In which attachment parenting makes me a bad parent

You wouldn’t like Mom when she’s angry.
(Image by Sarah G via Flickr.)

Well, not a bad parent overall.  But I have noticed a big problem with my parenting lately, and I can trace its origins to my attachment parenting inclinations.

In short, I let my kids get away with too much, put up with their whining way too much, and generally don’t provide enough structure.  Then their behavior drives me nuts and I get too angry with them!  And while AP doesn’t endorse this by any means, and I’m sure many AP parents don’t succumb to this pattern, I do think being a crunchy, responsive, gentle, giving mother to my infants set me up to be a bit of a pushover to my older children.

The problem of course is that a newborn has only needs, no wants.  It’s perfectly reasonable, responsible parenting to respond to your baby’s cries immediately and constantly.  It’s very black and white.  Sure, especially as they grow older, you might take a moment to pee, or to eat before you keel over, but generally the baby’s wants are the baby’s needs. When the baby cries, you as the mother have an intense visceral reaction that spurs you to do what it takes to stop the crying.  This is how it should be.

But the rub is: they grow and mature.  And even when you’re aware that they have wants that can (and should!) be denied, it’s awfully easy to fall into that old “the loud, abject misery must be quelled!” approach.  I’ve forged such an emotional connection with my kids that I feel the desolation when they cry their guts out over not being allowed to have a snack 15 minutes before dinner, or when they have to pick up their toys.  My intellectual side knows that I’m being reasonable, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is I get so engaged with their emotional reaction to my reasonable rules that it exhausts me.

You can imagine what happens as a result – inconsistent discipline, and a stressed-out mom who builds up resentment and tension until I snap and, well, I have to confess it once got so bad I yelled, “Claire stop being a butthole!” (I apologized.)

So, for me, it has been helpful to use the system 1-2-3 Magic.  The absolute key to that approach is staying calm while setting limits, and I really need that.  A little distance, and frankly, being a little more of a hardass, has started to improve my own mental health and my relationship with my kids.  It’s easier to empathize with them and to be loving and gentle when I’m not sucked into an emotional maelstrom, and when I don’t feel resentment over the ten thousand times they’ve already resisted my directions that day.

I fully expect other parents to find other styles to be more appropriate for their families, but I think everyone has one thing in common – we need to navigate this tricky gray area where our children are still children, and require all the love, understanding, and responsiveness that we developed as AP-ish parents, but also have desires and behaviors that must be opposed by those same empathetic parents in an effective and consistent way.  It’s really tough territory, and it can make you crazy if you’re not careful.  Whether you go for the 1-2-3 Magic style or prefer Alfie Kohn, I think every parent would do well to stop and think about this issue once in a while, as our children grow up.

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About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can e-mail me at skepticalmothering (at) gmail (dot) com.

Posted on October 3, 2012, in Parenting, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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