Mama, take off your training wheels

Today the mothering community was all in a tizzy after Time magazine’s latest issue came out entitled “Are You Mom Enough” featuring a mom nursing a toddler. The accompanying article is about attachment parenting and the self-appointed Godfather of the attachment parenting movement Dr. Sears.

Frankly as someone who for a while was an ardent believer in attachment parent, the cover and parts of the piece I could read for free were annoying as hell. Attachment parenting as currently practiced in many ways has strayed from its roots which are really about fostering attachment and connection with our children. Children that we are raising who will one day grow up to become adults. Instead today’s attachment parenting in many ways is a caricature of itself that plays on the insecurities we as women and mothers hold in a society that frankly does not value mothers or children. We pay lip service to the idea that we cherish moms and kids but if we did I assure you we would have things in the US like mandatory paid maternity leave. State budgets would not cut needed services for kids if we actually liked kids.

Mothering in this day and age is intense because it seems we are never allowed to find our place as mothers, to develop our own instincts that have kept the human race alive without benefit of any gurus or godfathers.  For most of us from the moment we discover we are expecting we immerse ourselves in learning as much about babies as possible, thanks to technology unlike when I gave birth for the first time in 1992 we can tap into online communities and find support which in many cases is needed and welcomed since many of us lack the neighborhood village that once existed or at least we that we think existed.

The problem is the in the months when we are gestating and in the early days after giving birth, we can also find ourselves less and less likely to develop our own instincts as mothers. Instead we parent with our training wheels on. Understandably when faced with a real live small human, so precious and gentle we need some help and the resources available now can assist us in the early days. The problem though is they also can trap us.

I speak from a place of having been there, I nearly wrecked my body co-sleeping for years, sure co-sleeping can be great but the truth is it doesn’t work for everyone. If only I had realized that years earlier, everyone in my family would have been whole lot happier.

I was attached to an ideal way of parenting and listening to a chorus that supported me when in fact I needed to trust my instincts that told me long in advance that I needed to change things up. In the end when I made changes and broke out of the mold, it made a difference, in many ways that was my first attempt at parenting my youngest without my training wheels. In the past 3 years more and more I have found my style as a parent that works best with my youngest.

Now that I am parenting without my training wheels, I find I am more confident in myself as a parent and less concerned with criticism because I stand in my truth as a parent. Yet for too many of us when we aren’t in that place of standing in our parenting truth it opens us to following the latest style or feeling that we must always explain or justify our parenting choices. It’s one of many reasons I feel the media continues to stir up the mommy storm, Time knew that putting that mom & child on the cover and titling it “Are You Mom Enough” would indeed get a reaction and sure I am writing about it, but frankly it’s less about the mom, the kid, Dr. Sears and attachment parenting as it is to say enough.

Fellow moms, we need to stand tall in quiet strength about the choices we make and not let the media pit us against one another. A friend recently told me about two associates who are now enemies…why? Apparently their parenting styles clashed; when I heard this I was temporarily dumbfounded. Frankly if you are my friend provided you are taking care of your kids, your parenting “style” is no concern of mine. Yet we live in a world where parenting styles end friendships, that’s ridiculous.

To Time Magazine, I say hell yeah I am mother enough because I trust my instincts and know my kids. You are too, so take off your training wheels and trust yourself and tell Dr. Sears to step off!

Attachment parenting is killing the parents

Attachment parenting has gone from the fringes of a few parenting pioneers to almost being mainstream but somewhere along the way attachment parenting lost its way and has morphed into something that frankly is hazardous to families. See, certain tenets of attachment parenting have always been practiced among indigenous and minority families before it ever saw the light of day among predominantly white, predominantly middle class and above folks.

I had my firstborn in 1992 and while I would never have used the words attachment parenting to describe my parenting style with him, I actually practiced some of the principles of attachment parenting as described by API. We did co-sleep, not when he was an infant but actually in his toddler and preschool years when my finances as a then single Mama meant we could only have one bedroom. While I did spank a few times because that’s what my parents did to me, I quickly honored my sense that it didn’t feel right and stopped early on. Despite the fact that I shared custody with my ex-spouse and at times we lived 1100 miles away from each other and that there were significant periods of time when my son was with his Dad in Maine before I moved here, I always did what I could to ensure connection. Now at almost 20, my son will call me from college for heart to heart talks and when he is home, we will often stay up late talking and sharing. I admit I have a lot of regrets but in the end, he is a young man who is comfortable in his truth. As a parent, that is the end goal to raise kids who become adults who are well adjusted and comfortable being themselves and living their truth.

