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.}