Parenting is, among other things, a journey. It’s a process of learning, practicing, messing up, forgiving, adjusting, and refining. There is not one right way to parent, though I think we can also admit that there are wrong ways (think abuse and neglect, as extreme examples). So how can we make sure that we’re doing the best we can for our kids?
Exploring general parenting styles is a great place to start. Many parents follow one of two approaches. They either copy what their own parents did, or they try to do the complete opposite. In either case, basing your parenting on what you experienced as a child may not be the best way to find an ideal approach!
Instead, we can approach parenting like any other skill or subject we’d like to learn about. We can search for resources and take time to study, learn, practice, and grow. Parenting classes and parenting books are great ways to learn philosophies and tools for raising children. The best part is, there are so many out there that you are bound to find one (or several) that make sense and work for you.
One style of parenting that has always appealed to my family is attachment parenting. This is a model for approaching parenthood that supports a strong and loving attachment between parents and children as a primary focus of parenting. It includes some specific practices that support and encourage children’s emotional development and a strong bond.
The eight principles of attachment parenting defined by Attachment Parenting International are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
- Feed with love and respect
- Respond with sensitivity
- Use nurturing touch
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
- Provide consistent and loving care
- Practice positive discipline
- Strive for balance in your personal and family life
The first principle means being mindful about choices during pregnancy, birth, and parenting. It means considering what is best for both the mother, baby, and family as a whole. Many attachment parents choose to hire a midwife for care during pregnancy and to have a natural birth, because of the many benefits both offer. Attachment parents are also encouraged to be mindful as parents, by being aware of developmental stages of childhood and always seeking to learn and grow in parenting skills.
The second principle means breastfeeding on-demand and for an extended time when possible, or bottle feeding with love as an alternative. It also means respecting children’s signals regarding when they are hungry and full, and practicing good nutrition for the whole family.
The third principle means responding to baby’s cries (as opposed to letting babies “cry it out”), as well as responding sensitively to older children’s emotions and needs.
The fourth principle means offering plenty of physical affection and touch through baby-wearing, snuggles, hugs, physical play, and even baby-massage. These forms of loving contact help strengthen the parent-child bond.
The fifth principle means considering co-sleeping, if it suits your family and you can do so safely. Attachment parents are also discouraged from sleep training, especially forms involving “cry it out” methods, because of the potential negative emotional and physical effects.
The sixth principle means considering having one parent stay home to care for the children, or as an alternative, choosing a caregiver who can bond with the child and provide consistent care. It also means keeping schedules flexible, and limiting separations. In general, attachment parenting means prioritizing time spent together as a family.
The seventh principle means using positive discipline tools that are kind and respectful, enforcing reasonable limits, and keeping communication open. Attachment parents do not use physical punishment, and many don’t use any forms of punishment at all. (This doesn’t mean being permissive, but rather using positive tools to encourage good behavior and set limits).
The eighth principle means taking time to care for your own needs, as the parent, as well as establishing boundaries that respect the needs of all family members.
I like attachment parenting because it empowers parents to connect deeply with their kids, rather than following society’s pressure to focus on early independence. Interestingly, one of the benefits of attachment parenting is that it builds a strong foundation of security from which children can eventually launch themselves into independence.
Another benefit I have found with the attachment parenting philosophy is that it can change your perspective in a way that allows you to be the best parent you can be.
Attachment parenting encourages parents to accept their child’s inherent neediness, and the parents’ responsibility to meet them, with joy and purpose rather than reluctance. Parenting is a beautiful, challenging, exhausting, life-giving, limit-pushing, wonderful, and precious adventure. It’s a gift, and a huge responsibility. It was not meant to be convenient, but it is one of the most important jobs we can ever be given. No matter what styles, philosophies, and tools of parenting a family chooses, we can all do our best by taking parenting seriously and approaching our task with love and intention.
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