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This is the sister post to Attachment Child, Feminist Child.

I recently found this article, which criticizes attachment parenting, and am still bothered by it. So much so that I haven’t read all of it, because who needs that kind of judgment first thing in the morning? I hadn’t even finished my first cup of tea!

It reminded me of a greater – and hopefully, false – dilemma that has been plaguing me recently: namely, how can I be an attentive and loving parent to N (now seven months and taking herself up the stairs to bed) and not have it consume my whole identity? How can I meet her every need and still be my own person?

Or, more pertinently, how do I continue being ‘my own person’ when I don’t really have any non-baby-related activities or hobbies? At the moment, I spend my weeks going to baby classes, meeting up with friends and their babies, reading books about parenting, cooking food that N can eat with us, and… well. That’s it.

At a recent breastfeeding group, we were talking about how you manage to do certain things when you have a new baby. The activities pulled out of the hat all met with the same derisive laughter: ironing (but of course), spending alone time with your partner, and looking after yourself. At a different group, with members who don’t follow attachment parenting principles, we were discussing routines, and I thought “we don’t have much of a routine – we follow the baby’s lead and allow her to feed and sleep when she needs those things.”

Both times, I took a mental step back and thought “I used to think this was bad parenting. I used to think this was anti-feminist. And now I do it.”

Why is it different? Why have my views changed?

Like many people, I thought that feminist parenting meant refusing to sacrifice any part of oneself to the needs of the child. Forcing self-sufficiency early; keeping parts of yourself distanced from the child; encouraging strong bonds with other family members at the expense of your own relationship. Phrased differently all of these could be good things, but in practice I have found that it means introducing things like bottle-feeding, lengthy periods of time separated from N, allowing N to cry when I know she would settle happily in my arms. These are not things I was willing to do as a new mother, and they are not things I am willing to do now.

It’s not as simple as “feminism means everyone gets to make the choices that are right for them”, although that is a major part of how my feminist, attachment family functions; for me it is a more complex situation, in which all of these things can happen. N can be a happy, well-adjusted child whose needs are met, whose desires are encouraged, whose development is allowed by the use of space and watchfulness. (For example, she has learned how to climb stairs! She has done this by being allowed to explore under supervision, rather than being contained within a playpen for my convenience.) At the same time, I can be a happy, well-adjusted mother whose needs are met, whose desires are encouraged, and whose capacity for parenting is constantly challenged, and hopefully improving.

Yes, my personality is, on occasion, engulfed by N – by her needs, her desires, her own personality. But I have found it effortless to retain my own identity. So effortless, in fact, that I haven’t even realised I’m doing it, and have been spending time worrying about it instead!

That list above, of the things I spend my week doing? That’s not ‘it’. I read other books. I talk to my friends about things other than our children. I am interested in learning British Sign Language from what I’ve seen in baby signing classes. I spend time on the internet reading feminist and social justice websites, or talking to non-parent friends about all manner of things; I drink wine; I write this blog (occasionally). I do all these things near N. If I do need space away from her, I tell her and my partner gently and with love, allowing them some alone time to play and bond together while I withdraw with a book and a bath. And if my need to be away from N coincides with a time she desperately needs me, I take a deep breath, remind myself that I am an adult and have a concept of time (i.e. it can happen later), and think of times when N has made me unbelievably proud and happy to stop my bad mood from affecting her.

Next time I will talk about how attachment parenting is (for us, anyway) feminist parenting – how my meeting N’s needs is teaching her principles that are vital for her well-rounded, feminist upbringing.