the face of attachment parenting

{All the pieces of my heart--Mother's Day 2012. Rose Creek Cottage.}

I was standing at my kitchen counter when I read the email asking me to consider flying with my toddler to New York for a Time Magazine cover story on attachment parenting. It took about a second to remember how exhausting (and frustrating) it was when The New York Times scrutinized our family for a piece on homeschooling. It wasn't terrible, but it was intrusive and in the end, I didn't feel like our message was conveyed well at all. In the next second, I thought of my nursling. Clearly, she's an "older toddler." She and I talk about nursing. And her nursing is limited to bedtime, in the dark and quiet of her bed. It's her snuggle time. It's our snuggle time. It was inconceivable for me to imagine nursing and posing. How would I even begin to explain that to her? This isn't photo op. It's a real life relationship. A relationship I would not exploit for anything in the world. Anything.

I declined.

It wouldn't have worked out anyway. Clearly, they were looking for a perky body. Mine is a body that has nurtured in this ancient fashion for so long that I, too, am ancient. Nothing is perky. It's all soft and squishy and well-worn. It's a real body. And I'm a real mother.

I was standing at the same spot in the kitchen when I first saw the cover. I felt physically ill. Literally. I felt the blood drain from my body and I gagged. Then, in the next second, I thought of what will happen when that cover child is 15 and a kid in his school finds that picture in cyberspace and posts it to his 2024 version of a Facebook wall. Attachment parenting is all about building trust. I think this young mother was shortsighted in selling out the trust of her son several years hence.

I commented on the post where I first saw the picture. I felt the adrenaline rushing. I felt all the sputtering arguments tingling in my fingers. 

I closed the computer. Physically removed it from the kitchen. Chopped a lot of vegetables. With my three-year-old. I knew I had to in order to survive.

The next day, there it was, all over everywhere. Everyone had something to say about it. Everyone was rushing to defend, redefine, articulate, refute, explain. Again, that physically ill feeling. I didn't revisit my Facebook or Twitter or Google Reader news feeds for the next three days.

I recalled a promise I had made to myself, after an extended period of thought and prayer: 

In part, I wrote: 

I need to start the day (after the prayer and exercise start) with a shower, clothing and lipgloss, and then some quiet time with the Bible. I want my children to find me in that room, with a candle lit and the Bible on my lap when they first wake up. I don't want them to find me staring into my laptop.

I need to refrain from internet drama, even a little bit.

This was internet drama. I knew I needed to stay far away from it. I had been thinking for a few weeks about attachment parenting anyway, and about social media, and about surviving cancer and living life knowing that it all can change with a single phone call. All these thoughts had been pressing upon me. 

I got an iPhone a few weeks ago. Suddenly, I was connected everywhere I went. I immediately made sure it would not chirp at me everytime I got an email, or someone posted to Facebook, or someone tweeted. The only notifications I left on were phone calls and text messages. Still, I heard the call of social media from anywhere, anytime. The weekend before last, I took my phone to a full day of dance competition. My daughter danced 3 times. We were there twelve hours. Nonstop dance, nonstop music, in an auditorium. I thoroughly drained the fully-charged battery on my iPhone. I was connected! I could post cute things about the day. Chronicle life's happenings on Instagram. Do something. Read something. Anything. Everything. And at the end of the day, I felt that sick feeling. 

I resolved the next day never to engage in social media chit chat and news feeds on my phone at a kids' event or any time at all over the weekend.  Nobody out there really cares that Johnny is up to bat more than Johnny-- and he would truly appreciate the full attention of his mother. (I use Johnny and baseball because I don't have a Johnny and no one here plays baseball. It's a universal sentiment for all the children in my family.)

Then there was the Time piece. Right there, just before Mother's Day weekend. I could almost hear an audible whisper: You have long lived this lifestyle. Surely you will step out and join the conversation.

No. No, I won't. Not now. Not this weekend. I won't read what everyone has to say. I won't keep responding here, there, and everywhere. Chasing conversation loses sight of the mission of this blog: encouragement to other women, yes, but mostly to leave a legacy for my daughters. 

My best writing isn't that which engages in up-to-the-minute dialogue. My best writing takes its time. Says its prayers. I'm not a news chasing vehicle and I'm not about promoting myself while fighting for a cause. And this "cause"? It changed my life forever long before it was a cause at all. Attachment parenting matters to me.

I wish that women of the digital age could have learned this parenting style the way I did. 

