Archive for Responding to Critics

Feeding the Kids with My Eyes Closed (and Other Reasons to Love Co-Sleeping)

cosleepingNot long after my first child was born, I found myself in a discussion with another new mom about how (not so) well our babies were sleeping. Really, what else do new mothers talk about? It was inevitable that the topic would come up. What wasn’t so obvious to me – though perhaps it should have been – was the discouragement I’d be met with when I confided that my six month-old son slept in bed with my husband and me.

Other moms at the play-date soon dropped their conversations and joined ours. I was grateful for the increase in numbers. Surely, one of them would defend the choice my husband and I had made, offering further assurance that yes, it was possible to sleep peacefully with a baby at your side, and no, we didn’t stay awake all night, petrified we’d roll over on our children.

But, it seemed – at that particular play-date, anyway – that I was alone. The other moms were sincere in their disbelief and peppered me with questions. Back then, I lacked confidence in my answers. After all, I hadn’t intended to co-sleep. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. I just knew that although I’d intended for my son to sleep in his crib as my pediatrician advised, I found it didn’t work. My son hardly slept, but I got even less shut-eye than him. When I wasn’t tending to my crying infant, I lay in my own bed, down the hall, watching my son on the video monitor. I listened to his breathing patterns and watched his chest rise and fall as I attempted to will myself to take my eyes off the screen.

After a few nights of this nightmarish pattern, I flicked off the monitor, grabbed my son, and lay him beside me. The next day, I bought Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book and read up on how to sleep with your baby safely. I bought a guardrail for my bed, and placed my son between the rail and me at night (since my husband is an incredibly heavy sleeper and actually did worry me that he might roll over on our child). And, then, only a couple nights into this new way of doing things, both my baby and I got a good night’s sleep.

Those sleep-filled nights continued (barring a middle-of-the-night illness  or teething episode), and many years and another co-sleeping child later, my family was well-rested.

It’s been six years since we first let a child into our bed, and now, as I lay next to my snoozing twenty-month old, I think of all the benefits of co-sleeping I wish I could go back and share with those innocently incredulous women. I can’t repeat history, but I can share with a different audience some joys my husband and I have found in co-sleeping.

1) Emotional closeness. When my son was an infant, I joked that he was a heat-seeking missile. In his sleep, he would inch closer, eventually nestled right up against me. As he grew, he searched out my arm and used it as his pillow. Now, at six years old, he sleeps in his own room (what six year old wouldn’t prefer Star Wars bedding to a rose covered quilt?), but occasionally enjoys climbing into my husband’s and my bed when I’m putting his little sister to sleep. He rests his head on my shoulder, sweetly rubs his sister’s arm, and falls asleep right along with her.

2) Setting a precedent for our relationship. The door to the room my husband and I share is an open one for our children, just like our relationship with them. Co-sleeping has taught them that we are always accessible rather than “off limits”. It’s a lesson that translates into other aspects of their lives and that will continue to do so. Because we’ve listened and responded to their needs by allowing them to sleep beside us, our children understand that we are always approachable and available, that they can come to us, and that we will not turn them away.

3) Happy bedtimes. Because bedtime is a chance for us to settle down, cuddle and feel that awesome feeling you get when you’re snuggled up close to those you love, bedtime in our home is rarely a fight. I’ve been in homes where parents (and their kids) dread bedtime. Where kids cry and resist going to their rooms to sleep. Once, when I witnessed a particularly bad tantrum, it hit me that our children love bedtime (unless we’re having a sleepover at their grandparents’ home, where the love to stay up late). My one year-old usually goes to the steps by 7 p.m., and requests sweetly, “bed”. My 6 year-old son often bounds up the stairs to his room, then snuggles up close in his bed, where we read his chosen bedtime book.

4) Nearness in the not-so-healthy times. Co-sleeping offers the ability to read your child’s body language and respond accordingly. Many nights, because of my nearness, I discovered a fever early, before it had a chance to rise uncomfortably high. I could tell when a stomach bug was about to strike or when my son needed to use the bathroom, and in both instances, my closeness often helped my kids to avoid accidents. I soothed them through teething pain without them waking up. And on more than one occasion, I nudged my children back into a regular breathing pattern when, as infants, they had elongated (though usually normal) gaps in their breathing.

5) Less interrupted sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I woke and found my infant son had helped himself to nursing. I was initially confused. Had I fallen asleep nursing him? Obviously, I had. Had he never stopped? Being that it was hours later, obviously, he had. Had he really rolled back over and latched himself back on without me knowing? Yes to that, too. And then, once my perplexity faded, I felt relief that I hadn’t needed to get out of bed to feed or coddle him. As I drifted back to sleep, I wondered why I had ever attempted to put him in a crib in the first place.

6) Peace. It’s what all these other benefits lead to. The peace in knowing your children are safe, healthy, and nearby. The peace of feeling their bodies rise and fall with each breath they take. But, most important, it’s about the peace co-sleeping brings them. The comfort and security they gain from having their parents so close at hand. And, really, that’s the best benefit of all.

Image credit: kdshutterman (freedigitalphotos.com)

It’s Okay to “Just” Be a Mom

autumn family2

Every so often, it seems I am compelled to test my limits–to see how much I can cram into my schedule before I break. And, before I know it, I’m a harried mess, wondering why my household, and my mind, are falling apart.

As moms, we feel so much pressure. And not just from the local news anchor who’s back on the job after six weeks of maternity leave or from the working mom next door who appears to “do it all”. It’s so easy to start comparing myself to other stay-at-home moms–to feel like I’m the only mom in the whole school who’s never been a room mother or volunteered for recess duty or served on the PTO board. And so I take on a little more. I try to do anything that will make people see that I’m doing something. Pride threatens to take over, I forget who I am, and I place too much value on human esteem.

We all have different talents, different temperaments, and different thresholds for the various stressors in life. I’m not the working mom next door. I’m not the ten o’clock news anchor. I’m not even the PTO board member. I don’t have to save the world, but I am responsible for raising a part of the future of the world. And so it’s up to me to know myself–to realize what is required of me as the heart of my home and keep that as my primary focus.

