This is the sister post to Attachment Parent, Feminist Parent. Drafted back in November and finished up now, in February. I make no excuses.
To me, attachment parenting means fulfilling my daughter’s needs. I do this through breastfeeding, babywearing, playing together, gentle touching, one-finger touching, baby signing, talking, eye contact, and a bunch of other things.
It is not constantly being in physical contact with my child. It is not sacrificing my needs to hers. It is not letting her get her own way all the time.
It is teaching her to expect more from the world – a principle I think is vital for her development as a progressive and inclusive adult.
When I respond to N’s needs swiftly, she learns that the world is a nice place to be in. This is not a discussion on privilege, though that is an important discussion to be had – I can provide N with shelter, food and toys to make the point that the world is a good place for her, although my direct experience is that the more material goods a baby has, the less attachment-style care xe gets from hir parents.
No, what I mean is that she learns that when she needs milk, she will get it; when she needs a cuddle, she will get it; when she wants to play and make eye contact and be silly, she will get all of that. When she wants to be alone, she will get that too.
Some argue that this is ‘giving in’, that from having their needs fulfilled, their desires (at least) considered, their whims (at least) acknowledged, children will learn that they can get their own way all the time. This is not what N learns. Her desires to smash herb jars on the kitchen floor or chew on the DSLR camera are not entertained. Even as a child of attachment parenting, N rarely gets her own way, so I make sure to let her have her own way as much as possible. She will learn that her needs and desires are valid and important. This is a great foundation for her burgeoning self-esteem.
Another way in which I respect N’s desires is through gentle touching and one-finger touching. A new person exploring the world wants to do so through as many senses as possible – babies grab things, put things in their mouths, shake them and bang them and crumple them up. Not good with, say, a chequebook, or daddy’s face, or fairy lights. Many people therefore see babies as destructive and forbid them from experiencing certain parts of their new world. We have tried to come to a compromise, whereby N can touch whatever she wants (yes, even radiators) if she does so gently and/or with one finger. (I will write a separate post on one-finger touching soon.) She learns that her desire to learn is as important as my need to keep documents safe, or T’s need to not have his face pinched, or her own need to not pull a Christmas tree over herself.
N also learns that words are important. Since she was very young I have talked to her constantly, told her what we are going to do before we do it – “I am about to take you downstairs and change your nappy, then we’re going to go out to go to baby signing class! … Now I am putting you in the wrap, then I’ll put your hat on and grab my gloves, and then we’ll leave” – and when I drafted this post three months ago, I could already see that it made a difference. She is calmer during transitions than other babies. On the rare occasions that we do something without pre-warning her, she is noticeably more reluctant and on edge. For example, the noise of the hoover scares her much less if I warn her it’s about to go on and do a brief countdown. I believe this is a good early introduction to the concept of consent.
It also signals to N that I respect her enough to let her know what is happening – an automatic courtesy in relationships between adults, but often lacking in adult-child relationships. Again, I hope that this will evolve into a mutual respect and encourage N to communicate with me in the future.
And talking to N gives her the space to make her own choices. Many families have a problem with radiators and other heating devices. How can a baby safely explore something that might burn her? We opted to tell N the dangers, choosing the language “one-finger touching, please, radiators can be hot” or “watch out, that might be hot”. Not “that’s hot”, because the radiators aren’t constantly on in this house, and I believe that pretending otherwise might cause N to be more reckless and to doubt that we tell the truth (“they think this is hot? They said that about boiling water too…”). Over time, this has worked brilliantly, and if N wants to touch a radiator, she checks it with one finger and makes a choice accordingly. It is not a choice we have taken away from her.
The last thing I want to touch on is N’s emerging feminist personality. When I began writing this post, N had separation anxiety, and I responded the only way I could: I held her. I put her on my hip when I brushed my teeth. I didn’t leave the house without her, or indeed leave her at all. She is now ten and a half months old, and on one day this week, she spent an hour and a half running round a soft play area with older toddlers and children (she can walk now), came back to me and slept in the wrap for an hour, then woke up and went off to play for another three hours. She is astoundingly confident in herself and in our relationship. She has no doubts that she deserves what she needs and that she will get it. I am so happy to have done that for my child.