I remember my infant psych class in college, part of my childhood development minor. One of the techniques our professor taught us about was using “extinction” to get a baby to stop crying during the night – more commonly known as “cry it out.” I remember her saying that the technique worked well, but only if you stuck to your guys. So, if you didn’t think you could handle letting your baby cry, you shouldn’t try it at all.
“Ha!” I thought to myself. “Those weaklings! Who wouldn’t be able to let their baby cry? The kid is totally fine. Parents need to be tougher.”
Well, the joke’s on me. Not only could I not let my baby cry it out, but even the thought of it makes me nearly tear up myself. But that could be said about a lot of things to do with the way I parent. I’ve turned out to practice a style parenting I never saw myself doing – attachment parenting. Even now, I’m a little unwilling to label myself that way, but I really can’t deny it. It’s not just “cry it out,” but the co-sleeping, cloth diapering, infant pottying, baby-led weaning… even extended breast-feeding is becoming more and more palatable.
I blame Teddy.
It started the first night he was born. Because Teddy had to be resucitated after he was born, he was whisked off to the nursery right away. I only got to hold him for a second, and I didn’t get to see him again for several hours. I had some pretty intense bleeding and my legs were still pretty numb from the epidural, but I was anxious to get up on my feet, cross the hall and find my baby. The nurse kept urging me to sleep, but I felt antsy.
That night, when they brought him to my room, he fell asleep in the little bassinet on wheels. I rolled it next to my bed. Still antsy. I put my hand on his chest to feel him breathe. No, not close enough. I propped myself up and pulled his tiny little self into my bed, laying him on my chest. Ah… there. Now, I could sleep.
I thought it would be just at the hospital. When we got home, I would put Teddy in the bassinet. But I didn’t want to. He slept next to me. Just for a few nights, I said. Pretty soon, I was telling myself that it was just until he was 3 months old. Then he would sleep in his crib. After all, he had been with me 24 hours a day since the moment of his conception. Certainly, he still needed to be close to me.
You’ve probably already figured out that Teddy, now five months old, still sleeps next to me. He will continue to, I imagine, until he doesn’t nurse at night anymore. But honestly, I’m addicted to co-sleeping. There is nothing better than snuggling my baby to sleep. I love it. It’s something I never pictured myself doing and now can’t imagine it any other way.
I figured we would try to breastfeed until he was one, like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Now, I’m not so sure. I doubt I would still be breastfeeding a pre-schooler, but I’ve said that about a lot of things, at this point, and it’s starting to get silly. As time consuming and frustrating as it can be sometimes, I know I will sob the last time I nurse Teddy.
I got into an awkward conversation recently with a person who thinks attachment parenting is not just bad, but morally wrong. I found myself feeling so uneasy, not only because I had to defend my parenting choices, but because they were choices I would have judged in a previous life. No, I explained, attachment parenting didn’t mean never putting your baby down, and gentle discipline doesn’t mean letting your kids do whatever they want. Yes, that’s what I had assumed too. But quite honestly, I’ve found that my intuition as a parent is sometimes diametrically opposite what I thought I’d do.
This doesn’t mean I condemn other parenting practices. How could I? What I’m opposed to is parents being told that they don’t know their kid, and mothers being told their intuition is evil. Yes, there are those Super Nanny families where someone needs to come in and slap the parents around a bit, but what I really love about attachment parenting is the freedom to do what works for us, not to follow a prescribed set of rules. Teddy uses a pacifier and sits in a bouncy chair every day, and we do use a stroller (which will, at some point, have a snack tray on it). All of these things might horrify some other parents who subscribe to attachment parenting. But the technique has given me the freedom to balance Teddy’s needs as a growing baby with my own and my husband’s. We are tuned into each other and what works for us, not what some book says we have to do to be good parents or to raise a healthy child.
When Liz and I were thinking about names for this blog, we thought about the name “Never Always,” because if there’s one thing about parenting both of us have learned is that one should never say never or insist that something is for always. Not only will it come to haunt you, but it will likely put you in a state of mind where you can’t listen to your own intuition and you feel the need to judge others harshly.
It’s a tough prescription. Children are constantly changing, and when you find something that works, it’s easy to want to climb a mountain and proclaim it as the gospel truth. But it’s a little easier on everyone if you can somehow just roll with it – accepting what works for your child today and letting everything else just be. Plus, it keeps you from looking like a jackass when your “never” becomes null and void.