Saturday, June 30, 2012

Attachment Parenting – the long term effects…with a twist.     
I am dedicating this blog-post to three people:  My former step-dad Pete, my dad (who passed this March) and my step-mom Karla.  They are the ones who taught me the true meaning of unconditional love and acceptance.

Many people think that attachment parenting is very specific.  They think that if you don’t ‘follow the rules’ then you aren’t an attachment parent.  At my Parent Group last week I had a mom tell me she wasn’t an attachment parent because she vaccinated and used disposable diapers.  I laughed…out her surprise.  I told her that Attachment Parenting doesn’t come with a set of strict rules and that if you don’t follow all those rules you are NOT an attachment parent.  I asked her if she met her child’s needs to the best of her ability to which she replied ”Absolutely!  Of course I do!”  And then I shocked her by informing her that she was absolutely an attachment parent.  

You see, attachment parenting means one thing and one thing only:  That as a parent, you do your best to meet your child’s needs.  That’s it.  Each child has the same, and different, needs from the other child.  One child may need more snuggle time while the other is great on their own.  But each child needs love, food, safety and guidance.  

As a parent you do your best to meet your child’s needs but what does that mean for the long term?  In short, when you teach your child (by meeting their needs) that you will be there for them, that they can trust you, it lasts and it helps build a strong relationship between you and your child.  It builds a sense of security within your relationship that lasts and helps you get through the tough years – whether they be as toddlers, teens or adults.  Your kids know they can come to you with problems, joys, successes and failures – and be treated with love, respect and open arms.  No judgment, no I told you so’s…just acceptance and an ear, or a shoulder, and if warranted, some parental advice given freely and left for the child to use or not (with no conditions).  I am experiencing this with my teens now – and it is wonderful!

So – what about this twist I mentioned in the title?  Well – it’s a bit of a long story but let’s see if I can keep it short.

When I was young my mother and father divorced.  My mother remarried a couple years later.  All I remember is there was no Pete and then there was Pete.  Pete was awesome!  He was funny, he was smart, and he treated me (and my sister) with love and gentleness.  I felt like I was OK just the way I was with Pete.  Not so with my mother – but that is another blog.  I could wear a dress and be a girly girl, or I could get greasy helping him work on these little VW mini-bus vans he used to work on.  He taught me how to accept people for who they were.  And I remember this from him.  It made an impact – a huge impact - on my life.  He left when I was 7.  I missed him - A Lot.  But, what I took from that was that I could trust him.  With him I always felt like my emotional needs were met.  And I realize I was only 7, but it stuck with me throughout the years.

When I was 17 my mother threw me away to my father and his wife (and her two kids).  Another long story – but suffice it to say it wasn’t supposed to be a good thing for me – it was supposed to teach me a lesson.  However, I thank my mother very much for this because it was an amazing experience for me.  I was able to rebuild a relationship with my dad (who I hadn’t seen since I was 5 yrs old) and build a relationship with my step-mom Karla (now known as Mom).  They treated me as if I was a 17 yr old human who could handle responsibility, make sound decisions, and accept the consequences of those decisions that didn’t work out so well.  They never chastised me, never treated me with anything other than the respect and love they felt I deserved for being a human.  When I made a mistake (and I made a few whoppers!) they never punished me – we simply talked about the situation and how it could have been handled differently. I remember feeling very out of place with that – it was very uncomfortable. I was being taught better communication skills, better ways to look at the world and at other people – to stop judging and criticizing (what I had been raised with).  I was taught by example.  I was loved and accepted for who I was – NOT who they thought I should be or who they wanted me to be.  We had fun!  We laughed!  I got to work in my dads’ shop building tractors and cleaning engines (definitely NOT girly girl activities!).  And when I wanted to be a girly girl Mom had no problem making that happen!  My emotional needs were met in ways I did not understand until I was much older and could look back and recognize just how important it was.  They taught me that I could trust them by guiding me, loving me and accepting me.

So what is the twist?  The twist is that most of my childhood was spent in a family that, though I know they loved me, did not know how to show that love, nor meet my emotional needs.  There were conditions put on love and acceptance - You're pretty, but you're fat;  You will never make a difference in the world, but you can be a good wife; you're not parenting right, but your kids are so well behaved;  it's okay if others are gay, but not if you are; if you don't do it our way you are doing it wrong.   That’s just how they were.  They meant well and I know that.  But, in order to break cycles we need to have some sort of blueprint, some sort of message somewhere.  And I did.  I was lucky!  I had a step-dad who taught me love and acceptance and a dad and step-mom who finished what he started.  

I learned, by looking back at what these people taught me, that I could be the person I wanted to be – not who I was raised to be.  I was able to break cycles, reprogram myself and change the way I was parenting my kids and interacting with others.  I learned to listen to MY gut and parent MY way – and meet my children’s needs to the best of MY ability – regardless of what anyone else thought.  And, while I got a later start on this than I like, and as such my oldest didn’t get to see the major changes I was able to make, my younger boys have certainly reaped the benefits of what I was taught by these 3 people – only two of whom they know.  With my oldest son I bounced back and forth between how I was raised and how I wanted to be (seriously inconsistent parenting).  But for the last 12 yrs, I have been able to simply love my kids, guide them, and do my best to teach them how to communicate better.  But even more importantly, I accept them and love them for who they are – not for who I think they should be.  They trust me – the come to me when they have problems.  And they know that if they have a need – I will be there.  They also know how to build strong, healthy, emotional attachments to other humans.  They are wonderful boys!  All three of them.  

So, when you wonder what attachment parenting is all about remember this:  It really is as simple as meeting a child’s needs to the best of your ability.  And even if you are only in that child’s life for a short time, like my step-dad Pete, it can have far reaching effects.  And if you don’t get to that kid until they are older, it can still have far reaching effects.  You just never know how strong an effect you may have on a child, an adolescent or a teen…  And when you get that child right from birth you have the ability to grow a healthy child who doesn't need reprogramming to learn that they are OK. 

Pete, Dad and Mom (Karla) – thank you for all you gave to me.   

Pete – thank you for being in my life when I was little and for being open to reconnection now.  It means the world to me!   

Dad – though you are no longer with us, thank you for teaching me that I am just fine the way I am and thank you for taking me in when you didn’t have to.   

Mom (Karla) thank you for teaching me that it is OK to be me, for taking me in and loving me like your own kid.   

And to my mother who did the best she could – thank you.  I know you did the best you could with what you had.  Thank you for bringing Pete into my world as a little girl, and thank you for sending me to my Dad and Karla’s when I was a teen. 

And to my boys,  thank you for being such amazing kids!  You are the reason I have worked so hard to reprogram myself...I love you!