.
- Safe close sleep, co-sleeping, feeding through the night
- Listening to your baby’s cries, which are a form of communication. Responding to these.
- Consistent loving care, that is sensitive and positive, and respects the child’s needs to be secure with an ever-increasing need for independence
- Balance – meeting the needs of mum and dad too, and other siblings or family members in the home. Putting effort into your marriage and relationships, friendships, and yourself.
- Natural living – eating organically, sustainably. Home schooling to achieve the above goals. Avoiding chemicals and products that aren’t natural. Cloth nappies. Elimination Communication. Avoiding the traps of consumerism.
That certainly doesn’t sound hippy to me, nor dangerous or misguided. It sounds lovely – loving and gentle. It sounds ideal!
Can it be achieved? Of course it can! This is the way children have been raised since the beginning of time. It is largely our modern, fast-paced Western world that wants our children to be rushed through to independence., sacrificing the breastfeeding relationship and ignoring the needs of our children.
Take co-sleeping, for example. Once you meet your life partner, and move in together, you spend the rest of your life sleeping with them. You fall asleep in each other’s arms, comfort each other through thunder storms and bad dreams, and wake with a gentle smile as you feel the other person next to you, someone you love and share your life with. How loving, warm, secure and natural does all that feel?
And yet, we bring a child into this world – a baby who is unable to do anything for themselves – and we put them into a cold, lonely place – a bassinet or cot. Sometimes we go so far as to ignore their cries for cuddles and food. If a child has bad dreams, we shhshh them away, then leave the child alone again, in the dark.
Imagine how the child feels. Imagine how a new baby feels. Imagine how you would feel.
So what if our society acknowledged this, and accepted and advocated safe co-sleeping? Wouldn’t our children sleep better, and thus mum and dad too?
It is almost inconceivable to think that so many of the worries of mothers would be diminished by this small yet significant change. The mother would not worry about her baby, not have to feel guilt at leaving the baby alone or crying. The mother could watch her baby breathing. The mother would feed her baby on demand, thus boosting her supply and ensuring her baby is hydrated, full, nourished. The mother would get far more sleep, and thus be rested to cope with the other demands on her.
Of course, parenting is hard work. It can get incredibly frustrating. It can be rather grinding, repetitive, even boring. It is sensible not to expect good days, nor think of your days as bad. Now that you are a parent, it is best to think in ‘moment’s – and a day will be made up of many good moments and some bad moments.
It is important to remember why you are doing this. Remember back at the beginning… both the start of this article and the start of your parenting journey. From conception, you give so much up as a parent. It may be as simple as sushi or as complex as your much-loved work. It is clear from the start that what is best for the child is not always suitable for the parent at that moment. Thus, when you have had enough of pregnancy, at the 8 month mark with swollen feet, chronic back pain and heartburn, you have to wait for your baby to initiate labour sometime in the next month (or longer), which is what is best for the child. You’d be hard pushed in NZ to find a doctor who will induce simply because you’ve had enough. Thus, it should be the same with breastfeeding. You child needs feeding, you have the equipment on board. Simply because it is inconvenient or uncomfortable for you doesn’t give you the right to give up, because your CHILD needs it and your CHILD comes first! With the right support and encouragement (which largely doesn’t exist in society as it stands right now) almost every mother can get through the first weeks of pain, bleeding, infections, poor latch and establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. Again, it is inconceivable to imagine how almost every mother breastfeeding would and could eliminate even more concerns relating to hygiene, immunity, breast cancer, comforting your child, constipation, nourishment and all the other benefits of breastfeeding.
So here I am, spelling out to you that actually it’s not about you. You chose to bring this baby into the world and you must be committed to providing for this child, regardless of how you feel about it. I am sure many reading this would disagree. Some could be angry. I hope some would agree with me.
But the thing that makes motherhood so utterly rewarding is that it is sacrificial. You make all these allowances for your kids, you give up so much, and it seems so thankless…. And then your child learns something new, and it is all so so so so worth it!!! Do you have a new respect for your mother now?
Of course, it is so important to nurture yourself too. This includes yourself, physically and spiritually, as well as the things important to you – your relationships and friendships with others, your work, your hobbies.
Did anyone ever tell you that once you become a mother, you will never be the same again? Once you’ve hurtled through the 12 months of pregnancy and the fourth trimester, you will come out the other side tired, bruised, elated. And different. You may regain your figure if you’re lucky, but you will also be blessed with little lines across your belly. Your nipples are different. Your hair may be different. You will never listen to conversations the same, feel the same way about artwork or music or photos. You may look at your bottle of dishwashing liquid with a new perspective. You may have a newfound interest in homeopathy or aromatherapy. Some of these changes are sudden, and some are gradual. But you will never be the same.
Nurture yourself, and embrace these changes! The updated version of you is matured, wiser. This new you is a hero in the eyes of someone else, a model, a provider. It is so true that your happiness will directly influence the happiness and stability of your household – ‘if mamma aint happy, aint nobody happy’ and ‘happy mum, happy kids, happy home’.
This means you have to look after yourself. You NEED to sleep when your baby does, and eat well. You need to take 20 minutes each day to exercise. You need to make sure you are filling up your vessel with love and meaningful conversations with friends, and doing the things that make you happy. You may not be able to turn that tap on every day, but make sure when you do, it is flowing with positive thoughts and actions, allowing you to recharge your batteries and come back to parenting with a fresh face.
What has this got to do with how we are parenting? Because if you adopt a child-focused parenting style, you will at times feel overwhelmed, smothered, and touched out. At times you may feel angry and resentful towards your child, irritated at constantly heaving your breast out or being unable to walk through the supermarket without tending to your child. You may long for just one damn hour in bed, on your own, stretched out.
Recharging your batteries becomes critical. It allows you to move out of the stage of anger and negativity, so you can see the big picture and make this positive again. You need to listen to yourself and respond to your own needs, as well as your baby’s (I told you this wasn’t the easy way!!). After all, you’re modeling behavior to your children.
Are we parenting with an eye on the bigger picture – raising well-grounded children with big dreams, independent yet thoughtful, generous and kind? Are we fostering respectful relationships with our children that will see us through the rocky toddler years and again through the tremulous teenage period, leaving us all adults at the other side with admiration and love for each other?
Or are we parenting with a style that is short-term gain, with possible long term pain – allowing our short-term needs (more space in the bed) prioritize over our child’s long-term needs (secureness and self esteem)?, Is the ‘I told you so’ dominating so it leads to rebellion and contempt, and disrespectful and shaky relationships in adulthood?
It may be easier now to control your child with fear, to hit, or to leave them to cry so they sleep through the night sooner. It may easier to shove a bottle in your baby’s mouth than persevere through a few weeks of bleeding nipples. It’s certainly easier to put a child in their room or time out than to patiently guide them through good behaviour choices and emotional coaching.
What is best for the child is not always what is most convenient for the parent.” ~ Bonnie Bedford
It’s not forever, this time. It shall pass in a haze. What kind of child are you raising?
This article was first published in Mammazine: Call me Mum! – no longer in paperback but available digitally from Amazon