That said, by the time 2004 rolled around and I found myself pregnant again, thanks to a pesky midwife, I discovered the formal attachment parenting practice and well in a strange state, no mother, sister or aunts to guide me and no close friends nearby I fell in love with attachment parenting. The problem is at that point in time the attachment parenting that was being peddled in most books, parenting groups and forums no longer resembled the true principles of attachment parenting. Gone was the principle of balance, instead it was and remains common to hear stories of moms so steeped in attachment parenting that even taking a 15 minute shower is too much. Somehow to be an attachment parent means to  never honor one’s self as an adult.

Attachment parenting as currently practiced by many is about breastfeeding (never mind that even the API acknowledges and supports attached bottled feeding, in other words hold the baby while feeding him! I bottled fed my firstborn and always held him), family bed and basically denying yourself as a woman and your partner. Too many times a frazzled Mom will ask advice of other AP moms around sex, since let’s face it if the kiddos are in your bed, gone are the long luxurious lovemaking sessions. Yet too many times that same Mama is told the baby is a baby and that you can have sex in other places, bathroom, and laundry room, wherever. It’s true you can have quickies wherever you grab them but the reality is if you spend the first 2-5 years of your kid’s life only focused on your child, it’s hard to step back into being a couple.

Shit…life happens and in order for any relationship to thrive and truly be stable it needs attention. The API page actually states “Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.” The sad truth though is that most practitioners of attachment parenting don’t do this and frankly attachment parenting is hurting families, let’s be honest it’s just killing the couple. I know because I speak from experience, my husband and I stopped sleeping in the bed together for three years following the birth of the girl child. Oh, it started so innocently but it turned out three in the bed was a crowd, then after the first 18 months my mental state was trashed from barely sleeping. It worked well for the girl child and for our nursing relationship but she was three years old before she would sleep alone without one of us with her. At 18 months, the man took over so I could sleep but because she was still nursing and nursed until I decided to wean her at three and a half; it still meant waking up at least 2x a night for nursing.

Damn near 4 years of no sleep, no true lovemaking and no time sans child unless we were working which while there was a period of time we used day care by and large our method of childcare was the tag team method. Great for saving money but bad for allowing us time for true connection as a couple.

Until recently I thought maybe we were just screwed up and had done something wrong, but in the past couple of years I have noticed that most of my friends who are divorcing and separating were also practitioners of attachment parenting. Now maybe they too just had fucked up relationships that had reached the end of their natural cycle, after all sometimes relationships end. Thing is almost every couple I know that has split up lived exactly as we did, little alone time, kid pretty much became the focus of their lives outside of maybe their paying jobs. By the time the kid hits that 4-6 mark and starts needing the parents a little less, the parents emerge from the AP cloud, looking at each other going dude, who the fuck are you.

Relationships need attention, kids need attention and love and respect but so do parents. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this book and plowed through it over the past few days that it started to dawn on me that this seemingly great way to parent may be having serious repercussions. The author in the first half of the book describes couples who often after the kids arrival are basically cordial comrades, low conflict-low stress somewhat melancholy arrangements where on the surface things seem fine but below the couple is not really a couple. In many cases the kids arrival especially in families where there was intense focused parenting turned couples from being couples to two people with a shared goal of raising a kid. Not that there is anything even wrong with that but for most of us that is not what we signed up for.

However we have let a parenting style be taken out of context and reduced it down to a few trendy sound bites that frankly suck. Being an attachment parent does not and should not mean you as a parent forgo your own needs…remember on the plane when the flight attendant instructs that in the case of an emergency you put on your own mask before you assist anyone else. We need to bring that piece about balance back into attachment parenting and quickly. Showers and sex are needs that should be met if they are desired; otherwise the way things are going now, attachment parenting is no longer good because it does not benefit the family as a whole. Families are made of parts and babies and kids are an important part but they are a part and all parts deserved to be looked after.

