Undoing: Attachment Parenting an Unattached Toddler

Attachment Parenting

By Lindsay Karns

I spent the majority of the pregnancy with my first child in a state of complete stress.  I went the OB/hospital route, and I viewed everything that my doctor said as the Written Word.    It was at the height of the H1N1 outbreak, and I agreed and received the vaccine.  I didn’t know.  I had every test and genetic screening performed.  I ended up with a positive screen for Down’s Syndrome.  I didn’t know.  I feared the pain of labor and birth and decided when I first discovered I was pregnant that I would be getting an epidural.  I didn’t know.  I trusted a male surgeon to deliver my child more than I trusted my own body which grew and nourished her.  My own body which was designed to give birth.  I didn’t know. 

My daughter was vaginally born, medicated, at 36 weeks and 6 days.  A healthy 7 lbs of pink perfectness.  Since she was one day shy of the hospital’s magic 37 week mark, NICU was present during the birth.  When my sweet angel was pulled from me by a resident doctor, she was  handed off immediately to the NICU nurse to be examined.  I couldn’t see her face.  I wanted to feel her on my skin … to put her to my breast.  I wanted to count her fingers and her toes.  I knew she was healthy.  I knew she was OK.  And she was.  But those first moments, those first vital, monumental moments were stolen from me.  I didn’t know.

From day one I was determined to make her a good sleeper.  I devoured Babywise and The Baby Whisperer and sleep trained my new baby … because, a baby who sleeps through the night is a sign of good parenting, or so I believed.  I watched the clock, lived by the clock.  The clock told me when she was hungry.  The clock told me when she was sleepy, and when she could wake.  Not my child.  I shoveled baby food in her mouth at 4 months old, and meticulously calculated how many ounces of each fruit and vegetable she was getting a day.  I didn’t know.

She was worn a few times in a stretchy wrap, but was mostly set in her swing or buzzy chair.  She never shared a bed with us.  She slept on her own, in a room all by herself.  I didn’t know.

She is 2 months shy of 3 years old now.  She has been power tripped and shamed, scolded and screamed at, spanked and punished.  Over food, over sleep, over tantrums, and over me believing my child needed a “healthy fear” of me.  She has been pushed to reach milestones and pushed to try things she isn’t ready for.   I wanted to be a good parent so desperately, that I controlled every aspect of my sweet daughter.  To try and fit her into some mold that I deemed “well-behaved” or “advanced”.  I didn’t know.

I was trying to look like a good mother to the rest of the world, instead of being a good mother to my child.  I know better now; and when you know better, you do better.

I am undoing my mistakes, every day.  I am building her trust, every day.  I am finding ways to attach us now, even though we were anything but attached during her first year of life.  I listen to her, actually listen.  I don’t punish, or scold.  I say “yes” more.  I say “yes” much, much more than I ever say “no”.  I respect her as an individual, with her own ideas, her own feelings, and her own desires.  When she cries, I hold her, and tell her it’s OK to feel sad sometimes.  When she is angry, I hold her, and tell her it’s OK to feel angry sometimes.  I am done with the manipulation and power struggles.  I am building confidence inside her with every hug, every kiss, every word of praise I give her.  I am teaching her that all that she is, everything that is inside that body of hers is loved, accepted, and perfect.

And my daughter?  She is teaching me forgiveness.  She is teaching me unconditional love.  For all the mistakes I have made, all the mistakes I continue to make, and all the mistakes I will make in the future … she looks at me, at the core of me, and forgives me … wholly.

I gave birth to her sister at home 9 months ago, and we know better this time around.  We practice attachment and peaceful parenting in our home, and to be honest, it has saved our relationship with our first child.  All is not lost.  I see her transforming.  I see her opening up.  I see her happier.  I can’t take back her first year of life.  I can’t do it over.  But I can say, “I am sorry.”  I can do better.  I can move forward, pick up the pieces, and heal with my child.  We are healing … And the joy that is exuding from my daughter tells me that I am a good mother.

Photo Credit:  Shutterstock

About Lindsay Karns

Lindsay Karns is a work-at-home mother to two daughters, Lula and Olive. She is a writer, massage therapist, wine and food lover, activist, and passionate about all things attachment parenting. Author of This Woman’s Work, she started her blog when she found out she was pregnant with her 2nd child, and wanted to chronicle her journey through her natural pregnancy and home birth. Over time, it has evolved into much, much more.

Lindsay runs Traditions Wellness Center with her mother, where she practices massage therapy.

When Lindsay isn’t busy writing or treating her clients, you will find her stuffing cloth diapers, cleaning up after Hurricane Toddler, and trying out new vegan recipes.

16 thoughts on “Undoing: Attachment Parenting an Unattached Toddler”

  1. What you just described is not Attachment Parenting. Kids who are raised in gentle discipline, AP homes are not getting their way all the time. Our children are human beings who deserve respect, to be honored, to be loved. They matter just as much if not more than we do. This isn’t a new ‘trend’. This is how people have raised their children since the beginning of time. Getting away from that—is what has done our society so much harm.

  2. Attachment parenting is an amazing concept. I never thought about this, but I practiced some very similar strategies here when my kids would throw tantrums. And today, my boyfriend and I had an argument and this story here made me wonder if these same techniques would work on another adult who is acting childish and irresponsible. Thank you for sharing your story. I really think that the philosophy behind attachment parenting may not only help parents to have a strong bond with their children, but it might also help adults to relate better to one another and avoid arguments and lashing out against one another. It’s worth a shot…

  3. Bravo. This piece brought tears to my eyes. We all make mistakes. We all have the power to forge a new way. To forgive and be forgiven.

