Blasted semantics. So many misunderstandings, especially in the online world, boil down to word choice.
I mentioned how difficult it was for me to write my latest column at Inside Catholic. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I was rehashing some painful memories in my past. But I also knew that whenever you bring up those two words “attachment parenting,” you’d better brace yourself for some backlash. The very first time I ever participated in an online discussion in a forum, in fact, I mentioned I was an AP parent and immediately was pegged as a smothering mother who was insecure and was raising leeches for children. I wanted support with a weaning problem; I never expected to be chastised, especially in a Christian forum.
Then there was a time when I didn’t for the first time agree with a prominent Catholic parenting expert and attachment parenting proponent I admire when he suggested the only surefire way to raise saints was to follow attachment parenting, which unfortunately has come to mean following a set of rigid rules when instead it should be focused on forming a loving, attached bond to our children. Yes, there are certain strategies, if you will, to build this bond, but there’s no perfect form of parenting – unless you’re God or maybe His Mother.
This same expert implied that children spaced closer than 2 1/2 to 3 years apart could not be loved as fully as they deserved. Well, ecological breastfeeding works for me as an organic way of spacing my children. Good for me. But I have a good friend who nurses on demand for nutrition and comfort; yet, her half-dozen children come quickly and predictably spaced about 16 months apart. And they are well-loved, blessed children. These blanket declarations are dangerous.
I hate it when moms attack. I hate the self-righteousness that can unfortunately emerge from the mouths of some attachment parents. But I hate it just as much when someone suggests me discussing my form (or the AP ideal I strive for) of parenting only makes other moms feel guilty or that I am too involved in my children’s every waking hour.
This is when I want to be a detachment parent more than ever. I want to stop reading about all the theories and rules of good parenting. I want to stop convincing myself my children belong to me and not to God and that every mistake or every thing I do right is going to chip away or build up their selves and souls.
As I attempted to clarify in the combox following some of the negative feedback after the article, when I used the term in “detachment” in my column, I was referring to spiritual detachment. I have read a great deal about the attachment theory in psychology and never meant to underestimate the importance of forming a secure bond with our children or to suggest that parental love and sacrifice do not matter or make any difference in a child’s life.
I remember long ago when we were attending counseling as a family and we were wondering what went wrong with my older brother. The counselor actually started to cry and said something about what a loving family we were and that that love had made a difference. She told my parents if my brother hadn’t had that foundation of love and the strong familial bond, his addiction could have been so much worse. At the time, we could not imagine it being worse. But she was probably right.
When I wrote about how I now also practice “detachment” parenting, I was not suggesting I throw my children to the wolves and let them fend for themselves or that I believe I have no power to help shape their souls. I have a great responsibility as their mother. It’s my duty every day to give in the hope that I can love them into loving and being good people. I do not want to raise “detached” children, but I do want to raise children who recognize the fruit of detachment. Of course, we should desire a strong bond with our children rather than a distant, detached one.
And, yet, I know from my personal experience and the pain I experienced growing up with a sick brother – and that is exactly what addiction is: a terrible, heartbreaking sickness – and witnessing the guilt and the what-ifs my parents wrestled with for a long time that we can do almost everything “right” and our children won’t turn out the way we’d hoped or planned. We can blame ourselves. We can try to control them or manipulate them. We can see their behavior as evidence that we failed them and didn’t give enough or that we were lousy parents who never formed a good bond. On the other hand, if they become great saints or noble humanitarians, we can fool ourselves into thinking it’s because we were uber parents. Or, we can accept with God’s grace that we were never in as much control as we would have liked to believe. Our children belong to God, not us. They grow up and become whom they were created to be in spite of us. Our primary goal should be to attach ourselves and our children to Christ. When we are too attached – in a spiritual sense – to people, their behavior, or things, we become anxious and contentment is elusive.
I’m sorry if my failings as a writer implied attachment parenting was in opposition with Church teachings or that we should detach ourselves from forming close relationships with our children. I don’t agree with that at all. Attachment parenting is beautiful. As any regular reader of my blog knows, I work hard to embrace this style of parenting and have found it to be very fruitful. However, in my column or anywhere else I never mean to imply that following a set of rigid “rules” (i.e., wearing your baby/toddler) is the only way to be an attached parent. Children need love and lots of it. They need it even when they don’t deserve it. We need to be like Christ and give that love freely. The way we give that kind of love manifests itself in different ways in different families. But however we choose to parent, when we stumble, we can’t fear we’ve messed up our children for life. And if our little ones one day do grow up and leave the Church or to succumb to addiction or worse, we must turn them over to God’s loving care. We must detach ourselves from believing we ruined them or that we can save them.
My hope is that my column and my words would encourage parents, not pit them against one another or have them quibble over parenting styles. Wherever you find yourself in your parenting path, keep close the words of Saint Teresa of Avila and let nothing disturb you. God alone suffices. Believing this and living this is at the heart of detachment parenting.
UPDATE: I should have been more clear that the somewhat negative feedback I received from this particular article was not cruel or even an attack. I’m sorry if my bringing up past negative feedback convuluded things.
I just found it unfortunate that anyone would feel that my use of the word “detachment” was suggesting I was promoting hands-off parenting or that the principles of AP were to be avoided. Yes, our children belong to God. But that doesn’t free us from the responsibility of loving them with everything we’ve got. I know I’m rehashing the same things over and over, but that isn’t what I meant to imply by using the phrase “detachment parenting.” Our bodies are on loan from God, too, but we have the responsibility to take care of them. Our children are our greatest gifts. We must stay close enough to them so that our goodness, our love, and our faith might rub off on them. Our children are tenderly budding new lives, and we must nurture them in a loving way (however, we should be careful not to believe that how this love unfolds can or can’t be defined by a label of any particular parenting philosophy).
We should try to nurture in an attentive way as a gardener might tend to a young sapling. This is my duty. It is central to my vocation. Yet, even in the most fertile soil things do not always grow as they should. This is when I hope I’d have the wisdom to leave the tending to the Master Gardener.