This probably doesn’t come as any surprise to those who’ve been reading my last several posts about “happy marriage” books I’ve encountered recently, but I’m finding I get very defensive when someone gives me advice about marriage or about taking care of myself vis-à-vis my role as a mother.
I recognize that I’ve chosen a parenting path that’s pretty intense. I embrace what’s referred to as “Attachment Parenting.” That is something of a misleading moniker. I think it conjures images of a child permanently physically attached to her mother. While this is kind of what it looks like for the first year, after that it just means devoting oneself to being the primary attachment figure in your child’s life. It implies a non-violent, non-authoritarian, respectful parenting style that focuses on the value of the relationship between the parent and her child rather than on trying to get a child to do whatever it is we want them to do.
In practice, this means I spend a lot of time with my kids. My husband and I talk things out with them rather than issuing commands. I make every effort to speak to them respectfully and lovingly, even when I’m telling them something they don’t want to hear (sometimes I actually succeed at this). I’m relatively strict, compared to a lot of attachment parents I know, but my daughter and I seem to have less trouble with power struggles than some of her peers and their mothers seem to have (compared to both the attachment parents and the more authoritarian parents, too). That’s not always been the case—we had some really big trouble after my son was born—and it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.
Maybe this is why I get defensive. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am and to basically build a parenting relationship from the ground up. This is not how I was raised, and while I wholeheartedly embrace my style of parenting, it does not come naturally to me.
I can get a little hinky when people who don’t know me suggest that I need to spend less time with my kids because I need to hang out with my friends more or that I need to lock my kids out of the bedroom I share with my husband because our marriage is more important than the kids are.
In our family, it isn’t “kids” versus “grownups.” We try our best to run our family cooperatively and to value everyone’s needs equally. The grownups have the final say, but that’s not because our needs are more important. It’s because we’ve been around longer and we have a better ability to see the long-term ramifications of our decisions. It’s also because I think young kids need to feel protected by someone more powerful than they are. As our kids get older, they’ll gradually get to have more say in how things go.
It’s annoying to me that so many marriage and parenting books are set up in this adversarial “us or them” manner. I agree with the basic premise: I can’t provide for my children’s needs if I’ve not provided for my own first. But so many of the books I’ve read and the advice I’ve heard give rigid suggestions (like the weekly schedule I mentioned in my post the other day) for how to meet one’s needs. They don’t take into account that each individual’s needs are different from everyone else’s and that one’s needs today might be different from one’s needs tomorrow.
For example, in the book I’m reading now (Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, which is very good, by the way), the author talks about how it’s of the utmost importance to take ample time to hang out with your friends and strengthen those friendships, even if that means you don’t get to spend time with your kids.
Two things I don’t like about this. One, kids sleep. I can hang out with my friends while my children sleep and not lose out on time spent with my kids. Two, I don’t need that much time with my friends. I’m an introvert, for crying out loud. If I’m going to forgo spending time with my kids, I’m going to shut myself in a room by myself before I’m going to go out to a restaurant with the gals.
And this is how I react to a book I like. Other books are much, much worse.
They ignore the fact that some needs, like those of an infant, are more immediate than those of the grownups. If my baby needs to nurse more often than some expert says he ought to, I’m going to listen to my baby and meet his needs, even if that means trading a trip to the gym for a walk around the park (with the baby in the carrier nursing the whole time). I’m an adult. If I can’t compromise on how and when I meet my needs, I probably shouldn’t have gotten into this parenthood biz.
Even as I write this, though, I wonder if I’ve gotten the wrong impression. Before my first child was born, I was worried about postpartum depression, and I wanted to do everything I could to avoid trouble with it. A friend who’d been there said, “The most important thing for me was to get out of bed and get dressed every morning, even if I wasn’t planning to go anywhere.”
So, every morning of the first week of my daughter’s life, I got out of bed and got dressed in my now-baggy maternity clothes. When I mentioned this to my friend a few weeks later and said how hard it had been for me, she said quietly, contritely, “Oh. I didn’t mean to do it the first week. Later. You do that later. The first week you stay in bed.”
I wonder if I’m reading books that say they’re geared towards “parents” in general when they’re actually geared towards parents of school-aged children. Maybe they’re not speaking to me at all, and here I am getting all up-in-arms.
Wouldn’t that be embarrassing.