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Attachment Parenting: How it has Worked and Evolved in Our Large Family

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    Attachment Parenting International  has developed a list of eight basic tenets of attachment parenting (AP).   I really have to laugh because last week was the first time I had ever heard of Attachment Parenting International or became aware of any sort of ‘list’ to check off to see if one qualifies as practicing AP.   It has been very interesting for me to read through it all, and more importantly, reflect on how I apply these principles in our family each day.    It has been particularly interesting to reflect on how these principles have changed and developed in our family the past thirteen years  as the babies have come “fast and furious” as Danielle says.   

  I am going to take each of the tenets and share  my reflections on each one and how they have worked for us over the years.  I think I will do this in a series of posts,  starting with how we came to learn and live the AP lifestyle. 

Part I:  Our Introduction to Attachment Parenting

  When Nicholas was born almost thirteen years ago, (yes,  this mom of a bunch of littles is about to become the mom of a teenager!),  I was clueless about parenting,  let alone any style of parenting.    

  My preparation for birth amounted to the literature passed to me from my OB at the time,  who was chosen for me by our insurance company.   I followed every suggestion in the birth literature,  I didn’t dare ask any questions.  My quiet remarks about desiring a ‘natural birth’  we’re belittled with “It’s okay honey,  you don’t have to do that, we’ll take care of you.”  I often wouldn’t bother talking about my desires and concerns because I figured they wouldn’t be ‘allowed’  anyway.    My first birth experience was terrifying and brutal.      My first few months of motherhood were worse.

  We brought Nicholas home to our tiny little apartment.  We were newlyweds in a new city with the closest family two hours away and no friends.  During the pregnancy we decided that I would leave the work force and be a stay at home mother.    The decision was based more on finances than principle.  Tony was a full time student and part time package sorter for UPS.  My job as a cashier payed little more than minimum wage.  We didn’t know anyone to babysit and daycare was financially out of the question. 

    The decision to breastfeed was also based finances rather than principle.    Paying our rent each month was a struggle,  how could we even think about adding the cost of baby formula to that?  I was naive enough at that time to think it would be a piece of cake too. 

  Those first few months we parented exactly the way everyone was badgering us to.  “Don’t hold the baby too much, you’ll spoil him.”   “You have to teach him to sleep through all night long now or he never will.”  (Now the problem is getting that strapping lad out of bed every morning!)  We were miserable,  Nicholas was miserable.  We were so sleep deprived and stressed out.  We couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t ‘get’ this parenting thing.  It hurt our hearts to hear our newborn cry in his crib each night,  but we were told that it was best for him in the long run.    It killed me to hear him cry all day long because he wanted to be snuggled and nursed,  but I was told I could only do that every four hours. 

  Then one afternoon,  I sat on the couch to nurse him.  It was a big production every four hours.   He was often so exhausted from hunger and crying that it would take fifteen minutes or more to coax him to latch on properly.  I was often so tired, sore, and irritable,   I would fight feelings of resentment toward that little person that was keeping me up all night.  But this particular afternoon,  a small miracle occurred.  Once I got him latched on,  he nursed for a few minutes, and then – we fell asleep!  We didn’t just doze off as we often did while nursing.  We fell into a deep,  relaxing,  much needed slumber.  Right there on the couch,  together,  for six full hours.  I remember I woke up,  looked at the clock and nearly panicked!!  Oh, my!  What have I done?   I slept with my baby!   I’ve ruined him for life,  he’s going to grow into a spoiled brat!  But….  He slept!!  I slept!!  We finally got some sleep!

 That night we put him in the bed with us.  We became ‘closet’ co-sleepers.    The imperative word here being ‘sleepers’.  This wasn’t based on any deep principle that baby needed mommy,  we just wanted some sleep!   

