My wife and I have been having more and more conversations about having Avery start to fall asleep alone rather than with one of us cuddling her to sleep. The conversation totally ruined a date night recently.
As it turns out (and not what I expected before becoming a parent), I subscribe to attachment parenting philosophy. Maybe it’s because of who my daughter is as a person, maybe it’s because of who my maternal instincts makes me, maybe it’s both. I feel a deep urge to satisfy my child’s need for physical contact, a sense of unconditional love, and emotional comfort, over and above my need to get a good night of sleep, to fit in with how many traditional parents parent, or to make people around me feel comfortable (e.g. with nursing a toddler).
So it’s just who I am. It’s how I choose to parent. But of course not all parents parent the same, and that includes parents within the same parental unit. My wife is of the camp that we need to teach our kids to be independent – even as babies. Denying them physical closeness (even with a gentle or slow withdraw) is important to give them the tools they need to be independent. The terms “self soothing” and “needy” have become trigger words for me… Anyway, I’m thankful that my wife is on board with a gentle – albeit traditional – parenting approach, and has proposed that we gently withdraw our presence in our daughter’s bed over the course of a few weeks. I agreed to try this a while back, and on the night we were set to start, I freaked out and said I wasn’t ready. The truth is, my instincts are telling me that I’m doing everything right to meet my daughter’s needs. Also, I love the quiet cuddle time… I’d happily spend an hour of my evening every night snuggled up to Avery, listening to her sing quietly to herself, and listening to her breathing slow and regulate as she falls peacefully asleep. But that’s not for every parent. Some people like to have their evenings free. That’s fair. It’s just not my priority.
On top of the pressure I’ve been feeling from my wife, My daycare provider today suggested I train her to fall asleep on her own. “Just put her in bed, leave the room, close the door, and if she gets out of bed put her back in bed and repeat. I saw that on Super Nanny.” Like it’s that simple. We nap-trained when we weaned, and even laying next to her, I had to haul her body back into her bed dozens of times while she tantrumed for an hour. It took just under a week to “train” her that to fight was futile. I am in no rush to go through that again.
But then, during nap time today (after I’d laid with her for 45 minutes), I picked up this month’s parenting book club selection. The passage I started into settled my fears and self doubt. I hear ALL THE TIME that parents need to push their young children (and babies) to be more independent, to not need their parents so much. This has always felt counterintuitive to me, even before I started reading psychological research on why it’s counterintuitive. Here’s the passage that I really needed to read today.
The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child. To foster independence we must first invite dependence; to promote individuation we must provide a sense of belonging and unity; to help the child separate we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close. …We don’t help a child let go by pushing the child away but by providing more contact and connection than the child is seeking. We do not liberate children by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it. We do not help a child face the separation involved in going to sleep or going to school by enforcing the separation, but by satisfying his need for closeness. Thus the story of maturation is one of paradox: it is dependence and attachment that foster independence and genuine separation.
This is the attachment parenting approach. It is supported by psychology (sorry, I don’t have time to pull up references here, but if you want some for personal reasons, let me know).
It’s not everybody’s approach or belief. I don’t judge other parents’ approaches at all. This is how I function as a parent from a natural, primal, hormonal, instinctual basis. I just like to be reassured sometimes that my instincts aren’t out to lunch, and that I’m not messing up my child by sticking to my guns on this.