Archive for Toddler Trust

My Response to the Boobs

What extended nursing really looks like

The TIME cover photo and story “Are You Mom Enough” have gone viral and achieved the sensation and blabbering attention the editors were looking for.  I agree with Dr. Popcak’s remarks about that cover photo.  It obscures the real issues and merely reinforces inaccurate perceptions people have about attachment parenting.

My family was actually being considered for that photo shoot.  Can you imagine?  We were not selected; The Holy Spirit was working in that one.

TIME provided several articles on-line when they released that cover photo; most of them focus on extended breastfeeding.  Why extended breastfeeding?  Why not show photos of mothers nursing their young infants, as breastfeeding on demand in infancy is one of the central recommended practices for securing an infant’s attachment?  Why narrow the focus to one practice at all?   By focusing on extended nursing, and choosing to highlight mothers who breastfeed well into the preschool years, TIME moves the discussion away from the heart of attachment parenting. It’s like walking up to a Ferrari, sitting down on the ground, and staring at the hubcaps. You miss the beauty entirely.

AP isn’t about a list of things you have to do to belong to some club.  It is a conscious decision to parent based on what a child needs so that they can grow up with a deep sense of well-being and “rightness”.  What a child needs varies by child depending on many factors, including their temperament and developmental age.  Children’s needs change over time.  The media has raised questions about the intensive nurturing required of attachment parenting and ask what kind of life the mother will have away from her child. The intensive needs of an infant are quite different from the needs of a toddler; the needs of toddler different altogether from those of a school age child.  Fathers also play an increasing role as the infant moves into older babyhood and toddlerhood.

Parenting is tiring in the early months. I’m sorry, there’s no getting around it.  But, it amuses me that people think co-sleeping, nursing, and babywearing are so arduous for the mother when in fact it makes our lives easier.  Much easier.  You know what I would find exhausting?  Getting up every 2 hours and walking down the hallway in the middle of the night, trying to calm a frightened infant crying without relief, strapping a baby into a bouncy seat every time I want to get a cup of coffee.  And as our attached infants grow into toddlers and older children, their sense of peace and connection makes them much easier to parent.  That initial investment of love pays off.  Why are we so afraid to give these tiny souls what they deserve?

Many of the statements about AP in those on-line articles were simply wrong or misrepresentations; a video statement by Kate Pickert, the author of the main article about Dr. Sears, is also disastrous.  Clearly the staff failed to perform adequate background research or they merely chose voices of convenience, like an interview they published with the mother who is on the cover of the magazine.  That’s the best they could do?  Why not interview one of the founders of Attachment Parenting International who synthesize and analyze information every day about AP?  Why not interview the unflappable Mayim Bialik, actress, neuroscientist, & AP advocate, who would have provided some of the scientific evidence they needed and the glitz they wanted for that article.

Kate Pickert, the TIME journalist who wrote the main piece in the magazine about Dr. Sears, makes several strange statements in her video release, such as:

  • Dr. Sears “basically invented attachment parenting.”

(Of course he didn’t invent it.  He merely observed these practices in other cultures which produce peaceful, well-adjusted adults.  He put this together with what he knew about attachment theory in the field of psychology, which was developed by John Bowlby.)

  • Co-sleeping is a “new phenomenon.”

(Of course it isn’t a new phenomenon.  Most of the rest of the world co-sleep with their children.  Also, co-sleeping isn’t a litmus test of AP.  Many parents let their kids sleep with them who don’t practice AP — they’re just tired and let the kiddos climb into bed with them.  And while co-sleeping is practiced by many AP families, not all do so for various reasons.  I would hope a journalist would ask more questions.)

  • She makes a disturbing leap in logic with the following train of thought:  “It turns out that a lot of what [Dr. Sears] has taught is intertwined with his personal life . . .”  Both Dr. Sears and his wife Martha “had difficult childhoods.”

(I imagine his decision to focus on gentle parenting may be entwined with his personal life,  including difficult parts of it.  That’s true for all human beings.  Why is that a problem?  Isn’t it perhaps the Holy Spirit working to turn something dark into something beautiful?  These two lovely souls, Dr. Sears and his wife, uncovered practices that may  have been lost in our culture or at least been more difficult for the average family to find.  Pickert uses this information to make the following bold leap:)

  • “A lot of people attracted to attachment parenting are reacting to their own childhoods as well.  A lot of people who get into attachment parenting think they need to do it for their babies, but if they did a little examination they would see it’s about a lot of their own issues.”

(If you asked a portion of any group they would tell you they had difficult childhoods.  The other portion would tell you they had pretty good childhoods.  So what?  Our childhoods inform many of our choices and assumptions, sure.  I’m sure some AP parents had difficult childhoods and some had wonderful childhoods.  But if you asked a group of parents who use more child training type approaches you will get the same or similar statistics.  I’m not sure why this leads her to conclude that AP parents choose to nurture our children not because of what our children need but because of some unresolved issues we have ourselves. 

