A Mama Lioness and Her Little Lion Cub: Attachment Parenting Student

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder with son.

I am more convinced than ever that I teach Jack absolutely nothing. Jack is connected to the universe on a level that makes my “lessons” completely irrelevant. I am the student: a student of Jack and nature. I hold him, protect him, feed him, stay near him and answer him. This helps him develop trust in the world, but, no, I do not teach him “lessons.” Jack is one with his instincts, he follows his intuition, nature’s law. He is closer to a wild animal than an adult human. My lessons are, as I said, irrelevant. Someday I can teach him the things that I know and want him to learn, but this is not the time. This time is for following him, allowing him to show me what he needs.

I know there are critics that say that this type of parenting creates selfish and manipulative children who lack respect for authority. I call bullshit. As a Social Worker of 14 years I can tell you with great certainty that not listening to a baby creates untrusting, manipulative and selfish people. I have worked with hundreds of abused and neglected children who were not listened to as babies. These children, teenagers and young adults did not trust the world to be anything but abusive. These people use drugs, are physically aggressive, mentally ill, depressed, anxious or worse. Not everyone’s past is as dramatic or severe as these young people, but when a baby’s cries are ignored on any level this baby learns not to trust this world. They do not learn independence, they do not learn to self-soothe and they do not learn to respect you. They learn that no one is there for them. When they are ignored to stop crying on their own they do not fall asleep. They withdraw from a harsh world, learn that no one will help them and will eventually learn alternative and dysfunctional methods of getting their needs met.

People seem to greatly misunderstand the concept of manipulation. Manipulation is not an in-born trait that you must ward off. Manipulation is learned. Manipulation is learned when a child perceives that they cannot trust their caregiver to meet their needs. Getting our needs met is, however, natural. Children will fight to survive. They will fight to get their needs met at any cost. If they do not trust you to love them, feed them, protect them, then this is when they learn to manipulate. This is a survival tactic. It is not there to annoy you. It is a signal to you that a person is not getting what they need and they do not trust that you will meet this need. Remember that newborn baby that was left to cry alone? The message we get to trust this world or not begins at birth. Trust is crucial for living life to our fullest potential. Trust helps us navigate the world. Trust helps us have stable relationships, problem-solving skills, empathy and emotional well-being. When we trust our world we have no reason to manipulate those around us.

There have been many times when I wanted to shout at baby trainers and Cry It Out-ers, but the Social Worker in me knows something else is going on here. These people are not bad. They are the babies that were not listened to. I believe that we cannot provide for our children what was not provided for us. There are people willing to learn and do the hard work on themselves that will allow them to grow beyond their upbringing, but this is not the norm. The majority of parents are repeating the parenting practices they received as babies and children. I know I sure struggle with this. There is a specific period of time in a baby’s life where they are ready to learn language. If they do not learn it in this time then it is much more difficult to learn it at a later time. This goes for trust and attachment as well. We learn from the person who listens to and responds to our cries how to form attachment to others. If we do not learn this as a baby it is questionable whether we can ever learn this. That first bond with our caregiver makes or breaks all the ones after it. A baby with a positive and healthy attachment to her mother will grow up to trust, empathize and form more positive relationships. A baby that is ignored does not learn to form attachment and grows up to lack trust in the world and lack the ability to form positive relationships. The people in our lives are not just annoying or bad people; they are the product of the way they were treated from birth.

I have worked with these ignored children for a long time. I have studied it and lived it. Most importantly, I choose to listen to and respond to all of Jack’s cries. The fact that I choose to parent this way should show you how strongly I believe in this. Everything that has happened in my life, work and schooling points to Attachment Parenting (or whatever you want to call it). I will remain Jack’s protector, his Mama Lioness. Jack, my little Lion Cub, will grow and explore as nature tells him to and I will pick him up when he falls, hug him when he cries, snuggle him at night and run with him through the grass. There will come a time when he needs my advice, but that time is not now. I do not expect him to be anything right now except a baby. He is my little baby. I will be here waiting for my orders for as long as he needs. Sir, yes Sir!

Abby Theuring, MSW

Comments

  1. plus it’s just fuckin’ fun watching what they choose to do on their own without our help.

  2. I just want to say as a public health grad student who teaches biology(evolution) at a community college and has one of “those” pasts, I totally agree with your statement that “Everything that has happened in my life, work and schooling points to Attachment Parenting (or whatever you want to call it)”. You took the words right out of my mouth.

  3. Very well put.

  4. You explained this so well!! I loved reading things like this that reassure the way I am raising my child. 🙂

  5. So true!!

  6. I totally agree. When we had our first sin I had never heard of attachment parenting. I didn’t intend to breast feed and thought that Gina Ford had it all figured out (cringe). I agreed to give breastfeeding a go because my husband asked me to. He hoped that it would reduce the chance of our baby developing the rare skin condition he has. I thank God that I agreed. By giving breastfeeding a go we have become co-sleeping baby wearers just by answering our baby’s needs. It has totally changed our lives. Obviously since then I have read a lot about attachment parenting. We cosleep with our second son and alrhough our first son wanted his own room my hubby still lies with him til he falls asleep most nights. Everyone says how happy our children are and all we have dobe is listen to them!

  7. I have been one of those people with a troubled past. I was not put into foster care, but probably should have. Luckily, I was blessed with a step father who is now my best friend. He answered every need since I met him at 7 years old.
    Now, I have 2 beautiful girls that have every need met at every minute of the day. My oldest slept with us every night until she was 18 months old, and now (at 2 1/2) has her own room and refuses to sleep with me. She is the smartest child I have ever met and I can only hope that her little sister (who is only 3 weeks old as of yet) will be half as smart.
    Thank you for writing this! I love that someone else parents as I do. It is very annoying to hear everyone else tell us to let our kids cry and figure things out on their own.

