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Are you an attachment parent?

I’ve got a confession over here.. I might be an attachment parent.

Attachment parenting. The new (or not-so-new depending on how you look at it) “buzz word” in parenting. Another trend. Another set of idealistic rituals we might strive towards in being the parents our parents could not have POSSIBLY been without the Internet.

But is it all it is cracked up to be? Who is this parenting style for? Hippies. Right? Totally. Hippies.

A little “back story” for you all, and the inspiration behind this post.

Recently I had a consultation with a lovely family from Vancouver. This mom signed up to work with me 2 months ago! 2 months. She did not want to miss her chance to get that beautiful baby of hers sleeping, and she knew she wanted MY support in doing so. Out of all of the sleep consultants in Vancouver she could have possibly chosen from, she honed in on me, and locked in hard!

Her first words, “It is weird that you are actually talking to me after I have been stalking you for months on facebook and instagram!”

This couple was awesome. As we began our skype call I knew we would instantly click. They were lighthearted, and funny. Just a couple of people who you would love to have at your house for a barbecue, drinking a couple of cold ones, while your kids run butt naked through the sprinkler in the backyard.

We got off to a great start. I started asking them about their wants and needs. Their desires in raising their children. What soothing this baby to sleep might look like, and how we were going to go about getting their baby to sleep better. Probably guessing where I was going in suggesting a sleep-training alternative, or gentler strategy than they were expecting me to suggest, dad perked up and make a quick, witty remark.

“Yeah. But I think attachment parenting is stupid.”

Interesting was the first thought to come to my mind. But I wasn’t surprised in the slightest. Often people come to me hoping I will empower them to “sleep-train” their baby in a “bootcamp” style. Hard. Fast. Done and dusted in 4 days. But, little did this dad know.. that is just really not my style. Mom had a feeling. She had been stalking me for months after all, but I am pretty sure dad was just along for the ride.

I love the dads. The dads are always awesome. They say it like it is – and they don’t bullsh*t. They also have NO clue what they’re getting themselves into.

“What does attachment parenting look like to you? How would you define it?” was my next question for dad.

He stumbled a bit. Shocked I think, but he had a pretty clear idea in his mind of what this parenting style might look like.

  • cuddling your kid til they’re 45
  • responding to every single cry they make, never letting kids learn any independence
  • cloth diapering
  • driving a mini-van
  • breastfeeding til they self-wean at 15
  • and co-sleeping throughout all of the above

Okay – so he didn’t come up with this list. I actually helped him, because these are some of the stereotypes I often hear when people refer to attachment parenting.

To be honest, before taking Bebo Mia’s Infant Sleep Educator course, I didn’t even realize that I was an attachment parent?! OMG. It is like a sickness. Someone get it off of me!! I’m joking. But truly, I wouldn’t have put myself in this camp until I really had some exposure to what it was all about and how it is defined, and why it is so awesome for families.

So there – you have it. I might be an attachment parent. Read on before you judge me!

Probably many of the people reading this now are attachment parenting in some way, shape or form, and may not even know it.

Let me tell you what the defined points are of attachment parenting from Attachment Parenting International. I’ve paraphrased them a bit, and given some of my own thoughts. But, you get the gist.

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting – you gave it some thought. You realized a baby was going to come out your vagina, and you should probably have some kind of plan on where it will land.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect – breast or bottle. You don’t force feed your child. You feed on demand. Stop feeding when they are full. And watch your baby’s cues for hunger.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity – you hear baby cry and wonder what might be wrong. Is there something I can do to help you? You celebrate their joys, and help them through the hard times.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch – hugs, kisses, you don’t hold back on the love and caresses.
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally – crib, safe co-sleeping, you respond middle of the night to your child, if they need you to be there. AKA. You don’t lock the door and refuse to go in the room from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am.
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care – again, around the clock, your baby knows you will come. They trust that you are there for them and are doing your best.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline – basically treating your child like you would want to be treated – as a human being. Not someone who is below you. You craft solutions together to overcome difficult times, and help your child develop their conscience in deciding right from wrong.
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life – ultimately, this one is super important. You don’t compromise your own physical and emotional health for your child. You look for ways to be a responsive parent, while ensuring you still have time to be you.

