After a hiatus, I’m returning to my series exploring the Attachment Parenting International’s 8 principles of attachment parenting. As usual, these are just one woman’s musings & are not “expert” opinion or universal truths… And comments & other ideas are always welcome!
Here’s #3 in the series: Respond with sensitivity.
When I thought about building a strong attachment with my son, it made sense to respond consistently to his cries, gestures & needs. But how could I foster the trust & empathy that typically develop when you respond with compassion if I was going to be away from my baby for part of the day?
I fretted over this seeming problem quite a bit after T was born. … I still worry about this even though T is no longer a baby!
My (albeit limited) experience & research has lead me to three ideas on the topic of responding with sensitivity & fostering attachment in spite of spending time away from home.
First, take as much time as you can to get off on the right foot. That means rearranging your life (& your partner’s life) to get as much maternity leave as you can muster. If you’re a type-A person, it may be hard to understand that the world will manage just fine without you (no offense!). But your babe needs as much of you as you can give–how much you can give or rearrange is obviously different for every mom. But it makes sense to be as flexible as you can possibly be. Every baby handles separation differently & some are ready for it sooner than others. And they’re always changing! The super-social baby may one day flip a switch & start exhibiting separation anxiety. This is normal, but not something to ignore. I remember T going through a phase of just crying & crying at one point when I would leave him with the nanny & his playmate. Somedays I just had to go. But all together we worked on transitioning & I was always in communication with the nanny when things were rough (luckily she usually reported that he was immediately distractible & content after I left).
But it meant something to me that he exhibited signs of separation anxiety. He didn’t have words yet, but I tried to communicate with him in other ways — either with special time for nursing right before I left, starting a game with the the nanny to distract him before I was out the door, or extra snuggles when I came home.
While you’re together you absolutely can develop attachment by responding to your babe’s cries & cues consistently & with love. Babies (heck, even toddlers!) can’t ‘self-sooth.’ (I’m not sure who started the myth of self-soothing but he should be… Oh, never mind…) In all seriousness, it may be tempting to try to inculcate some independence in preparation for the inevitable return to work or school, but I’ve seen no evidence that this is effective. To the contrary I think that fostering trust & attachment may help with any transition your little one will have to endure.
Which is not to say that a little planning won’t help. I was very glad we experimented with the bottle early-ish so that we knew what we’d be in for later on. But otherwise I threw caution to the wind as was as attached to T as possible early on. When my summer employer told me I could work from home or bring T with me to meetings when he was still only a month or so old, I took her up on it to the extent that it was practical. We napped together & I wore him a lot. I figured the rest would work itself out & it more or less did.
I should note, though, that I decidedly don’t subscribe to what I’ll call “extreme mothering” – meaning that my son spent time alone with his dad early on. Except for very early on (for me this was the first 2 months) when I just felt that T more or less needed my constant presence & when nursing was pretty much his sole comfort, we weren’t afraid to let MFA Dad figure out his own ways to sooth T. A loving parent or caregiver who responds consistently to a babe’s needs is what attachment parenting has been for my family. That constant presence need not be mom all the time.
My second idea, related to the first: maximize the time you have & prioritize your time together. Sounds like a no-brainer but I’ve found it’s so easy to just stay those extra 15 minutes or finish that last section of the memo (which turns into another hour) instead of closing up shop as early as possible to get home to T. Those extra minutes & hours really affect my little guy & he’s just yearning for my time. … If I have to stay up extra late or wake up extra early to get my work done, so be it. I have to be on call for T & make time to connect every day.
And it can be really hard to leave the office at the office. I have to make a conscious effort every day to turn off my work brain when I walk through the front door so that I can just be there for the boy. … Which is more challenging as T gets older. It was so easy when being present meant sitting in the rocking chair & nursing. Now it usually involves playing actively or coming up with an imaginative story because that’s just what he needs right now from me.
Final thought: when it come time for separation find a responsive care giver. Ask candidates if they’ll wear your child if she’s fussy or how they’ll respond to nap troubles, tantrums, and separation anxiety. Will they rock your child to sleep? Support your child’s emotional needs? Call you if their efforts aren’t working & your babe needs you?
And, really find the person or people that will connect with your child. It can take a long time to find the right situation (for our second caregiving situation it took us 1 1/2 months!). It can be frustrating as hell. But listen to your gut. Taking the time to find the right person or center once ultimately means there’ll be more consistency for your child, which I think is important (consistency & routine is another way we can help instill confidence in our young ones). And don’t be afraid to encourage attachment! I’ve heard & read of so many women who become jealous of the attachment between their children & caregiver. I’ve felt that twinge of jealousy but mostly I’ve just felt extremely fortunate that my son was thriving & connected to those he’s spent his time with. Really fortunate.
P.S. Thoughts, comments? I see a lot of mamas searching for info. on working outside the home & attachment parenting… How can these posts be more useful to you? (If you don’t want to comment, you can email me at momjdblog at gmail dot com.)