As an introvert, I need time alone to recharge. I need quality prayer time every day. I need time to breathe in the sanctuary of my own home, or my stress level quickly elevates and radiates out to my family. As the heart of the home, everyone I live with has a finger on my pulse. Whether I like it or not, even my most subtle mood changes have drastic effects on the atmosphere in my home. Staying healthy, both physically and mentally, is never just about me. My state of being directly affects my husband and all five of my children. My state of being is the example around which our family life revolves. My state of being is my family’s guidepost, for better or for worse.

My children are only young once. I have a very small window of time to guide them in the direction that I hope they will go. They need a mother who is present and unharried (at least most of the time), a household that is free of chaos, and a schedule that is centered on family bonds and the love of Christ.

It’s okay to “just” be a mom. It’s okay to spend days doing laundry, baking, and jumping in leaf piles with my children. It’s okay to say no to most outside activities so I’ll have time to waste time with my family.

Making choices that support these values is not always easy. Sometimes we meet people who don’t understand, who think we spoil our children, or who think we simply aren’t “doing” much. But “what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)

God sees every load of laundry, every diaper changed, every wound caressed. He sees us organizing the snow boots, baking banana bread, and making snowmen out of play dough. He knows that the moments we take to breathe and care for ourselves are moments that will allow us to give more love to our family. And He knows we’re doing something. He knows we’re doing the most important thing. And, in His eyes, we are esteemed.

Image credit: Vlado (freedigitalphotos.com)

Standing Up for Large Families in Our “Tolerant” Modern Society

A prompt on a health website asked, “Are you an advocate for any cause?”

I sputtered to myself, “I am not an advocate for anything or anybody!”

Immediately after that statement, a new idea popped into my mind, “Hey, wait a minute. I stand up for large families in modern society!”

family joyAs a mother of nine children, I have met more condemnation than acceptance and more questions than understanding. Perhaps it is because I do not look like the mother of a large family. I am tiny, look younger than my age, and all my life people have labeled me as “cute.” People’s first reaction to me is shock. Confusion follows because I am happy.

A joyful, cute, tiny mother of nine simply baffles people. I shatter all their preconceived notions. The typical image of a multipara woman would be a large, matronly, robust, grim, battle-axe of a mother, efficiently marshaling her young charges with little time to coddle or love the poor deprived dears.

Parents with two children cannot fathom how a mother of a large family manages to cope with all the work necessary to keep up a home as well as have enough time to love each child.

However, in many ways, more children are easier than less. In a large family, a seven-year-old will repeatedly read the same book to a toddler who loves one particular book. A ten-year-old feels important when he can help his six-year-old brother who struggles with reading. A young teenager delights in rocking a tiny, dependent infant to sleep.

For me, family started with three because then community started. A community works and plays together and for little children work is as fun as play. I included everyone in ordinary household chores and made chores fun. A trained Montessorian once declared that I ran my home like a Montessori school. What a wonderful confirmation that was for me.

My kids were not deprived because I usually could not sit and play with them in the traditional sense. Instead they received an inexpensive educational experience simply because I integrated them into the running of our home.

It was never too soon to give one of my toddlers a job such as picking up the toys his younger sibling drops from the high chair. The secret was to delegate, each according to his or her talents, but never to order them around like they were in the army. They chopped wood, helped fix the car, weeded the garden, and took care of the animals. If teenagers are still treated like kids or overindulged, they don’t have a purpose and become really angry. When parents appreciate their kids’ contributions, their confidence blossoms and matures.

Employers love my kids because they know how to work and do not take anything for granted. Many have said, “I will give anybody with the last name Juneau a job.”

Large families strengthen the basic foundations of our society. They live lives of greater interconnectedness. If you don’t have a lot of money, you’re not an island unto yourself. You learn how to share and barter both skills and things with others. My children who go to college or university adapt well to communal life in a dorm or a shared house. Just imagine, they already know how to share a bathroom with a lot of other people. They know how to get along with opposite personalities, how to give and take. For starters, they know how to cook and clean up after themselves.

Healthy, large families benefit society. So open your mind and heart the next time you see or hear of one. The condemnation is really hard to handle and totally unjust in a society that loves to call itself open-minded and tolerant.

Bringing Up Bèbè: A Critical Review by Jana Thomas Coffman

bringing up bebeAccording to Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bèbè, the French not only have us beat in the world of fashion, fine dining, wine, and culture, but they’re better parents as well. Druckerman claims French babies generally sleep through the night by 4 weeks, toddlers in restaurants sit patiently through 4-course meals, and parents set firm boundaries so they can enjoy a café and adult conversation while children amuse themselves quietly in the background. Her essay, “Why French Parents Are Superior,” echoes these same themes. How does Druckerman’s advice relate to AP? Is French parenting really superior?

For me, the answer is no. Let me start by saying that I adore France and the French people. I lived in France for a year as an English teacher, and as I write this I am in France again for a language study program. The French gave us Voltaire, Monet, Renoir, and a rich literary history such as Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Candide, The Phantom of the Opera, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask. I find their language beautiful and nuanced. Their cuisine and their wine are superb.

However, as an AP parent and an avid people-watcher, I have come to disagree with Druckerman on many levels. French parents aren’t better. The French parenting I’ve observed is just as varied as American. Some parents are strict; some are not. Some parents have well-behaved children; some do not. While I’m sure we can learn some things from our fellow parents across the Atlantic, Druckerman’s overall view of French parenting does not fit well with AP. Let’s explore why.

Le pause. First, many French babies are sleep trained. Druckerman doesn’t call it sleep training; she calls it le pause. French parents don’t rush immediately to pick up their babies at the first hint of a nighttime squawk. Rather, they let them fuss to see if the baby will go back to sleep on his own, and only pick him up if he wakes up and really begins to wail. While I can agree a few minutes of fussing between sleep cycles is normal, Druckerman never really defines le pause. Is it one minute? Two? Ten? According to this review, it’s five to ten minutes. Ten minutes of a crying baby is not a “pause” to ascertain if baby will go back to sleep. It’s the beginning of sleep training. More alarmingly, according to Druckerman, if French babies don’t faire ses nuits (“do their nights”) by about 4 months, sleep training begins in earnest.

