The World Of AP

Leigh Morris Jarvis, a mom of three, confesses that she does attachment parenting on a part-time basis only — and it works for her family. How attached do you really have to be when practicing attachment parenting?
Mom and baby co-sleeping

Each of her children's tiny genitals have been wrapped in plastic. On a daily basis, their fragile, still-forming eardrums are exposed to noise in the 120-decibel range (namely her voice.) She was lying when she said the children learned those cuss words in public school. But is Leigh Morris Jarvis any less attached than other AP moms?

Contributed by Leigh Morris Jarvis

The quest for hippies

I had struggled to be one of those Good Enough Mothers to my first son. The job description turned out to be very different than the fantasy I had honed since childhood. By the time Greg was 2, I had eaten those same words you probably have (or will), “No child of mine will ever _______!” (Fill it in. I dare you.) At that point in time, my blanks were things like “wipe boogers on his wall in protest of bedtime,” “talk back (at least not in front of other adults),” and “Ninja-fight me while I hold him in the time-out chair.” When my discipline methods seemed to be failing and Greg was still filling all the blanks, I even took classes to learn how to be a more effective parent. Always a step ahead, the child showed an amazing aptitude to become a more effective kid.

Five years later, a second son was welcomed into our family and within days of his birth, expressed a repulsion of the Good Enough Mother theory. Apparently this child had come wired only for attachment parenting. Will refused to sleep in a cradle, sit in a stroller, drink from anything but a breast nor entertain himself with black and white or color mobiles designed specifically for his wee cognitive stimulation. He wanted adult companionship and nothing less than a steady stream of it would suffice. After a month of juggling my life while Velcro-ed to another human being, I brought our dilemma up for suggestions from the women in my playgroup. They stared blankly at me from behind their Carolina Herrera sunglasses and shrugged their Liz Claiborne-clad shoulders. Clucking sounds were exchanged. I remember the word Ferberize was uttered. The bush next to me burst into flames. Obviously, they could never understand… I needed women experienced in dealing with this sort of child. I needed answers that fell beyond the main stream of childrearing practices. I needed some hippies.

The world of AP

I did find just such a group. Women who still wore tie-dye and dreadlocks, women who concocted homemade herbal bug spray. These women would recite the mail order number for Birkenstocks from memory while changing a cloth diaper with one hand, nursing a 5-year-old in the other and opening a box of rice cakes with her teeth. Once they had chided me about my gold loafers and persuaded me to remove my aluminum-tainted deodorant, they allowed me into their fold.

Suddenly the world of attachment parenting opened before me. Here Dr. Sears was quoted with an embellished fervor usually reserved for Hamlet. Holistic living was appreciated and promoted, right down to something they called natural child spacing. I had to re-examine my entire lifestyle (plus hide a bunch of it) and create new priorities. It wasn’t easy because we lived a basically mainstream life and subsisted on wholly un-holistic foodstuff. But at least I now had the freedom to allow our children to sleep in our bed without fearing they would never leave it. I no longer struggled with the question of when to wean my breastfeeding toddler; it wasn’t even a question anymore. When the topic moved to my discomfort zones, like methods of homeschooling or organic gardening, I would quietly slip away, lying that my son wanted more sprouts for his untouched tofu dog and sneak over to the clan chatting about non-circumcision or chiropractic.

I was not only picking up new ways of parenting that showed potential in our existing lifestyle, I was the reigning queen of excuses for being spied in the Taco Bell drive-thru. But I was trying. One day I even got a wild hair and prepared macaroni and cheese from scratch. It took an hour and a half (and two frantic phone calls) but as my son eyed the results warily (“Mom, why isn’t it orange?”), I said, “Yes! I can do this!” Inevitably though, just when I thought I was fitting in, someone would go and sew her own diapers out of forest-foraged moss. Oy vey, the guilt was killing me.

Is this about love?

While I was wallowing in my transgressions and hustling to keep up with the AP way of life, a friend told me she had quit the stay-at-home mom/attachment parenting e-mail list. Someone told her how ashamed she should feel for wrapping her daughter’s genitals in plastic. Then another friend asked me point blank what not circumcising or vaccinating had to do with attachment parenting. She hadn’t read that part in Dr. Sears’ book and honestly, I didn’t have any idea what the two had to do with each other. I knew plenty of AP parents whose kids were vaccinated and circumcised. But the soybean that spoiled the curd was an e-mail in which a woman said mainstream parents didn’t love their children as much as attached parents did (supposedly that’s why they yelled at them) and that AP kids grew up to be better people. Then anger set in. I knew I had raised both of my sons with the same kind of love in their first five years… I had only parented them differently. Was this about my love for my children? Was I really being neglectful in resorting to a diaper with a “cloth-like” cover? Was I interested in finding parenting choices that worked for my family or was I struggling desperately to keep up with the Sears's? Did I even want to be like the Sears's?

