The start of my parenting journey, me with a newborn daughter, first time mama, struggling to get this this Great and Terrible thing called “parenting” right, found me isolated in a small desert town 15 minutes outside the military base where my husband was stationed. I had tremendous difficulty with that second “Baby B” as coined by Dr. Sears, breastfeeding. That primal, perfect connection of life eluded me. My darling beautiful daughter wasn’t gaining weight, she cried often, she didn’t sleep and it was there, in those first desperate moments of my life as “Mama” that it began: the life-sustaining sanity-fostering relationship I have with my community: peer-to-peer parental support.
The support came first through the women of La Leche League who educated me, comforted me, cheered me on, assured me that I was capable that I was on the right path that breastfeeding was normal that we would be…ok.
Simultaneously there was the WIC counselor at the airforce base - who in a masterstroke of common sense and physical material support introduced me to the SNS, a small device that would become part and parcel to my nursing relationship that became our normal that literally saved me and gave me the gift of a nursing relationship with my daughter, and later on my son - she was a key piece of support.
The midwifes in Las Cruces traveled the hour and twenty minutes to visit with me and support me supporting this new and precious life. They were all wisdom and experience and love. And humor! Oh how they would bless me with stories and laughter of parenting debacles that are terrifying in real time and intensely funny and a little pathetic in hindsight.
In the wild and wooly early days of this journey I connected with a group of women eager to do more, learn more, share more, be a part of something bigger and in 2003 we founded API of Las Cruces and became leaders ourselves. I read every book I could get my hands on I perused MDC (mothering.com) I read blogs I lurked on forums in the wee hours of the night NAK-ing I was relentless by God in my quest for figuring this thing out I WAS GOING TO DO THIS THING RIGHT! And you chuckle, ahhhh yes, you laugh and say how naive how innocent how dear and sweet because as I and maybe even you have learned, “right” is kinda, well, wrong. Right for me equals perfect and perfect does not exist.
Today, in the here and now, Monday October 1 2012, is the opening day of the official celebration of AP Month with Attachment Parenting International, the theme is Relax, Relate, Rejuvenate: Renewed with Parent Support. And this post is our inaugural blog post in a series of essays by local, current API leaders, by local AP moms, and a special guest post by a (re)visiting AP mom/API leader. We’ll be rolling out a new blog every Monday for the month of October, and maybe an extra blog here or there for good measure, each expressing our experiences of being an attachment style parent and relating to the theme of parental support.
When I became a leader 9 years ago I had no idea what this journey would hold, I knew only that I needed and wanted to be around parents who understood what I was trying to do and respected my choices. I knew also that I needed to be surrounded by mamas and papas and babies and brothers and sisters and extended family members who had gone before me on the road of peaceful, respectful, empathic, non-violent parenting because I had no template from which to draw upon. As I have said many many many times, I felt like I was swimming upstream in a fishbowl, with no clear models and only my deep and abiding desire to follow my intuition; intuition told me that many of the cultural norms of conventional parenting didn’t make sense, it seemed so wrongheaded to preach the gospel of “do not hit” while simultaneously spanking a child. Elementary? Maybe. Radical? Apparently so.
I went to API meetings. I watched other moms. When I didn’t understand what my daughter was doing, I called leaders and members, I asked questions, I listened, I tried new strategies, I resorted to knee-jerk reactions that were disrespectful and ultimately, ineffective and felt like a terrible mom. I learned.
I went from being the new mom to the seasoned veteran mama of a toddler. I had made it! Oh no, wait, there was more! A toddler must, at least my toddler had to “Do It Myself! Do It Myself! Do It Myself!” while flailing and and shrieking and refusing to buckle in because I had picked her up and placed her in the her carseat, because I didn’t want to wait the two minutes it took for her to climb up into the car, climb into her seat, and then the following 90 seconds it took for her to buckle herself in.
Now there’s a battle worth fighting! And let me tell you, that battle raged, for a minute at least. Until a mama said to me she said, just give yourself a half an hour more to get out of the house! Sure, because early is how I roll! But ya know that was the perfect support from a parent who knew, knew the crazy frustration of trying to reason (am I insane?) with an 18 month - two year old child. So I slowed down, I got down with “toddler time”, it’s a lot like “Cuban time” which means…we get there when we get there, and if I really need to be somewhere at a specific time, well then, that extra half an hour is a game changer, no doubt!