In fact, parents will tend to parent the way they were parented unless they come to a conscious decision to do things differently with their own children. This is something to be celebrated! I think it’s more likely that attachment parents from difficult backgrounds come to the approach not unconsciously and because of unresolved issues, but quite deliberately after research and comparing their options.  They choose attachment based parenting because they are willing to do what is best for their children no matter the costs, including adopting some practices that may be counter-cultural and unpopular, even misunderstood.)

  • “There’s no evidence to show that wearing a baby in a sling or sleeping with kids is gonna change the way they turn out later when they’re adults.”

(Again, she misses the central goal of AP.  Attachment parenting isn’t about these little practices she is glomming on to.  AP begins with the rapport and relationship you build with your child in infancy, but that rapport has to be nurtured and maintained throughout all of childhood.  Pickert is equating AP with just 3 infant parenting practices, when that’s just a scratch on the surface of this story.  But here’s one article  providing scientific support for many of the practices we are talking about, including studies suggesting babywearing promotes attachment and others suggesting securely attached children have fewer behavioral issues and higher IQs.  Margot Sunderland’s book The Science of Parenting discusses what the field of neuroscience tells us about the importance of attachment.  In Sleeping With Your Baby, James McKenna, a world recognized sleep expert, encourages parents to sleep with or near their infants and presents the scientific support for this recommendation.)

Pickert is a health care staff writer at TIME, so this perhaps explains her clinical approach to parenting.  I’m not sure if she’s even a parent herself.  I’ve been walking through the day, feeling alternately angry about the article and relieved that I wasn’t caught up in it at that photo shoot.   Finally after prayer, time playing at the park with the kids, and a nap with my toddler, I think I’ve gained some distance.

I understand tonight that there are real humans behind the story:  writers with deadlines; editors struggling to have a life.  There’s the mom on the cover:  She’s one of the most famous women in America this week.  I wonder if she expected it.  Even though I wanted to kick their hineys earlier today, they deserve my compassion and my prayers.  But most important of all, there are children to be loved. They deserve our compassion, too, the most tender compassion, every one of them. Hopefully the article and cover photo will lead to fruitful discussions that will lead to increased wisdom in our homes and our society.

Photo credit: Anita Patterson-Peppers (photos.com)

Toddlers: Potty Training

Let me say right off the bat that my potty training history is a bit murky.  I don’t think I ever really had a big plan with my first two children.  We just sort of went with the flow (no pun intended).  I would buy a potty chair and let the kids live with it in the bathroom for a while.  I didn’t push it at all.  When they wanted to sit on it, I encouraged them.

When he turned two years old, my oldest son Aidan potty trained in 2 days without an issue.  Claire was nearly potty trained at 2½ when Dominic was born, but then she regressed.  I had a new baby and sleep deprivation to attend to so I didn’t worry about her potty training.  When she was nearly 3 she announced one day that she wasn’t going to wear diapers anymore and she didn’t.  I think she had one accident and that was it.  I’m talking about day training here.  Both Aidan and Claire slept in nighttime pull-ups until they were dry in the morning, then we got rid of them.  They were both about 4 or 5.

I thought Dominic would be like his older siblings, but of course not.  What was I thinking? Dominic liked wearing diapers.  He didn’t see any reason to pee in the toilet if he could just go in his pants.  I mean, his pants were right there.  This is when I started to read what my favorite parenting writers said about the subject.  Attachment advice ranges from “don’t do anything; it’ll eventually happen naturally” to creating a big potty plan complete with games and potty parties.

We got him the potty books and videos, and tried to make a big party out of going to the potty, but he didn’t buy it.  Dr. Sears says in his “Baby Book” that when it comes to potty training, late is better than early.  But then the 3 year mark passed, and still he wasn’t day trained.  Late was getting really late.  Dr. Sears suggests that at this point you can use the “running out of diapers” approach.  You show the child that there are only 10 diapers left, and then you count down as they disappear.  When you get to one diaper, you make sure the child knows that’s it.  So we tried this.  Dominic just went in his pants.

This is when we, I regret to report, resorted to the old reward measures.  Star charts didn’t work.  He liked his diapers more than stars.  We tried giving him a jelly bean every time he used the potty.  Nope.  He looked at me like “That’s it? A jelly bean?”  One reward that did work:  We made a 7-day chart with the first 6 days blank.  The 7th day had a picture of Chuck E. Cheese.  We said if he could go 7 days without an accident we would take him to Chuck E. Cheese.  Each day that he succeeded, we put a smiley face on the chart.  Guess what?  It worked.  For that first week.

I’m honestly not sure how he ever became trained.  I know that as his 4th birthday passed, he was still not trained, but at some point he decided he didn’t like the mess in his pants.  Now he’s a boy of 6 both day and night trained.  (Though he does like to wear his pants backwards).  Don’t ask me how we did it.  I thought he’d be wearing diapers in college.

Given my track record with Dominic, I perhaps have no right to offer potty training advice, except maybe to suggest putting slipcovers on your sofa.  However here’s what wiser folks suggest.

