Attachment Parenting - a Cautionary Tale

I'm trying to break up with my son, but he's not having it.

Felix crawls after me, blue eyes filled with longing and welling tears. When I look away, I hear a whimper turn into a sob. Before a minute passes, his cries have swollen into a tsunami of misery punctuated with raised arms and fluttering hands, beckoning me to pick him up and hold him close. I turn my back, because right now, I'm determined to get the groceries into the refrigerator before they wilt and warm. Felix pulls himself up on my back, yanking at my sweater. I detach his fists and slide him across the floor. "Mom's doing something for a minute," I tell him in a reasonable tone, handing him a soup ladle to play with. He tosses it aside and starts to scream. I sigh and take a mental inventory of what's left in the bags and decide, with ringing ears, that everything can wait. I pick up my howling suitor and kiss his neck. He rewards me with a smile that is beautiful, genuine and victorious.

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I've capitulated - again. I give Felix an Eskimo kiss, thinking, Tonight, sweet thing, I'm going to slug so much wine that the all-night boobfest you've got planned will be out of the question. The idea had struck me hours earlier. It's the only thing I can think of that will put night-weaning in motion. Because on my own, without booze in my breast milk, I am weak. I will bring Felix into bed and let him nurse all night, because it's the easiest route to peace. But as he winds his fingers in my hair, slurping his third midnight snack, I will grind my teeth and rue the day I ever thought attachment parenting (AP) was a good idea.

Please understand: I adore my son more than I ever thought possible. I'd happily give him my limbs or kidneys, and would just as easily remove the limbs or kidneys from anyone who endeavored to harm even one of the few hairs on his head. But, after one year of AP, I can no longer be his one and only. I want to put the damn groceries away; I want to read more than three pages of a novel at a time; I want to sleep through the night without my nipple being clamped between two small lips. I yearn for the day when I will no longer be controlled by the piercing cries of a tyrant, even if said tyrant has the softest skin I've ever touched.

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If the big daddy of attachment parenting, Dr. Sears, was in my kitchen right now, he would probably urge me to calm down and stop the "mental gymnastics" that have me imagining my son is a manipulative beast. He'd remind me that I've put a year of myself into AP and that the results have been worth it. He'd applaud the development of "mutual sensitivity" that Felix has with me and his father as the result of AP practices. But I don't care about that right now. I'm tired, and I want to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and watch trashy television until I fall asleep, alone, for eight entire hours.

From the beginning, Felix's needs mystified and terrified us. He cried when placed in his vibrating bouncer; he howled when laid down to sleep in his co-sleeper. He wanted to nurse constantly. When he wasn't feeding, he wanted to be carried. But though he craved movement, the baby swing elicited only a moment or two of silence before he started weeping. "Crying is exercise for his lungs, dear," said my aunt who has five children. "Once he gets on a schedule he'll settle down."

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But we couldn't bear to let him cry, ever. It just didn't seem right - he was so new. Plus, because I was taking a year off and my husband was working from home, we were right there. I did some research and sent my husband to the bookstore for Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block. I read it in two days, thankful for Dr. Karp's fourth trimester theory (that babies are born too early and lack the ability to comfort themselves outside of the womb, so you swaddle them to recreate the womb environment) and went to work perfecting my swaddling skills. Soon after, we discovered Martha and William Sears' The Baby Book, after desperately searching through various online parenting forums.

Before Felix was one month old, we had become devotees of the AP methodology: we wore him around the house, we snuggled in our family bed, I nursed on demand, and we diligently met Felix's needs, knowing that our actions would enable "solid communication patterns to develop." When friends questioned the wisdom of sharing our bed with Felix or holding him whenever he grew distressed, I had the buzz words at the ready: intimacy, trust, connectedness, intuition, and bonding. Besides, what Sears was advocating felt natural to us. In fact, I believe that everything we chose to do during Felix's infancy had as much to do with our intuition as it did The Baby Book. As Dr. Sears says: "Attachment parenting is : what mothers and fathers would do instinctively if they were raising their baby on a desert island without the advice of sleep books, in-laws, and psychologists."

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But while AP methods seem to work wonders for babies, when it comes to toddlers, the recommendations become fuzzier. Sears talks vaguely about boundaries while also stressing that toddler neediness won't continue forever, promising that one day, "It will pass." Sears also assures parents that it's not really a problem so much as a flattering "nuisance." Night weaning seems to elicit more "why" than "how." In fact, Sears urges mothers to ask themselves, "Before seeking a solution to the problem, ask yourself how much of a problem the night nursing is." Advice on a baby that wants to be held all the time is sort of ambiguous. Telling me to "follow my heart" as Dr. Sears does on his website is not all that helpful.

In the meantime, I'm sending Felix mixed messages. Sometimes I pick him up the second he shows distress. Other times I ignore him until he clambers up my leg. I'll put him in his playpen with a toy in order to get something done, but if he screams, I may abandon my task to soothe him. If I don't, chances are that his dad will. There have been many evenings when I've sworn to the heavens that tonight is take back the boob night, only to end up with a baby at said boob by two in the morning, because his ceaseless crying (and no, he won't be soothed by dad during these hours) leaves me with no other option. I don't mean to be horribly inconsistent, but finding the time, the energy, and the willpower that consistency requires seems impossible.

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So, what now? It appears as though my options are limited, given my lack of willpower. The best bet may be to wait it out like Dr. Sears suggests, knowing that time often does take care of everything, knowing that my budding relationship with my son is all kinds of fantastic, and knowing that all too soon he'll be in the throes of adolescence, wanting nothing to do with me. Or I can start tuning into my own cues and trust the instincts that tell me that it's okay for Felix to weep while I complete a task. Or maybe I'll start to believe that just as Felix is a work in progress, so am I.

And, in the darker moments, when the threat of yet another sleepless night stretches before me like an impossible winter, it might be okay to let a few glasses of wine make the hard decisions for me.

- By Megan Marshall

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