non-attachment for attachment parents

i don’t wanna strive for nothin’ anymore

i just wanna lie here with you

keep the wolves outside the door.

~ani difranco

 photo by quinn

when my coparent took my boy away for 22 days, there was a lot of letting go i had to do. when i learned afterwards that he had given him his first ever vaccine, i had to let it go. when my lawyer suggested i forge ahead and get quinn “up to date” on vaccines “needed for school” (because no matter how much it is within my rights to not put that stuff in my baby’s body, or send him to school, a conservative judge may not see it that way, and against my wishes there is a judge in my life), i took the initiative, made an appointment for a wednesday at 9 am, letting go of a lot more. at 8:55 on wednesday my phone received the text my coparent had sent the night before, telling me he had changed the appointment to thursday at 11, when he would be with him. (imagine the sound of cortisol exploding into and roaring through my bloodstream.) and i had to let it go, and let him call the shots on this shot, too. but boy oh boy did i feel myself grasping at this one, visiting such places near the end of the spectrum towards outrage and indignation. pretty much, just plain pissed. the night before i was supposed to take quinn to the doctor, i had told him what was coming up in the morning, and he shook his head in his carseat and muttered, “what a pain in the ass.” sometimes you need a strong word. i validated him on that. (or maybe he validated me?)

when i lay in savasana at the end of a yoga class, my teacher often recites a prayer for peace, may all beings be free from suffering, and not just that but also the root of suffering. she doesn’t come right out and say it every time, but i have heard that the root of suffering is attachment. attachment is such a loaded term. we al-anons are always meditating on the suffering brought by attachment. let go. detach with love. call it a slogan or call it a mantra, we’re just trying to stop the suffering. then there is another circle of people who think a lot about attachment, we even call ourselves by that name. attachment parents are doing everything they can to nurture their attachment bond with their babies (for it is parenting babies that springboards many of us into the ap realm) hoping that a strong enough attachment will form between them and their baby, in order to protect said baby from… well, suffering, both as children and later in life. the science of attachment is well understood, when it comes to the bonds (or lack thereof) between children and parents. a strong attachment ensures so many good things for the child, while broken attachments are at the root of a smorgasbord of psychological disorders, and, you guessed it, suffering.

so we  attachment parents spend our time babywearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping with our babies to facilitate even more breastfeeding, and generally obsessing over parenting behaviors that we should/have to adopt to further reinforce our child’s attachment to us. our child learns that he is worthy of having his needs listened to and met promptly, that she can communicate those needs and be understood, that her caregivers are responsive and loving and welcoming and nurturing, that he is safe and loved. even if none of the stuff about attachment babies scoring higher on the SATs and being more independent as older children and adults were true (and we lack long-term double-blind studies on this, to be sure), i would still want those messages communicated to my child: you are worthy, your needs are important to me, you mean enough to me to put myself on hold while i take care of that need for you.

i’ve tried to maintain a focus on attachment beyond the baby years, though i perceive many people making a more or less abrupt transition out of attachment parenting once “baby” becomes “toddler”. that is when the parenting literature on my bookshelf transitioned from the sears baby book to stuff about nonviolent communication, consensual parenting, unconditional parenting, and all kinds of other labels. “connect before correct” is a concept i like to stay mindful of, because i do think the attachment bond is still of utmost importance for quinn’s and my relationship. i noticed something around that transitional time. as a group consciousness, we attachmentish-unconditionalish mamas started realizing that attachment parenting, as it is currently portrayed, can be yet another yoke around our necks, something else we hold ourselves down with, beleaguer ourselves with the shoulds and have-to’s of, and berate ourselves for achieving in a less-than-perfect manner measuring ourselves by the yardsticks of others we have deemed “better” at attachment parenting than we are. attachment parenting can be just another form of tyranny we commit on ourselves, though we begin with the best intentions. or we may berate each other over the nuts and bolts of ap, bashing those who gave up on breastfeeding or, even if we are trying to be kind, offering unasked-for advice about how we think others should be attaching to their babies. i can remember a very good mama friend of mine coming to the conclusion, after four years of breastfeeding and even advocating for breastfeeding, that she no longer thought it mattered one bit if a mama breastfed her baby, in terms of that baby being attached or not- it was not about the nuts and bolts, though those behaviors can and do help reinforce connection, they are not in themselves going to get you there, and you can get there without them, as any adoptive, bottle-feeding attachment parent knows.

