This is the first post in a series on attachment parenting & working. I plan to go through the eight principles of attachment parenting (according to Attachment Parenting International, or API, which I think does a good job of distilling what it means to attachment parent) & discuss each one in light of the challenges of being a working mom (note: exclusively raising children is work, but for simplicity’s sake I’m using “work” to mean work outside of the home). I hope these discussions will be useful to someone out there in the ether & I hope women will join in the conversation with their own take on attachment parenting (or “AP”) & working. But in these posts, I’ll also be writing about my own experiences, which means that I’m not writing about some perfect AP ideal but about a real mom trying to be the best mom she knows how to be. I don’t agree with everything the AP gurus or groups have to say. I am not a parenting expert. Take what you will & leave the rest.
Remember, these principles are one set of guidelines (& not written by me). The overall goal of attachment parenting is to foster healthy (physical & mental) infant & child development through strong parent-child relationships. I look at it as building a solid home base from which a child can confidently go & explore the world around her. AP provides one set of tools to can help develop as secure a relationship as possible, but not every tool is right for every family. Using these 8 principles as a starting point is just my way of exploring how AP can work with… well… work.
Now for the first in the series on API’s principles of attachment parenting…
I prepared for, or tried to prepare for, a hypno birth. In the end, my son’s birth looked nothing like the videos we watched in class (beautiful & peaceful, almost silent, births… usually in water) but it was nonetheless empowering & awesome. I think preparation had everything to do with the fact that I didn’t freak out when my labor totally stalled (for hours & hours!) right in the middle of “transition.” And preparation allowed me to make decisions about interventions without feeling like I was losing control of the whole process.
On the other hand, I most certainly did not prepare for my pregnancy, and I admit that it freaked me out a little bit during those first few weeks. I subsisted entirely on a diet of internet (mis-)information & unverified rumors from who-knows-where during the first month or so. I was off-and-on a wreck, not really understanding what my body was doing or going through. I was also trying to find energy & mental resources to dedicate to my first legal internship. It was a scary few weeks, to be perfectly honest. But once I found a couple of reliable sources of information, I was able to get a grip & make sure I was doing (at least some of) the “right” things to take care of myself during my pregnancy.
I learned two things from these experiences. First, preparation is really important. Second, it’s never too late to “prepare”. And these lessons have translated over to my own form of working-mom-attachment-parenting.
As a working or student mom, it can be hard to prioritize preparation. But I’d argue that forcing yourself to make time for preparation (whether it be taking a birthing class while pregnant or reading up on infant development) is a wise investment for your sanity and your relationship with your child.
We lawyer-types tend to be over-achievers (especially if we’re in law school mode…) but preparing for the arrival of your child doesn’t require a huge time commitment. A few well-chosen books or classes can do the trick. As a lawyer, you’d never show up in court without having prepared… Any question from the judge would be likely to throw you for a loop & create a mess for your client. Same goes for parenting… That first colicky night would just be disastrous for you as a parent & traumatic for your baby.
Preparation is also what led me to attachment parenting & to all the great tools that have helped me cope with motherhood & studying/working. Slings & wraps saved my sanity (& made baby happy). Ditto for sharing sleep in the beginning. Nursing made those early leave-takings a lot less stressful for both baby & me. I wouldn’t have really thought about these things at all had MFA Dad not picked up The Baby Book while I was pregnant.
And had I not learned about breastfeeding while I was still pregnant, I don’t think our nursing relationship would have made it out of the hospital. (Yes, I literally pulled out my copy of the La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” in the hospital to counter the very bad advice of a well-intentioned nurse.)
Maybe most importantly, though, preparation (especially learning about attachment parenting) helped me set realistic expectations for myself & for my son (as in, I would never have know that “sleeping through the night” means, like, 5 hours of sleep & that it’s unlikely to happen in the first year!). It’s also allowed me to crystallize my vision of myself as a mother, something that had been difficult to do during my pregnancy (given that I had been plenty busy with my summer internship & then with the beginning of my 2L year…). How would I connect with my baby while easing back into work & school? How would we maintain that connection once the semester started up in full swing again? How would MFA Dad & I balance “discipline” with our general uneasiness with being “authority figures”? How would we make childcare decisions? What would good childcare even look like?
For me, AP provided answers to many of these questions… Sure, my time would be stretched thin between mothering & working/studying, but I could bring my sleeping baby in a sling to meetings for extracurriculars or (on slow days) to my summer internship. At home, we could snuggle & sleep close to each other to maintain our connection. During the busy school year, nursing would become a ritual & provide time to reconnect & relax together. Gentle discipline has allowed us as parents to (attempt to…) set limits, acting as guides rather than dictators. Finding a childcare provider who was willing to rock my son to sleep or wear him in a sling made leaving him with a new person a lot easier.
In the end, I haven’t had to over-think it (AP gives parents tools to allow them to parent according to what their instincts tell them is right rather than following the advice of “experts”), but it didn’t happen naturally or accidentally, either. And it’s been an adventure with challenges all its own. Exclusively breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the schedule of a law student. Choosing to not “sleep train” probably contributed to less than stellar grades & at least one or two fumbling moments in class when I was cold-called but less than prepared (seeing as my son did not sleep for an entire night until well into his second year of life). And, needless to say, the preparation doesn’t end… I feel I’m continually “preparing” for the next stage…
I imagine parenting is intense no matter how you choose to do it. But my own interpretation of AP has led to more joy & less strife, more confidence and less guilt. Our culture is full of mis-information & caricatures (for example Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Away We Go, who’s version of “continuum parenting” is as laughable as it is misleading). I honestly don’t think that I’d be as satisfied with motherhood (which is not to say that I’m always happy!) had I not done my own preparation. For me it’s really been an inward journey… even more so given the fact that I’ve had few models of how to make law school (& now a legal career) work with being a mom.
Well… this exercise is making me realize how my memory has gotten fuzzy over the two-plus years since I faced all this preparation for baby. Can you remember back to how you prepared for the arrival of your baby? If you knew you would be an AP working mom, how did you prepare? If not, did your preparation lead you to AP?