When you see it like that, it seems like less of a Pauly Shore movie right? Having our children attached to us is not a bad thing. Is there someone else you would prefer they attach to?!

XO

Lara

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Will there be crying?

In my work as a sleep consultant I talk a lot about crying.

Why, you may ask? Why would that ever come up as a topic of conversation when we are talking about babies and sleep?

*The back row rolls their eyes*

Babies cry. Adults really don’t like to hear it. And society is constantly reminding us that “good” babies don’t cry.

Let’s talk about that for a minute.

Good babies do cry. They do.

Have you ever met a “bad” baby?! Is that a thing? Babies are born beautiful little creatures who need us for their maturation, development and survival. They are not born manipulators, troublesome, or angry. They are human. And humans cry. We cry to feel. We cry to heal. And we cry when we just can’t get the words out.

What makes a baby any different?

The difference between adults and babies (besides a well-developed prefrontal cortex), is the ability to communicate and rationalize using words. Our infants do not have the luxury of words. The only way they know how to communicate with us about their wants and needs is to cry.

A baby’s cry is their language. The purpose of this cry is to inform their adult caregiver of a need to be fulfilled. This may be a surface level need or something you can see such as; the changing of a wet diaper, or hunger fulfilled. But it may also be a cry for touch, closeness, a physical change in temperature, or to exit a stimulating environment.

In sleep training parents are often told to “ignore” their baby’s cry. I was told this too. And I bought into it. I bought in hard. To have a “good” sleeper, you must leave your baby alone to cry. They have to learn to “self-soothe”, the less stimulation the better, the less presence the better, and they will learn to work-it-out independently.

Although walking out of the room where my baby was crying raised every fiber on the back of my neck, I did it. I needed sleep more than anything, and so I listened to the words I was given despite my heart feeling quite distraught about the choice I had made. There were no other options presented at the time. It was this, or a lifetime sentence of sleep deprivation (or so I thought).

Then came along my second baby. My village expanded (mostly on the Internet), and brilliant, caring, empathetic educators who knew more about parenting, infant development, and sleep than I ever thought I cared to know, surrounded me. And I began to listen – to open my heart to the possibility that perhaps things could be different this time around. And I began to listen to my baby’s cry. And with this came the exploration of gentler sleep practices. Not “no-cry” sleep practices, as you will read on about. But ways to help our babies through the big emotions they are feeling when they are learning to sleep in a new and different way.

As a first time mom I did almost anything and everything I could to stop my baby from crying. Crying = bad for this first time mom. Well, and for most of society. Quick – pop that soother in her mouth! Bounce her. Rock her. Shush her. Shake a rattle to distract her, or dance around in circles! We do not want a baby doing what it was biologically designed to do! No way, no how! Ha. I find this laughable now. And it’s a good thing to, or I might be feeling a lot of guilt around my first time through the parenting sea.

With this baby I listened. I listened to every cry I could. I thought of it as a guessing game. What is this baby trying to tell me? Is there a difference to how he is communicating with me? Is that particular cry paired with an emotion on his face, or a sensation I can see in his body? Is that the same cry I heard yesterday, or is that one different?

The Dunstan Baby Language was my first introduction to the idea that my baby could actually have distinct different cries, and it was a good starting off point for beginning this exploration. But becoming okay with actually hearing those cries; that was hard for me. But the more I did it, the more I felt confident about being present and listening to him express himself. The more I understood him as a baby – the better I was able to meet his needs. I felt more confident in helping him through the emotions he was feeling, which also resonated better with the parenting style I had hoped I might find the first time around, but never did.

Now the way I often relate this to the families I am working with; is as so. Thinking of our teeny tiny babies as teenagers is a scary thing, but, one day it is going to happen. Perhaps it is because I have an extensive background in working with teens that this is the example that works best for me.

But as our children grow and develop into more mature beings, we will have more complex conversations with them. As their language (and prefrontal cortex) develops, they are going to be able to express themselves in a number of different ways.

