The cure-all myth
So I am confessing... I am only a part-time AP parent. Each of my children's tiny genitals have been wrapped in plasticy diapers. On a daily basis, their fragile, still-forming eardrums are exposed to noise in the 120-decibel range (namely my voice). I have threatened to bungee them to the top of the van if one more Hershey kiss plucks me on the head. I was lying when I said the children learned those cuss words in public school. We don't even OWN a time-out chair anymore; if I count beyond 3 I take away the Nintendo. IF there is a woman who lives up to the archetypical mother -- a patient, serene, diplomatic goddess with boundless energy and no life of her own, then I have probably been mistaken for Joan Crawford on occasion. (And I empathize with her when I find dirty underwear piled in the closet.) But am I any less attached?
I found quite a pedestal for attachment parenting. There are those who believe it's the cure-all for discipline problems; that misbehavior can be averted if you explain the consequences in a gentle and reassuring voice, as if these were reasonable and mature people with whom we're dealing. (That doesn't even work with many adults!) There is the belief that if your children never leave your side, they will be more secure and less prone to playground antics like bullying and hitting, as if you could nurture the nature out of your child.
I have three children and I have never found these to be true. All this time I had assumed that I was either a derelict mother because I couldn't stifle an occasional Joan Moment or that my children were grossly imbalanced and in need of medication. It didn't matter that I had not circumcised, that we had a family bed or that my children received two pages worth of benefits of extended breastfeeding... still they took toys from babies' hands and pouted when they had to share. Nor did it change the fact that though I chose to reason with them instead of spanking, that I strove for them to learn from consequences rather than punishment or that I eventually did homeschool... still my children spit, kicked or talked back. Still I lost control and yelled, so much so that I cried many nights over my horrible mothering skills. One day, I swallowed my pride and expressed this anxiety to some women I viewed as incredible mothers. I half expected a lecture and jeers, but what I got was the sensitivity and respect that I thought I wanted from the AP community. I also got the satisfaction of finding that these women, like me, were only using the techniques that worked for them and precariously sidestepping the other issues. And -- Glory Hallelujah -- here were other women (who I held in such high esteem) confessing to Joan Moments themselves! I was not alone in feeling inadequate and on the brink of failure with my children because of the aura of attachment parenting. Around this same time I started reading a book called The Motherline, by Naomi Ruth Lowinski. I gasped when I read this passage, "Our cultural ambivalence about blood is associated with our ambivalence about mothers. Blood embodies life's potential and its suffering. So does being a mother."
Being a mother is about suffering and about potential; our own and our children's. It's about coming to an understanding that we are the people who nurture these children. We take responsibility for outfitting them with the tools and knowledge they will use for the rest of their lives. We lead them to the path of the selves they are becoming. We show them their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses. Yet we are as human as our children are and so our best has to be good enough. Dr. Sears is not going to step in and raise our children if we feel we're doing an inadequate job of it. This is undoubtedly the hardest task we'll ever face and a pedestal is no place to start.
So by the time our daughter Cara made her debut some three and half years after Will, I had learned to let go and just Be with mothering. There were no miracles that occurred when I made that change. No one morphed into June Cleaver... or Beaver, for that matter. Well, maybe there was one miracle; I accepted myself as a mother, as a mother who was Good Enough after all. I no longer cry myself to sleep or struggle to keep up with what others may believe is perfect parenting or a worthy lifestyle.
Life is far from Nirvana here, but I have seen the signs that part-time AP works well. As often as they talk back, my sons bring me flowers and speak of their love for their dad and for me. They have eagerly coaxed down wayward revelers from the parapets of McDonald's Playlands when a parent failed. They are gentle and protective with their sister and after a day of wrestling brawls and catfights they hide under the covers and giggle secrets to each other... and wipe an occasional booger on the wall. A month ago I heard my oldest tell his grandmother, "Well, I know she loves me," and that is good enough, for me.
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