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Finding the Confidence to Follow my Heart

by Jeri Carr

When our first child was born, I hardly knew anything about being a parent. While pregnant, I focused on reading books about pregnancy and childbirth. I was so consumed with fascination (and sometimes worry!) about those two subjects that I looked at childbirth as the goal I was traveling toward. I almost seemed to forget the new beginning that happened at childbirth!

Having a new baby overwhelmed me and my husband. At first, she seemed to cry almost all the time. We stressed out, and we lost a lot of sleep.

One of the things that caused us the most stress was the fact that our daughter was a high-need baby, and we did not know how right it was to try to meet her needs. . . we were afraid we were spoiling her. I started listening to people around me who expressed concern that she wasn't yet on a schedule and that I slept with her. Uncertainty crept in, and I became too afraid to listen to my heart.

I first heard about a great parenting style known as attachment parenting when our daughter was about six months old. I read an interview with Dr. William Sears in a mainstream parenting magazine and loved him. I told my husband about him. I was able to find only one book by him in the library (one about SIDS), but what he said made sense and rang true to my heart.

Although we had done some things that could be considered "attachment parenting," I didn't really start understanding and applying the principles of attachment parenting until I got on the Internet in August 1996. Our daughter was about eight months old. Having a great thirst to learn more about Dr. Sears and what he taught, some of the first search words I entered into a search engine were "Dr. Sears" and "attachment parenting."

In my search for more information, I found out that many parents who parent using attachment-style parenting sleep with their baby, breastfeed on demand, and carry their baby a lot. I came to realize, though, that attachment parenting is not a checklist of rules that you must follow in order to be an attached parent. Instead, the essence of attachment parenting is listening to your heart and getting to know your unique child as well as you can by responding to the cues he gives you and quickly meeting his needs.

The cornerstone of attachment parenting is trust. Parents trust their child to show them what he needs, and parents nurture their baby's trust by meeting his needs. Children feel secure in a loving, attached relationship where their needs are met, and this helps them eventually feel safe enough to begin exploring their world. They grow into a healthy independence because they know that mom and dad will be there for them to help them when they need it.

What a weight was lifted from my heart when I found out that I would not be spoiling my child if I met her needs. It was okay to follow my heart! I could nurse on demand, and I didn't have to worry about whether she ate lots of solid foods. I could nurse her to sleep, and sleep with her without feeling guilty! I felt relief when I realized that lots of parents did these things and that these are wonderful ways to help build a strong attachment with your child.

Whether or not a parent chooses to label themself as an attachment parent doesn't really matter. The label can bring a sense of community, and the tools of attachment parenting provide guidelines that parents can use to help them get to know their children well and to build a close bond with their children. However, labels only go so far and can be harmful in certain instances.

I like to say that I practice attachment parenting because I stand behind the principles that it supports, and, yes, I do follow most of the guidelines, but I also understand all too much how easy it is to fall into the trap of doing something just because it is the "attachment parenting way" to do things. It's at times like those when I need to remember the essence of attachment parenting and to fall back on the most important and key thing I gained when I first learned about attachment parenting: the confidence to follow my heart.


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