In 2005 my darling son joined the family and my baby girl immediately transformed into a “big girl”. Who knew the mama bear would come out and be directed at my sweet darling first born? The mamas sitting around in a circle, on the floor, looking at me with knowing glances, sharing there own hair raising stories of transition from one to two, that’s who. They said no darling nooooo, you are most emphatically Not a horrible mother, you have Not abandon your daughter. Be still they told me. Relax they told me. Breath they told me. Lower your standards they told me. With pretty low housekeeping standards as it was, I wasn’t sure how that was going to play out but oh well, I listened when they said “in a few years you’ll remember the moments holding and nursing your newborn, not that the floor was clean.”
I remember clinging to the words of those mamas that had a child one, two or three years older than mine. I remember being so grateful for those mamas with more than one child that came to meetings. They came for support also, I know, but more than what they received, in my perception, is what they gave.
We moved to Jacksonville and the first mama I connected with I met at the first API meeting I went to. She was like an angel, a godsend, a true GuruMama in my eyes. She was the voice of reason and practical knowledge, all grace and kindness and experience to boot. She had four boys, her two littles the same age as mine, and then two bigs way up the ladder. She was the definition of parent support for me. I had a three-year-old daughter and a one year old son. I (thought I) had figured the daughter thing out, but this boy thing, what was I supposed to do with that? Call my new API mama friend with four boys, that’s what.
My parenting journey has been, so far, an intensive course in becoming the mama and woman I want to become, and I fall short Every. Single. Day. And when I do fall short, I have the love and support of my AP community to turn to for love, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion and empathy.
Today I am the seasoned veteran mama of a nine year old and a soon-to-be seven year old, I’ve made it! Ohhhh, but wait, again there is more. So so so much more. There’s post-adolescence, there’s the impending raging hormones, there’s individuation (again? didn’t they do that at two years old?), there’s rebellion there’s the teen age experience there’s cultural and media influences that are so much more invasive than when I was growing up. There’s life, and all that it entails and all that it brings. And there are my peers, my peeps, my tribe, my friends, my community reminding me of who I am and why what I am doing is so important and that really, it’s all going to be o.k.
There’s the mama that says “OMG I totally relate!” when I share at an API meeting that my littlest doesn’t seem to understand the concept of cause and effect and “personal responsibility”. That when I suggest that if he puts a full cup of water on the side of the tub (cause) and it spills and the cheap laminate warps (effect) I’m not “blaming” him but simply pointing out facts. Cause and effect! And that while I’m not “blaming” him I am holding him responsible. Which causes him to be overcome with sobbing and shame. Sigh. I’m so grateful for that mom who relates, because if nobody did, then I’d be the one overcome with sobbing and shame.
There are the homeschooling mamas that picked up Mags and Gusty when I was sick with bronchitis and couldn’t get out of the house. There are the mamas that help me navigate appropriate behavioral expectations. There are the mamas who do it differently and who offer suggestions for a more successful life here at Casa Naranja. There are the mamas who listen, who share, who show up with a newborn and no idea how to go forward, swimming upstream in our communal fishbowl.
I have a well-defined skill set and “going it alone” is not a part of that set. I rely on the community of parents around me to hold me up when I’m going under, to model a behavior I would like to emulate, to support me as a mama, and my children as the individual wonderful little humans they are. I look to my community to reflect back to me and let me know how I’m doing. I look to the parents and learn. I learn how to sit back, relax and laugh. I relate to all the little horrors, the fears, the faux pas, the profound joys, the forward movement of the families around me and we share with each other what works for us. I am consistently rejuvenated by the eternal spring of goodwill that flows through the AP community. Through parent to parent peer support, my cup is full, and I’m able to be and become that parent that I so desire to be. For that and all the love, I thank you all and welcome you to AP month. Enjoy!
by Coco aka Connor Barnas, co-leader for Attachment Parenting of Jacksonville Group, homeschooling mama, delighted happy human
This post is part of the Attachment Parenting Month blog event, hosted by Attachment Parenting International.
Learn more by visiting API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International.