A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

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