Dr. Sears and Dr. Popcak, gurus of the AP community, both strongly advise against sleep training. Here, Dr. Narcia Navraez, professor of psychology at Notre Dame, discusses how cry-it-out and other sleep-training methods negatively impact babies’ mental and emotional health. Babies whose parents respond quickly to their cries learn that they are in a safe place and that their needs will be met, leading to greater confidence and independence later in life. On the other hand, babies who are left to cry learn the opposite, leading to insecurity, fear, and mistrust. These children often become withdrawn, anxious, and depressed. While I can certainly emphasize with French parents’ desire to get a full night’s sleep, I prefer to prioritize my child’s desire for nighttime comfort and connection over my own convenience. Sleep training at a young age can lead to lack of trust and connection with caregivers, which leads me directly to my next point .

Lack of Connection. In my observations, in general French children are less connected to their parents than children in an AP home. This is not to say that French parents don’t play with, laugh with, cuddle with, and care for their children; they do. Yet I see some troubling signs. I’m currently living with a single French mother with a daughter exactly the same age as mine (3.5 years). This mother co-sleeps, but she only breastfed for 6 months. She expressed amazement and dismay that I breastfed for 18 months, so I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d actually let my daughter breastfeed for much longer than that. According to a 2014 study, French women breastfeed considerably less time than their Western counterparts. Only 10% of French babies are exclusively breastfed by 3 months, and only 39% are breastfed at all by that age. By six months, only 23% of French babies receive any breastmilk, and at a year the number drops to 9%. While the original article is in French, an English summary can be found here.

From these numbers, it’s safe to say a high number of French children are sleep trained and formula fed. While I don’t have numbers to back this claim, I’ve observed a lack of connection. French children often have les doudous. Le doudou is a toy or blanket the child sleeps with and carries for security. The daughter in my home cannot leave the house without her doudou, which is a scrap of blanket. She takes it to preschool, she takes it to spend the night at her uncle’s, she takes it to bed. We can’t even go out to dine at a neighborhood restaurant without the doudou. While many American children grow very attached to toys, my daughter never did. Sure, she had a favorite bear, but we never went through a phase where she could not leave the house without it. My daughter nursed for both nutrition and comfort on demand, and so she felt confident enough and connected enough to me that she did not need a plush toy or blanket for security. Of course, children with differing temperaments may naturally gravitate more toward a comfort toy, and some well-attached children may have security toys or blankets while others do not. The important thing is for security toys to augment, rather than replace, parental comfort. I wonder if so many French children, allowed to breastfeed and snuggle until they feel secure enough to self-wean and grown in independent on their own time, would need a security toy to sleep or leave the house.

Differing Social Expectations. The social expectations in France are different than in the United States. Druckerman expresses amazement at the well-behaved French children sitting patiently through (she claims) nutritious, 4-course meals. I haven’t observed that. I’ve observed French children screaming and standing on chairs in restaurants. I’ve heard parents admonish them 5, 10, 15, 20 times in the same patient, quiet tone without any change in behavior. The difference is, the people around the baby (both restaurant patrons and waiters) smile indulgently, as though to say, kids will be kids. At dinner one night, the 3-year-old stood on the bench and waved and shouted to people. The elderly couple behind us laughed and smiled, and the waiters laughed it off. We breezed out without leaving a tip, nor was one expected. In the U.S., parents are not given this much grace. Other patrons expect children to act like adults, and if they are going to act like children, the parents should keep them home. It’s unfortunate, but the pressure on parents in public dining is immense. No one would smile indulgently if my daughter behaved like that in public, nor would the waiters smile and wave away my apologies.

Likewise, French parents I’ve observed are fairly lax with expectations. Yes, the preschools do serve nutritious, vegetable-rich, varied meals, but I’ve also watched the daughter in my home eat nothing but a plate of fries for dinner. Her cousin, a bouncy 2-year-old, was told 6 times by his parents and older sister to stop touching a public plant. Each time he ignored the request and each time he was gently and calmly reminded again. Clearly, he was in charge and he knew it. These children interrupt, scream at their parents, yell commands to adults (I’ve been yelled at to “Stop talking!” and the mother just chuckled about it and stopped our conversation), and cry the moment they don’t get their way. The parents rush in, apologizing for choosing the vanilla instead of chocolate ice-cream cone or for letting the building blocks accidentally touch. When they announce it’s bedtime, tantrums and wails of “Non!” are regular occurrences.

Clearly, in the U.S. most adults would not consider these behaviors acceptable. Normal, perhaps, but certainly not to be encouraged. For us, it’s a behavior to correct, not to ignore. While I appreciate that our French counterparts accept that their children are not adults and should not be expected to act like adults, setting clear boundaries for behavior and gently guiding them to better choices is always preferable to passive parenting without guidance or consequences. So yes, French mamans do enjoy their café au lait or espresso while chatting, ignoring or tolerating the frequent screams, interruptions, and demands. Yet this is not to say French children are better-behaved, only that their bad behavior is treated differently. As an AP parent, I prefer to spend the time necessary to teach my child the correct behaviors than ignore them so I can chat with my friends.

Secular vs. Christian Values. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, France is largely a secular nation. Once strongly Catholic, France is now one of the most irreligious countries in the world, with about 50% identifying as atheists or agnostics and only 10% identifying as regularly practicing Catholics. In Druckerman’s book, French parents have several stated goals: teaching patience and delayed self-gratification, encouraging autonomy, protecting adult time in the evening, and children “finding their path in the world.”

Clearly, these things are not enough for a Christian parent. I don’t want my daughter to just find her own path in the world, I want her to find the path to Jesus. Like all parents, I want my child to be polite, bright, happy, and engaged, but I also want her to serve others, honor God, study the Bible, attend Church, and live a holy, Christ-filled life. While I’m online researching community service projects to take my daughter to this summer and fun Bible lessons to familiarize her with the Word, French parents seem to be more concerned with training their babies to give them an uninterrupted night’s sleep and letting their toddlers amuse themselves so they can enjoy a coffee in peace.

In the end, Druckerman’s book is not for me. Nor, I think, is it for any AP family. Druckerman has some interesting observations on French culture and ideas about parenting, but in the end, let’s take the book for what it is: a sociocultural memoir, rather than a guide to attached, secure, loving, Godly parenting.