   But it felt so right and natural.  It felt like something fell into place.  What I was feeling in my heart as a mother began to make more and more sense to me.  It occurred to me that when he was crying throughout the day,  he was not doing it to frazzle me,  or because he hated me.  (Yes,  I often though he hated me and that was why he cried.)   It was his way of telling me that he needed something.  Someone.  Me.  His mother.  He didn’t want to be held.  He needed to be held.  To hear my familiar heartbeat,  to smell my familiar smell.  He needed to nurse,  not only for nutrition but for comfort.  He didn’t need a fake soother in a fake swing.  He needed the real thing,  his mothers breast and the familiar way she moved.    We began to recognize and respect that our baby had needs beyond the basic cleaning and feeding,  needs that should not be dictated by a clock. 

   I bought a “Snuggli” baby carrier at the thrift shop and began strapping him to me throughout the day.    He blissfully slept right between us at night.  I would just sit and snuggle with him during the day,  interacting with him while he was awake,  holding him close while he slept.  I would nurse him when ever I sensed he needed to nurse,  not when the hour struck on the clock or when he had to work himself into a tizzy to tell me he needed to.  My feelings of resentment began to dissipate.  I no longer felt my baby hated me.  Our family began to develop a sense of peace.

  We did most of this in secret for awhile.  I felt like I was breaking so many ‘rules’.  I felt  like a rebellious teenager!  One day I was invited to a LLLI meeting  by the wife of one of Tony’s coworkers.    That first meeting changed everything.  I met other mothers that didn’t hesitate to hike up their shirt and nurse their baby whenever and wherever he needed it.  Many of these mothers slept peacefully at night with their baby right next to them.  They held their babies in slings,  soft ones without buckles even!  Of course there were many things that still seemed very very weird to me.  Like the mom nursing a toddler!  Or the mom with a baby and two older siblings that slept in her bed at night,  and the mom who used cloth diapers.  Oh,  and then,  there was the mom with FOUR KIDS!!  But I realized that what I was learning was natural and good.  I realized that my baby wasn’t ruling our household or making demands on me.  I realized that I was simply getting to know this little person intimately and helping him to grow and develop in a respectful and peaceful manner. 

  That day I checked out Nighttime Parenting  by Dr. Sears and really began to enjoy motherhood. 



About Lisbet

We are a Catholic homeschooling family of 13. (so far!) We are devoted to our Lord and our faith, open to the blessings of children, and enjoy learning and growing together in our joyfully chaotic home.

15 responses »

  1. It’s wonderful that you learned that with your first. Like you, I listened to my mother and everyone else for the longest time. I still remember lying in bed crying while our baby screamed in his crib and my husband said “You know you can’t go to him. You’ll just spoil him.”

    Now I’m happily spoiling my third and proud to consider myself an attachment parent.

  2. I wish I’d learned with my first. It took so much longer and I have so many feelings of regret and remorse now. I wish I knew how to make up for lost time. Is there a book, “Attachment Parenting your Teen”? I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey as a mother lately, too. I started a post, but haven’t had much time to work on it since I’m spending so much wonderful time with our new baby and her adoring siblings. Your taking the time to do this has inspired me, even though, at the same time, my heart breaks reading it, and being taken back through my memories of the early years. I only hope that my children will be able to learn from our example NOW (since we started attachment parenting), and not from how it was when we were younger, less attached parents.
    Thank you for writing this. I look forward to reading your subsequent posts!

  3. Great post…I had a similar experience, kind of just “falling” into attachment parenting but not knowing it was something that was OK until I read Dr. Sears! I lok forward to reading your thoughts on the other AP tenets.

  4. I love this post! I can’t wait to read the rest in the series!

    I fell into an AP-type lifestyle as well. I did a lot of things out of necessity (co-sleeping, breastfeeding, etc), but when I really became convicted was when I was pregnant with my 2nd baby and discovered that with my 1st I had an UNNECESSARY c-section by one of these mainstream OBs who wanted to tell me he was saving my life. (My new OB agreed that it was unnecessary.) So, while I was fighting for my VBAC, I really came to the conviction that I have to question EVERYTHING that the medical community and parenting magazines told me is “necessary.” I trust my instinct and I trust my baby! (I did end up having my VBAC, and another one 5 months ago!)

