Before I had my son, during my pre-having-a-baby appointments, the midwives kept telling me to make a “birthing plan”. “Hey”, I thought, “isn’t that your job? I’m not nearly as experienced as you”. I planned to have a baby and decided to leave the “how” up to the professionals. I was clued up enough about it to know it wasn’t something I wanted to think about too in-depth. I’d read one pregnancy book (Up the Duff by Kaz Cooke, and it was HILARIOUS) and zero books on the actual having a baby bit. That was future me’s problem, let’s let her deal with it, I thought. Ever the procrastinator. Anyway, I never did a plan. And I got away with it, because when my son was born 5 weeks early I had the perfect excuse, mwahaha *she laughs all sinister like, until she gets to the pushing bit and thinks ah, shite…*.
Anyway, had I made a birthing plan, I’m sure things wouldn’t have “gone to plan” anyway. Because I felt like during the first days, weeks and months of motherhood, nothing at all was going according to plan, and I was failing at everything that having a baby entailed. At least according to the “grading system” that I had no idea existed until after I became a first time mum. The grading system that is sometimes called “attachment parenting”.
When you become a mum, it is a SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM in ALL CAPS. Everything: Your identity, your time, your relationship, your friendships, your career, your body, your sleep – is different; other. You feel like you are in an alternate reality for a while. So it makes sense that we women want to cling onto some structure, rules, some way of knowing that we are doing a good job. We need evidence! So in comes
the grading system attachment parenting.
It is important to know that attachment parenting is NOT the same thing as attachment theory, as in the theory of attachment coined by John Bowlby and his student Mary Ainsworth many moons ago. That was a theory of childhood attachment, not a parenting program. We, as Western Society tends to do, made up a set of non-negotiable rules, behaviours and regulations, a list of what to do (and not to do) and gave it an important sounding name. It implies, if you DO apply these rules to your parenting style, you are golden – A+. Congratulations, you’re a good mum, have a securely bonded child! But if you DON’T abide by these rules, then your child will never be properly (securely) attached to you. This is a myth; possibly started by someone who wanted to sell some books, and perpetuated by us, parents, because it sounds right, and good, and we can measure our worth against it. But attachment theory was never a set of rules, or a list of behaviours to follow, and actually the truth is that most children are attached to their parents; when the parents are simply responsive to their needs and meet them where they are at. But the attachment parenting model would have people under the (false) impression that if they do not follow the specific parenting behaviours specified, then they are in danger of their child not being attached to them. I feel so strongly about this, because I have seen the pressure this myth has put on people in a particularly vulnerable time in their lives; me included.
Some of the “rules” of attachment parenting include having a “natural” birth; I did this one, tick, A+! Breastfeeding, nope “failed” there. F. My baby wasn’t strong enough to latch and so my boobs never got the message to produce enough milk. FAILURE. Baby-wearing is another automatic A. I actually would have loved to have had my baby strapped to me, if only to relieve pressure on my back and maybe even get some stuff done with two hands free, but it was not meant to be (my baby HATED it). Co-sleeping; well no, not that either. Sometimes, now that he is bigger, he sleeps with us, but back then when he was a newborn no way. I get horrible night terrors, and I was terrified I would accidentally mistake him for a grenade and throw him out the window or something. Hmm, what else? Well, staying at home and not working outside the home is a good one; sadly not possible in our family. Bub was in daycare from 5 months old. Which he loves, but still: FAIL, FAIL, FAIL, geez you are bad at this. I would say, averaging everything out, I am around a C+ (at best) at attachment parenting, which is not a nice thought, when I, like us all, want to do my very best for my children.
I heard something comforting (sarcasm) by a “parenting expert” not too long after going back to work. Apparently with all these “risk” factors my son was exposed to (he listed them all, one by one, yikes GUILT!), all I have to do is place some “resilience” factors into the mix and he would be “fine” – the risk and resilience factors would balance each other out: “Phew”, right?! *Wipes brow*. Apparently, all I needed to do was make sure he grows up in a multi-lingual house, and learns a musical instrument. That should make up for all the risk factors. So no worries, right-o, I’ll just go learn a language or two, and a musical instrument, and make sure I do that in the first few months while he is most receptive to learning, and teach it all to him after work each night, and everything will be all hunky dory again * sigh of relief*. Man…(in fairness, we did go and buy him a set of bongo drugs and he does have a pretty sick downbeat).
Anyway, the point of that post was not to make fun of any of the practices that go along with attachment parenting, or to say that they are bad. I don’t think any of them are bad at all, and I did try most of them. I think they are good, if they work for you and your family. I think they are bad when you strive for them ABOVE ALL ELSE and push yourself to the breaking point to get them, when the reality is they are just not necessary for a great, secure attachment with your child. My point is that following these rules and regulations do not cause your baby to become attached to you, any more than NOT following them for whatever reason ruins your attachment. The point is to love your baby, and model love to them in your own relationships, to be responsive to their needs, to meet them where they are at, and to do your best with what you have. It’s called “good enough parenting” and to me, it really takes the pressure off!
PS. Another quick note on breastfeeding. I have explained why I didn’t do it, here online. But I actually made a promise to myself when my son was a few months old that I was going to stop doing that; justifying. This was after the third instance of me being “bottle shamed” by strangers. (Yes, this is a thing). I had been defending my reasons for bottle feeding until that day (to lots of people I knew, as well as those 3 strangers) when I thought, no more! Because I had a fairly straightforward and easy to talk about reason; but what about the girl who does not breastfeed because she was sexually assaulted and does not feel comfortable with anyone, even a baby, touching her breasts? What about the woman who is a breast cancer survivor? What about the woman who is completely touched out, and knows she will slide further into depression if she continues to breastfeed? What about the lady who is painfully shy and does not feel comfortable breastfeeding in public? What about the women who choose not to, for any number of completely legitimate reasons, or even no reason at all? I want us to stop having to justify why, and just accept each other’s choices, trusting that we are doing our best and loving our babies and ourselves, the best way we know how. When we women (cos that is where most of the judgement comes from; other mums. Come on, we all know it’s true!) begin to have each other’s backs, fully, I believe we can make headway into improving maternal mental health worldwide and in turn, bond with our babies in the best ways possible.