ABOUT JANA  

Jana and KaylieJana Thomas Coffman lives in Alabama with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Kaylie. Jana and Chris are an NFP (Natural Family Planning) teaching couple through the Couple to Couple League. Jana is currently working on her Ph.D. with an emphasis in Spanish and Linguistics and a minor emphasis in French.

 

Play Ball

“And it was simple. For my son, his love of t-ball wasn’t about the performance or the competition. It wasn’t even about playing with friends. It was about simply spending time with his father.”

Ever since we heard the words, “It’s a boy,” my husband has had a dream. It’s a dream most fathers share, I think. I imagine that just as we mothers envision one day helping our daughters choose a wedding dress, fathers envision themselves on the field, coaching their son’s sports team. At least, that seems to be the going dream in my household.

baseballWe started to realize this dream as the long-awaited spring weather began to reveal itself. Baseball gradually filled our television screen and thoughts of summer plans began to fill the mouths of the moms at my son’s preschool. “Are you putting your child in anything this summer?” they questioned as we waited for our kids to come to the narthex at the end of the school morning. “Are we signing him up for anything this spring?” my husband asked me as he pondered the launch of our four-year-old’s athletic career.

To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to these kinds of plans. My plans included enjoying the warm weather in lighter clothes and imagining our family road trip down South in a few months. Signing up our son for organized activities wasn’t a thought that had crossed my mind. That part of his life, I imagined, would come when he was old enough to share with us his desire to participate in some activity.

So, the idea that we, his parents, would enroll him in something he had not asked for was a foreign one. Given how often I ran into this conversation, though, I began to believe that by neglecting to put my son in an organized sport, I was neglecting some significant aspect of the stage of life he’s in. I began to buy into the idea that my husband and I had to sign him up for something.

“Honey, do you want to play t-ball with other kids on a team?” I asked our son one day. Considering his love of playing t-ball in the backyard with his dad, I was actually surprised when he wailed, “Nooo, I don’t want to!”

Soon, though, I began to see images on Facebook of friends’ preschoolers happily donning their own baseball and soccer uniforms, or friends’ daughters proudly showing off their dance recital costumes and gymnastics leotards, and I panicked. My husband and I really were holding our son back from his full potential! Why had we waited so long to join the activity bandwagon?

So, ignoring my son’s voice (and a voice inside me that knew better), I registered him for t-ball. My husband and I took him to our local Little League’s outing to a nearby minor league baseball game, and we all had a great time. My husband took him out back for extra t-ball time in the yard, and they both had a blast.

We took him to his first t-ball practice, and it was a disaster.

Our son refused to walk onto the field. He cried. He begged us to go home. Ultimately, he found me in the bleachers, clung to my lap and wouldn’t budge from it. My husband and I argued over me coddling him too much, and we went home frustrated, while my son, once we left, went home relieved.

My sister, I realized, has dealt with similar issues with her eldest daughter. A similar personality to my son, my eight-year-old niece has long been more of an introvert. She’s been content to hang back as other kids run forward.

Recently, however, that seemed like it might change. My niece fell in love with Irish step-dancing, and my sister signed her up for weekly classes. Soon enough, my niece was hopping all over the house, any house, eager to show her family and relatives the latest moves she’d learned. She seemed to have turned a corner in her shyness. It appeared that she’d finally broken out of her shell.

And then, with the onset of spring, came recital season. My niece’s costumes came in, and my sister took her daughter to her first performance at a nearby nursing home.

And her daughter refused to dance.

It was baffling. My niece had become a constant step-dancer these days. We joked that she danced from place to place more than she walked. So, why the sudden refusal? Hadn’t she spent months getting ready for these performances, especially the big recital, which she also, ultimately, decided not to do?

My sister and her husband found themselves in a discussion similar to the one my husband and I were having. Should we force our children onto the stage or the field? Are we inhibiting them by allowing them to choose not to participate?

As I pondered these questions, my son enlightened me one day as we drove form one errand to another.

“I thought you love to play t-ball,” I said to him.

“I do,” he answered.

“So, why don’t you want to play on a team?” I continued.

“I don’t like a team,” he responded. “I don’t like people watching me.”

“But…”I cut in, and my son cut me off with an explanation that quieted my words and got me thinking.

“Mommy, I just like to play in the yard with Daddy,” he said simply.

And it was simple. For my son, his love of t-ball wasn’t about the performance or the competition. It wasn’t even about playing with friends. It was about simply spending time with his father.

I realized something, too, about my niece. For her, dancing wasn’t about the recital or the stage. It wasn’t about an audience. Her love of step-dancing was simply about the dance.

While most of us engage in activities with an end goal in mind (a competition, a recital, a game), my son and my niece wanted to engage in something for the sheer love of doing it.

After that realization, I began to look at this rush to put our kids in organized activities in a whole new light. I wondered if, perhaps, we as parents might do our children a disservice by taking them out of the yard and putting them on the field too soon. Or by placing them in organized activities where they interact with peers and other adults instead of nurturing their love for an activity with us, their parents, the people they really want to share their love with the most.

But, I think the greatest lesson God wants me to take from this is a reminder that our children are individuals. Indeed, as Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” As individual personalities. As unique human beings. He doesn’t view us as a collective whole but as distinct and very separate souls from one another.

Likewise, our children shouldn’t be treated as carbon copies of each other. Some of our children can’t wait to get on stage or be a part of a team. Others will never want an audience and are content to play just because it’s fun, or to dance just because they can.

So, as I watch my son play t-ball in the backyard with his father and hear his laughter as he runs imaginary bases, I’m glad I’m not sitting on bleachers, his laughter drowned out by other voices. I’m content to just sit here, right now, watching my son play with his dad.

The Hardest Job in the World

“Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”

I hear this a lot, both from people who are mothers, and some who aren’t.  I even read an article some time ago that said that if a stay-at-home mom’s jobs could be quantified, she would earn $115,000 annually.  When I first read this, I thought to myself,  “Wow! How validating!  My job as a mom is worth way more than any other job I’ve ever had!”

