5 Problems with Gen-X Attachment Parenting
I do not claim to know anything other than what I've experienced. Each child is different from the next and requires a unique approach. This makes a mother's job much like guessing how many jellybeans sit in a jar.
There's no guarantee of reward for your efforts. Further, any criticism stings like a knife in the heart -- one of the most difficult parts of motherhood. Anyone with a disapproving mother-in-law or even a stranger on a mommy chat board can relate. It is not the intention, therefore, of this article to pick on mothers and their choices (especially methods that work for them) but to ask the beleaguered and exhausted, much like Dr. Phil would, "how's it workin' out for ya?"
Like shoes, methods for raising kids come in and out of fashion and each generation adopts its own style. Mine, Generation X, has embraced Attachment Parenting with engaged mothers (a record number stay at home) hyper-focused on positive discipline, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, nursing, and many other child-centered theories. I've practiced many of the Attachment Parenting principles and find most of them wonderful. However, certain aspects of this child-rearing philosophy are not always good for families and can result in unhappy moms, too much mommy-guilt and stress, not enough sleep, and husband-neglect. (All of which I am guilty.) The following are some of the roadblocks that keep me from completely embracing my generation's idea of good parenting.
First, did you grow another appendage or is that a baby under your shirt?
5. The perils of the co-sleeping, infant-wearing, baby whisperer
Katelynne paces up and down each night in a routine that starts with 8 or 9 stories and doesn't end until her 3-year-old says it does nearly two hours later. She sings and rocks, dances and pleads for her little one to just go to sleep already! She's performed this ritual for three years and still no relief.
A quick browse of the parenting section in the library finds a majority of popular books agreeing with her bedtime routine. You'd be hard-pressed to find a recent book on sleeping habits that doesn't have mom or dad doing this type of bed-time dance for as long as it takes for junior to feel ready to sleep.
But Katelynne and her husband feel miserable. When I saw her last, Kate handed me a parody of a children's book she found that makes us laugh so hard we can't breathe called Go The F*ck To Sleep. Sounds harsh, but at some point, that's what we're all thinking!
With my first daughter I rarely let her out of my arms, even for a moment. If I wasn't nursing her, I carried her strapped to my belly in a sling. As she got older we shifted to a backpack so I could cook and do laundry hands-free. The obvious choice for us was co-sleeping since it was back in style and I was literally already attached to my child during the day.
And what did I learn? Deep sleep does not exist when your precious baby snores right next to you. Though, it's still a precious sleep and easy for nursing (however the ease of it wears off rather quickly). Soon your lethargic newborn grows into a squirmy infant who prefers sleeping securely attached to a nipple or nestled between mom's boobs. (And all the husbands sarcastically say, "Great.")
After 9 months of co-sleeping (including a week straight by a baby who wanted snacks all night long every 15 minutes), I decided to transition to the crib. Thus began the great "sleep training" experiment from Hell. My sisters used the Baby Whisperer method and they thought it answered all questions. Of course, they also still stayed up all night. It didn't sound good to me but I figured I'd try it.
This method consists of picking the baby up immediately when they cry and shushing them until they stop before putting them back down, called the pick-up-put-down method. Except my baby just never stopped crying. So what do you do then? If I rocked her to sleep she would only stay asleep as long as I held her. The minute she hit the mattress the screaming would begin again. After about a week of this and running on about 3 hours of sleep a night (and never consecutively), I began to understand why some mothers snap and end up in prison. I knew I had to find another way and so decided we would try a cry-it-out technique.
This is also hellish but at least you can put your head under a pillow to block it out. However, after 2 weeks of crying, I knew that wasn't working either. We ended up finding an in-between that worked by going in every few minutes to talk to her and then leaving and making each interval a little longer. She finally figured it out but that's one year of my life I'll never get back.
Three years later I had another daughter; I resolved that this one would sleep. We came home from the hospital and I laid her in her crib and off to sleep she went. I learned a valuable lesson. It was all my fault. By co-sleeping with the older one and wearing her like a necklace she learned that sleeping wasn't done without me. With the youngest, from the beginning she knew that her crib was a safe, restful place and mommy isn't anywhere near it. To this day she still loves playing in it and she's 2 1/2.
