Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Attachment Parenting cont.

Thoughts on Attachment Parenting

By Emily Phifer, M.S. MFT
There are two things that I think of as foundational to parenting with an attachment basis: 1.) Babies and children are incredibly impressionable and everything that happens is an opportunity for imprinting or shaping the child’s mind, body, emotions and psyche as well as relationships with self and other. 2.) Parents aren’t perfect, and when there is a “rupture” or disruption in ideal attachment with our children, there is a golden opportunity for deeper attachment and connection in the repair.  Learning and growing can be modeled for children through the care and commitment of caregivers who are willing to admit mistakes/ disconnects and work to repair them.  Parenting children with humility and respect is of utmost importance.

Additionally, I think of attachment parenting as knowing that I'm in an intimate and intentional process of mirroring my baby, responding to her needs, and helping to develop a safe and secure attachment for her in the world as she learns and grows (my husband and I are a team in this).  On a daily basis, this mirroring and responding entails talking to Lucia as we go about our activities, showing her that I hear her sounds and see her actions, and that I am tracking her responses to the world around her.  This might mean I praise or mimic her attempts at sounds or voice inflections, that I mirror her excitement over spotting the kitty across the room, or acknowledge her frustration when I prevent her from playing with something that isn’t safe or permissible.  

Physically, I make daily effort to sit with Lucia and make good eye contact as she plays and explores, interacting with hand pats, hugs and facial expressions to show her that I am encouraging her exploration and developmental play.  Mirroring Lucia’s excitement over playing with apples and measuring cups on the kitchen floor is a way to reinforce that what matters to her matters to me, and that her being is valid and important in our world.  This modeling translates into Lucia’s internal world of secure attachment and development as a healthy self.

I want her to know that her needs and feelings and experiences matter to my husband and I and we will do our best to respond.  When she hurts herself during crawling and exploration play, we pick her up, soothe her and acknowledge that it doesn’t feel good to get hurt, and that we’re there to comfort and help her while she’s hurting.  We also model that once Lucia feels better, she is encouraged to return to playing and exploring once again with confidence that help, care and safety are available.  Lucia has the opportunity to internalize this security while having space and encouragement to explore the world around her.

We can't be perfect as parents, but when we make mistakes, we can make repairs in our bond with our baby, making the attachment even stronger. On days where I’ve grown frustrated with Lucia for one reason or another, I sometimes make a determination to "press the reset button" on my patience and admit to her that I haven't been the best I can be for her.  I apologize to her, and acknowledge that we’re going to try again, to work together to move forward, learning and growing together. Our family needs to have grace for one another as we learn and grow as individuals, and as a family unit.

I also recognize that there must be room for my own self care as I care for my baby- so I have to find a balance of caring for myself and my marriage, while responding as best as I can to my baby's needs.  This has perhaps been the biggest challenge for me in being a new parent, as a baby’s needs can be all-encompassing and, at times, demanding.  Self care and balance in our family life includes finding little ways to nurture my own care (reading, going for a walk, listening to favorite music, coffee with a friend) and that of my marriage (comparing notes from the day, sitting down for a meal at the table together after Lucia is in bed, watching a show in the evening or getting away for a date). Attuning to our baby is a physical, emotional, spiritual and mental journey.  Healthy attachment is a foundational and life-giving gift we can give to our children. 

OK ready to learn more about parenting in an attached rather than a detached or unattached way? 
Listen to our discussion on KVEC.
Come to a gathering of my South County Holistic Mamas and Papas and listen, watch and learn. Ask to join the facebook group to get invites.
Attend a La Leche League meeting near you. Meetings in SLO & Los Osos. I'll soon be leading meetings in the South County! Not from SLO?
Learn the 8 principals of Attached Parenting.
Read a book! I recommend these books: 
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, one of the founders of this cultural change, who took a fresh look at parenting from an anthropological/cultural point of view and sparked a fire that is still going
Attachment Parenting Book by William and Martha Sears, Dr. Sears is the beloved author of many books including The Baby Book a must read by this generation of parents. 
Attached at the Heart by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, the founders of Attachment Parenting International

I believe every family is unique and each person within that family is unique. As parents we are faced with daily challenges. One of those challenges is trying to be the best parent we can be at any given moment to each of our kids. There is no one right answer for every person but every human being deserves to be raised with respect, compassion and understanding. Finally I leave you with this statement which is said at every La Leche League meeting, 
"Take what works for your family and leave the rest." 

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