And yet, so many moms feel lost in these important, demanding “jobs”.  I have often felt this way myself.  Even though I knew that these jobs were part of the foundation of love and security that I was establishing for my son, my day-to-day tasks seemed empty.  I would clean the kitchen only to turn around to face a decimated living room.  I’d fold a load of laundry only to have another three appear in the hamper.  I’d finish the dishes from breakfast only to realize that it was time for lunch.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the management didn’t even have the decency to give me a solo bathroom break! I started to think that this job didn’t have the benefits that I had expected.  And where the heck were my vacation days?!

Oh yeah, and you can’t quit.  Ever.

Recently, I started questioning how I could make this job not seem so hard anymore.  I tried tricks for becoming more organized. I created activity schedules for my toddler.  I attempted to make more time for some of my hobbies that had taken a backseat.  And while some of these things helped for a while, I still could not shake the feeling that I was stuck in a really hard job.  Even when I was feeling appreciated by my spouse, and validated in what I was doing for my child, some days I felt like too much was expected of me. When we found out we were pregnant with our second child, and the thought of no maternity leave and more work loomed, I realized that I needed a change in the way I was approaching motherhood.

119559830I decided to stop looking at motherhood as a job, and start seeing it as a vocation.  So many stay-at-home moms, myself included, feel the need to justify what they do every day by labeling it as “work”.  My husband and I had made the decision for me to stop working outside the home soon after our son was born, and in a way, I felt the need to prove to myself that it was worth it for my family.  Talk about a high-pressure work environment!  I believe women who work outside of the home can also feel the need to justify the time they spend mothering by putting pressure on themselves to do it all both in the workplace and at home- or as I’ve heard it described, “two full-time jobs!”  For me, it was partly how I thought society was judging me, and partly my own ego that was causing the problem.  I wanted to be the hardest worker in my chosen field.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t how motherhood works.

When we think of vocations, we often picture priests or nuns, or maybe we think of the lifelong commitment of marriage.  True, all of these are vocations.  But as I started to ponder what it meant to commit to a vocation, the more I saw that this was how I needed to approach motherhood.

In my last job, I had the pleasure of working in a facility where an order of nuns lived and worked, taking care of elderly patients in a nursing home.  The work they did was physically demanding, mentally exhausting, and I’m sure, often felt thankless.  And yet each time I would pass one of these sisters in the hall or see them praying in the chapel, they seemed so joyful and full of peace.  A smile was quick to come to their lips and they were always kind and pleasant.  I often marveled at the serenity with which they did such hard jobs.  But in the back of my mind, I thought of them as being different, because this wasn’t just their job; being part of a serving order was their vocation.  This is what they gave their lives to.

So when I started thinking about a different way to frame my life as a mother and wife, they were the first people to come to mind. They didn’t look at each task to be completed as just another job for which they weren’t going to be paid.  They didn’t seem to be calculating how much they would be getting compensated if their circumstances were different.  They just kept working, for the glory of God and for love of their fellow human beings.

The more I prayed about this, the more certain I was that this is how God wanted me to view my days.  I am not a housekeeper, a babysitter, a cook, and a laundress.  I am a mother and a wife.  My main priority is to serve my family in a way that reflects God’s love.  Yes, on most days that will mean folding their laundry and cooking their meals.  But the clothes and the food aren’t the point- the love and servant heart with which I fulfill these tasks is the real goal.  On days when none of those things get done, I can still be peaceful knowing that my role as a mother is not wrapped up in my chores, but in who I am to my family.

Once I started trying to think this way, the effects became apparent pretty quickly.  Frustration at not being able to accomplish as much as I wanted to during the day diminished as I shifted my priority from “getting things done” to “doing everything with love”.  Tough days were a little easier to get through when I was able to reframe the struggles of life with a toddler as opportunities to offer up those struggles to God.  My relationship with my husband certainly improved once I stopped comparing how hard I worked at home to his work outside of the home.  And finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that God has called me to motherhood not to do chores and run errands, but to be a loving, consistent, and holy presence for my children.

Did you catch that?  Holy.

Yeah, that’s heavy, isn’t it?  In some ways, I feel like I’ve taken a big pressure off of myself only to put a bigger one on.  But the thing is,  God is generous with his graces when a mother strives to be a holy influence on her children.  The days when holiness seems just out of reach,  God can give us the grace to be just as holy as we need to be.

This doesn’t mean that being a mom is suddenly easy.  I still have to do all the things I did before.  (Although I don’t get quite as upset about a messy house or getting behind on the laundry the way I used to.)  But when I stop looking at parenthood as a job that has me on call 24/7, and instead look at it as the vocation that God has called me to,  my daily tasks take on a purpose that allows me to complete my work not only more gracefully, but sometimes even joyfully.  I still have plenty of room to grow; I am nowhere near perfect.  I am not always humming happily as I change yet another diaper.  But at the end of the day, more often than not, I am able to thank God for blessing me with the physical and spiritual ability to do the work he has called me to do at this point in my life.

And that sure feels like a job well done to me.

Fix the Family Is Dangerous

Educate womenI recently read through several blog posts and watched three videos produced by the Fix the Family ministry, which is headed by two Catholic couples.  I guess these people have good intentions and I actually agree with them on a few things.  But they are dangerous, because they are envisaging a pre-50’s family in which “father knows best” and enjoys unquestioned obedience (including from the wife), in which  husbands should chastise their wives and keep them in line because they are the morally more vulnerable sex, and in which all women should be stay at home mothers.  They claim they are “100% faithful to the Vatican” yet many of their statements are so misleading, poorly reasoned, and unfounded that they’re honestly embarrassing in addition to being brutally wrong.

I would like to share this excerpt from an article by the one of the wives on why she is glad when her husband admonishes her:

“To be corrected by a husband is not a demeaning thing.  Because we obey God, it becomes a wonderful thing.  Many blessings and graces flow from this exercise of obedience, of human nature.  This is the way God designed it.   A playing out of this exercise is illustrated in Jane Austin’s Emma.  The fallen human nature of a woman is displayed in Emma as she is a busybody in matchmaking and manipulation . . . Mr. Knightly scolds and corrects her.  At the end, when they reveal their love, he tells her that she has borne his rebukes better than any other woman in London would have borne it!  . . . I am glad that my husband is not scared of me.  I am glad that he is man enough to make sure I keep my own spoon in my own pot!  He protects me from myself, my fallen human tendencies as a female.”

