Having thought about our parenting in an intentional manner, we chose a certain way to bring our children up that – over time – I discovered fell largely under an umbrella term called ‘gentle’ or ‘attachment’ parenting.
There are many different types of parenting these days, even terms for the way mothers act; tiger mums (strict, seek their children’s success in many areas particularly academic), helicopter mums (a parent who gets very involved in all aspects of their child’s life – hovering over them in playgrounds/phoning school regularly etc), crunchy mums (natural mum, doesn’t let their kid eat sugar). I’m not sure these badges are particularly helpful, although some people will fall under a specific term quite well, I’m sure you can allocate at least one friend into each of those categories for example! We didn’t intentionally pick a specific type of parenting to follow, it just so happens that much of what we do falls under these terms of ‘gentle’ or ‘attachment’.
In my mind, gentle parenting is more of a general term whereas Attachment Parenting has specific principles and a network of affiliated groups supporting parents. Gentle parenting is about understanding our children and showing them respect. An approach that follows the rhythms that nature has in place, particularly for babies and children (regular waking, feeding, need for sleep), understands child development and social and emotional behaviour expectations are based on that rather than expecting them to behave as little adults, and themes of connection, respect, and lack of punishment.
Attachment parenting meanwhile has a list of principles; preparation for birth, breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping, responding to crying, no sleep training and ensuring a balance in the parents’ (particularly mother) lives.
Interestingly, Dr Sears – the doctor behind Attachment Parenting – has a son with Down Syndrome which helped reinforce his beliefs about how children should be parented. I know for Colin in particular, having a child with a learning disability was the driving force for a more gentle approach. I think I may have had a harder task persuading him of the merits if our eldest didn’t have DS!
So why do we follow these principles?
In Isaiah 66, as in many passages, we hear reference to how mothers mother their children:
That you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious abundance.”
For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
(verses 11-13, ESV)
God created our young to be much more dependent than other mammals, many of whom get up and walk the day they are born! From breastfeeding as the natural way to feed our children, to carrying our children on our hip, mothers being a comforter and even the fun of bouncing our children on our knees, I believe God created our babies to be nurtured in a close, loving, responsive relationship that requires sacrifice and attachment.
Long term benefits
We are a nation with more and more mental health problems. Partly because we understand mental health conditions better, but also because our families are less attached and stable than they were in the past. In the past families were closer – with extended families living nearby and being involved in the day to day life of immediate families. Mothers stayed at home. Children’s lives were not as full of structured activities away from family.
Recently I’ve been reading possibly the best book ever on attachment and its long term impact. It’s called Hold On to Your Kids (why parents need to matter more than peers). It talks about how we are created to be creatures of attachment. Look even back to the world pre-Fall when God walked in close communion with His creation, His children. Relationship, open communication and attachment were key.
“In the human domain, attachment is the pursuit and preservation of proximity, of closeness and connection: physically, behaviourally, emotionally and psychologically” (pg 17)
The book argues that without good attachment to parents, because we have an inbuilt need for connection and attachment, children will then attach to their peers. And while good friendships is something we desire for our children, other children are inadequate as guides and compass points for them. If they look to their peers for cues on behaviour, identity etc then we are on rocky ground.
I really can’t recommend this book enough, it is FABULOUS!
I’ll talk more about respect later in the series, but we wanted to show our children respect. To understand why behaviours occur, being respectful of times they need comforting even if it is at our inconvenience (1am anyone?!), not to yell at them or force them to eat all the food on their plate.
If I wouldn’t treat Colin like this, why would I treat my young children in this way?
That’s only touching the surface but I believe that a gentle and attached approach to parenting is both Biblical and psychologically good for our children and leads to our home flourishing as we seek to understand and empathise with our children, even when they are young.
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