It first took written form in an old La Leche League publication of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding that my roommate in the hospital loaned to me when I could not console a screaming newborn Michael, nearly 24 years ago. She was an experienced mom. She stayed up all night, her own newborn at her breast, mentoring me, voice-to-voice, shoulder-to-shoulder. She was Catholic, open to life. It was all grace.  I still look back with astonishment at the provision of it all. I have no pictures of our time. No journal of words. I don't even remember her name, but her legacy lives forever in my family.

That was an old version of the book, written in the voice of the women who founded La Leche League. It read like wisdom from moms at a church picnic. Did you know that La Leche League was founded on the grounds of a Catholic Church at a parish picnic?

Ten years later, I met Mary White, one of the founding mothers. That formerly crying baby was the altar server at a very poorly attended Mass at a La Leche League conference. It was just Mary, her husband, and my family. After Mass, she spent a leisurely time talking to me about big families and raising children in the church, all while my fourth child, Mary Beth, nursed in a sling. Tears still spring to my eyes when I think of the meaning that encounter held for me. She autographed for me a new edition of the book. I treasure the the inscription, but the book remains on my shelf, largely untouched. I still reach for my tattered, older version, the one written before "attachment parenting" was a cause. The one in the voice of wise Catholic mothers.

Mary White told me after Mass how mothering is a beautiful way to live the works of mercy every day, how mothers are especially blessed to extend the mercy of God to others. It was never about being "mom enough," but about being humble enough. Attachment parenting--and so, extended breastfeeding--is about the least of these. 

And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

All day, every day, serving the little ones with the mercy of Jesus. That's attachment parenting at its essence.

Attachment parenting grows up. And that doesn't mean nursing while standing on a stool. It means that mother and child grow together. It means that when it's not so simple anymore and all their needs can't be met by stopping to nurse, we still listen. And listen. And listen. We watch over three hundred dances because somewhere in there, our teenager is in three of them and she cares about the other 297.

If we are at our best, we do it with our full attention.

The face of attachment parenting? It doesn't reflect a computer screen. We can't let ourselves care more about the cause than about the children who compelled us to learn about the cause in the first place. We can't let ourselves be lured to spend our days chasing philosophies online, no matter how noble those philosophies are. We can't endlessly chase decorating ideas or knitting patterns or news feeds, either. 

I learned attachment parenting in a different age. And I'm very glad of that. I never cultivated a habit of nursing while scrolling my cell phone. I never took a laptop into a child's room at night to keep me company while I kept him company. There were no smart phones or laptops. I was blessed to learn a lifestyle before the distraction of technology and then to live long enough in that stage of life that I could take the early lessons and keep practicing those habits when technology started fighting them. 

It's astonishing how techonology fights them. Truly, if we let it, techonology can destroy parenting as God intended it. A tool for the good can be used for ill to the detriment of generations.

I feel sorry for the young mothers (perkiness aside). It must be so much harder to discern the wisdom of the church picnic from the hip, happening, cool of the attachment parenting "movement." It's not sexy. It's not hip. It's hard work and humble servitude. It likely will make you soft and saggy.

The key to being truly attached, even as they grow, is spending days looking into the eyes of a child, truly knowing our own children intimately and well and helping them to become the person God created them to be.

Attachment parenting requires incredible sacrifice on the part of fathers, when the chldren are infants and when they are older. When they are infants, fathers wait for wives who are nursing mothers. They wait, too, for the time when a child will want them as much or more than they want Mama. I see that so clearly now that I have lots of older children. My kids almost line up to wait for Mike to listen to them at night. I've been with them all day. I'm all childrened out. And all I want is his undivided, quiet attention. But there they are, one by one, asking for him. I can't help but think of all the nights he waited while I nursed them to sleep.

Attachment parenting is thoughtful, careful that we are attached, while still not fostering an entitlement attitude. Just because you can nurse on demand as a baby, doesn't mean you can demand anything you want and expect to get it forever. Actually, the contrary is true. When you are nursed on demand as a baby, you grow up with the sense that sometimes adults are called to sacrifice themselves--their wants, their immediate needs, even their bodies--for the least of these. Good attachment parenting means that we teach our children this same ideal of laying down one's life.

This is where my challenges in social media keep popping up. It's a repeated decision to set aside the pressing online conversation, relinquish the opportunity to join the opinionfest. Attachment parenting is about keeping my eyes steadfastly fixed on my own work--the most important work I'll ever be called to do.  Social media is most definitely about keeping my eyes on everyone else's work. It's fairly benign for me in very small doses, lethal in anything bigger.

