Thursday, April 30, 2009

Great Expectations

I once knew the perfect mother. She was amazing.

She absolutely beamed the glory of motherhood. Her children clustered around her, happily playing and singing, simultaneously gleefully independent and decidedly attached.

Her children were balanced, joyful, and inquisitive, and they rarely fought or bickered because she had invested a great deal of time on conflict resolution. Each child, while having different needs and wants, felt that he or she was valued and nurtured, eliminating the need for strife and anger.

With her infants, she intuitively knew what each needed. She eschewed the lowly pacifier, knowing that an infant needs its mother, not a piece of plastic. She was the pacifier. She co-slept peacefully each night, with her infant nuzzling her in his sleep, nursing when hungry without waking her, as nature intended. She woke each morning refreshed, knowing that she was doing the best thing for her children, being as attached as possible outside the womb.

She cooked delicious meals every night from her own garden, and the kids ate only healthy food, virtually all organic, with nothing processed and very little sugar. She sewed her children's clothes, and they took nature walks every day. These children embodied the love of learning, eyes glistening with wonder at butterfly wings and spider webs.

She devoted time each day to playing with her children - crawling and whinnying on hands and knees; kneeling shoulder to shoulder building massive towers that would immediately be knocked down; sitting primly at the tea table, munching homemade vanilla wafers and sipping chocolate milk. She worked out a clever schedule that allowed her to exercise every morning, get the housework done, dedicate one-on-one time to each child, allow for group game time, and in the evening spend couple time with her husband.

She had infinite patience. Not because she was a particularly patient person (although she was more patient than most), but more because she had read all the books on raising children and knew the research. She knew that by being an attached mother, her children would grow to be well balanced, independent people, and she was simply the guide to that endpoint. They would grow that way naturally, as all children would if raised with respect and love.

Then something happened that changed all that.

She had her first baby.

You see, this mother was me, and she existed only my mind. Once my first child was born, reality took hold with a clenched fist and a hiss that whispered in my ear, "It was all a delusion! A delusion! Now we'll show you what parenting is really like! Bwaaaaahahaaaa!"

This first baby was not just any baby, but a high-needs baby like few mothers have ever seen. This child could have been the kid on the picture of Raising Your Spirited Child. He rated a 5+ on every scale in the book.

This was the child that you avoid at the playground, that you glance at over your shoulder when you're grocery shopping, and that you look at with pity and disdain, wondering what the hell that mother was doing to raise such a brat. (Yes, I said it.)

As an infant, his shrieks could be heard from miles around, especially when he was being walked around the neighborhood at 1:00 in the morning because that was the only thing that would console him. His anger was legendary when he wanted to suckle but kept getting milk, so the dreaded pacifier was instituted (thus pacifying the entire family, which resulted in a recurrent phrase being heard, "Oh God, where's the f-ing pacifier?!" and which in turn resulted in the family owning something like 30 pacifiers when that phase was done).

He would lose his voice from screaming - deep, gut-wrenching screams that would leave me in tears right along with him, wondering alternately "What am I doing wrong?" and "What the hell were those books talking about?"

So life started. My wonderful, chaotic, fabulous, real life that I wouldn't change for the world.

Attachment parenting saved my life and certainly my first child's life. Was it hard? Oh yes. Were there lots of times I thought it wasn't working? Absolutely. Were there times I wanted to throw in the towel and Ferberize everybody? Probably, but I was too tired to try anything new, and my kids wouldn't let me.

As I wrote in another post, my kids knew best. They knew what they needed and I just had to give them that. Thank goodness they demanded my time, my energy, and my presence. If I'd had easy babies, I might never have realized just how valuable - no, necessary - being attached is.

You want to know what one of the most surprising things was about having a baby, and then another, and then a third? How far apart my ideal image of myself was from my real self. That was a shocker. Yes, I'd seen my sister go through raising a challenging toddler, but I knew I'd do better. Heck, I even gave her advice (completely welcomed, I'm quite sure).

I simply wasn't prepared for my lack of patience, my first week of each of my babies' lives when I felt completely disconnected, my inability to accomplish the most simple thing sometimes, and my lack of interest in much of the little-kid play that they enjoyed so much. I did a lot of things right, though. I loved them like crazy, I was attached as could be, and I respected them deeply. When I failed them somehow, I always always said, "I'm sorry" and meant it. But I did a lot of things wrong. Really wrong.

I can now look on what I expected to be and bust a gut laughing. Obviously, none of us can possibly live up to the Great Expectations that we, and society, place on us. What we must realize is that our failings make us real to our children, and that's actually better than if we were perfect. Who would want a perfect parent? How could any child live up to that?

Will our kids remember that we weren't perfect? Nah, they wouldn't think we were even if we were. What they'll remember is that their mom is happy, connected, joyful, involved, and loving. And we all do that in myriad ways.

Oh, and that first kid? He truly is amazing, as are his siblings. He's loving, brilliant, funny, happy, well balanced, and laid back (most of the time anyway). Despite my imperfections.
This post is part of the Attachment Parenting Month blog carnival, hosted by Attachment Parenting International. Learn more about how you can stay “Attached at the Heart Through the Years” by visiting API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International.


  1. You nailed it. AND you made me cry at the end. Thanks so much for writing this!

  2. Yes, that was wonderful. I do think I struggle with attachment parenting - it comes to me naturally, it's how I was raised and how I saw everyone around me raised, and yet I keep wondering sometimes if it's harmful. I am not at peace with it like you are. I do see wisdom in letting the child guide me, I see he has, like all human beings probably do, innate wisdom about what he really needs. And yet, I wish I was as sure intellectually, as I am emotionally...

  3. Ha! I was on to you from paragraph two, when you said, "They rarely fought or bickered ..." ;-)

    I think we can ALL relate, but you put it so eloquently!

  4. Oh, this is SO me. And I am expecting my 2nd child now, and KNOW that I'll never be perfect, but somehow I still expect to be perfect at some point in the back of my mind... thanks for the reminder that messing up & then saying we're sorry is an important lesson for our kids, and truly, since we're human, it's the best we can do!