My attitude was the biggest change in the sleep process. Instead of being anxious about what would happen, I simply made up my mind that my new baby would sleep in a crib, that it is perfectly acceptable and good for her to be able to put herself to sleep and she did. When I hear others telling stories of sleepless nights, I wish someone told them right from the beginning: put that baby down and put her in her crib! Don't nurse them to sleep and if they fall asleep nursing, change their diaper and then put them down so they can fall asleep naturally on their own. It really is magical stuff. A baby who never knew falling asleep on mom never misses out on anything.
Respecting your sleep zone helps your marriage too. Little marital love goes on with babies in the bed. Further, we are far more likely to lose our tempers and patience when we don't get sleep. A peaceful, rested mom is one of the best gifts a child can get. If you've already gotten your baby addicted to you for sleep, I'm sorry. You're pretty much buggered. Good luck trying to undo that and try again on the next one.
Next... are you wired?
The future is now. There is a gadget for everything, and Gen X moms are first in line to buy the latest must-have. Mommy anxiety creates a target-rich environment for big ticket items no one really needs. As if having a baby isn't stressful enough, check out this sell-technique for a product that will alert you to every movement your baby makes in her sleep. This is supposed to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
With its movement sensor pad, sound transmitter, sound lights, and movement detecting "ticking" sound, The Angelcare Movement Sensor with Sound Monitor can take away virtually all this anxiety.
No it won't. It will increase your anxiety by at least 10. The same goes for video monitors. I know people who have these things and while they are wonderful mothers they're driving themselves crazy.
We must ask ourselves, how did we survive when our mothers were putting us to sleep on our faces with no baby monitors and five blankets?* How did we survive riding un-belted in cars and being thrown around in the backs of woody-wagons on cross-country trips?* It is important to keep perspective and try to relax more. Anxiety will rub off on your young.
Let go of some of those things that just aren't necessary and add to your stress. I stopped using sound monitors in the house entirely. I don't want to hear my baby unless she's truly in distress. It's just too tempting to go in for every little peep or gurgle. Unless you live in a giant house most crying babies scream loud enough without the help of monitors.
There's nothing wrong with these products and if it works for you then great, but if you find yourself increasingly nervous or anxiety-ridden try scaling back on the newfangled gizmos. You can still be a loving and attached parent without bugging your baby's room.
*Not recommended...I'm just sayin'.
Next...If you've started any fights with a referee, you might need therapy.
There is a tendency with Attachment Parenting to put the desires and feelings of your child ahead of all else. With proper application, Attachment Parenting should not lead to child-indulgence but let's be honest, no one has time to read after the baby arrives. So it's possible that a lot of parents stopped reading after the infant stage. We are told that every noise our babies make deserves a response and that our schedules should center around their needs and wants, and with an infant much of that is necessary since they cannot communicate.
But these habits must change as our children get older or there will be the devil to deal with in a few years. You know the kid as well as I do. He pushes babies, he takes toys, he has tantrums in stores, and all the while his mom makes excuses. Soon, this mother will start to blame others for her child's problem and then will end up screaming at the soccer coach on the sidelines for not playing her son who clearly, in her mind, deserves more field time.
The other day a friend commented on Facebook that there were parents at her son's hockey game who were cheering on their kids' aggressive behavior against the other team. They're eight. Competition is great and winning and losing are important lessons but so are sportsmanship, winning well, and accepting loss gracefully. Attachment Parenting (done wrong or taken to the extreme) stands to decrease the ability of children to feel empathy for others because of the intense focus the people in their lives have had on them and their self-esteem. The rudeness of today's tots has not gone unnoticed, as MSNBC reports:
Many experts say today’s kids are ruder than ever. And it may have something to do with popular parenting movements focusing on self-esteem and the generation that’s embracing them: Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1977. .. their kids are, well, rude. It may be that today’s parents are so fixated on their children's emotional well-being that they’re teaching them that the well-being of others is comparatively unimportant
In Waiting for Superman, a documentary on America's failing schools, statistics detailing the dismal academic scores of our children flash across the screen. While trailing the world in test scores American kids are number one in the world in one area: self-confidence.
That's rich. American kids are ignorant and mean, but they're proud of it! It's no wonder when popular parenting trends have directed mothers and fathers to build up their child's self-worth at all costs. For some Gen X parents, self-esteem and personal happiness are valued more than good behavior.