  5. I’m not able to practice this because all my kids were older when they came to live with me (only one baby). I co-slept with the one who was a baby, only because that’s the only way she slept which meant that was the only way we did!

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Oh I love the way you’re describing this magical moment between mum and baby, the realization that for this little person, you’re the world, that we need love and touch as much as we need food…

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. This is great. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest. Our family is growing, and I am wondering how AP plays out in a big family.

  8. This is so great to read – and I am hoping for “the rest” too!

    I can wholly identify with feeling a crying child is out to get me and how those feelings go away when I actually treat her like a human being.

  9. That was a beautiful post, Lisa. I’m so thankful to have learned about AP. I just wish I knew about with our first. I really enjoyed this post. I can’t wait to read the next one.

  10. Hi
    I linked to this post…hope it’s ok.
    I’d like to invite you to my private blog (private for safety as I share tons of pics of my family)For access please email me at If I already asked you and you werent interested…sorry! I don’t really keep track well enough:)

    Anyhow I have 8 children ages 9m to 13 years and am expecting #9 in July.
    Your post on AP sounds like us:) It was with #3 that we started breakeng the “rules” :)I never regretted it since:)

  11. We “fell” into AP with our first as well. 🙂 I knew a lot about babies by the time we had him, and for the longest time I didn’t know what was going on with him. Trusting my instincts saved my sanity, and probably saved me some negative feelings in the long run since we learned he has an autistic spectrum disorder. I strongly believe that my AP instincts helped me learn to understand my son and gave us a foundation to build a relationship on – even though relationships are so confusing for him. Our little family has always been close, despite the difficulties both our sons have, and I know that AP played a big part in that!
    Thanks for posting about this, Lisa, I’m looking forward to any follow up posts you find time to share with us!

  12. Beautiful. We are much the same. I just didn’t know what to call it, I guess….too busy living life!

  13. happily married 25 years and eleven blessings here, along with one in heaven (early mis) and one in the oven…

    we are living similar lives…

    I have JUST weaned my soon-to-be 4yo (I NEVER thought I’d nurse this long!!!!!!! and, yes, I’ve been tandem-nursing for 2 years!!!)) She decided this week that she’d like to sleep with her 11-yo sister.

    At the moment, Dad has taken some kids skating, some are hanging around, and the babies are watching Blues Clues, while I enjoy some other moms’ blogs. I am amazed that you ladies have time to post anything!!!

    My little almost-2 just climbed up on my lap for “DIE-DIE minute?” (translation – “side-side, a minute? Get it?) She took a little drink, played with my cheek, and said, “you have pretty blue eyes like Chrissy!” (our 11yo.) How sweet is that? I wouldn’t trade these moments for ANYTHING!!!!!

    This is God’s Holy will for my life, and the lives of other moms, too.

    It makes me sad when my sil talks of “managing” her twin (IVF) babies’ eating/sleeping schedule… she just doesn’t/won’t understand that they are not a possession to be “managed”. She and her husband don’t believe in picking them up.. “you’ll spoil them..” etc. But his 14yo from his first marriage (who was raised in that same “hands off” way) is a sad, distant teen….

    They just think I’m a weird Catholic freak…

    oh well, at least I’m not alone!!!


  14. I just did what came natural with my (now) 18 yo. No one breastfed, no one slept with their children, no one held them all the time. But I had to do what felt normal. back then there wasnt a term for it.

    I tried making her lay in her crib and cry. She cried and cried and cried. When I went in to her after who knows how long…she was covered in throw up from cyring so much…never did it again. Poor baby.

  15. Pingback: Tips for surviving (and thriving!) in the baby/toddler phase | Conversion Diary

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