Does her husband allow her to guide him on his path to heaven?  The wife is holding on to a musty assumption that women are morally weaker than men, because Eve was the one to grab the apple.  Similarly, the husband has a very dark view of paid work because he sees it as punishment for the sins of Adam.

I had never heard of this website before reading Dr. Greg’s critique of one of their more outlandish claims:  parents shouldn’t send girls to college.  Raylan Alleman, the head honcho at Fix the Family, gave these as the eight reasons we parents should deny young women a college education:

1. She will attract the wrong kind of men.

Summary: a man will marry her because she’ll be a good provider to him and he’ll end up being a lazy good for nothing.

My response:  Um, ooookay.  You shouldn’t go to college because some lazy men might like you?  Lazy men are attracted to all sorts of women, but a well-educated woman will be more likely to see through him.

2. She will be in a near occasion of sin.

Summary: Too much sex goes on at college campuses.  She’ll have sex and end up with the wrong guy because all that sex will blind her judgment.

My response: So it’s okay for the boys to be having sex? It’s okay for us to send our boys into these dens of iniquity?  How about the many wonderful Catholic colleges that might nourish our children’s faith life, mind, and values?  Even if our daughters attend secular universities, it does not follow that she’ll become prey to the hook-up culture.

3. She will not learn to be a wife and a mother.

Summary:  College is a training for work, not for homemaking.

My response:  Of course higher education prepares us for family life!  It teaches us to consider and evaluate different truth statements, to defend our faith intelligently, to engage with the world, to awaken parts of ourselves left sleeping in girlhood.  College is far more than preparation for paid work.  By engaging in the ideas of history, we enter that “great conversation” with our peers, considering viewpoints with new rigor and awareness.  That’s preparation for all of life, not  just a job.

Also what if God is not calling her to be a wife and mother?  What if she is called to religious life and her chosen order prefers a college degree?  What if she is called to be a single tertiary?  I am not willing to presume what God has planned for my precious girls.

4. The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.

Summary: Cost of college is inflated.

My response:  I agree with him.  The cost of college in this country is ridiculous.  But why wouldn’t this be an argument for NOBODY going to college — why women only?  What about scholarships or state schools?  What about attending college out of the country?  Finally, perhaps to many young women, that cost is worth it.

5. You don’t have to prove anything to the world.

Summary: Women shouldn’t feel their worth is determined by their job or income.

My response:  Going to college doesn’t make a woman feel that way; our culture does. Even if she doesn’t go to college, that message exists.  If she goes to college she’ll be better able to assess the credibility of some of the cultural messages.

6.  It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.

Summary:  If parents have to pay for every child for college, they’ll be freaked out about cost, so they’ll limit family size.

My response:  If parents were willing to limit family size just because they fear college costs, they will limit family size for a host of other reasons: so they’ll have enough love “to go around”, so they can take more family vacations, etc.

7.  She will regret it.

Summary:  If your daughter goes to college she’ll be a career woman, never have kids, and will regret it later.  Many women today are admitting they regret not having children or focusing on their families.

My response:  Huh?  He is making a giant logical leap: college leads to corporate climbing maniac leads to mid-life regrets.  He points out how many women regret putting off having children.  So true.  But that doesn’t mean they regret going to college.  Furthermore, there are many, many college educated mothers who love their kids and are so glad they went to college, too.

8.  It could interfere with a religious vocation.

Summary:  If your daughter’s debt is too high, most religious orders will reject her.

My response:  Most religious orders prefer candidates with college degrees.   Be careful about debt, but go to college.  Furthermore, many women find their vocations in college.

This particular article gleaned more than 4000 comments on Facebook.  4000.  Almost all of them were critical; those supporting him said things like, “What do you expect from liberals — of course they’ll criticize plain common sense.”  I am not a liberal; and this stuff is not common sense.   (And can I point out that many of the comments were from non-Catholics who may think these are real Catholic principles?)  Clearly this website is receiving a great deal of attention and that concerns me.  Clearly their message is problematic, but it’s keeping writers busy offering critiques.  A professor in moral theology actually wrote an article critiquing their assertions about daughters attending college (it’s superb, check it out).  Too bad she had to take time to write it.  Too bad Dr. Greg had to do the same. Because while everyone is taking time to sift through the garbage, we are missing the opportunity to talk about real problems.

Moms and dads, these problems are important to me:

1.  How do we deal with the bloated cost of a college education so that all of our children at every level of society can not only attend, but can go on to use their talents in the way they imagine?  The answer isn’t to keep our girls home!  It is to examine, assess, and scream if necessary.

2.  Why do we think stay at home mothers aren’t working? Stay at home mothers WORK.  We should value ALL WORK and ensure that the dignity of the laborers is protected.  We need to have this discussion because our view of work demeans the contributions, creativity, and gifts of people who earn no or little paid salary.

3.  Why do some folks (like Fix the Family) assume working mothers are abandoning their families?  The Church does not require all mothers to stay home with their children.  CAPC supports mothers who work for pay and those who are full-time mothers.  We also support those moms who fall somewhere in between.  (All of them are working!!)  In fact, Pope John Paul II made it very clear that the unique gifts of women need to be felt not only in the home, but in the parish, in the boardroom, and in the public square.  (Incidentally, you will far more effective at making that kind of impact if you are educated, informed, and articulate . . .)  But in making these choices we have to use prudence and wisdom, and that means being informed about how our choices will affect the well-being of our children.  THIS is what we should be talking about.  We should love and support one another, especially mom to mom.  We are sisters in Christ, on this thorny road to heaven.

4.  How do we raise children who enter adulthood passionate about our Faith, confident in their own dignity, who easily live the virtues of mercy and justice in order to protect the dignity of others, including unborn children, women, and the poor?

5.  How do we nourish the masculinity of husbands and the femininity of  wives, while celebrating our shared dignity and our equal right to use our gifts and talents?  I was reading some remarks from a theologian recently on how real love brings out the uniqueness of each partner.  Love really isn’t blind.  Sometimes we see beautiful things in our spouses that they can’t even see.  Isn’t that amazing?  God also reveals more of us to ourselves when we love our husbands and wives completely, when we seek mutuality and communion rather than domination.

