Editor’s Note: Jana Thomas Coffman blesses us this week with her story about her long, surprising journey to attachment parenting! Jana lives near Kansas City with her husband, Chris, and their baby, Kaylie. Jana and Chris serve in their parish as marriage prep counselors and Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist, and they are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. Jana holds a B.S. in Spanish with a minor in religious studies from Missouri State Universiy, as well as an M.S. in Spanish Education and a graduate certificate in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Jana teaches high school Spanish and college ESL.
The light of my life just turned 10 months old. She has my red hair and big dimples, her father’s sleepy face, and her own big blue eyes. She is also the lucky recipient of attachment parenting, not because AP is something her father and I decided to do, but because we gradually realized that was the philosophy that best described us.
I never started out planning to be an attachment parent. I was going to parent my children the way my parents raised me: schedules, firm discipline, strict consequences, and spanking and guilt when we didn’t comply. After all, there’s no question my parents loved my brother and me unconditionally, and we both turned out to be great kids with a good relationship with my loving, dedicated, affectionate parents. So why not?
In discussing how we were going to raise our coming first baby, my husband and I half-jokingly used phrases such as “beat it out of them,” “let them cry,” and “I won’t accept that!”. Like most people in our culture, we assumed parenting would take a lot of sacrifice at first, but we’d encourage the baby to be independent and adjust to our sleeping and living schedule as soon as possible.
And then we met her.
Suddenly, my preconceived notions about parenting didn’t seem right. She was crying, and I wanted to comfort her. “You can’t be feeding her again?” my parents, who had not breastfed either my brother or me, commented when she was only a few days old. “She’s eating again? What was that, 30 minutes?” a well-meaning friend asked me. “If you don’t let her cry, she’ll never get to sleep without you,” my pediatrician told me.
Luckily for me, I had support. My hospital’s lactation consultant (who I later found out is a faithful Catholic with eight children of her own) encouraged me in those hard first weeks when my daughter was nursing almost constantly. “Jana, if it were always this hard, no one would ever breastfeed,” she told me. “It will get better!” She told me about new research that shows breastfeeding mammals spend the first several weeks of their lives nestled up against moms, preferring to lie and sleep at the breast, even if they are not nursing. She gave me the encouragement to keep with breastfeeding when I was feeling drained and exhausted.
“Well, I have six weeks off,” I told her. “I have nothing to do for the next few weeks but lie around and let her nurse, if that’s what she wants.” I went home feeling like I could do it. And, just as my Lactation Consultant predicted, my daughter eventually started nursing less often and I was able to have breaks in between, which was a blessing both for my poor body and for my sanity.
My husband was also a great support. He saw that I had suddenly developed a motherly intuition about our new bundle of joy, and he respected it, even defending it against well-meaning questioners. “If you don’t want to let her cry it out, we won’t,” he told me. “Don’t worry about what other people think!” He gave me the courage to go against the advice of my parents, our family, our friends, and even our doctor, believing that as the parents, we knew best for our daughter. When my pediatrician again insisted we should let her cry it out, my husband looked me dead in the eye and said, “That doctor sees our baby for 15 minutes every few months. We spend every day with her. Do what you feel is right.”
A few times I half-heartedly let her cry, hoping she would go to sleep. Nope. Our stubborn little thing stood in her crib and yelled for me until I came in, as she knew I eventually would. As I cuddled her, rocked her, and kissed away her tears, I realized I would rather give up a little sleep and fight my way through those horrible nights of walking, walking, walking the halls with a screaming baby than teach my daughter that the world is an untrustworthy place and that her parents can only be trusted to meet her needs during the day or when it is convenient for them.
I didn’t mean to become an AP parent. But there I was: breastfeeding on demand, letting her set her own schedule, and following her lead on when she wanted to be independent. We’re not against using toys or swings, but when she was having a hard time sleeping for a few weeks at around four months old, I read that wearing her in a sling could help and so we did. We didn’t cart her around in a sling 24/7, but I did make an effort to carry her next to me at malls and in the grocery store, instead of letting her spend an hour or two in the shopping cart alone.
She slept better on the days we held her more. And eventually, as all trials with babies do, her no-sleeping phase also passed. Sure, she’s had them since, but now we know that in a few days this will all pass, and we pray for patience to give her what she needs in the meantime, as we take turns crawling bleary-eyed out of bed in the middle of the night to rock, pat, walk, or nurse her back to sleep.
Yes, sometimes it’s hard. I see other breastfeeding moms who have their babies on a strict schedule. “I can’t have a playdate until 2, because he naps at exactly 12:30,” friends will tell me. “When does yours nap?” Well… when she’s tired, I think. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it to them. Or I see a friend with a baby six months younger than mine, using the Ferber method and getting her baby to sleep through the night. Yet my husband and I hold firm against the temptation to sleep train her, determined to let her wake up and sleep on her own schedule. “You’re a working mom, you need to sleep,” my mom tells me.
“If you comfort her every time she cries, she’s going to start crying to manipulate you,” my dad warns me.
“Letting babies cry it out is no more emotional abuse than making them eat their green beans!” scoffs my pediatrician.
“She’s 10 months old and still waking up twice a night?” strangers exclaim in disbelief.
“When are you going to stop breastfeeding her?” my father-in-law wants to know, warily eyeing the wiggling and squirming going on under my shield.
Inwardly, I sigh. “When she wants to stop,” I tell him. Yes, she still wakes up. Yes, she wakes up because she wants to nurse. No, she won’t go to sleep unless I nurse her first. No, we don’t have a set napping schedule. Yes, we try to comfort her when she cries, within reason. No, it’s not like I go leaping out of the shower soaking wet and spring to her side the second she cries. If I know she’s safe and secure, and I need to attend to my needs or she has no choice but to be in the car seat, yes, we let her cry.
But in general, I try to make her first experiences in this world positive ones. I want her to see the world as a good, trustworthy place with caregivers who respond to her needs and wants quickly and affectionately. My husband and I want our daughter to feel secure and to let her know when she is upset, we will respond to her needs. I want her to see the world as a safe place and her parents as people she can trust and rely upon.
The goals of other parenting approaches seem to be parent-centered, such as making the baby be independent or teaching the baby to sleep through the night, whereas the goal of attachment parenting is baby-centered, meeting the baby’s needs and letting independence come at the baby’s own pace and in the baby’s own style.
Once I found the CAPC website, I thought long and hard about why we had ended up, completely by accident, as attachment parents. “You know,” I told my husband, “I think attachment parenting really matches our faith.” Our Catholic faith calls us to good works, to a life of sacrifice, to taking up our cross and carrying it daily.
How can I better show my daughter the love of Christ than by learning to empty myself, slowly giving up my own selfish desires so that I can lift her up? So here we are: Catholic parents, attachment parents, parents who are madly in love and sadly in need of more sleep, but praying and working through it, because we are learning to love our daughter more than ourselves. We are learning to love her like Christ.
Photo credit: David Kilian (photos.com)