Some of what they have to say is going to be VERY hard for us to hear. “Mom – I’m drunk. Can you come pick me up.” Or, “Dad – I smoked pot for the first time yesterday.” Now these two things may be extremely difficult to hear as a parent. I would feel upset, angry, and likely distraught, over either of these two examples. But then I would feel a sense of calm in knowing that my child has built up enough faith, hope, and trust in me to care to share these words. Our attachment is strong. I have shown that I will always be there to listen to my child’s words, as difficult as they might be for me to hear, and for this very reason they have decided to continue to seek me. Not a teacher. Not a coach. Not their best friend. Although I love these people and hope they will seek them out if they are struggling, but I will know they have decided that I am worthy of a difficult conversation should I ever hear the words above.

I believe this begins in infancy. Continues through childhood, and adolescence. Responding to cries, builds trust. 

If we want our children to continue to talk to us, we will be there to listen to them. We will hold the space, respect what they have to say, and hear them out before offering suggestions, reacting, or telling them to “be quiet”.

Now this is not written to guilt or shame any one who has “sleep trained” their baby. Surely many past clients of mine are reading this now thinking – but you told me to leave the room! I did. I know. It’s true. And in some cases I may still choose “controlled crying” as the best approach for a family. But this would be after careful thought, lots of discussion about alternatives, and an empowered voice as to why we believe this to be so. This wouldn’t be because I had the notes of “how to sleep train a baby in 5 easy steps” as printed off the Internet.

Our babies and toddlers feel many BIG emotions throughout the day. They feel intensely. They breathe deeply. They play HARD. And with bedtime comes a calm down, an exit from the busy day, and a slow down of the synapses they are continuously firing. If you are experiencing a lot of crying from your baby at bedtime you may want to consider this; have you given them the time to be heard today? What are they trying to tell us? Is this a release from a time I didn’t see? Emotional or physical stress from labour or the womb? As crazy as it might sound; studies do show that our relationship with our children does begin in pregnancy, and some of the crying you see can be healing from a traumatic time.

Now as a side note I want to say; this took me incredible courage to write and publish. I am not a perfect parent. I never will be. I will never pretend to be. And I have made tons of mistakes along the way and will continue to do so. But sometimes knowing more means doing better. And so, I am on a journey to parent a little bit better the day that follows the one before, and to be okay with the difficult conversation of crying.

Thank you for reading. And thank you Stacie Lynn Photography for the beautiful images here.

XO

Lara

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Why I don’t practice controlled crying…

I want to start this article off by saying both of my children have been “sleep trained”. Both of my children have experienced “controlled crying” to some degree. And really. They both seem relatively normal. Ish. 😉

It is not my mission in writing this blog to guilt anyone for the choices they have made in how they have gotten their children to sleep. Because I believe every parent is inherently good. We’re all trying our best. We make choices every day for our children and hope in our heart of hearts we are making the right ones.

But sometimes to know more is to do better. Right now I know more, and I am choosing to do better. In my own parenting at home, and with every client who trusts me to guide them in my sleep work.

I did not get to where I am today holding back. If you know me, you know I’m an open book. As honest as they come. I’ve made decisions I’m proud of, and some that bring me guilt, shame, and yes, even regret. And while this writing may make you feel a lot of “feels”, this was a story I felt I needed to tell to continue on in my business and propel it forward in a direction I feel most proud of, and confident in.

I remember the first time I questioned controlled crying. Like really questioned it. I believed it to be a good method to use to get a child to sleep when I had an infant. That’s because I really fucking needed to sleep. It worked. And I was grateful. I got my life back. A little piece of me I was really longing for.. lost in the abyss that is postpartum life. I began to feel like me again. I was also convinced that I had given myself and her the “gift of sleep”, and that I had done a good thing by teaching my baby to “self-soothe”.

But then that little baby became a toddler. More advanced than her peers in the language department, she would love to talk your ear off. And when she turned two, she decided bedtime was the place to share all of her wildest dreams and deepest secrets.

My usual methods in getting her to sleep weren’t working. I could close the door, but immediately she screamed. And not just a little cry or whimper. A bloody murder scream. The kind I remembered from when she was a baby and we sleep trained her using the Ferber approach. But this time, she didn’t quiet down. She added another element to her plea. A “mama mama mama mama please don’t go!”.