I have thoughtful ideas on childhood. I've worked hard to live those principles. I see social media as the most insidious threat to living a life of grace-filled, purposeful moments of joy with my children. This is How to Miss a Childhood and this is The Best Part of a Child's Education. I mean to live those messages and I have to close the computer to do so.

Mother Teresa, upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, was asked "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family."

What can I do to promote attachment parenting? Go home and love my family. With my full attention. When I do, I will bear authentic witness and change the world.

{Comments are  closed. Prayers are always welcome.}

Who Knew?

I noticed a few days ago that Christian's hair is looking especially good. His curls are nicely tamed, but not crunchy and not spiky. I didn't ask about it because he tends to grow bright red when complimented. Today, he asked, quite nonchalantly, if we had any more homemade healing salve stashed away somewhere. 

"Oh, I'm sure we do," I replied brightly. "I made lots of it. Why? What hurts.?"

"Nothing; " came the quick reply "it makes awesome hair gel."

I thought about that a moment. Olive oil and a touch of beeswax. Nourishing herbs. Certainly good for his hair. Why not?

It's about time to make some more, so I dug up this post to remind myself of what to do. I figured it's been awhile, so I'll re-run it for you, too. Maybe you need some hair gel?


December_pictures_029 Today is the day to assemble gift bags for the dance teachers. In each bag, Mary Beth will place a bar of saintly soap, a sachet of garden lavender buds, and a tin of homemade healing salve. It's a bag in keeping with the handmade pledge. The soaps are not handmade in our home, but they are handmade. I think the teachers will be very happy at this improvement over last year's soaps, which were made in our home:-). Trish's soaps are truly amazing and I think it still counts as homemade. I can only imagine how wonderful her Canadian home must smell. [Alas, this link is not live right now. Trish is taking a break. But maybe in time for Christmas?]
The salve is becoming legendary. Recipients of last year are begging for more. I'm told it heals anything from diaper rash to windburn to hemmorhoids. I'm also told that some northern ladies were coveting some southern ladies' healing salve and I've been encouraged to skip sending teas this year and just send large vats of salve. Alrighty then!
Comfrey0001 We have a small crockpot that came with my large slow cooker. I think it's intended purpose was to keep dips warm.We've never used it for that. Truthfully, we'd never used it at all until last year when we discovered it to be perfect for making salve.
I put a handful each of dried plaintain, comfrey, calendula, and St. John's Wort in the crock and then fill it all the way with olive oil. I leave the herbs to simmer all Herbs0001day.
    At the end of the day, I drain the oil through cheesecloth, squeezing as much of it as possible out of the herbs. I toss the herbs into the garden. Then, I measure the oil and put it back into the crockpot. When it is warmed, I add one ounce of pure beeswax for every 8 ounces of oil. This seems to give it the right consistency when it cools. While it is still warm, I add a few drops of lavender essential oil, a few drops of tea tree oil, and I squeeze out the contents of two or three Vitamin E capsules. Don't skip the Vitamin E--that's the preservative. Stir it all until the beeswax is melted and it's all blended. Pour into containers of choice. Mountain Rose Herbs sells the dried herbs and a variety of containers. I think these little herbals sets would make nice hostess gifts, too. 

Or, perhaps this year, they are the teenage gift of choice. Everyone needs hair gel.

Candlelight at the End of the Day


As light fades and blinds are drawn, as books are read and prayers are said, the home cries out for candlelight. Those moments when we are reading bedtime stories and saying bedtime prayers and tucking children in tight might seem like the perfect time to light a candle and rest in the soft glow. But not in my house.

I have fallen asleep myself while putting little ones to sleep far too many times to risk leaving a candle burning when I am in any bed at the end of the day.

Still, I like the idea of ending the day the way we began it: in the soft light of a candle. Bathtime is a big deal in my house. It's another one of those things, like dinner time, that I always assumed other families did, but I was surprised to find it sort of exceptional. Nearly every night, the routine includes a bath for little ones--often bubbles, bath toys, a good scrubbing, hair washing, and time to play and pour. I'm in there the whole time; it's definite focused attention. And we light a candle as the routine begins.

The candle quiets things a bit and it slows the pace a the end of the day. I put the candle on the bathroom counter; the happy coincidence of this placement is that the counter stays clean. It just seems odd to me to bother to light a pretty candle in the middle of a counter littered with toothpaste tubes, lipgloss, and contact lens solution. For now, Trish is still supplying our soap and our candles, so our candle scent matches our soap scent. I love those scents so much and I am sure that one day when I am a very old lady, if I am fortunate enough to smell Trish's St. Anne or St. Therese scent, it will bring back the happiest memories of freshly bathed babies, nursing to sleep.

