On my bedroom dresser stands a photograph of myself with a baby on my back. The child is one of my energetic nieces. The photo was taken a few years ago when my niece, now age 7, could barely walk.
I am serious about my desire to go “old-school mama” whenever I’m blessed with a little one of my own.
In these days of constant balancing acts most mothers play, I already know I want something more simple. I’m sure I’ve idealized the whole process, but I have fantasies of toting a baby on my back while I go about my chores, mashing up real bananas for my tiny tot to eat and giving him or her therapeutic massage.
I spoke with a young woman the other day who was “wearing” her baby in a cloth wrap just like women in more traditional cultures do. As we talked, she told me about her Attachment Parenting International (API) group. In short, attachment parenting involves going back to more traditional ways of nurturing babies and infants.
Advanced by pediatrician Dr. William Sears, it is based on the attachment theory of developmental psychology. Studies have shown that infants who grow up without a consistent and nurturing bond with a trusted caregiver may be prone to antisocial tendencies such as fire-setting, violence toward animals and humans, lack of emotional empathy, and the like. The theory suggests that the better attached an infant is, the more empathic, adjusted, and non-violent he will be in adulthood.
The tenets of API are as follows:
* Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting: This involves a deliberate effort to educate oneself about childbirth and to prepare physically and emotionally for motherhood.
* Feed with love and respect. Breastfeeding is preferred, but the emphasis here is on following the feeding cues of the child rather than any rigid schedule.
* Respond with sensitivity. Tune into what the child is communicating through his cries or behavior.
* Use nurturing touch. Skin to skin contact is important. Touch the child frequently through massage, baths and breastfeeding. The concept of “baby wearing” applies here, where an infant is tied to the mother or father throughout much of the day.
* Engage in nighttime parenting. This involves co-sleeping (same bed) or near-sleeping (same room) with your infant.
* Provide consistent and loving care. Limit the amount of time spent away from your infant. When you have to separate, spend time reconnecting.
* Practice positive discipline. API emphasizes discipline that is loving, respectful, and empathetic.
* Strive for balance in your personal and family life. Maintain a schedule that is healthy for the entire family.
Opponents to this movement believe that a “total motherhood” ideology leads to anxiety for working mothers, who may not be able to achieve what appear to some as strenuous and demanding principles for parents.
The concept of sleeping with one’s baby is a controversial one in today’s world, and the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages room-sharing instead.
However, literature on the subject states clearly that API is not a strict set of rules, but simply a tool. All in all, we know that bonding through nurturing touch, attention, education, and leading a balanced life can hardly be a bad thing for a baby. And the rest of us might benefit, too.
For more information on the topic, go to www.attachmentparenting.org.