Back in 2004 when the Spousal Unit and I sat down and got serious about having a kid, I had all sorts of ideas about how I would raise my child. I admit looking back; a lot of what was driving me was guilt, guilt over feeling that I had failed my firstborn. Having had my son at 19, I was legally an adult but woefully unprepared to be a parent. I was still finding myself and while I do believe my son has thrived despite the relative youth of both me and his dad (former Spousal Unit) it was a rocky journey.
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No, back in 2004 I figured if I was fortunate enough to have another child, this time I would do it “right”. Looking back, it boggles my mind how I thought it was even possible to raise a child “right”. Sure certain things are a given, but the truth is every child is their own person and we learn from them, what works with one child, does not work for every child, etc.
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When we got the good news a few days after Thanksgiving 2004 that I was expecting, I threw myself into learning how to be a better parent. I am a researcher and believe me 9 months gives you a long time to research how you will raise a child. Granted I should have relied on the fact that I already had a 13 year old and trusted myself more, but at times I didn’t. Instead I threw out everything I knew about parenting and launched us head first into attachment parenting. In many ways choosing this method of raising a child has been good, but it’s also been intense. Over the years since the girl child’s birth it’s been a struggle, to balance all of our family’s needs; while I won’t blame a child rearing method for nearly destroying my marriage I will say that the intense focus with which I parented for almost the first 5 years of her life didn’t help.
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I will say though that as time goes on, I find myself struggling with the foundation that we have given her and how it fits into the world we live in. My girl is sweet, intense, headstrong and passionate. We have always encouraged her to speak up and be herself and now at 6, she is the type of child that I often wish I could have been. My girl holds nothing back, if her feelings are hurt, she tells you, she questions things. In fact a few weeks ago, I made a parenting blunder, in a tired moment I admit I used deception to get her compliance and it backfired and she called me on it…that was one of the most painful moments I have ever encountered especially when she looked at me with big chocolate eyes, a mirror of my own and asked me “Mama, why did you say that to me.” Thankfully the Spousal Unit was able to better explain why I did what I did, but I could see the hurt, and I knew I had fucked up.
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Lately I find myself wondering how raising a child who is fearless and speaks her truth fits into a world where compliance and following the rules is prized among children. Already at 6, I see her peers starting to evolve into good compliant kids, who have started to put down childish ways while my girl is carefree and skips through the world, sometimes in her own fantasy land. Just yesterday she shared that sometimes kids at school don’t like her, she sings too much, she plays fantasy games, in my opinion she is all that a 6 year old child should be. Just the other day the Spousal Unit told her to never fear being herself and living her truth and she seems to have taken that to heart. But as a momma it hurts a little knowing that she is slowly becoming the “weird” kid to some, I don’t want her to be an outcast. I cherish the moments now that she plays with friends kids who are home-schooled because those kids I have noticed seem to have less of an opinion of how girl child should act.
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I know that her road may be rocky, and while sometimes I lament the choices we have made with her, I still believe in my heart and soul that a girl who is unafraid to speak her truth will be a powerful woman when she grows up. That said, she will continue to challenge her parents and at times it will be hard on all of us but we will be the better for it.
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I am raising her but the act of raising her is healing me and raising me as well!

Raising Black and Brown Babies

As much as I love the exchange of information and communities that can form online I have to say that there are areas where I feel it’s very limited. No matter who we are and how open minded we see ourselves the fact is we bring our lens to how we interpret information. In the US, our race, class and gender greatly inform our views even down to the politics of how we parent our children. In the past 24 hours I have read two pieces and the resulting comments that really bring home the point for me as a Black woman raising brown kids that no matter what parenting philosophy I choose my experiences as a Black woman in America shape my views. In this first piece we have Erica Jong discussing the parenting style known as attachment parenting and in this second piece we have a great blogger who happens to be Black dealing with her brown boy asking for a white doll. I realize they are both lengthy but I encourage you to read them.

