My personal war on “Attachment Parenting”

Image courtesy of Flickr user christyscherrer

Image courtesy of Flickr user christyscherrer

I am an Attachment Parenting International leader.  I’ve read the books.  I’ve studied the research.  I believe wholeheartedly in Bowlby’s theory that a baby human needs to have her primary attachment figure(s) nearby in order to ensure survival, and the extent to which she is able to accomplish this goal defines, to a large degree, her ability to have stable relationships throughout her lifetime.

I just don’t like the term “Attachment Parenting”.

Only recently did I figure out why it bugs me so much.  One clue came from a recent article in the Huffington Post, “Why I Am a Detachment Parent”.  While the article is riddled with hyperbole, the description of attachment parenting as “masochism” really struck me.

I have found AP to be the easy way.  Who wants to be tied down to the house during nap time every day when your kid could just sleep in a wrap while you go about your business?  Why deal with a baby screaming for a lost pacifier when you could pop in a boob?  If some parents are over the top, that is less about Attachment Parenting and more about the parent.  AP is about meeting the needs of all family members – including, but not limited to, the children.  Parents’ needs are important too, they are just not more important than the needs of the child.  I am baffled by the proud assertion of parental detachment.

It all became clear to me when I read a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”

When most people hear the word “attachment”, they don’t think of Attachment Theory.  Most people  I’ve met, even those who identify themselves as AP,  have no idea what that is.  “Attachment” connotes codependency, clinging, smothering, and that is a big turnoff for many people.

But there is a third choice in between attachment and detachment, and that is equanimity.

I think it’s obvious that all healthy parent-child relationships involve some degree of attachment.  Otherwise, why bother?  But instead of being attached to a particular outcome for the child or the relationship, we accept what is true now for this child in this place and time.  I want certain things for my children but I work to accept, to the best of my deeply flawed ability, that they are their own people with their own lives to live.  I hope to have close relationships with them as adults, but all I can do for them is offer them my unconditional love and presence and tell them that they are fundamentally valued and cherished, and then let go.

When Bess was a baby, she wanted me and only me all the time.  She would not take a bottle, she would not sleep for more than 90 minutes at a stretch, and she cried frequently at high volume.

Yes, I lost sleep.  Yes, it was outrageously stressful.  But you know what?  It passed.

Now we have a great relationship where she is willing to talk to me, and I am able to help her.  (We shall see what happens during the teen years…)  She trusts that I am there for her even when the timing is inconvenient or she has ugly things to say. Would we have had the same kind of relationship if I were a 7 am to 7 pm parent?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  And Harry, who was parented the same way, is totally different.  It’s just the way they came into this world.

This begs the question: if not “Attachment Parenting”, then what?

Equanimous Parenting is really hard to spell.  Respectful Parenting?  Peaceful Parenting?  They’ve been used.  Mindful Parenting?  I think Humane Parenting comes close.

I’m currently leaning toward “Nonviolent Parenting”.

I like “Nonviolent Parenting” because it goes so much deeper and speaks to a fundamental starting point of a deep and abiding love for all beings without judgement.

Do you have a good alternative to the term “Attachment Parenting”?  Do you think we need one?

You are already perfect

Photo courtesy of Flickr user AlicePopkorn

Photo courtesy of Flickr user AlicePopkorn

During last week’s dharma talk, the sensei at the zendo I have been attending shared a quote.  I wish I could remember it exactly, but it was something like, “We do not sit zazen to attain enlightenment.  We sit zazen to express our innate enlightenment.”  In other words, the purpose of sitting zazen is simply to discover the perfection, the spark of wisdom and compassion, that is already within all of us.

You know how sometimes words come together in just the right way, so that something you’ve heard a million times suddenly makes sense?  This was one of those moments.

I grew up in the Lutheran church, and I’m sure it’s no different from other Christian traditions in that it teaches Original Sin. We are born sinners and we need to work to overcome our sinful nature.  In the words of Martin Luther himself:

But what, then, is original sin? According to the Apostle it is not only the lack of a good quality in the will, nor merely the loss of man’s righteousness and ability. It is rather the loss of all his powers of body and soul, of his whole outward and inward perfections. In addition to this, it is his inclination to all that is evil, his aversion against that which is good, his antipathy against light and wisdom, his love for error and darkness, his flight from and his loathing of good works, and his seeking after that which is sinful.