  4. This is so sweet. Thank you for sharing so others can learn from you. I am so happy for your family and all its changes. Love and hugs from one mom to another

  5. Every single word you wrote is identical to my experience with my firstborn daughter as well. IDENTICAL.

    My DD and I are healing. She’s 5 now and sometimes I feel like I dug such a deep dark hole in those first 4 years that it’s hopeless. I’ve ruined her. Her self-esteem is so low. She clings to me for dear life, always. I try so hard to make things right and feel so lost. I love the part where you wrote:

    “I am building confidence inside her with every hug, every kiss, every word of praise I give her. I am teaching her that all that she is, everything that is inside that body of hers is loved, accepted, and perfect.”

    That is exactly the guidance that I need. I’m going to print it off and hang it where I can see it daily. We will heal. It may take a while. But we WILL heal.

    Thank you for sharing this. thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU.

  6. I am delighted to read this and share your joy. Are you tandem nursing? This has been a practice since the beginning of time but not so common in the Western world. Which is so sad. It is such a great way of healing and comforting the older child while attending to the needs of both children. Just a thought. Very happpppppy for you and your family you found this ancient way of parenting that is true to our deepest parts of our soul. I love applying ap in our family and it’s benefits are far reaching!!!

  7. What a beautiful article. Thank you.

    I’m so glad you are able to forgive yourself. We all have the same story to one degree or another. We are all growing in this job called “mother.”

    Bless you in your continued growth together.

  8. I enjoyed reading this and also brought tears to my eyes! I compliment your courage to write so honestly so that some of us out there can learn we are not alone. Your a wonderful mother!

  9. H1n1, sleep training, aiming for a schedule, baby sleeping safely in her own bed, sounds like you did a lot of things right to me! Well, going by the academy of pediatrics it seems that way anyway, and I really wouldn’t feel guilty for trying to do the right thing.

  10. Lindsay–

    “I didn’t know” with my first child, either. WOW, do I understand what you’re describing!! She is now 7 and we have just now gotten to a place where I feel like we’re FINALLY healing our relationship.

    It was actually through a book I just read called “The Child Whisperer” by Carol Tuttle that I finally discovered the insight I desperately needed to TRULY honor and support who she is by nature. (This is after years of POURING through almost every parenting book known to man, including AP material!!)

    The book isn’t released to the public quite yet (I was among a lucky few who got to read it pre-release, so thankful!) but it will be released SOON! You’ll find it on Amazon.com starting October 23, 2012. Until then you can check it out here (http://tinyurl.com/thechildwhisperer). It says you can buy it now…but WAIT until the 23rd and you’ll get over $300 in bonuses!

    Anyway, I don’t usually comment here but your post really hit home and I just couldn’t restrain myself from sharing what has been so healing for us!

    Cheers. 🙂

  11. My 5 children are now grown, yet I remember very well how hard we can be on ourselves and know, first-hand, how much forgiveness of self it takes to continue to move forward. I just read a pre-publication copy of The Child Whisperer. What a resource for new insights for mothers living in this modern world. Children of all ages are resisting control. Mothers of all ages need to know what to do and how to parent — given all the changes in society and fears about “What do I do now?” You may want to check out The Child Whisperer. http://amzn.to/SWaYzg (It’s brand new. Launch day is October 23rd)

  12. Wow, so well put! This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve stressed about so many things that didn’t matter, but made me feel like I was being a good parent. I didn’t even stop to realize my sons were telling me what they needed all along. I recently have been learning a lot about this, and where I feel I learned the most was when I The Child Whisperer. This book helped me the most to know the best ways to honor and respect my two children who are so different from each other. They’ve done the same for me in return, and it’s amazing how simple it really is. I agree, it isn’t a “new trend”, and I so agree that getting away from “gentle discipline” has done our society SO MUCH harm.

  13. Great posting. I think it is kind of rare for people to be willing to fully look back with eyes wide open and allow themselves to take responsibility for the things they think they may have done that they wish they hadn’t. But that is how we change and grow. Thanks for sharing and congrats for following your instincts and modifying what did not feel right to you. Your honesty and willingness to change are the true signs that you are a good mother!

  14. I carried a lot of guilt over how my first was born (unecessary c-section, seperation, early formula without consent) and how I parented him in the early couple of months. We didnt do the controlled crying or anything but I did desperately try to stick to the hospitals 3 hour feeding recommendation – sometimes in tears myself because it was 40mins till the next feed but he was crying and hungry now! I put him in the cot because I was told he’d never learn to sleep on his own if I didnt and I was afraid of having a “clingy” baby – as if babies should be getting their own apartments or something.

    Over time I started learning more and started following my instincts. Every time I went against the “conventional” beliefs my instincts were confirmed and I was lucky to have a very easygoing little baby. In the hospital when I finally got him to myself I held him in my arms and said I was so sorry for him being left alone in the nursery and being pulled out of me before he was ready and he just looked at me and said “thats okay Mum! I was fine”.

    We had an incredible bond, he breastfed like a dream apart from one small bump which I overcame with the help of LLL despite the terrible advice from a paed. He has grown into a really lovely little kid who makes us proud.

    I think its really important for us women to remember we did the best we could, at the time, with the info we had. We did what we did with love and our kids do know that, I’m sure of it. Even if we spanked them – which is why so many people grow up to say “I was spanked and it never did me any harm” – because they know deep down their parents didnt mean them harm but thought it necessary. A very wise woman told me to let go of the guilt and look to the future. When we know better we do better.

  15. I love this article and it is half way true for my sons first year, and i am trying to get things straitghted out, how did you stop the no saying and switch to positive yeses, that is what i am having trounble with adn how my 2 and 3 year old both want on my lap and not the other one on. they are fighting meanly to and i dont know why

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *