These are some things I believed about myself and my children before I became a mom:
I would breastfeed on a schedule, for my children needed to adhere to my routines and schedule. My children would sleep in our room for a short time, then sleep in their own room, and we would sleep-train them to sleep through the night. My children would never be allowed in on our bed, for our bed was sacred. I would discipline my children firmly and physically when needed.
Then, I became a mom.
My children were breastfed on demand their first year of life and well beyond. My children slept in our room for most of their lives (Lucy’s never slept in a separate room). Neither of them sleep through the night, and when they wake, they are welcomed in bed with us. And while I regret that I did use physical discipline a few times with Levi, I have thoroughly forsaken that it is acceptable.
I had my first child.
A Paradigm Shift
When Levi was born, I realized that the parent/child relationship was more integral, intense, and interconnected than I ever imagined. I realized that my newborn baby was entirely dependent on me, not only for food and shelter and cleanliness, but for emotional nurturing and comfort. I realized that my previous held beliefs were more about protecting my own independence than caring for my child. I realized that I wanted to care for my baby’s needs as I would want mine to be cared for.
Upon these realizations, and guided by the incredible mystery of God-given parental instinct, Kevin and I began to parent in a way that was extremely sensitive to our baby’s needs. At the time, I had no idea what attachment parenting was, nor what it meant. Only later did I realize there was a name for the parenting style that we had happened upon quite naturally, although with some hesitancy.
Let me tell you a little more of our story.
When we were deciding on names for our firstborn, Kevin had suggested the name “Levi.” I liked it. When I looked up the meaning, though, I frowned.
Attached. Leah named her third son Levi in hopes that her husband would become attached to her. I told Kevin it was meaningless and, therefore, not an option.
Then, when my due date came and went, Kevin looked at me and said, “I think we need to put the name Levi back on the table. This baby’s so attached to you, he doesn’t want to be born.” I rolled my eyes.
Nine days after my due date, when I was in the throws of a natural, unmediated 21 hour labor, I knew in my heart we were having a boy, and I suspected that this child was, indeed, Levi.
Then, a few hours after I caught my first born child in my own hands and brought him to my breast and my entire life shifted, the nurse, who smiled warmly at the bald head sleeping contentedly against my body, said: “He is so attached to you!”
My gaze darted to Kevin who just grinned foolishly, and I sighed deeply and finally surrendered. His name was Levi.
It’s profound that our journey into attachment parenting began with a child whom we named “attached.”
New Parents with a New Baby
The night Levi was born, we each took turns sleeping with him against our chests. Our body heat regulated his, our breathing helped teach him the new skill, our nearness was a comfort, for he never cried, only fussed quietly until we transitioned him or I offered him my breast.
I wondered at the powerful connection I had been learning about, but was now experiencing. While it all felt so surreal, it also felt very natural, for me and for Kevin. We felt that this was how it was meant to be.
The next morning, we packed up and went home. Levi wasn’t put down all day. He was content in our arms, or in the arms of one of his family members. Then, when time came for bed, I looked at the pack ‘n play we had set up across the room, and I stalled. The ten foot distance felt too far, and I looked at Kevin and said, “I can’t let him sleep that far away from me.” We set him up right beside our bed, and when I heard him rustle in his sleep, I rolled over and picked him up.
While I had been advised by some to schedule breastfeeding, I suddenly questioned it. Was I to wait three hours to feed him when I had the ability to meet his needs in that moment? I tried to comfort him without nursing only once in those early days, and his gentle, compliant spirit became agitated and he let out a rare cry.
Everything within me protested that cry, and I thought, screw that. I fed him whenever he cried, feeling a bit unsettled going against the advice of some people I respected (“Your child needs to know he’s entering into your world, not the other way around”). But Levi seemed the most calm and content when I immediately met his needs, and I felt the most at peace when I was meeting them.
Levi truly was attached to us, figuratively and literally. He did not like being laid down, and we quickly learned that the way to keep us all happy was to hold him or wear him in a baby carrier. Levi loved to be nestled up against Kevin or me, and we would do chores or go for walks with him there, listening to the sound of our hearts.
Then, when he was about six months old and I was told his night waking was no longer appropriate, I began to feel the pressure to sleep train him. I knew I would not and could not go through with the cry-it-out extinction method, so I tried some of the “gentler” methods, but none of them worked. In fact, they seemed to make Levi’s sleep worse. So we abandoned sleep-training and did what others discouraged: we brought him into bed with us.
For the first months of Levi’s life, I was in a perpetual state of conflict. While being responsive to our baby’s needs felt right and while my motherly instinct affirmed everything I was doing, my community and culture made me question if we were too nurturing, if perhaps we were somehow preventing him from becoming independent, if we had become child-centric.
Then, I learned about attachment theory, and the doubts quickly dissipated.
A Brief Overview of Attachment Theory
Attachment theory argues that in order for a child to feels secure in himself and with his place in the world at large, a child must have a secure attachment – which psychologist John Bowbly defined as a “lasting psychological connectedness” – to a primary caregiver. When there is healthy attachment, “the child uses the primary caregiver as a secure base from which to explore and, when necessary, as a haven of safety and a source of comfort” (Benoit).
A Brief Overview of Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting, then, seeks to create a secure attachment with one’s child by being responsive and sensitive to their needs. When a parent is responsive to an child’s needs from infancy, the child trusts their caregiver(s) to lovingly meet their needs, setting up a lifelong mindset that he is worthy of love and can trust other people to meet his needs. Securely attached teens and adults, then, are significantly more likely to participate in healthy relationships and lifestyles.
According to Attachment Parenting International, there are eight principles for attachment parenting: prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting; feed with love and respect; respond with sensitivity; use nurturing touch; ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally; provide consistent and loving care; practice positive discipline; strive for balance in your personal and family life.
Attachment Parenting Advocates
We have found that attachment parenting has been entirely consistent with our personal beliefs, values, and desired outcomes for our children and our relationship with them. And, already, we have seen positive outcomes from attachment parenting choices.
It has not been without sacrifice; but we believe that raising children is a huge, God-given responsibility worthy of some personal sacrifice.
And our children are better off for it; something we are both humbled by and grateful for.
Interested in learning more?
Look out for these blog posts, coming soon(ish):
Attachment Parenting 101
Attachment Theory, Your Attachment Style, and Why it Matters
A Biblical Case for Attachment Parenting
Attachment Parenting FAQs
Photo Credit: CYNEÉ PHOTOGRAPHY