To avoid going down this unfortunate road it is important that children understand they are not the center of the universe. The truth is, your precious baby needs serious guidance to overcome a natural desire to be a selfish jerk. Civilizing a child is a full-time job that requires your dedication to squelching anti-social behavior the minute it rears its ugly sneer.
My oldest daughter used to throw a fit when I wanted to give away her used toys and clothes to charities. At first I would collect the items when she was napping or at a friend's house but I knew her attitude had to change. Every Christmas our church collects items for Operation Christmas Child where we send gifts to poor children who don't get presents for Christmas. There are excellent videos on YouTube that show the children receiving their Christmas boxes and stories of the hardships they face. I sat down with my daughter one day and watched those with her. When we were done I told her that when we sort through her toys and clothes to give away, they go to people like those children who need them. She immediately went to her room and started finding things she could donate. Since then she has never complained about it. Not only that, but I heard her praying for those children before bed and thanking God for the things she has all on her own. It hasn't stopped the whining in the toy aisle in Target, but it's a good start!
Doing things for others is a sure-fire way to take the mind off selfish pursuits and it's an excellent way to teach a child about empathy. Even young children can help choose gifts for Operation Christmas Child or collect canned goods for the food pantry. Small acts of kindness will go a long way to shaping better character. However, if you are one of the people shouting at referees and insulting your child's educators, you need therapy.
Next... Prepare to get your panties in a twist because here comes the spanker spoon!
2. The Never-Spankers
One huge difference between Generation X moms and almost every other generation before them is their total aversion to spanking. Spanking has become synonymous in Gen X circles with abuse. New experts insist that spanking causes children to act out with violence. This has always baffled me because everyone in my family (and extended family) were spanked occasionally and none of us have ever been in a fight.
Further, most parents from the generation that raised us spanked on a pretty regular basis. If spanking causes violent behavior, why aren't more Gen Xers lashing out? This is not to say that spanking can't be done in an abusive way. It can and abuse leads to further abusive behavior. However, spankings can also be administered in a loving way; they can often solve behavior issues immediately that would take "positive discipline" advocates months to fix.
I hope publishing my theories helps to explain to my peers why I spank and also helps anyone who might be struggling under current methods to control their wild things. In no way is the purpose of this information to belittle positive discipline or claim spanking is the only way to discipline a child. Positive discipline relies on redirecting and "problem solving" instead of punishing. There are reward systems and lots of praising of good behavior. These are things that every parent should do as much as possible, however, simply not getting a sticker on a chart sometimes fails to motivate enough to stop unsavory behavior.
Very young children do not understand such machinations and yet still engage in dangerous behavior that requires addressing. An example is the ever-challenging diaper changing scenario. At around one year or a little older, a baby becomes extremely mobile and will definitely try to squirm away while right in the middle of a very dirty diaper change. At this moment, a parent has two choices: try to reason with the tyke and clean up the poop all over their hands, furniture, and carpet or give the baby a "lioness swat" and continue changing her with no more interference or bio-hazardous threats.
If you've ever watched the nature channel you have witnessed a lion or lioness swat a cub. A giant paw will knock the cub over in a way that sends him tumbling and then rising again to come back chastened. With a human baby, much less is required to send the right message. A little swat on the thigh, just enough to get the attention and startle the child, will stop the unwanted behavior instantly. With both of my girls, it only took one time each at the moment of resistance and they never fought a diaper change again. Those who refuse to spank for any reason have had poop on their carpets and children who do not respect them.
This is dangerous silliness. I'm sure I'll get the hate mail for saying it but if you want to make your life harder and expose your family to E. coli then keep chasing your escape artist around the living room with a dirty bottom. However, nature's way is easier, faster and now diaper time is fun because I get to talk to my little one and laugh and tickle and she stays where she should while she sings silly songs to me about her "buttskie" and "butt-butter." She has forgotten about the swat and only remembers that diaper time is for being still.
Many Gen X parents misunderstand; families who spank don't do it often -- a quiet event with only a few tears. Done appropriately in a loving, calm way, you rarely have to repeat the process. The key is keeping your cool, never reacting in anger, and setting a time for administering the consequence later. If you're clever, like my mother, you can also teach your child to simultaneously learn to tell time. "Be in my room for your spank in 10 minutes!" she would say.
