Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Attachment Parenting with Empathy

See if you recognize this scenario: Parent A reads up on some tenet of attachment parenting - co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, natural sleep methods, etc - and decides this is what she is going to do with her baby. She has read all the research in favor of it, read all the research against the alternatives, and decides it's the only way to go. She tries it, it works brilliantly, she and her baby are both happy and bonding beautifully, and she becomes an advocate for that technique. Meanwhile, Parent B, an equally loving parent, also does her research and decides she will also try the attachment parenting technique. She tries. It fails. She tries again, and again it fails. She keeps trying and trying, for weeks and then months, and eventually becomes exhausted and drained. It isn't working for her and her baby, and she feels guilty and berates herself, because now she is going to break down and try the technique she never wanted to try - store-bought formula, the cry-it-out-method, etc. This method actually works! She and her baby are happier, healthier and better rested for it, and it actually improves their bonding. However, her happiness is short-lived, because she stumbles onto an online parenting forum and meets Parent A, who chastises her for her choice and calls her a "child abuser." Does any of this sound familiar to you?

If it does, read on. I wrote the following in my Facebook notes several months ago when Jem was only about six months old, before I started blogging. I unearthed it today and thought it might be appropriate to share with you all. I'm sorry if it seems a bit preachy, I was in a bit of a tizzy that day!

It seems whenever I go to an online parenting forum for advice or information I run into a series of heated and rather unkind debates, in which one or several parents verbally (or, I suppose, textually) rip another parent apart for a decision they have made or are trying to make for their child. It really blows my mind how cruel and thoughtless parents can be to one another. Shouldn't we be supportive of one another?  After all, we're all in this crazy, sleepless state of things together.

Several years ago, my parents became foster parents, and since then our family has had an up close and personal look at the effects of real neglect, abuse and abandonment of young children.  I'm pretty sure this gives me a fairly accurate perspective on these topics, so let me tell you right now a few things which do NOT constitute neglect, abuse or abandonment.

~ The decision to use formula rather than breast milk.  Yes, I breastfeed and am a huge proponent of doing so, and I wish more mothers would at least try it out, but there are at least a dozen very valid reasons I can think of for ultimately choosing not to do so.  Throughout history, our foremothers have always had to come up with some necessary substitute for breast milk for those mothers who were unable to feed their kids at the boob.  I personally suspect the way we evolved to stand upright rather than walk around on all fours might have something to do with the human struggle to breastfeed naturally, but that's just a sort of random theory of mine. Anyway, give 'em a break, ladies. Formula isn't my choice, and it may not be yours, but it isn't arsenic.

~ Having your child vaccinated, or not having your child vaccinated.  Or choosing a delayed vaccine schedule. However you feel personally about this issue, whatever the research has led you to believe, the decision to do the opposite of what you yourself have chosen is in no way a form of abuse.  Beating your child for being a couple of minutes late for curfew, that's abuse.

~ Circumcision.  I'm talking about male circumcision as it's commonly practiced in the US.  Now some of you guys (albeit a minority of you) claim to miss your foreskin, and I don't begrudge you that.  Also, I understand that every surgery has its risks and its resultant horror stories. However, we are talking about a one-time procedure with a low rate of complications in which the baby is almost always properly anesthetized, the doctor is skilled, the instruments are sterile, at least one parent is almost always present before, during and after to provide comfort, and which is actually an effective preventative measure (talk to a mother who has to have her child circumcised at age 9 because he refuses to clean himself properly and gets repeated infections, or the elderly man at the nursing home who has to have it done then.  It hurts more for them and they actually remember the pain).  The choice not to circumcise is an EQUALLY valid choice. No one really wants to put a little baby through any discomfort, and the thought of removing a piece of an appendage may seem really strange and unnecessary to you. Either decision is usually made with a great deal of love and consideration for the child.  So let's try to leave words like "barbaric" and "obtuse" out of it, okay? An abusive circumcision would be one where the instruments are not sterile, the doctor is of questionable skill, there is no anesthetic and afterward the kid is left with a gaping open wound with no treatment or comfort.  This does happen in the world.  Let's keep some perspective.

~ Using only Western medicine, or only homeopathic remedies.  I personally think there is a time and a place for both.  Regardless, if a parent is trying as hard as possible to relieve a child's suffering using whatever means they deem necessary and appropriate within their own belief system (by this, of course, I do not mean smothering the child with a pillow to put him out of his misery), I don't see how anyone could possibly claim abuse or neglect. Leaving a sick toddler alone in a playpen with a bottle of Jolt cola while you go out with friends to get high: that's abusive and neglectful.

~ Using the Cry-It-Out method, or variations thereof.  I've heard everything which "the research indicates."  Let me tell you, there's a lot of research to sift through on this topic, and half of it contradicts the other half.  Could letting your child cry so you can get some sleep leave emotional scars and possibly cause anxiety down the road?  Maybe.  Some studies say yes, some studies say no.  Now let me tell you what can really do some damage to a baby: a sleep-deprived parent who has tried everything else he or she can think of to get the child (and themselves) to go to sleep and is gripped, at 4 in the morning, with a sudden urge to throw that child across the room.  Do what you have to do, my friends, to keep your child safe and to keep yourself from a lifetime of regret and self-loathing.  Do what you have to do.

~ Co-sleeping. Or not co-sleeping.  Does co-sleeping reduce the risk of SIDS? Absolutely! Does it also run the risk of a parent rolling over onto the child, smothering the child, or accidentally pushing the child onto the floor?  Yes, indeed.  The rule here is "know thyself." Are you a fitful sleeper? Do you thrash about in your sleep? Will you even be able to sleep knowing there's a fragile little baby next to you? Can you sleep if you modify your bed properly to make it a safe place for baby?  Make the decision based on your own answer to those questions, and remember there are children out there whose parents leave them alone in the house at night, or with dangerous strangers, or for whom the dark of night is a time of unspeakable horrors.

~ Using bumpers, blankets, hats, or stuffed animals at night.  Yes, all of these things can pose suffocation hazards. I'd personally love to use a hat on Jem at night, but I don't quite trust him to wake up if it falls over his face (though he probably would).  Again, know thyself, know thy baby, make sure if you choose to use them that you can check on your child frequently, and if you choose not to don't rag on the parent who does. There are babies who freeze to death because the parents don't care enough to remember to pay the heating bill, don't clothe the child properly, and don't provide so much as a cuddle for body heat.  

Keep everything in perspective, and be forgiving of one another!

...Aaaaand that's my soapbox speech for the day.

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