Parenting Styles: Part 2, Falling into a Path

In my previous post I discussed the different sources of parenting information I encountered. In this post I share with you how my own blend of theories developed and why that blend is important to me.

I grew in favor of the attachment-style parenting as I considered the psychological theories behind attachment-style and Babywise approaches. As I said, the former is based on attachment theory, a relatively newer theory in psychology (1960’s). The latter, I think, is based on behaviorist theory, which has been around for over 100 years. I believe the age of the theories is the source of variance in how established each parenting style is. My generation’s parents would not have been raised with attachment theory in mind because it was not yet defined (though it could easily have been intuitively drawn from). They did have Dr. Spock encouraging a move away from rigid timetables in parenting.

En medio stat viritus. Attachment style parenting recommendations are possible only with difficulty when children are born close together. Schedules and structure in the home are important. But behaviorism negates an emotional life for children, in stark contrast to the psycho-dynamic theory it competed with. Believing my baby crying is her way of expressing distress, I want to respond. I cannot always respond. But a child does not need me to respond every time, and each cry has it’s own shade or tone that tells me if I need to run across the house or if it can wait. I have children with different personalities. Parenting is an art and no theory can be applied evenly across children.

This one had to be have constant human contact.
So we recruited help. Grandma flew in early to Virgina to California to hold baby.

Some children train more easily than others. Some sleep more easily than others. But all children exist. We are so ideologically driven its difficult to discuss this with anyone unless they believe exactly as you do. I’m in favor of the theory that makes life easier. For me, that means co-sleeping, nursing on demand, moving kids to a crib as soon as possible because I want my bedroom back, and singing before bedtime. I will have my oldest check on my youngest by asking her to see if the baby is in danger. What attention I cannot give successive children is fulfilled in part by the attention they receive from their siblings who are close enough in age to have similar humor and interests.

In contrast to my first, my third happily lived here as an infant.

This is how I came to support free range parenting. I believe its good for kids and natural. But as Michael Brendan Dougherty points out, this is not be as possible as I wish it could because of the slow demise of neighborhoods. We’ve chosen to live in a small town where people do look out for each other. We’re not likely to have CPS called on us if our children, three years from now walk to the park a block-and-a-half away. But we support the idea! We encourage the independence not because we believe independence should be added to Aristotle’s list of virtues, but because freedom from adults facilitates children’s play, imagination and problem solving skills. We want to be a secure base. My newly emerged toddler (13 months old) runs to sit on my lap, runs back to the other children, back and forth. I’m her secure base.

My personality will affect how I parent. My husband’s personality will affect how he parents. I will hover more because I am more anxious. He will hover less because he does not multi-task well. Our children will affect the style of our parenting. The child who won’t stop crying, despite soothing attempts, will cry longer. Just as I wrote before about not worrying about what Kate Middleton wears after childbirth, we don’t need to get hung up on what other parents’ do. I have a problem when parents put forth parenting philosophies without being able discuss them. It would be nice if we could discuss them theoretically, but since the development of one’s parenting theory is an “every man for himself” battle in this society, it feels like we’re up against enough to show we’re making the right decision.

In the end, I believe, if you lived a stable life, the children will probably turn out pretty well. If life for you or your children was unstable, something in that’s child rearing will need to compensate. The compensation could come in the form of the partner you choose to raise your children with, or the parenting practices you undertake. Aristotle said for he who is immersed in a habit of vice that he would like to overcome, he can throw himself in the opposite direction (the brazen man should try to be overly cautious). Since his habit is in one extreme, he will not become the opposite extreme even if he tries, he will land somewhere in the middle. I had, perhaps, too much independence as a child, so we started with attachment-style parenting. As my habits settle and I become more and more the mother I want to be and the best fit for my children, I find that medio where peace and virtue are found.

Parenting Styles: Part 1, Background and theories

What are your parenting beliefs? What are the parenting beliefs of your culture? In the United States, where a myriad of cultures have come and blended together, plus the intervention of “experts” and science in the first half of the twentieth century, plus the revolutionary culture of the 1960’s, and now the back to nature, going green culture of today, it is a time of great diversity of parenting beliefs and great struggle for one to determine for himself or herself how to parent.

My experience is full of those diversities. My father grew up in rural Washington across the street from a creek and nearby a logging camp, and “he survived.” My mother grew up in the Bay Area and worked in education. They met, married and bore two children, settling down on a 9-acre almond ranch ten minutes outside of town. We were primed to be “free-range kids.”

I’m very grateful I could experience this. We had rules, but did not have supervision. We did not need supervision as my sister and I were inclined to follow the rules. There was an orchard, kind and trustworthy neighbors and scary stories about any neighbors who might not be as kindly or trustworthy.

Since family time was lean, I did not think about what type of parent would I be should I become a parent (I actually did not plan on marrying or becoming a parent until I was 19). When I realized I was not going to become a nun, I met a handsome man and it was time to think about that other life.

And did he have ideas! My husband was a free range kid because he lived way out in the country on his grandparents’ property. The world was his. The wildlife preserve was his. He had a boys’ childhood, full of innocent, boyish rule breaking. Nothing too serious. Only a little gun powder. His young-adulthood-born love of the faith came and he developed strong desire to marry a modest woman who would stay at home, have a large family and pray a nightly rosary. He never expected to raise children in any way other than free range, and to be immensely present to this family.

I knew I wanted to stay home at least part time, I knew I wanted to work, I was not sure how my time would be shaped once I married him. I did not attend graduate school expecting to be a full-time, stay-at-home mother. Indeed, I am not, at this time, a full-time, stay-at-home mother. Believing in the teachings of the Church and the Theology of the Body, I saw in my womanhood an image of God (I’m not delusional, remember, every person is made in the image of God). As a woman able to bear and nurture children, I saw in this a reflection of how God bore, sacrificed his body, and continually gives himself to us. Keeping this in mind, it seemed right that we should pay attention to how the body works, believe that God made this with a rational mind and “trust the system.” Natural all the way.

With my education in psychology, attachment parenting made sense and many of my friends were intense advocates for attachment-style parenting. Attachment-style parenting, based on attachment theory, advocates certain parenting actions that are believed to facilitate a secure attachment between infant and parent. It views on-demand nursing and holding, not as detriments to development, but as ways to respond to a child’s expressed need (expressed through crying). The parent adapts their schedule and needs to their child. Emotional well-being and stability for the child.

"Lovey mobey-wrapper"
Mimicking baby-wearing, which I hate but do out of necessity.

In my early parenting days, this was contrasted with sleep training parenting styles, or Babywise style parenting, in which the parent sees beneficial the development and training of the infant in a feeding and sleep schedule. Seeing the irregularity of infancy, the order and structure of the schedule is meant to provide a reliable base that will help the child grow healthy. The child is trained to fit within the schedule and structure of the overall family. Independence is the goal.

Such is the information that came to me through growing up and early parenting. It takes time to develop one’s style and can be helpful to consider the sources. Perhaps we have a habit developed simply because we were raised with it ourselves. This is good information to know. Consider your own upbringing, philosophical and religious leanings. What do you believe about human nature and the nature of children and do those two natures differ? In my next article, I’ll share with you the development of my own style. I hope you’ll consider sharing yours in the comment box below.