Now this stuff is interesting, at least to me.  What problems are  important to you?  Maybe today your biggest problem is getting toothpaste out of the toddler’s hair!  But do you see what I mean?  I think Fix the Family is dangerous because it distracts us from more productive and enriching dialogue.

I would like to share my story eventually about why I chose to stay home with my babies; why I chose to homeschool; why I don’t think you need to make the same choices that I did to be a wonderful parent.  I want you to know me better, because I think we parents need to share our personal stories of uncertainty and confusion, and how we grappled with them in the arms of Jesus.  Please share with all of us your journeys, too.  Please write guest posts for CAPC about who you are and how you ended up in this virtual “corner” with the rest of us.  All of our voices are valuable at the table.

God bless.

Why I Let My Son Drop Out of Preschool

michaelynPlease welcome our new staff writer, Michaelyn Hein!  Michaelyn lives in New Jersey with her husband of 8 ½ years, and is a stay-at-home mom to their 4 year-old son. After earning a B.A. in English, and M.A.T. in Secondary Education, she taught high school English for seven years. She left her career when her son was born in order to raise her family. She blogs at Thoughts from the Pew in the Back.  In her inaugural essay, Michaelyn takes on a tough issue:  whether to place small children in preschool.

I have a confession to make: I am the mother of a preschool dropout.

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get used to the idea. For months, I’d anticipated the start of his education, evidently with more excitement than him. But, a year ago, things didn’t go as planned. In my four years of mothering, I’m finding most things never do.

That’s how I became an “accidental” attachment parent. When our son was born, my husband and I planned to have him sleep in his beautiful, brand new crib my mother gifted us. But, our son, even in infancy, had different plans. I soon found the only way any of us could get any sleep was if he was in our bed. So, we began co-sleeping, and we were all much happier (though maybe not my mother – it was an expensive crib). The same thing happened with nursing. I planned to try to squeeze six months out of it, but a year later, my son and I still had a happy nursing relationship. I figured why ruin a good thing?

See, I had these plans for how it would all go, because I listened to the suggestions coming from the world around me. But, when I actually became a mother I found that listening to my own intuitions (and my son’s own voice) made my home a much happier place for everyone.

So, why I threw that intuition out the window when our son turned three, I’m not sure.

I could say it was because I felt left out of the conversation when all my friends discussed the preschools they were sending their kids to. I could guess it was because I thought the backpacks lining the shelves of every store we entered were just so cute. But, whatever the reasons, and despite a voice deep down inside whispering not to do it, I did. I enrolled our son in preschool.

As my mother always said, man plans and God laughs, right? And I’m beginning to think that God tells us His better plans through the laughter – or cries – of our children.

Because our son wasn’t ready for school.  At all.  The first two days, he muddled through, and I lied to myself that only ten minutes of crying was an indication of success. But, I guess our son wasn’t happy that his mother suddenly seemed not to be listening to his needs. I imagine in his innocent mind, he didn’t get why his mommy, who’d spent every day at home with him since his birth nurturing, guiding and teaching him, was suddenly abandoning him, even if it was only for a few hours two days a week.

Still, I tried to convince myself that all was well with him entering preschool. However, our son, who suddenly felt silenced by my ignoring his looks of dread when I left him in the classroom, found a way to make his voice heard. On the third day, he cried.

Well, sobbed, really, and he’d done so for an hour straight, the teacher said. I shudder to think that on the fourth day, I brought him back. What was I thinking? I, the mother who’d been horrified by even the idea of making my son cry it out in his crib as an infant, took my preschooler back to the place where he’d just “cried it out” in the classroom.

57280720It took him clinging to me that morning – literally latched onto my leg so that I’d have to pry him off like a leech – for me to realize that he still needed me more than he needed any school. In their book, Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D., explain that “the more children are pushed, the tighter they cling” (188). By how tightly my son gripped me that morning, he was obviously being pushed too hard.

And, I finally got the message. We pulled him out of school, but friends were concerned. Weren’t we worried our son would be a social outcast? Well, though he was an only child despite our hopes to give him a sibling, not really; more time at home with us would make him more secure in relationships. Didn’t we fear he’d be academically behind his peers? It couldn’t be that hard to teach basic counting, or number and letter recognition. Weren’t we worried we taught him to be too dependent on us by giving into his tears? I couldn’t fathom that at three he was too old to have his tears acknowledged. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that any of us is ever too old to benefit from having our fears validated. It was pondering this last question that, in the end, convinced me we’d done the right thing.

Well, that, and the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus asks, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” Our Lord then goes on to acknowledge that we know how to give good gifts to our children (Mt. 7: 9, 11, NABRE). I was reminded that as parents, we do know how to give our kids what they need, and that we don’t need society to guide us. We have God to do that.

It’s been a year since we allowed our son to drop out of preschool, and in that year he’s learned valuable lessons. We played together, and he learned to expand his imagination. We made crafts together, and he learned to create. We read books together, and he learned his letters. He helped with the cooking, and he learned how to measure. And by having his needs responded to when he was most vulnerable, he learned that he is respected, that he is heard and that he can depend on the people he loves.

But, really, I think the greatest lesson has been mine: that if we want our children to honor us, then we first need to honor them.

Are We Done Yet?

The Tierney Family of 6, soon to by 7!!

The Tierney Family of 6, soon to be 7!!

I think it started in earnest when I was expecting our third child.  Questions like, “So is this it?”,  “How many do you plan to have?”, and  “Are you done after this one?” almost always seemed to follow close behind the initial congratulatory remarks once family, friends, and even complete strangers learned of my pregnancy.  When I first heard these questions, I often fumbled for words.  The curiosity of others seemed so far removed from my husband’s and my way of thinking.

When I was once asked how many children we plan to have, I simply and honestly responded, “I don’t know.”  The person who asked me the question appeared shocked and exclaimed, “You mean you haven’t talked about it?!?”  I nearly laughed out loud.  If there’s one thing faithful Natural Family Planning practicing couples do, it’s talk!  We revisit the question of whether or not we are being called to conceive another child at least once a month.  The subject has already come up between my husband and me as we enter the last few days of my pregnancy with our fifth child.  The truth is, we still don’t know for sure how many children we will ultimately have–and it is the very essence of that uncertainty that blesses our marriage and spiritual lives with riches beyond compare.

