From the second he was born, Max has been engulfed in the principles of attachment parenting. After his natural Birth Center birth, he was placed on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin contact with his momma, and within minutes I breastfed him for the first time. He had the whole kit and caboodle — babywearing, breastfeeding, bedsharing, even a nightly infant massage with grapeseed oil. I’d pick him up the second I heard him whimper, and I’d rock him for hours on end if it kept him happy. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that he was happiest when he was being held.
max just living his life, getting his infant massage on
We have grown very close. I’m not only his mother; I’m his caregiver and his friend.
Many people praised me, and some people criticized me — for extended breastfeeding, for allowing him to sleep in my bed, for never letting him just cry.
People suggested that he’d be spoiled, he’d never learn to be independent, and he’d never outgrow breastfeeding. But I’ve trusted my gut and the very many parenting books that I’ve read and the doctors and child care providers that I’ve consulted, and I’ve parented according to his needs and not the advice of people who don’t know him as well.
It’s hard, sometimes, to go with your gut. Especially when you’re a young woman of color. You’re constantly challenged and questioned by backseat drivers who want to tell you how it’s done. There was one time that Max’s daycare closed because there was a petroleum in the water scare, and since we were having a holiday party that day anyway, I decided to bring him to work. The first half of the day was a four-hour staff meeting, which Max (then ten months old) endured pretty patiently (and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom and think he’s perfect!). There was a point that he was ready for his milk, so I took him back to my desk and breastfed him. I had brought some toys and random items to keep him occupied through the day, but in general, Max was (and still often is) very patient and happy as long as he’s being held. I brought him back to the conference room after the meeting, and he started to groan and whimper — not quite a cry but an expression of discomfort. I wasn’t surprised; it was naptime. I knew that he was going to fall asleep any minute, but he was grumbling because he was still at an age at which he didn’t quite understand the feeling that was overtaking him. Imagine that – being so tired and not knowing what’s happening to you. It’s probably uncomfortable. What did surprise me was the reaction of another mother in the room — a lovely woman who has a daughter just about the same age as Max. She asked me if she could get Max a toy, and I thanked her but declined. He’s just tired, I let her know. It was a kind gesture, and I appreciated it, but then she started to try to amuse him to make him stop crying. He grew increasingly frustrated, and I knew why: In trying to console him and make him laugh when he just wanted to fall asleep, she was telling him, “I don’t understand why you’re crying, so I’m going to try to distract you from what’s upsetting you.” This was upsetting to me because she ignored what I had told her and dismissed the idea that I could know what was wrong with my baby – the child that I was still nursing and closer to than anyone else. She is a white woman, and from my perspective, she was parenting through privilege.
Young mothers of color are constantly questioned and dismissed and challenged; it’s assumed that we do not know what’s best for our babies, how to hold our babies, how to console our babies, how to care for our babies. When a white woman sees another white woman doing something that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, it’s accepted as a different style of parenting; but when a white woman sees a woman of color doing something that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, it’s viewed as being wrong. She feels comfortable intervening and correcting her. It is a microaggression.
But I didn’t come here to talk about racism. I came here to say: My attachment parenting critics were wrong — not because attachment parenting is right for everyone, but because it was right for Max.
Max is more independent than I could’ve ever hoped. He can walk, run, climb, and play independently for long stretches of time. He doesn’t love to hold my hand when we walk down the street, but once we reach the end of the block, he reaches his hand out because he knows that he can’t cross the street on his own. He likes to try to climb off the curb along the way, and sometimes he gets upset when I stop him or guide him back into the direction that we’re going. When I try to hold his hand on the sidewalk, he sometimes throws himself on the ground dramatically. He wants to be independent; he wants to be free. He’s growing up so quickly, and I’m so proud of his growth.
There have been power struggles — the biggest one being that he hates holding my hand when we’re walking, and that makes it really hard to get him to stay the course when we’re on our way to daycare in the mornings. I’ve tried to cheer him on and praise him when he walks in the right direction. I’ve pulled him away from the stairs when he tried to climb them and go back home, and I redirect him. I’ve called him, over and over, in English and Spanish, to come and follow me. I’ve gotten frustrated and said, “Come on, Max, we’re going to be late.” I’ve given up and carried him the whole way.
But now, as I’m continuing to read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, I’m learning new ways to encourage him to be independent and still do the things that he has to do, like walk to school in the morning without getting too distracted by dandelions.
ok sometimes you do have to stop and smell the dandelions
I appreciate having spaces like our back patio where he can roam freely, and I don’t have to pull him away from an electronic device or something dangerous every three minutes. And when it comes to walking to school and walking back home, I’m finding ways to make it less of a chore for him. When he doesn’t want to hold my hand, I take both of his hands and turn our walk into a dance while I sing “Pop Goes the Weasel” (swinging him at the “popping” part), and it makes him forget that he’s holding my hand because he’s enjoying the dance. This evening, on the way home, I managed to get him to run in the right direction for a whole block by chasing after him saying “Momma’s gonna get you” and “I’m going to catch up with Max!” and then grabbing him and picking up a few times along the way to make him laugh (and confirm that I could indeed catch up).
The most important lesson I’ve learned from books on positive discipline is that discipline is teaching, not punishment. Even time outs should be used in a positive way that lets both child and parent cool off — it should be future-oriented, not past-dwelling. Power struggles, to me, are a sign that I’m trying to take control in an area that Max is seeking independence, so I need to find better balance to allow him to be independent while setting simple (but fun) guidelines to keep him safe. There’s no point in getting frustrated.
I think the next thing I need to do is learn to apply these principles in other areas of my life.