I not going to get into specifics but I will say that what I was struck by in reading these pieces was how much as a Black woman that shapes how I raise my kids. To be honest I feel I live (and most Black/Brown folks) in a world that requires no matter how progressive I am as a parent that I instill in my kids some things that white folks will never have to worry about when it comes to raising their kids. In order to do that I must start early in childhood, I believe I have moved far away from the harsh manner in which my parents raised me. I don’t spank, I don’t yell, I allow my kids a voice but at the same time I understand that black and brown children if they are caught out in the world expressing themselves no matter how cute and articulate that as they grow older the stakes get higher. What am I trying to say? Well as the mother of an 18 year old brown boy, I will always worry will my son become a victim of police brutality? I can’t imagine my white friends have that worry but I know that every Black and Brown mother I know raising boys has that fear. All it takes is a simple traffic stop for my son’s life to end.

This reality was brought home recently when speaking to my former mother in law who happen to be an attorney and she was telling me about this story. Apparently I missed it in the news but you have a young Black man whose life was ended too early. Sadly these things are all too common in Black and brown communities. My former mother in law was talking about how this story made her fear for my son, her only grandchild. I almost laughed but simply said I understand. See, since my son hit that stage at about 14 or so when his height exceeded mine and he looked less like a boy and more like a man, I have feared for his life. Oh, I know he is a level headed kid who while he will make mistakes often will try to do the right thing but may fall short. We all do, no one is perfect. Problem is we live in a world that does not give black and brown bodies the benefit of the doubt.

I fear that my son could at any minute become a victim of someone else’s stupidity. I fear that as my girl grows up she will internalize the images that say black and brown are not beautiful yet she will be a prime candidate for the boys and men that will be eager to use and abuse her.

I realize some might say gee…you live a grim existence. Nope, I live the life the cards dealt and understand in ways my parents never did when they tried to raise me in a color blind (to some degree hippy fashion) that the world is not kind to black and brown bodies. I understand that as a Black woman, shit happens to brown and black bodies at a greater rate than it happen to white bodies. I understand that sadly the political is not just a discussion I have online but my reality. Black and brown bodies in this society break down faster than white bodies; we are bombarded by stresses on every side…as bell hooks said in Sisters of the Yam “Life threatening stress has become the normal psychological state for many black women (and men). Much of the stress black people experience is directly related to the way in which systems of domination-racism, sexism, and capitalism in particular disrupt out capabilities to fully exercise self determination.” It’s why as a Black woman raising brown kids, my children know how to breathe deeply and my son started taking yoga. It’s probably why whenever I go to the doctor they seem amazed that my blood pressure is good, it pisses me off yet I know I am the same age my mother was when she had to start taking the blood pressure medicine. It’s why in the late 30’s Black and Brown bodies slowly start breaking down almost certainly insuring we will leave this planet earlier than our white counterparts.

I share this all to say that if we as a culture want to have a true discussion on parenting and motherhood in this society that first thing we must be willing to look at is the differences that impact us as mothers. Yes, we all want the same thing for our babies but the means by which we get there may different. It’s why in Black and Brown communities the need for a village from my perspective is stronger than in the white community. I know I cannot parent alone, I have tried. Yet for my white sisters many are okay without that village yet they often have greater supports, partners who often can earn enough to provide. While my white sisters also deal with the fact that as women in this society they are still not valued as much as men the fact is with whiteness comes a level of privilege that is harder to access if you are Black or Brown.  While most certainly lower income whites face many of the same struggles that low income and even middle class Blacks face the fact is whiteness is at times less stressful.

To come together as mothers concerned about the world and raising kids, I need my white sisters to understand that while my methods of raising kids may differ from you, it’s only because our reality is different.  Once there is that acknowledgment then I think as women and mothers we can come together to address the inequities that face us all.

Evengelical Parenting

I am becoming more and more convinced that there are certain segments of the population for whom the act of raising children closely resembles the conversion that happens when folks become Evangelical Christians. I know because in the past I was closely aligned with Evangelical Christianity, now I consider myself a simple Christian.