Yikes!

But what if we replaced Original Sin with Innate Perfection?  What if we are actually good people trying to find ways to express our goodness?  How would it change the way we see ourselves, the way we see other people, the way we relate to each other, the way we operate in the world?  How would it change the way we raise our children?  What if we saw our jobs as parents not to break our children of their tendency towards badness, but to nurture the expression of their inherent goodness?

It would be an interesting experiment to notice how often in one day we chose to operate from a different paradigm.  What would that kind of day look like?

  • When we get cut off in traffic, instead of thinking, “What a jerk!” we think, “Wow, that person is really in a hurry!  I hope everything is okay.”
  • When we feel taken for granted by our children, instead of thinking, “They don’t appreciate all the work I do for them!” we think, “I’m so glad that my kids feel like they can count on me to take care of them.  I guess I’m doing something right.”
  • When someone at work snaps at us for no reason, instead of getting defensive and snapping back, we say, “It seems like something is bothering you.  Do you want to talk?”
  • When we meet someone new and he starts listing his credentials and accomplishments, instead of thinking, “Egomaniac!” we think, “It sounds like he’s looking for some respect.”
  • When we are feeling manipulated by a friend, instead of thinking, “Does she think I don’t see what she’s doing?  I’m not an idiot!” we think, “It seems like she feels like she can’t trust me enough to be honest with me.  I wonder what that’s about for her.”
  • When someone bumps into us on the street, instead of thinking, “Hellooooo!  There are other people on this planet, you know!” we think, “Wow, it looks like she has a lot on her mind.”

Try it.  I dare you.  Take one day, and assume positive intent and inherent goodness in everyone you meet.  Let me know how it goes.

2013 – Bring It! and, Word of the Year

Image courtesy of Flickr user kaseycole

Image courtesy of Flickr user kaseycole

So, 12/21/12 has come and gone, and here we still are!  Phew!

These past few months have been tiring, complicated, sad, and full of opportunities for growth.  My energies have been focused on healing and introspection as we try as a family to find the new normal, over and over again.  We are still scrambling a bit to find our footing, but I think we are well on our way.

I am grateful for the arrival of 2013, and the new beginnings it represents.  I have never been one for resolutions, but this year I do feel that we are in the perfect place to push the reset button and make a fresh start.  The chaos of Hurricane Sandy and the holidays and the flu has passed, and we are finally settling back into a routine.

Last year, in lieu of a resolution I decided to pick a word of the year.  My inner geek loves the challenge of picking one word to embody my aspirations for the coming months.  Merriam-Webster picked two words for 2012 – “capitalism” and “socialism”; Oxford American Dictionary chose “gif” (pronounced “jif”, FYI); Dictionary.com chose “bluster”; and the American Dialect Society gave the honors to “hashtag”.  Personally, I don’t find any of these words particularly compelling, but whatever.

As for my personal Word of the Year for 2013:  NOW.  My challenge to myself is to cultivate mindfulness and presence – to be here now, to attend to what is true now.  Now.  And….now.

I am reading Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, and in it he describes the nature of life as a Buddhist monastic: we sit, we walk, we eat.  But doesn’t everyone do those things?  Yes, says the Zen master, but when we sit we know we are sitting, when we walk we know we are walking, and when we eat we know we are eating.

How often do we perform a task while our minds are in another place altogether?  I know I’m not the only one who gets in the car and starts driving only to arrive at my destination with no recollection whatsoever of how I got there.  Instead of attending to what is in front of me, I’m worrying about the past (which I cannot change) or the future (which I cannot control).  And I miss a lot along the way, not to mention the fact that this is not the surest road to mood stability.

I’ve started meditating regularly, and while it is often a struggle to just keep my body on the cushion – never mind cultivating a still mind full of concentration and focus – I have definitely noticed that I am much calmer and more able to meet difficult people and situations with compassion, patience, and attention.  I am a better parent, a better friend, and an all-around better person when I can stop the monkey mind for a moment and just do what I need to be doing NOW, whether that be listening to a story my kids want to tell, having a productive conversation with someone at work, understanding what a friend needs from me, or even paying attention to what I’m putting into my body instead of just shoveling in whatever food is convenient at the time.

So there you have it.  What about you?  What is your resolution or word for the coming year?