Summertime Lessons

A few weeks ago, I read a thread from a Catholic attachment parenting list. The thread expressed concerns with this post. Ironically, when Sally wrote her essay, she was addressing those who thought that we cannot parent effectively without spanking. The people who were objecting to my post were objecting to any discipline or training at all. Attachment parenting has never advocated a “no consequences” approach. It has promoted a deep attachment to the child and a gentle (but firm) discipline style. Gentle discipline does not mean lack of all discipline whatsoever.

In the post I read, a brief time alone as a means of correcting a child is likened to abandoning the child. I was asked, “when did God ever abandon us?" He didn't and He doesn't. But Jesus spent time alone in the Garden of Gethsamane. And Jesus himself called out to His Father, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Of course He hadn't abandoned Him. But even Jesus, the human son who was God, felt abandoned. Sometimes, in real life, we can feel like we've been abandoned. Sometimes, in real life, God allows us to feel that in order to draw us closer. In order to attach more firmly to us.

“Attachment parenting” has come to have broader meanings than it used to have. A false dichotomy has been set up by some users of this parenting term.They say that they want to propagate “teaching through attachment” vs. “using rewards and consequences.” Life is full of rewards and consequences. There have been very real consequences for our actions since the Garden of Eden. Parents who are attached--truly tuned in and understanding of their children--will quickly recognize that children need to be taught how to handle the rewards and consequences of life with virtue. And that is our duty as Catholic parents. Nothing can be called "Catholic Attachment Parenting" if we don't intentionally set about train our children in virtue. Children are not born adults. They are born persons. Young, immature persons who desperately need the firm and loving guidance of their parents in order to make wise choices and to grow in wisdom and stature.

The Catholic AP list moms, "wonder if it is possible to merge [Elizabeth's] orderly home/life style with complete surrender to attachment parenting and abandonment of punishment." I am not completely surrendered to any parenting philosophy developed by man. I am completely surrendered to the will of God. Big difference. I will not dig in my heels over an "Attachment Parenting" checklist (that seems to change) to the detriment of my children's moral development. Furthermore, my goal here is not to be Attached Parent of the Year; it is to raise godly men and women who will bring glory to their Lord.My babies (and sometimes big kids;-) sleep in my bed. I'm nursing a toddler through a hyperemesis pregnancy in order to tandem nurse for the fifth time. I've never hired a babysitter. We don't spank. We take our kids with us everywhere, particularly when they are younger than three. I think we're pretty attached according to Attachment Parenting as I first understood it.  I love Sally's term for her approach to training a child to meet the rewards and punishments of life: It's grace-based parenting;it's Heartfelt Discipline. Attachment parenting is simple when the children are very young. It's not easy, but is simple. You meet their wants and so you meet their needs. You pour out yourself body and soul for little ones who rely on you for their everything. It's hard physical labor, demanding as it is rewarding. This is your body, given up for them.

And then it gets more difficult. I've always thought that home education is the logical progression after attachment parenting babies and preschoolers. We still want to stay connected in order to effectively nurture our children and home education affords us the opportunity of huge quantities of time in which to do that. We need every minute of that time because it's been my experience that it comes as quite a shock to a child to learn that the world doesn't revolve around him. And he learns it when he's eighteen months, again when he's about five and in a very big way at fourteen. Every step of the way, the attached parent nurtures and disciples the child. She teaches him, first through her own example and then through careful training and discipline, that he is here on earth to know, love, and serve God. Only. That's it. In order to live up to that calling, the child is going to need a huge quantity of virtue. And he's not going to get it by demanding it;nor will he get it simply by breathing the air. Someone is going to have to truly put the child's needs first and do the hard work of training him in virtue.

Charlotte Mason wrote that education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. So, when the moms at the Catholic AP List wonder if it's possible to have an orderly home and lovely lifestyle merge with "complete surrender to attachment parenting and abandonment of punishment," I tell them that an orderly home and lovely lifestyle support a family striving for holiness. I contend that an orderly home and a lovely atmosphere, together with attachment parenting and the expectation that a child will live up to the high moral standards of a family render punishment almost unnecessary. I also respect the fact that sometimes I will be called to punish in order to teach. An orderly home provides the child much-needed structure. There is enormous comfort in a rhythmic family life. An attached parent brings the child into the rhythm of the family--not the other way around. If there is an established and thoughtful and well-guarded family rhythm, the new child relaxes into that and is secure in its predictability. If chaos is the standard operating mode, the child quickly becomes a chaotic tyrant. Attachment parenting does not mean that one is ruled by an immature infant. It means that a mother intentionally sacrifices to meet the needs of her baby and to ensure that he always is safe and secure. But she is the big person. She is in charge. And he is very, very grateful for that.

The Catholic AP List moms say that they are trying to do away with consequences. I think that is an unhealthy idea. Why would we want to do away with consequences? If my husband decides not to go to work, there are consequences. If I don't clean the kitchen for several days, there are consequences. If we give in to our passions and commit mortal sins, there are eternal consequences. Why in the world would you want to raise a child in an artificial environment devoid of consequences? I'm not into complicated reward and punishment lists. I've never had one. We have no token economy, no complicated system of rewards and punishments. We just have real life and there are rewards and punishments aplenty built into authentic family life.

I don't believe that in a healthy family, chores are optional and nothing should be "required"of a child. One of my chores is driving to soccer practice. There are lots of days I don't feel like making that rush hour drive. I do it because it's important to my children and because deep-down I know there is value in it.It's difficult to remember that value when it's 4 o'clock in the afternoon and I'm exhausted and really just want to sleep. But I'm a grownup and someone taught me to do my duty even when I don't feel like it. And soccer carpooling is my duty. I think it's asking a lot to expect an eight-year-old to grasp that emptying the dishwasher promptly is important to the family and has inherent value. I explain that concept (several times, actually), but then I require it. And I draw the correlation. "If you can't help me in the kitchen, I will be here doing this chore when it's time to leave for soccer." Are these consequences? Am I threatening punishment? I don't know. I don't think about it too much. It's reality. There are only so many hours in the day. We all have to chip in. It's part of living in community.

I do not believe that attachment parenting excludes any discipline at all any more than I believe that unschooling excludes requiring a child to do certain academic things. That same eight-year-old doesn't know that if he refuses to do any math at all for several years, it's going to be much harder to "get it" and get enough of it when he figures out that he needs math in order to achieve his long-term goals. And then there's also that sticky little issue of compliance with state law. I'm all for following rabbit trails and keying into children's strengths. I'm all for gentle learning and lots of individual attention and guidance. I'm all for staying attached and knowing your child so well that you can discern the best of the best for him educationally. I also understand the times in life when we need to be in “survival mode,” only doing the bare essentials. And I believe in mercy and grace. I'm not for letting the child decide if he's going to work or not depending on whether it's entertaining or fun enough. Sometimes, life isn't fun; that's when we have an opportunity to practice cheerful obedience in the spirit of St. Therese.

So, no, I don't believe that an orderly home and lovely atmosphere are at all at odds with meeting the needs of our children in a healthy manner. Indeed, I believe that order and atmosphere support healthy attachment. I believe that much sacrifice is asked of a parent as she endeavors to raise a child in faith and grace. And one thing that a parent needs to remember as she continually sacrifices for the welfare of her child is that she must be mindful of her duty to make him strong so that he, in turn, will grow up to be a man who continually sacrifices for another in faith, with grace.

For more on this topic, see last week's Herald column.