1)      Make sure your toddler is really ready:  Watch for signs of potty readiness.  Is she interested in the potty or what you’re doing there?  Does she tell you when she’s wet or poopy, or does she start taking off her diaper when she’s soiled?

BabyBjorn Potty Chair

2)      Set the stage:  Get a potty chair and some fun books or videos on potty training.  Show your toddler how the potty chair works using a doll.  We had a Baby Alive type doll with Dominic that would pee right into the potty.   After buying all sorts of fancy potty chairs for my older 3, my favorite potty chair is the no-frills one I have for Lydia.  It’s the BabyBjorn potty.  It has a deep seat, a high back, and it’s easy to clean.  Some of our favorite potty books:  The Potty Book for Girls and The Potty Book for Boys by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, My Big Girl Potty and My Big Boy by Joanna Cole, and You Can Go to the Potty by William and Martha Sears.

3)      Help your toddler make the pee to potty connection:  Watch for signs that he needs to go (squatting or sitting in the corner), then ask him “Do you need to go potty?  Let’s go potty!”  Then take him to the potty.  If he produces, make a big fuss about it – dance around and sing songs.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

4)      Dress for success:  Make training easier by dressing her in stretchy pants that she can pull down herself.

Bare bottom training is also an option.  In summer weather, you can bring the potty chair outside and let your toddler run around bare bottomed.  At some point, he’ll produce and he’ll see what happens when he pees or poos.  You can show him that the pee or poo goes in the potty.

Lydia turned 2 in January and she’s nearly potty trained.  She has been interested in the potty chair for many months and she’s recently been going into the bathroom and going potty herself, but still not consistently.  I ask her every few hours if she needs to go potty.  If we have a warm day, I let her go bare bottomed outside and that definitely helps.  No rewards or bribes.  Just lots of encouragement, cheering, and potty celebrations.

Photo credit: Cathy Yeulet (photos.com)

Toddlers: Building Trust

As mentioned in my earlier post on toddlers, according to Dr. Gregory Popcak, the primary goals of toddlerhood are:

1) Continuing to lay the foundation of basic trust (started in infancy)

2) Beginning to take independence

3) Developing physical competence (mobility/toilet training)

4) Exercising the will

In this post I’ll focus on the first goal: continuing to lay the foundation of trust. This foundation was initially established in infancy when Mom and Dad were responsive to baby’s cues, Mom breastfed baby, wore baby close to her during the day, and slept close to baby at night.

As baby has grown into a toddler, she’s becoming more independent.  She can spend longer periods alone and away from Mom. Dad can begin having an important role as the toddler learns to trust many adults in her life.

Although the toddler is becoming more independent, we don’t want to push it on her. You can’t really force independence anyway; it just happens naturally. We have to continue to read the cues of the child, and not what some chart says. If we push the child or force the child, it’ll backfire.  Parents of toddlers are especially concerned about nursing and sleep issues.  So, when should the toddler be weaned and when she should learn to sleep in her own room?

You’ll find no dearth of opinions on these topics, but trust common sense and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Each child is so different in temperament, living in different circumstances and experiencing different challenges. Illnesses, moves, deaths in the family – these sorts of upsets can delay a child’s readiness to wean from the breast or to move into her own room.

Some kids are ready far before we expect it. My Dominic was such a kid. At 10 months he preferred to sleep in his own bed in our room. He would roll over and go right to sleep. Shocking! But Aidan slept with us until he was 5. During those 5 years, we had moved 3 times, I had attended law school, and we had a new baby. He needed reassurance and he got it partly by this night closeness. (He’s now a very independent, interesting, loving 13-year-old.)

Part of the equation is what Mom and Dad need as their toddler is becoming a bigger kid. If you are ready to wean, but the toddler is not, there are gentle methods of gradual weaning that take into account the legitimate needs of the child. I read in Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book” that weaning is not a negative thing. It’s a ripening, a coming of age, a transition into a new stage of life. It means something good is coming to end, but let it end in a loving way.

You can aid the transition by allowing Dad to do the night parenting as you withdraw the breast at night if you are still doing night feeds. Stay busy during the time of day when your toddler usually nurses. You can fingerpaint, go to the park, craft, or have a playdate. Don’t offer the breast, but don’t refuse it either. Gradually, the number of nursing sessions reduces and then you can wean altogether.

If you are ready to move your toddler into her own room, but she is hesitant, find a middle ground. Try placing a crib mattress at the foot of your bed and allow her to stay in your room provided she goes to sleep quietly. Eventually you can move the mattress closer to your door, then into her own room. Let your child help you paint and decorate her room so she’ll be excited about going into her big bed. But don’t expect perfection. Even we adults need comfort and nurturing at night some times.

Finally, if the parents and child are all content to continue nursing and co-sleeping beyond toddlerhood, that’s fine!  Mom & Dad should be confident in their choice. Let us love and support one another as we seek to obey God and live grace-filled lives.

Photo credit: Jupiter Images (photos.com)