Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Unsolicited Advice

Note: This post is part of the Attachment Parenting Month blog carnival, hosted by Attachment Parenting International. Learn more about how you can stay “Attached at the Heart Through the Years” by visiting API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International.

Friends of ours are expecting their first baby. I am so excited for them and, like much of the world, can't wait to tell them what to do. Even though I personally dislike unsolicited advice, I somehow feel compelled to share it. Why is that?

Maybe it is because I want to help them avoid mistakes I've made. When I became a new parent, I needed help quickly (we went from being dual-income-no-kids to full-fledged parents in a mere two weeks) and found advice in baby books. The books suggested we "begin with the end in mind" and not hold or carry our baby too much and let her cry-it-out for naps and nighttime once she was "old enough" to not need food at night. She was fed on a semi-schedule because, according to one expert, "if you feed on demand you create a demanding baby." We were assured (through the well-articulated books), that all of this was good for her. She was learning a life skills; how to self-soothe and self-entertain.

When my second child was born, I was fortunate to have stumbled across the Attachment Parenting International website. I eagerly read their eight principles of parenting online and pre-ordered the book, Attached at the Heart. I felt empowered to follow my instincts in parenting and did things very differently with my second child. We held or carried her routinely and not just when she was upset. I had (and still use) two baby carriers to make babywearing (now toddlerwearing) comfortable and convenient. We co-slept. She ate whenever she asked to (we paid attention to early signs of hunger). We did not allow crying for any length of time whatsoever. I wish in my heart of hearts that we would have followed this advice with our first daughter. And for that reason, for that deep regret of not doing it right the first time, I feel powerfully compelled to share advice with expectant parents. Here is what I would say:

- Help your baby learn how to sleep. Some books (and people) push letting an infant cry it out to help them learn to sleep independently. By contrast, I've learned that co-sleeping does teach a baby how to sleep. Babies need to learn the rhythms of sleep before they can be expected to do it independently. I think sleep learning is similar to learning to eat: I didn't stick a steak in front of my newborn's face and expect her to just learn how to eat. (To me, saying, "If that baby is tired enough, she'll learn how to sleep." is the same as saying, "If that baby is hungry enough, she'll learn how to eat that steak.") Instead, we feed (nurse, bottle nurse, or formula feed) newborns and infants, we model eating, we scaffold support as their ability to handle food increases - in short, we use developmental readiness to guide the nutritive choices we use to nourish our children. We should do the same with sleeping.

I don't think it is any accident that my first daughter (left alone in her crib) had her days and nights flip-flopped and seemed to be awake at night. I think that, as a newborn, she was programmed to be on-alert and vigilant when separated from warm, cozy parents. During the day when she was with me, she felt safe enough to rest. At the time, I couldn't figure out why she had nights and days mixed up. 20/20 hindsight, right?!

When I began co-sleeping, part of me was afraid that I was setting us all up for failure; that she would need me all the time to sleep and I would never see my husband again. Instead I have found that she can (and does) sleep well on her own, though at this time she still needs help getting to sleep. She falls asleep around 7:30 p.m., I am able to leave her in her own room while I catch up in the evening, I fall asleep in my own room, and then I go to her and co-sleep the rest of the night after she wakes up the first time. The routine will change as her needs change, but so far co-sleeping has really worked for us. Plus, I get the amazing chance to watch her drift off to sleep and be with her as she starts to stir in the morning. Bliss.

- Consider Babywearing: People will warn you that carrying your baby/toddler too much will result in a clingy, spoiled child. I have to disagree. In my opinion, babies have a biological and developmental need for closeness, and if it is met, they readily move on to the next developmental phase. If babies do not have this developmental need for closeness and proximity met, they will continue to express a need for this until it has been satisfied. Our second child was held as a matter of routine, and not just when she was upset. Instead of creating a spoiled monster, as I was warned I was doing, I was helping her feel secure and confident. Now that both of my children are toddlers, I hold, cuddle, and carry them as often as they'd like, but I also respect their need for exploring and play.

One of my life's greatest regrets is that I did not practice Attachment Parenting with my first child. But when you know better, you do better. Now that I know Attachment Parenting is what works for my family, I will continue to use it. The wonderful thing about Attachement Parenting is that it is not limited to parenting newborns, infants, or even toddlers. It is a style of parenting that is beneficial and respectful to families with children of all ages. Although my first daughter did not have the benefit of parents who practiced Attachment Parentng, she does now. It is never too late to begin.

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