That night I laid on her floor. Closed my eyes. And sang until she was asleep. I wondered what I had done wrong. What had happened. And why our sleep strategy was no longer working. The Ferber approach is supposed to be a 3 – 5 nights and you’re “done forever and for always” approach. What was happening?

And in true Lara form, this brought me to the library. Where I then checked out every toddler sleep book that exists, and began to dive a little deeper.

Had I been prepared for what to expect, I would have been ready. There is a sleep “regression” at age two with the burst of language development, the evolution of true fears, and some residual separation anxiety. A normal, healthy, and natural part of my toddler’s childhood that I was trying to close the door, separate myself from, and ignore. And this strong-willed girl was having none of it.

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. And it made me question everything. Why was it appropriate for me to walk out of the room on my crying baby when she was but 7 months of age and barely had object permanence? But, as soon as she had words it felt wrong? Had she not always been trying to communicate something to me?

Of course she had. That’s biology. Human infants communicate to their caregivers through tears. This is the only way they can get their needs met. Sometimes this is a cry for a diaper change, a tummy to be filled, or pain from an ear infection. And at other times a cry may mean; please stay with me, I need you near.

Now I am not an advocate for NOT allowing our children to cry. In fact, I encourage quite the opposite. I believe that we should meet all of our children’s needs, and then if there are some tears to be had – fine. This is part of a normal, healthy emotional release, and you can read more of my thoughts on crying here. But, I believe tears can be in the arms of a loving caregiver, or the presence of a parent sitting beside, hand on chest, telling their child they are there for them. Or in my case that night, singing “on top of spaghetti” at the top of my lungs because I really had no other way to get that child to sleep.

I’ve learned a lot in my work with families. I’ve always attracted a “gentler” crowd, and through families asking for something totally different, I learned a lot. People wanted to move slower. They wanted to connect more deeply with their child. And they wanted options. Caring as much as I do about the clients I serve, I tried to find these for everyone who asked. And in doing so, I found myself a whole new repertoire of skills.

But still, I offered controlled crying as an option. Since no concrete research based articles on sleep training proved it was bad, or harmful to infants (or so I thought), I carried on.. business as usual. Doing what 90% of other child sleep consultants do. Convincing families that their children NEED to sleep. And that I would be the one to get them some.

But then came along baby #2. And damnit. He was more difficult than the first in the sleep department.

I promised myself I wouldn’t worry. I wouldn’t stress. “You’ve got all the tools to fix this Lara” were words I repeated often, and as a result I relaxed.

I relaxed a lot. I gave myself a chance to just “be” with Theo. To listen to him. To feed him more than I thought I should in the middle of the night. To respond to him with pick ups, cuddles, love and contact at any hour of the day – with far less restrictions than Ferber would ever allow. And dog gone it, the child began to sleep. In his own time. In the comfort of my presence. Without “negative sleep props or associations”, with room for “healthy tears and emotional release” in the presence of his loving caregivers – he began to sleep.

Now to say I got to this place on my own would be a complete lie. I confided in the sleep coaches I was most curious about.. and they taught me a lot. One of my good friends, and colleagues, Amy Butler, suggested I take Bebo.Mia’s Infant sleep Educator course and I signed up almost instantly. I felt drawn to the promise of seeing sleep through a lense different than the one I was used to viewing it from. And I was excited to see what this new education would do to my practice.

Some of the learning was hard for me. These ladies actually had the science. The science the greater half of the sleep training community chooses to ignore. And the science I needed to give me my “why”. The reasons why I personally no longer practice controlled crying forms of sleep training in my home, or with my client’s babies.

This isn’t to say I won’t get you more sleep. I absolutely will do that. But I will guide you at a pace that feels right. A pace that feels more natural. Good, and supportive for everyone involved. With permission to touch, stroke, make eye contact, and feed at times where these things are necessary.

What Bebo.Mia taught me is that a lot of what we hear about infant sleep is a lie.

Firstly, babies cannot “self-soothe”. Babies cannot regulate their emotions. They are born with a seriously underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that does regulate our emotions (Cozalino, 2010, p. 70). And to be honest, most of us have not fully developed the neuro pathways for self regulation until age 24. Therefore asking a baby to “soothe itself” is really quite a preposterous ask.