Our humanity can never fully comprehend the plans God has laid out for us as we make our earthly journey to heaven.  He, along with the Church, is our compass, our map, and our guide.  For this reason, we are called to seek God’s will in all that we do.  We are incapable of choosing the correct road to follow all on our own.  Our judgment is too often clouded with sin, internal spiritual warfare, and self doubt.  But if we surrender our will to that of our heavenly Father, He will protect our souls from being corrupted by the lies and deception of the evil one.

This way of life, of course, carries with it a degree of uncertainty.  But earthly uncertainty has the potential to evolve into divine surrender, and our great gift of fertility cannot be excluded from this.  Choosing to ignore the devil’s attacks on this most sacred and holy part of our marriage is not always easy.  Seeking God’s will does not come without trial and tribulation.  A heart open to God is especially vulnerable to the stealthy ways of the devil.

 “…if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation.  Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity.  Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life.  Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient.  For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.  Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him…Consider the ancient generations and see:  who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? …For the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  Sirach 2: 1-6, 10, 11

How quickly our plan to serve the Lord becomes an issue of trust.  Do we trust that if we seek God’s will alone that He will give us the strength and self mastery we need to faithfully practice Natural Family Planning in the midst of a serious medical condition?  Do we trust that God will answer our prayers for a conversion of heart in a spouse resistant to adhering to the precepts of the Church?  Do we trust that God will provide us with the means to faithfully raise another child?  Accepting our fertility as a gift affects so many facets of our lives and of our faith.  We find ourselves continually assessing how God wants us to embrace this gift at any particular point in our lives.  Are we being called to bring another life into the world, or do we have a just reason to postpone pregnancy?  It is only through the discipline of prayer and proper conscience formation that we will be able to discern God’s will.  We can be certain that God will never ask us to do something that is in direct conflict with the teachings of His Church.  We can also be certain that God will never ask us to do something that will not ultimately lead us to a great sense of joy and peace in our lives.  So we must pray, educate ourselves in the faith, and communicate with our spouse what God is saying to us in the depths of our hearts.

 “Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention to one’s partner, helps the spouses to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility.  By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties.”  Humanae Vitae  21

This responsible acceptance of our gift of fertility is a key factor in our children’s “just appraisal of human values.”  They observe us viewing the gift of new life through the eyes of God.  They see the love of our marriage emulating the blessed Trinity as the love of two begets physical and spiritual fruits.  They see that accepting the responsibility of conceiving a new life is neither a decision to be taken lightly, nor one to be forever cut off from the grace of God.  A mere five times for them to observe all of these truths through the tangible miracle of a tiny baby suddenly doesn’t seem like enough!  Our children live in a world where they are bombarded by the snares of the devil.  His subliminal messages often appear more glamorous and appealing than God’s truths of what will truly make us happy.  Our children need to see us surrendering our bodies and souls to God with complete trust.  This will nurture their sense of trust and discernment, which will in turn fill us with a sense of peace as we learn to give our children back to God.

Is this not where Catholic Attachment Parenting begins?  With our attachment to God and His will–only then can we discern properly what He desires for us and our children.

So are we done yet?  I don’t know if God will bless us with any more children, but I do know we are not done trusting in Him.  I know we are not done seeking His will.  And I know we are not done reaping the graces that He will continue to shower upon His faithful followers until we are one with Him in heaven.

GUEST POST: Our Gradual Road to Attachment Parenting by Jana Thomas Coffman

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.

It was a long road to get there.

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)

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)

A Response from Dr. Gregory Popcak to TIME Cover “Are You Mom Enough”

Editor’s Note: I deliver here Dr. Gregory Popcak’s response to the TIME cover that has caused such a stir today.  Dr. Popcak is the Executive Director of Pastoral Solutions Institute and the author of many books, including Parenting With Grace, a groundbreaking exploration of attachment parenting through the lens of Catholicism.  His book inspires our work here at CAPC.   

As you know, Lisa and I are big attachment parenting advocates (Dr. Bill Sears wrote the foreword to the 2nd edition of our parenting book), but I think the cover for the TIME magazine article on AP really sets the wrong tone for the discussion.

It is true that the world average for nursing is 5 years.  This is not the norm in the West, but in other cultures it is common enough. It is also true that children who nurse in some limited way even up to the full length of the world average do, indeed, stop nursing, grow up, claim their independence, and move on. In general, they tend to be more confident and independent than their peers.

So, there isn’t anything psychologically inappropriate about nursing this long as long as (a) it is actually a response to the child’s need for comfort and not being imposed on the child and (b) it is done privately and discretely so as to respect the intimacy communicated by this kind of relationship. The person is not a cup. Mom is not a cow. Nursing is not intended to be the equivalent of sipping from a water fountain. It’s a call to create a loving connection between mother and baby.

A woman is not a fountain.

My problem with the cover is that it’s intentionally provocative and misrepresentative. This isn’t what AP is about. AP is about investing the time and energy you need to put into your relationship with your unique child so that you can give that child what he or she needs to grow to be a strong loving, healthy person. It’s about modeling radical self-donation so that you can teach the child to be radically self-donative in his or her own relationships in both childhood and adulthood.

Despite what people think, AP isn’t a list of techniques, a series of “Must do’s” and “Shame on you if you don’ts.” It’s a call to foster a uniquely loving, responsible, and intimate relationship with your kids so they see you as their mentor for learning how to lead a life filled with love, responsibility, and intimacy.

It’s true that fostering this kind of relationship takes more of an investment than most parents put into their relationship with their kids. It’s also true that such a relationship might be more difficult for some. I just wish people didn’t find it so offensive or shocking that a parent would want to pursue that kind of a relationship with their child, or would want that kind of relationship for the children of the world.

To be fair, I do think the cover shot pretty accurately represents many non-AP parents’ perception of AP. That is, “Mom as slave to a set of techniques that turns her into a mere dispenser of bodily fluid and maternal energy for the spoiled little vampire-child who is being enabled to suck the very life out of her.” It saddens me that people would feel this way, though. Our families deserve better. Our children deserve better. We deserve better.

Dr. Gregory K. Popcak