I assure you the waiting was worse than the actual event. It also gives you the chance to make sure the crime equals the punishment and retract if necessary. We spank for very specific reasons: willful disobedience (which means defiantly refusing to obey a parental request after a warning) and throwing a tantrum in public. (Tantrums at home are simply moved into their room where they are allowed to have a fit if they desire since every person should be allowed to have a breakdown in the privacy of their own space. Lord knows I've had a few!)
But perhaps spanking's most important aspect is the learning experience of unpleasant consequences. Life is a difficult journey, fraught with all sorts of pain that most parents hope their children will avoid. One way to help a child grow in wisdom is to teach him early that bad choices lead to painful consequences. There is a tendency of young parents to want to shield children from every wound and every hurt, focusing only on positives but this is a false picture of the world. It's hard for a person who has never had experience with a "loving" spanking to imagine it's not scary or bad -- and for those who have been scarred by abuse, it may be impossible. But if interested, here is a great set of rules to help you improve the effectiveness of your spanking skills.
Next...The most offensive parenting book ever written.
1. Attachment Parenting, meet Biblical Training
I have to admit I've become hugely addicted to 19 Kids and Counting. Michelle Duggar is the sweetest mom on the planet. Who doesn't wish they could keep that pleasant tone of voice with their children at all times? I'm afraid mine are going to hear the smoke alarm and think it's just me screeching. Michelle has quite a few more mothering years under her belt so I'm hoping her enviable character traits like patience, mercy and grace come over time. I made the biggest strides as a mother after connecting with a church and finding women of faith to help along the way. The biggest problem with most popular parenting advice is that it is not rooted in Biblical principles.
The Bible has been a source of wisdom for thousands of years, first in the Torah and later with the books of the Apostles. Unlike any parenting book written two years ago based on random studies with dubious backgrounds, the Bible has produced amazing people for the entirety of its existence. Dr. David Livingstone spent most of his life in Africa saving lives with medicine and with the good news of the Gospels. George Muller saved over 10,000 orphans by giving them a home in his orphanage in England. William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to end the slave trade in England and saw its collapse before he died. Each of these people had someone in their lives who shared the transforming message of the Bible with them that lit a fire under them to act in amazing and world-changing ways. The Bible has influenced people who dedicated their lives to improve the lives of whole nations, curing diseases and feeding the hungry, not because their government ordered it but because their convictions and deep faith led them to do so at great personal cost.
I compare these tremendous people to the ideas we have today about what raising successful people means: keeping them from getting pregnant until they finish college and off drugs for about the same amount of time. It's depressing. Most people are so busy just trying to survive without a calamity there is no time left for kids to reach their full potential. There are so many societal pressures, mean girls and dating horrors, who could thrive in that kind of environment?
Add to that the early over-sexualization of girls and the expectation that teen boys will be Lotharios by the age of 13 and you have a parent's worst nightmare. Where is the joy? Where is the room for true achievement outside of test scores? I have noticed that in our church, many of our young people have passion for something other than a hot date. They have a burning desire to go into missions work. They get on waiting lists, they go to Africa, something I never would have had the courage to do at their age. It seems that each month we are saying goodbye to someone's son or daughter who is off on the adventure of a lifetime to bring the word of God and much needed help to a dark place in the world.
I've asked myself, how do I get one of those? One of those bright-eyed teens with sweet dispositions and a heart for serving others? They spend their money on plane tickets to third world countries instead of designer shoes. They are simply precious, important people who will make a difference to someone in need. I want one of those and I believe the answer is to make the wisdom of the Bible a huge part of their lives and mine.
The Bible is the original manual for Attachment Parenting. It has a plan for raising children that includes being highly involved, loving and kind parents who find joy in their children. Instead of looking to new fads for parenting advice, try a time-tested method that won't disappoint.
Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
Proverbs 29:17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.
Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Collossians 3:21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Proverbs 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Sidenote: Many of the Proverbs were written by King Solomon, known by all during his life as the wisest man to have ever lived. It's interesting to note that a few thousand years later, our culture now calls him a fool.)
Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.