Babies are born wired to survive. They are designed to survive the first year at all costs. And their biology ensures that this is so. For this reason, they are hardwired to their parents as well. Parents are physiologically wired to respond to an infant’s cries (Narvaez, 2011), and to be honest, we don’t yet know enough about the longterm effects of ignoring an infant’s cries in order for me to comfortably ask a family in my care to do this. We do know enough about forming secure attachments for me to err on the side of caution on this one.

Considering that sleep is also where we are most vulnerable (Aldort, 2011), it only really makes sense that a child might need the support and loving presence of their caregiver to trust the transition to the sleep state, and go to this state peacefully. We know that teaching babies and young children is done through example (Cozalino, 2010, p.70). And teaching a child to sleep is surely no exception.

When we look back on the Behaviourist Theory that dominated psychology in the 1950s, it is easy to see why we developed infant sleep practices that ignored a child’s primal needs. The North American view at this time was that infants should be seen, and not heard, and that parents should not be inconvenienced by the demands of their children. And sadly, we see this having residual lasting effects in today’s parenting practices, and many of the sleep training approaches offered as a “quick fix”.

But since the 1950s we have learned a lot about infants. We have learned a TON about the brain. And we know that although children cannot remember specific memories before the age of 3 (Mate, 2002), these memories are stored implicitly in the brain and will re-surface when similar experiences take place as those that did in the child’s earliest of days.

Thanks to Developmental Psychology and Attachment Theorists such as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, we know that babies are born social creatures. We know that positive early experiences in a child’s life help to hardwire the messages “I am understood” “I am worthy” and “The world is safe” (Cozalino, 2010). And I believe we are on the edge of a paradigm-shift in the world of sleep consulting.

All of the sleep training studies that exist are inconclusive. They do not account for all of the variables we would need to see to know if it is truly safe to sleep train a child using a controlled crying approach. Bebo.Mia asked us to look at these studies, and look at how someone supportive of sleep training took the information and blogged about it in a positive light. While someone who was against sleep training took that same study, and blogged about it negatively. Inconclusive at its best, I believe.

Lastly, ask anyone who sleep trained their child this way if the process felt good. I know that many people choose cry-it-out as an absolute last resort. I also did this. But had I known there were other ways to achieve more sleep, I certainly would have chosen them. Had I known that picking up my baby would not “undo all of the crying to this point” I would have picked her up.

I also know that new pathways in the brain are formed every day, and that the brain is incredibly neuroplastic. For this reason, I know I can go ahead with my own children each day and form healthy, happy attachments, and awesome early memories for them, despite their prior sleep training experiences.

What I have learned about being a mama is there is always something to feel guilty over. But, the very fact that you are worried about being a good mama is usually enough to prove you are in fact one, and your children are going to turn out just fine. Or at the very least.. Just messed up enough that they are interesting at a dinner party.

I choose everyday to lead my business with the heart of a mama. I know the visceral response you feel when your baby cries. And I want you to act on this instinct. This instinct. This intuition. It is there for a reason. And I believe it should not be ignored.

I want you to look back on the experience of getting your child more sleep with a smile on your face, resting assured that it was the absolute best thing you could have done for your family in that moment in time. And that you took the most caring, most thoughtful, and most supportive road you could have taken to get there.

So yes. My approach will be this way moving forward. I can get your child and your family more sleep. This is true. But you’ve got to be on board with doing things a little bit differently. With sometimes having to completely reshape everything you think you know and believe about infant sleep. With getting creative. With exploring the relationship you have with your child now, and for a lifetime. And if you are open to this – then yes, I’d be honored to be your guide.

XO

Lara

Aldort, N. (2011)). Naomi Aldort on sleep: YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oelT2QM5Tk

Bebo.Mia. (2017). Infant Sleep Educator Module. Toronto, ON. Retrieved from www.bebomia.com.

Cozolino, L. (2010). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Healing the social brain. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

Narvaez, D. The Dangers of “Crying it Out”. (2011, December 11). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/morallandscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out

Photos featured here by Astrid Miller Photography.