  8. Great post. I just blogged about this same topic myself recently! See what you think: http://lara-mom.com/2012/09/28/parenting-differently-for-different-results/

  9. I have five kids ranging from 6-21. I breastfed, co-slept, and babywore all of them. They are attached, good children. I don’t understand how anyone thinks that neglecting your baby’s cries and failing to fully engage emotionally with your child will create a good outcome.

  10. I remember when my son (now almost 3) was just a few months old and the pediatrician’s office went down their checklist at a well baby visit: “Does he soothe himself?” Me: “No, he has parents.”

  11. Ashlea Blumenshine says:

    I totally agree with you and I am one of the few that have chosen to do all that it takes to give Brooke the best life and childhood that I can. I have chosen to listen to and respond to all of her cries, and to snuggle her whenever possible unlike the way my caregivers did with me. And I have seen the benefits unfolding.

  12. I am an AP parent and social worker as well. I used to believe, as you do, that the cry it out method was the worse of all evils. Why would anyone do that to their baby? My thoughts have changed a bit on this subject as well as many others on parenting after watching so many of my friends use different types of parenting methods to raise their children. I have one friend, very attachment oriented, who chose though to sleep train her son. It hurt my heart to hear she was doing this but for her sleeping alone with her husband was very important to her mental health. So at 5 months old she started and by 6 months he was sleeping beautifully. The child is now my sons age, 4, and he is not detached or disconnected. Quite the opposite in fact. He is very empathetic, loving, kind and compassionate. Just as much as my son. The sleep training did not impact his trust in adults, not as much as I can see. It didn’t seem to damage him the way i assumed it would. Perhaps it was because she AP parented all the hours he was awake just setting clear boundaries around bedtime. Perhaps he learned quickly that this is the way life is in his home and figured he might as well learn to sleep on his own! Looking now at her sons sleep behavior vs. mine (who still hates to sleep alone) this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. The children I have worked with, the neglected and abused one, did of course have trust and emotional/behavioral issues, “attachment disorder” if you will stemming from the fact that asleep or awake needs were never met or were met with inconsistence. I don’t think parents like you or i or my friend who are highly attuned with the needs of our children need to be overly concerned with our children forming any type attachment disorder if we choose to say engage in sleep training or place our baby in front of a Baby Einstein video while we clean our home. I don’t think our children are that fragile. The book Born For Love by Bruce Perry is a great read for those looking to help foster empathy in their children as well as children they may work with. Perry makes many recommendations on how to help this part of the brain develop and interestingly enough he states that he is not recommending AP! Why? Probably because he feels that in order to raise emotionally intelligent, empathetic children on does not need to wear their child 24 hours or sleep with their child. This type of lifestyle isn’t doable for many parents, especially working ones. Again my thoughts on these issues are ever changing. As my child develops i can see with a little more clarity how my past decisions may have impacted him. Like you said my child is my teacher and as long as we keep our eyes, ears and minds open the learning process continues.

  13. I was reading this blog intently, nodding my head the whole time until I got to this sentence: “I believe that we cannot provide for our children what was not provided for us.” I was venomously disagreeing with you and couldn’t believe how you got this so wrong but you pleasantly rectified my confidence in you with the following: “There are people willing to learn and do the hard work on themselves that will allow them to grow beyond their upbringing, but this is not the norm.” I am definitely raising my little boy so very differently from my mother. Worlds apart. I always was different from my family though. More like my Nanna. Love your work. Claire from Australia.

  14. Awww, love this!

  15. I love that you are able to back up your beliefs with hard facts, because of your career! Some people need “proof” and you are a perfect example of that! <3

  16. I love this!! I didn’t even know what AP was when I had my son 22 months ago but somehow that is how I ended up parenting. I have grown so much as a person and a mother by watching and listening to my baby and it still amazes me everyday how much he teaches me. Everyone around me and my son can not believe how smart and wise beyond his years my son is and I truly believe it is because his needs are met so he has time to focus on learning. I myself had a rough upbringing and chose to work on myself to change things because my precious miracle deserves the best. I was told I would never have a baby and after over 3 years of not using birth control I started to believe it and then miraculously I found out I was pregnant and my life has changed dramatically since. Thank you for all your blogs I love reading your stuff!!

  17. Well said. We too have responded to our son’s need and wants since he was born. Now he is such an adventurous and open little boy because he trusts we are always there to help him if he needs us too. He is now walking but if he needs snuggles, to be picked up and rocked or else, I sure do oblige. That is my job and I do it with great pleasure.

  18. I was one of those children, i never had my needs met, i was self reliant from a very young age. I learnt that the only one that would ever be there for me is me. For an eight year old child that is a very very hard thing to have to learn and live with.
    Since having children i have learnt so much, probably more than I’ve taught any one of my babies. And i am trying, hard, to do the opposite my mother did. I will admit that slipping into old learnt habits happens, then i feel guilty and things just get worse, hopeless even.
    I just need to keep reminding myself that this is hard, i am still learning and i will still make mistakes but that it is ok. I am trying and that makes all the difference in the world.

  19. As someone that was left to cry myself to sleep from the minute my parents brought me home, formula fed, and never worn I know there is something not quite right because of it. It took me months to feel attached to my son at all (I wasn’t sad, took care of him, just wasn’t connected even while pregnant), and I generally have a hard time connecting with people. But in spite of all of it my son is breastfed, worn regularly, we cosleep, and he has never been left to cry. I’m proud to be an attachment parent, and being an attachment parent has made me connect with my son on a level I never thought possible.

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