So I am confessing…

I am only a part-time AP parent. Each of my children’s tiny genitals have been wrapped in plastic. On a daily basis, their fragile, still-forming eardrums are exposed to noise in the 120-decibel range (namely my voice.) I have threatened to bungee them to the top of the van if one more Hershey Kiss plucks me on the head. I was lying when I said the children learned those cuss words in public school. We don’t even own a time-out chair anymore; if I count beyond three I take away the Nintendo. If there is a woman who lives up to the archetypical mother — a patient, serene, diplomatic goddess with boundless energy and no life of her own, then I have probably been mistaken for Joan Crawford on occasion. (And I empathize with her when I find dirty underwear piled in the closet.) But am I any less attached?

I found quite a pedestal for attachment parenting. There are those who believe it’s the cure-all for discipline problems; that misbehavior can be averted if you explain the consequences in a gentle and reassuring voice, as if these were reasonable and mature people with whom we’re dealing. (I mean, that doesn’t even work with many adults!) There is the belief that if your children never leave your side, they will be more secure and less prone to playground antics like bullying and hitting, as if you could nurture the nature out of your child. I have three children and I have never found these to be true.

All this time I had assumed that I was either a derelict mother because I couldn’t stifle an occasional Joan Moment or that my children were grossly imbalanced and in need of medication. It didn’t matter that I had not circumcised, that we had a family bed or that my children received two pages worth of benefits of extended breastfeeding… still they took toys from babies’ hands and pouted when they had to share. Nor did it change the fact that though I chose to reason with them instead of spanking, that I strove for them to learn from consequences rather than punishment or that I eventually did homeschool... still my children spit, kicked or talked back. Still I lost control and yelled, so much so that I cried many nights over my horrible mothering skills.

Sensitivity and respect

One day I swallowed my pride and expressed this anxiety to some women I viewed as incredible mothers. I half expected a lecture and jeers but what I got was the sensitivity and respect that I thought I wanted from the AP community. I also got the satisfaction of finding that these women, like me, were only using the techniques that worked for them and precariously sidestepping the other issues. And Glory Hallelujah, here were other women (who I held in such high esteem) confessing to Joan Moments themselves! I was not alone in feeling inadequate and on the brink of failure with my children because of the aura of attachment parenting. Around this same time I started reading a book called The Motherline by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky. I gasped when I read this passage, “Our cultural ambivalence about blood is associated with our ambivalence about mothers. Blood embodies life’s potential and its suffering. So does being a mother.”

Being a mother is about suffering and about potential; our own and our children’s. It’s about coming to an understanding that we are the people who nurture these children. We take responsibility for outfitting them with the tools and knowledge they will use for the rest of their lives. We lead them to the path of the selves they are becoming. We show them their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses. Yet we are as human as our children are and so our best has to be good enough. Dr. Sears is not going to step in and raise our children if we feel we’re doing an inadequate job of it. (Mrs. Sears might but that’s another article.) This is undoubtedly the hardest task we’ll ever face and a pedestal is no place to start.

Accepting myself

So by the time our daughter Cara made her debut some three and half years after Will, I had learned to let go and just be with mothering. There were no miracles that occurred when I made that change. No one morphed into June Cleaver... or Beaver for that matter. Well, maybe there was one miracle; I accepted myself as a mother, as a mother who was “good enough“ after all. I no longer cry myself to sleep or struggle to keep up with what others may believe is perfect parenting or a worthy lifestyle. Life is far from Nirvana here but I have seen the signs that part-time AP works well. As often as they talk back, my sons bring me flowers and speak of their love for their dad and for me. They have eagerly coaxed down wayward revelers from the parapets of McDonald’s Playlands when a parent failed. They are gentle and protective with their sister, and after a day of wrestling brawls and catfights they hide under the covers and giggle secrets to each other… and wipe an occasional booger on the wall. A month ago I heard my oldest tell his grandmother, “Well, I know she loves me,” and that is good enough, for me.

More about attachment parenting

The co-sleeping, bed-sharing family
What's so extreme about Extreme Parenting?
Dispelling the myths of attachment parenting

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