attachment parenting can be just another philosophy we get attached to, and we can lose ourselves in the process just as easily as we can in so many other should/have to areas of our lives. we may have our babies securely strapped to ourselves, but what are we ourselves tethered to? we want them to have a strong attachment now as babies, so they will be able to stand on their own later on. but can we stand on our own? are we a good example of being solid and secure in ourselves, or are we striving constantly to be good enough, to win someone else’s approval, to do attachment parenting well enough, to get somewhere that isn’t where we happen to already be?


at the beginning of my yoga class the day of the second vaccine, i realized i would have a hard time not levitating off the floor with agitation from what had gone on previously during the day, and i immediately began chanting in my head, “breathing in i calm my body, breathing out i smile, dwelling in the present moment, i know this is a wonderful moment,” a mantra by thich nath hanh that i learned from a dear mama friend and also hear quite often from my yoga instructor. i should be the one to take care of quinn’s health. ok shhh… breathing in… but i have to have control of this. breathing out

it’s not only yogic teachings telling me to unattach myself from outcomes. what came to mind early on in the custody ordeal is the story of solomon deciding which woman was the rightful mother of the child. the story, in case you don’t recall it like the back of your hand as i did (interesting how the things that come to mind in times of crisis can be those from our early childhood memories of, say, sunday school), takes place between two women- one of the women has recently lost her own baby, and stole another woman’s baby out of her bed in the night. when accused, both women were brought before solomon. he declared that the child should be cut in half so that each woman could have an equal share. the woman who stole the child agreed, if she couldn’t have him, then neither should have him. the true mother, of course, would rather have her child remain alive and lose him to herself, than to let this slaying happen, and surrendered the child. and thus solomon resolved the dispute and revealed the true mother. in letting go, the true mother showed how clearly she was attached to this child- a bond that cannot be severed by theft or even by death (must have been all that co-sleeping and babywearing and breastfeeding in biblical times). that child would always be hers, no matter what anyone thought or did.

i don’t have to slice up the doctor’s appointments into equal shares for myself in order to share a strong bond with quinn. i don’t have to own his health. i don’t have to be in charge. i don’t have to retaliate and try to take his father’s parenting time away (i have heard this question more times than i can count). i don’t have to get even. i don’t have to be the one to pick out the frames of his new eyeglasses. i don’t have to convince anyone i am in the right. i know who i am. and it will ultimately be up to my son to decide who he thinks i am. thinking of who he will be by the time he may one day read this or ask me about this time in our lives keeps me motivated to have integrity. the truth i want him to take away from this time is that i did nothing to hinder the flow of love- from me to him, or from him to either of his parents or any of his loved ones. i was here to increase the flow of love. i was not here to be in control. i was here letting go, finding it to be the best way to really nurture my connection with him. (this does not mean i will stop valuing my own opinion of how quinn’s life goes, i will certainly still be involving myself in his health and schooling as much as possible, but it is not about gaining control.)

i am seeing a place for non-attachment in attachment parenting. in fact, i am seeing how it perfectly complements the attachment bond.