After the bath, little girls are bundled up into a towel, patted dry and gently laid on a warm towel on the bathroom rug for a good rubbing. Ever since Christian was a little boy in desperate need of quiet evening rituals, we have given our children evening massages. We rub them with lavender oil or Burt's Bees lotion or Burt's Bees oil and we sing a song we made up all those many years ago

i rub, rub, rub you

'cause i love, love, love you

yes i do

oh, i do,

i really do!

Silly, goofy, and not at all polished, it works for us. And if we even think about skipping it, Sarah reminds us, "Need my rub, rub." She sings along. I am all too aware that our days of bubbles and rubbing are nearly at end, as most of my children have graduated to utilitarian showers all by themselves. But this ritual is so well loved, so very much a part of the rhythm of our days, I like the chances of candles, lavender oil,  and the "rub-rub song" surviving into the next generation.




Autumn is my favorite season.  The last few autumns have been stressful, strained, or just completely out of sync. I’ve wanted to embrace the fullness of the season, but I’ve been distracted. Not this year. This year, it is autumn and I am inhaling it for all its worth.


After a bit of a detour, we have settled into a comfortable learning cadence. I’m happy with our reading and writing choices. I’m even happy with math (well, as happy as I am able to be).  Our days have a predictable, if busy, rhythm. Mornings are well-protected from the din and demands of the outside world. Late afternoons are a social whirl. But the days are growing shorter and the darkness comes earlier and my home glows in the sweet anticipation of long stretches of time devoted to hearth and home.  Even the dizzying whirl will slow to a gentle waltz.



I’m finding joy in simple things and inhaling the rich aromas of the season. There is no smell more intoxicating to me than the smell of autumn in the air. “Sweet Shendandoah”—the scent of leaves and wood fires and perhaps a bit of mold on a serpentine wall. I love that smell.  With the leaves and the fires, layer the spicy sweetness of pumpkin bread and the honeyed headiness of beeswax and, soon, all the world is aglow in the loveliness of autumn.



We spent some late October afternoons recently bringing the season into our home. Inspired by Ginny’s lovely leaves, we gathered some of our own.


All of my children and I found quiet satisfaction in slowly lowering bright leaves into liquid beeswax and waiting for it to stop dripping before carefully placing it on wax paper.


We threaded it on a garland and hung it from the dining room light. 


I smell the sweetness and delight in the color as I sit at the dining room table, tutoring one child at a time. The others are in the sunroom, where all our “school stuff” resides. They can work independently in there. Then, one by one, they have their turn with me—to read or write or edit.


Sarah Annie and Karoline play nearby at the nature table, happy gnomes and felted fairies gladly giving inspiration to their imagination.



We didn’t stop with the garland. It was as if we could not get enough of the goodness of those leaves. We dipped another basket’s worth and they grace the nature table. From my “teacher spot,” my eye falls upon them frequently and I marvel at the unique, perfect beauty of each one.


God is so good! His gorgeous grandeur spills over into every corner of this house.


At the other end of the room is the couch where I began my day. Karoline likes to curl up there with me before everyone else is awake. She always wants me to read a preview of the day’s Bible story. I think she likes being a step ahead of the rest of the pack. All the Bible storybooks and several versions of Bibles reside in the tables on either side of the couch. They are read frequently here in this room, either silently or aloud together. 


Right near the couch, the desk stands open, bearing full testimony to the great cloud of witnesses who intercede for us all year, but are remembered particularly in this season.  Icons and dear little folk dolls glow in the candlelight.


Between visits from each child, I glance up from my "teacher spot." Inhale. Fill both lungs with the richness of this life of faith.  We are praying the novena to all saints as a family, and I am revisiting my particular friends in private prayer time. The desk full of images reminds me of their care and nurturing, just as the pictures of my family nearby evoke memories and whispered prayers.


I love this room.


I love this home.


I love this life.

How to Calm a Cranky Afternoon



two cups flour

one cup salt

2 cups water

four Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tsp cream of tartar

in a heavy saucepan


cook over medium-low heat

until it's so stiff you need a tall, strong boy

to continue stirring for you


turn out onto waxed paper

sprinkle liberally with food coloring

you might want to choose purple because


if you add a few drops

lavender essential oil

magical things will happen...


in the kneading and the rolling

Mama will inhale the lovely scent and find her shoulders



and then the cherubs will come


from near and far


to twist and pound and roll



and sculpt


and sniff.


Lavender and squishing dough through one's fingers--


creating silliness--


calming craziness--






a rowdy rumpus!

No lavender? Vanilla extract works nearly as well:-)