Changing Gears: Re-Attaching to Your Children by Anne McDonald

My three year old insists on pouring the milk himself and is ready to fight me to the death to do it.

My five year old’s default mode seems to be “hit first and ask questions later.”

My seven year-old daughter can’t seem to answer a request without starting first with a good, satisfying  “UGH!” and world-class eye-roll.

My oldest son is obviously bugged about something and determined to be tight lipped, and my second oldest son is even more bugged and even more determined to be tighter lipped.  Until they start throwing words at each other.  Then punches.

And the baby?  Well, she’s just adorable.  But she won’t stay out of the kitchen trash can.

Of course, this all happened within the past three minutes.

In a house where “get to the corner NOW!” is heard more often than “I love you,” the stress of parenting can wear you down until you find yourself dissolved into tears on a regular basis, wondering why things are so horribly wrong.

Much of the last eleven years of my parenting career has looked like this, and let me tell you, it’s not a good place to be.  If this sounds like where you are now, I’m here to offer you hope.

I’ve recently realized that my insecurities have colored my reactions to my children’s behavior, and in the end, my children have suffered for it.   How many of us have felt the stinging, disapproving looks of other parents when our children aren’t behaving as well as theirs are at the playground?  Many times, we feel the pressure to follow our own parents’ orders when they watch a full-blown tantrum from a small child spiral out of control, and they insist that a strong hand is needed to get control of the situation.  Or maybe we’re just home with the kids, all day long, and no matter how many times we send the kids to time out or yell at them to just behave for five minutes, we can’t seem to get past the idea that we’re just not cut out for this.

I responded to all this pressure by doing whatever I could to try to get a handle on the situation.  Unfortunately, many of the “tricks and techniques” offered to us on how to get control of our children don’t work.  I think the primary reason is because we’re not here to control our children.  Our job is to lovingly guide them.

Yeah, that’s nice, you’re thinking, but all I hear is yelling, the kids don’t pay attention to me, and I just want to enjoy my family, not merely endure them!  Attachment parenting would have been great if I started with it, but isn’t it too late?  Thankfully, it isn’t.

I kept asking, begging God for answers on what to do, so that I could enjoy my children again.  The answer didn’t lie in another set of parenting techniques or getting it through my children’s heads once and for all that my husband and I were the ones in charge around here.  Our children needed to know that we loved them.  Really, really loved them, and that we are on their side.

That’s where attachment parenting comes in.  I have to admit that for years AP didn’t appeal to me.  It turns out that I didn’t understand what it was at all.  What I saw as a checklist of things to do to be an attached parent were really the effects of attaching yourself to your child.  For example, I had associated co-sleeping and extended nursing to be two such things that a “good” attached parent does.  In my mind, if I didn’t check those off the list, then I wasn’t an attached parent.  In the case of my oldest, he was a little furnace and gave up nursing on his own at fourteen months.  It made no sense to force him to conform to my checklist.  I had been missing the point of attachment parenting:  meeting my child’s needs, whatever they are, is at the heart of AP.

Getting back to the tight-lipped, eye rolling, fighting kids: what do I do with them?  I show them love. Whether it’s helping them learn how to communicate with each other instead of beating up on each other, feeding the hungry child instead of yelling at him to stop whining, or reading one last book to my daughter at night because she just needs some extra mommy time, I’m learning to take the time to go outside myself and my wants, and enter into their worlds more and address their needs.

My purpose in writing this isn’t to show that I’m an expert.  Heaven knows, that isn’t the case!  What I want to pass along to other parents, especially the ones who have been parenting with more traditional or mainstream means, and who find they aren’t meeting with success, is that there is a better way.  Even if you have a whole slew of kids whom you feel like you’ve been shortchanging for years, you can turn things around.  I know from my own experience that you can enjoy your family more, and they can enjoy you as well!

Here are some of my favorite books on attachment parenting:

Parent Effecctivness Training:  The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Dr. Thomas Gordon. This book introduced me to the concept of “Active Listening,” where the parent empathizes with the child when he has a problem, and helps him to come to a mutually acceptable solution, instead of demanding the child obey the parent’s solution to the problem.

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, Ed.D.  This is a great, “full-picture” explaination of parenting that explains how to effectivley problem-solve with children, how to encourage children, and really drove home the point that “… and encouraged chidl does not need to misbehave.” (pg 78)

Parenting With Grace by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak.  This was the book that I’ve had from the start of my parenting career, but didn’t have the faith to follow for the first ten years. I wish I had! The Popcaks explain Attachment Parenting through the lens of Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, and give tangible ways to implement it through every stage of your child’s development.

Hold on to Your Kids:  Why Parents Need to Matter More than Thier Peers by Gordon Neufeld.  In his book, Neufel shows how children (and really, everyone!) need to be attached to someone, and how they will attach themselves to thier friends if they don’t find that secure relationship with their parents. This book is also helpful when you are reattaching.

Anne McDonald lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 12 years, Jonathan, and their six children. After years of struggling with behavioral problems with their children while following more traditional parenting methods, Anne and her husband found that Attachment Parenting, or more specificaly, Catholic Attachment Parenting, was literally the answer to prayers. She and her husband have been working to reattach with thier children and break some bad habits that the family has aquired over the past 11 years, and are really seeing the fruits of thier labors starting to flourish.
After receiving her BA in English from Christendom College, Anne went on to work in public relations until her oldest was born, at which point became a stay-at-home mom. She currently homeschools (with some away-schooling this year) her children, and helps out in her parish homeschooling group, having led a pre-school co-op this past autumn.


  1. Its like everything else in life- no matter how hard we try, we slip up, we fall. Just tonight, right before Mass, I let a little bit of stress overwhelm me, and when two of my children started bickering, I snapped at one of them. Once I had a minute to collect myself, I went back and apologized to the child I was harsh with for the way I treated him in the moment. I think this went a long way in keeping the relationship that we’ve been mending!

  2. Althought I have attempted to be an attached parent from the beginning, I find myself slipping into the more traditional parenting techniques from time to time. Thanks for the reminder that we all struggle and can get back to it by tuning in to how our kids really need us to lovingly guide them.

  3. I have found the best thing about Attachment Parenting – those who do it openly admit they mess up from time to time! By doing this we support each other 🙂 great job!!!

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