i began writing this before the provocative time magazine cover portrayal of an “extended” breastfeeding mama and her son, and it occurred to me that the topic of are you mom enough? was very much tied into what i was exploring here in this post. not to mention the article focused on dr. sears, the founder of attachment parenting. and yes, i did intend to put quotes around the word extended just now, because what is extended to one person is normal to another. and therein lies the problem: we are all still sitting around comparing ourselves to one another, like there is some sort of average we are all supposed to be striving for. we are still taking the bait of a media stunt to pit mothers against mothers, and coming out in force to pour on the hate. why can we not see our diversity and celebrate that, rather than pick ourselves and others apart through comparison? are you mom enough? really caught that whole notion in a soundbyte- i only wish time had intended irony, and that they had been suggesting that we all strive for (instead of mediocrity) diversity. instead, if you looked at the online material for the article, you got blinked at to “take a quiz and find out if you’re a helicopter parent!” as if you needed one more way to measure yourself against others. as if we aren’t already doing that overtime, in our own inner worlds. full disclosure here: i did not buy the magazine and have not read the article, nor do i plan to, i am solely commenting on the cover photo and title, and the response i have witnessed.

as ani difranco so eloquently put it on her recent album, “i don’t wanna strive for nothin’ anymore.” and that is something i have been feeling viscerally within my situation with my coparent, who seems to be striving towards some goal of being victorious over me in achieving mainstream mediocrity and being better at what society thinks is good parenting and winning some imaginary battle. i don’t want to strive like that. it’s not a competition i wanted to get myself into. i kept trying to connect on whatever common ground we had. many of us needed remedial parenting strategies from dr. sears in order to cognitively grasp the concept of nurturing connection with our children (rather than um, you know, trusting our intuition- though just as many of us happened upon a.p. after already having arrived at the same conclusions), and we still need remedial connection help, when it comes to each other as fellow parents. we mamas should use our differences to build strength among us, build community, and build one another up, rather than all this tearing down. the reactions to the time cover are full of judgment, no matter which “side” one is on. i don’t want to be on a side, i don’t want to extrapolate wildly from a single photo, what i think one mother’s whole life is about. i admire the courage of that mama to attempt to normalize a normal human behavior, a behavior i spent 59 months of my life doing, and i support every mama who is on this mama journey and putting her best foot forward, whether they follow 0 or all 7 of the baby b’s of ap.

i think if we all unattached ourselves from the outcomes of our own and other parents’ parenting styles, we would find so much more room for connection, both with one another and with our kids. i’m not saying to stop evolving, or that i’ve stopped reading parenting books. i’m just saying we should all cut ourselves, and each other, some slack. relax, you are more than mama enough.

7 comments to non-attachment for attachment parents

  • lau

    This is such a breath of fresh air and you are a beautiful loving amazing babe of a mama. For the millionth time I shall say …Quinn is so lucky to have you as his mama

  • It took me a long time to realize that a lot of my best intentions came from a place of fear or anxiety about doing what was "best" and not doing the "wrong" things for my kids. Whew! All I did was traded in one group of experts for another. And I couldn't get it perfect, because I was trying to bring it in from the outside, rather than grow it from the inside out. It was a fun adventure. Currently, I just be 🙂 I'd rather be happy than right 🙂 Love you, Mama!

  • Yes. beautifully articulated.As you know I have had some hard years in learning to detach,and it is the hardest part of being a mother.

    After 17 plus years of mothering one thing I have learned is that there is no perfect way,and what works for one child may not work for another..and the same is true for the ways we mother.

    Lately I have been using the “breathing in i calm my body, breathing out i smile, dwelling in the present moment, i know this is a wonderful moment.” mantra and even just the other day was trying to explain it to my 8 yr old is always the perfect thing in every situation.

    Love you so much!
    soulrole recently posted..Children Clothing Emerald Green Newborn Hat Baby Knot Hat Organic Cotton Eco Friendly Fabrics by SoulRole

  • That last photo! He's got one heck of a grin 😀 Sounds like you are really doing some deep thinking and discovering. I always love how it feels after my foundations go through a change like you seem to be. It's no fun at the time but looking back at the altered landscape of our lives and learning it anew is so enthralling.
    Celynne recently posted..Ravenswing DIY Fair

  • well said. truly. you are so brave. i can't imagine.
    6512 and growing recently posted..may we all go home happy

  • kristin

    this post spoke to me so much mb. i felt like i could have written parts of it myself. much love mama!

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