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05/16/2005

I don't consider myself AP

Here is why I don't call myself an attachment parent: I cannot find it in me to take Charlie completely seriously when he's screaming in rage if he also happens to be wearing a butter-yellow hoodie with ducks on it.

Oh, sure, I'll comfort him. I'll strive to figure out why he's howling. I'll do my very best to make things right in his tiny world. But does it count if I'm chuckling while I do it?

Let me be perfectly clear: I don't find it funny when Charlie's crying because he's in pain, or because he's lonely in the night, or because he's hungry and it's taken his bleary-eyed mother way too long to figure it out. I do, however, think it's kind of a riot when he objects with a bellow to sitting up to burp, to having his striped socks put on, to having his diaper removed and his wee shivering tackle exposed. I insist that it's funny when someone wearing alphabet pants is so mad he spits out his binky with an audible, disdainful ptui.

I’m pretty sure I'm not supposed to find my child's indignation amusing. As I understand it, the philosophy of attachment parenting has to do with respecting your baby as a person, recognizing his needs as valid and pressing, and honoring him as a human being. And I realize it's not especially respectful to want to smile when an angry infant in a rainbow onesie imperiously rejects his bottle because it’s not quiiiiiite warm enough.

But I do feel we embrace the more important tenets of attachment parenting. We don't leave Charlie alone to cry, except for the seventeen minutes between screaming and feeding when I absolutely must touch up my pedicure. (Kidding. KIDDING!) And we haven't attempted to put him on a schedule for our convenience, although I readily admit that the time when we first had him home, when he dependably woke at 4, 8, and 12, was the easiest time in this short but turbulent span of motherhood. We wear him and we hold him. (As for breastfeeding, which the estimable Dr. Sears suggests is instrumental in forming a strong mother/child relationship, well, I cordially invite the good doctor to suck my 9-ounce Avent.)

Now, I gather I'm supposed to do these things because I'm eager to show my baby that his parents are there for him at all times, that he can depend on us to meet his needs, that he is important in the world and immeasurably precious to us. But I wonder all the time whether the intent behind the actions matters. Does it still count as nurturing our attachment if the most immediate reason I'm doing it is that I don't want to hear the yelling?

Parenting philosophies, codified as such, leave me cold. I can't get interested in any formal school of thought about child-rearing. I am a seat-of-my-spit-upped-stretched-out-pants parent, obeying my instincts because I'm stripped down close to the bone and they're all I have right now. I am very much in the moment. I don’t have a coherent plan, and I don’t have a long-term goal. I can hardly remember my name, except for the wavering recollection that it's not pronounced the way you think, so you can be sure I don’t devote long hours to thoughtfully weighing this approach versus that.

The much-maligned Dr. Spock was known for reassuring anxious parents, "You know more than you think you do." I'm finding that’s largely true. I think the primary contribution made by Sears, Spock, and others — yes, even that odious Ezzo, who inspires in me thoughts of great violence — is to validate the instincts a parent already has. Of all the parents I know, not one to my knowledge has conducted a thorough, neutral survey of the parenting literature and accidentally fallen in thrall to a new and exciting approach they'd never considered. We seek reinforcement for what we already believe. We look for articulation of ideas and feelings we’ve only half-voiced ourselves. We welcome the relief of shorthand, being immediately understood when we tell other parents, "We do AP."

I have little use for the experts. I get much more comfort from the stories of other parents, especially those who admit they’ve made mistakes, yet whose kids are none the less loving or happy for it. I am learning that there are a million opportunities a day to make a bad decision, but also a million more to make up for it with a better one.

We don't co-sleep. We don’t breastfeed. I love the sling, but I love the stroller as much. When the time comes — and I am being purposely vague — we will likely try some of the gentler ways to encourage Charlie to sleep longer at night — and purposely vague again.

One of the tenets of the Sears' philosophy is that families should seek balance among the competing needs of everyone in the family. It is easy to read this as permission to weasel, to do as you please in the guise of meeting your own needs while still claiming AP status.

We can all rationalize whatever we want.

I don’t claim to be an attachment parent. Still, I generally feel that the way we approach Charlie — with a kind tone even when he’s at his worst, with a firm but loving touch when he needs to be soothed from screams — tells him all he needs to know right now about being respected and honored. I may not be thinking AP thoughts when I hustle down the hall in the middle of the night (unless "Gahhhhddamn it" counts), but then Charlie doesn't know what's in my heart as he hears my footsteps coming. He only knows I'm there.

And if he’s really lucky, maybe one day his asshole parents will stop dressing him like a clown, so no one will dare to laugh at him when he's just so righteously pissed.

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