Attachment parenting was the style that worked for Rebecca Schiller, 35, when she and her husband Jared raised their two children, Sofya, seven, and Arthur, three. Here's how it really feels
Attachment parenting: the phrase makes me wince a bit. It sounds too perfect – dismissive of the different ways others choose to bring up their children. My parenting is a far messier tangle of mistakes and accidental wins than that. But I can’t deny that much of what I did with my two children (co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding and babywearing) follows the attachment parenting model.
When my daughter Sofya was born nearly eight years ago, I tried the opposite approach – keeping a rigid schedule, which I hoped would help me adjust to motherhood. It didn’t work. So, slowly, I found a way of giving her most of what she needed while finding space for my own needs and priorities – at least some of the time. My version of attachment parenting involves strapping the baby on, taking them on the adventure with you and hoping for the best. I sold the unused buggy and replaced it with carriers and slings. We welcomed Sofya into our bed when she needed us and I continued to breastfeed her during my next pregnancy, then tandem-fed both children after our son Arthur was born three years ago. In some ways, it’s the path of least resistance.
I clearly remember lying in bed at home breastfeeding Arthur who, five days previously (and 2ft from where I was positioned), was born into my hands. A tiny blood spot still marked his birthplace. His three-year-old sister was pressed topless against me on her own mission to breastfeed all her teddies. I was simultaneously cradling my phone close to my ear, trying to concentrate on an important call from my boss, while making desperate shushing signs to the children. It was yet another attempt to do some of the most important work of my life half-naked, with my two infants arranged on top of me like little warm cherries on a crazy cake. That’s how we spent those first weeks of Arthur’s life: skin to skin, my bare chest against his, getting to know each other’s smell and eyes, opening up a space in our family for one more.
I loved how free and instantly available breastfeeding my children was once I had cracked it. And I got a kick out of knowing that my body was doing its best to fight off germs. My breasts are my best parenting tool. I always had a way of consoling my kids, which was a godsend on flights and buses. By keeping my children close to me, I could often sense what they needed before they became unsettled, minimising the crying, which initially really stressed me out.
Co-sleeping gets a lot of flack in the media, but I know how to do it safely and it has worked beautifully for us. When co-sleeping and night feeds stopped working for me around 18 months, my husband Jared took over and we gently transitioned Arthur into his own bed. He sleeps better than his sleep-trained sister ever did, and I got lots more sleep when I was lying beside him than when I was leaping out of bed every three hours to feed my daughter the first time round.
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At times, Jared and I have questioned our attachment parenting choices. On moving to a new area when Sofya was two and a half, I was dreading breastfeeding her in front of my new parent friends. It was a relief when one of them confessed to also breastfeeding her toddler. But raised eyebrows do occur, and it still feels like a slap in the face. Babywearing seems to bring out the worst stranger criticism – a builder once heckled me from scaffolding to tell me that my sling wearing was likely to kill my infant.
It’s too early to tell whether attachment parenting has affected my children but, despite the ups and downs, I think it’s made my life easier and richer. In a world that tells us to be perfect, spending as much time as I have with my kids has forced me to accept a truth: that being good enough is all we can hope for. So, we have adapted our work, lifestyle, home and ambitions to make room to just do our best and be the kind of family we want to be. If I hadn’t had a partner to share the load with, or if I needed to work long hours away from home, I might have had to find another approach. But we’re so lucky to have been able to tailor our work and home lives to fit together. That process has in itself led to exciting opportunities outside of parenting, as well as two independent children who I am lucky enough to know the way I know myself – both inside out and hardly at all.