Yet in the early days of my coming to Christ, I was passionate and on fire for Jesus always looking for a chance to share my story and lead folks to Christ. In the past I attended churches where the leaders implored us to testify often, where we were told that if we did what Christ and thus the Bible said then health and prosperity would be ours. Only problem with such dialogue is that if one truly reads the Bible and studies it, never once does it say that if you come to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior that you are on easy street. Good health and financial prosperity are not the rewards for being a Christian. Yet folks like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers both who in my two cent opinion would be better served as inspirational speakers insist that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy. Um…that is simply not true. Now I am not about to turn this into a biblical discussion but if you want to ask me why I think this way, feel free to leave a comment or email me.

Nowadays when we choose to have kids unlike our parents and grandparents we have so many choices. Hell before the baby even arrives earth side we must decide how we want the child to arrive. Do we use the medical model and use an OB, or do we use a midwife? Do we birth at home? Hospital? Freestanding birthing center? Shit, the kid hasn’t even arrived and we have to make all these damn decisions. I must admit back in 1991 when I was pregnant with my son, I didn’t have all these choices, he was born in an hospital with an OB. Now I will be the first to say that choices are good, believe me women we need choices when it comes to how we give birth. Problem I have is too many of us put too much damn stock into individual details not realizing parenting is a journey, one that you may start off with the best of intentions but like a bad vacation, shit just happens.

Now it appears that one of the biggest choices that women face is whether or not they should breastfeed their baby. Clearly there are amazing benefits to breastfeeding, while I did not breastfeed my son in part because I knew nothing about it, I did later go on to nurse my second child for three and a half years. It’s quite funny that I nursed that long considering I was ambivalent about breastfeeding, in large part because I was not personally familiar with it. I started off with a goal of nursing 6 weeks and went on for years because I opened my mind and got informed but also because at the time I bought into some of the hype. I admit that will probably piss some of ya’ll off but the truth is that some women in their zeal to see more women breastfeed will tell you all sorts of amazing things will happen if you nurse.

Yes, there are some breastfed babies who are healthier than formula fed babies, yes some women do lose weight while nursing but guess what? I was not one of those women, hell I gained 50lbs in 8 months while nursing, see I took that you will lose weight thing way too seriously and forgot to remember that if you consume way more calories than you burn off that you will gain.

The more zealous lactivist though will have you thinking that should you nurse your babies that well, bad things will never come your way. Look, nothing could be further from the truth. I have been following this story. In case you are not up for clicking, it’s the story of Katie Allison Granju, back in the 1990’s she wrote the book on attachment parenting and some credit her for creating the word lactivist. I read her book when the kidlet was a baby and often wondered what happened to her, not realizing until a few months ago that she was still a writing Mama. Her story in many ways is tragic; losing a child is hands down one of the worst things than can happen to you. In her case despite being a gentle and thoughtful parent, her eldest got involved with drugs.

Granju’s story has haunted me in part because her lovely son Henry was the same age as my boy, the same day that my son was graduating from high school, Granju was saying good bye to her son. I admire the hell out of Granju and how she continues to go on and hell even blog through her grief. I can only imagine that most days it takes such strength and courage to go on and please know that in no way am I saying anything negative about this Mama. However Granju in a recent piece confessed that she is not nursing her new baby, pretty ironic that the woman who wrote the book on parenting and breastfeeding is not breastfeeding. It was in the comment section to her piece where a nerve was struck for me where most folks let her know it was okay to not nurse after all she has suffered one hell of a loss. Yet one commenter really felt compelled in my opinion to lay a guilt trip on Granju.

Look nursing is great but its only one of many parts of parenting. Truth is I had my first kid at 19, didn’t follow any books, made a shitload of mistakes in raising him yet he is one of the most thoughtful humans I know…how we got him I do not know, but am thankful that he chose me to be his Mama. I have a 5 year old who I followed all the current protocol with and there are days frankly where I want to beat my head against the wall. My daughter is not an easy child to parent and daily my dreams and assumptions are dismantled and challenged with her.

Point is, this parenting gig is the hardest you will ever have, and folks who speak in absolutes have no idea what the fuck they are talking about. Parenting is hard enough without zealots running around making us feel bad. So I say down with evangelical parenting. Just parent your kid to the best of your ability and trust that it will all work out.