Monday, April 29, 2013

A third way of parenting

About a year before our first son was born we started looking for books on parenting. It seemed to us at the time that the people we knew with really fussy kids recommended attachment parenting books. The things they said made sense, but we didn't want kids who cried all the time like theirs. They couldn't go anywhere. Their whole lives revolved around what made their baby feel good. In contrast we knew some people with really laid back babies, who seemed to go with the flow. Their schedule was predictable, and mom and dad were in control of activities. These parents all recommended the book Baby Wise. So this is what we went with.

I read the whole book, and made a plan before Efrim got here. But somehow in all of this we tried our best to follow Baby Wise, and ended up with one of those screaming kids anyway. I tried to feed Efrim on the schedule they recommended, but he always acted like he was starving. I tried to get him on a nap routine, and he fought tooth and nail. I was always going against what I felt like I should do. Parents are supposed to impose structure they said, your baby needs you to tell him what to do when in order to feel secure, but this didn't work for us. Efrim was unhappy, I was unhappy.

So when we got pregnant with Julian we read The Attachment Parenting Book. It had a lot of helpful information, but I ended up loving another book even more. Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing surprisingly became my favorite. I was looking for a little bit of help with spacing our children without relying on oral contraceptives or using condoms all the time. I humored the fact that it was written from the perspective of, "This is the way the Church (catholic) says we should space our children." But what I found was a lot of the same principles as I found in attachment parenting literature, but with a purpose. We don't listen to our instincts because it prevents obesity and keeps our children from becoming sociopaths, but because God gave our babies the tools to communicate and he gave us the hormonal/instinctual responses that we were supposed to have.

Then came the feminist backlash. While Julian was in my belly, or a tiny baby in my arms I started coming across these articles protesting that attachment parenting was reversing the tide of feminism and shackling women back to their home and babies. I wrote these off as ridiculous. Children are a blessing, It's selfish to neglect them in order to pursue your own career. Someone has to raise them, and if it's not you it's a professional nanny, and what does that do to feminism? She said early feminists dreamed of children being raised in communal kitchens and nurseries, and equated this to the modern marvel of daycare -- yuck. And yet, while I haven't changed my mind about these initial responses, I began to ache, and chafe under the constraints of being a live in nanny/day care planner in my own home. My kids are my first ministry. Absolutely. But does that mean that for the next 25 years they are my only ministry, my only vocation?

I began to see that I was not a good parent to my kids when I was an unhappy person. I saw that by postponing my other callings until my kids were independent, I was putting at least half of who I was as a person on a shelf to wait for later. By some happy accidents, and a lot of tortured nights awake, I began to rediscover the parts of me I'd been missing. I'd thought I had to choose. It was almost too easy to go back to school. Logsdon's program, while making our lives a lot busier, really has not disrupted my parenting at all. And I've found that when I am a lot happier, even when I am just as tired, my kids are happier too.

Photo from

As I embraced both parts of my identity I began to have more grace for my friends who thrive on turning their homes into perfect baby centered Montessori preschools, and also for my friends who were leaving eight week old babies at day care to return to work. But neither of these was me. Where did I fall into all of this. I felt like there had to be a way for RJ and I to do ministry and art and academic work with our kids in tow. I knew this was best for us, I had a feeling it was best for them, and I really believe it is best for the people we interact with also. But in a world telling me my kids should be in the nursery so they aren't distracting, or that I shouldn't be taking them somewhere that is just for my benefit in the first place, where was I getting this idea. Clearly there are two worlds; big people world, and kids world, and the two should never meet, except for the stay at home moms and day care workers who are trapped in kid world.

Then it hit me, the reason I thought this would work. I was raised like this. My parents had a calling to engage in culture missionally, but they also had a conviction that it was their responsibility to raise their children themselves, not to delegate that to someone else. They didn't need to be separated from us in order to do their work, and they didn't let a prescribed list of kid-friendly activities dictate their plans. And I wouldn't trade that upbringing for anything. I realize it may limit the churches or para-church ministries that will hire me, it will shape the way we build a business, and it will often be offensive to people that we "brought kids here." But our work and our kids are not separate parts of our lives. This used to be the norm, worldwide, when babies rode in slings while Mom got her work done, and helped out from the time they learned to walk. So our work isn't farming anymore. If we think it's valuable and stimulating I think they will too. I did.


Imber Covington said...

I was directed here by Brian Potter, trying to get a look at your cloth diapers (There is currently nothing in the store, do you know when you will have some available?).
Anyway, this is really beautiful and moving.
I'm not religious, but I can't call it anything other than a blessing that I have been able to have my first baby with me almost every day of his first 16 months, while working full time. I'm a live-at-work mom, an abnormal variant of work-at-home : ) I don't know how much longer I will be able to enjoy this blissfulness, but I am grateful for it while it lasts and I do wish it were the norm for non hazardous workplaces. You shouldn't have to give up your life to raise your kids, and you shouldn't have to give up (spending time with) your kids to live your life!

Jami Lee Gainey said...

LOVE this post, Addie. It has been such a blessing to "continue life...continue working" with Beau right alongside of me. I wouldn't change it for anything. I so relate to the struggle you mention at the beginning between these two extremes of parenting - attachment or baby-wise. We are learning (and I'm sure we will continue to with more children!) that each child is unique, and it is my job as a mother to study and learn my children. I am working now on a blog that talks about the best advice someone has given me yet - rather than being enslaved to expectations set from all these books and parenting methods, I need to trust that God is equipping me to study, learn and meet my specific baby's needs, while teaching me more about the Gospel in the process, transforming my heart.