Thursday, January 26, 2012

Welcome to the journey!

In case you haven't noticed, there's a new zeitgeist emerging in our culture.  This new way of looking at life is the product of numerous societal trends, and it's resulted in a whole new way of being human.  It manifests in lots of ways that might not seem to be connected on the surface, yet are outgrowths of the same new worldview.  Issues like environmental sustainability, neohumanism, natural family living, social awareness, evidentialism, and a value of diversity are all growing out of the core of the emerging new reality.

This blog will not attempt to address all these issues, except as far as they impact our main thesis - that there is a whole New Fatherhood emerging around us.  This new model is partly reactive, and partly proactive.  It is reactive in that many of today's fathers have seen the failures of former fatherhood models: the cold, distant fathers of the 1950's, the overly permissive fathers of the 1970's, the demanding and overachieving fathers of the 1990's, etc.  We have seen the kind of father/child relationships that resulted from these models, and we want nothing to do with them.  

The New Fatherhood is proactive in that we are beginning to see our role as fathers as part of an integrated approach to the way we see the whole world.  We want to be more open, more engaging, more authentic.  We want to provide structure and guidance for our children, but maintain intimate relationships with them as well.  We want to teach them to engage their world as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  And, along with our partners, we want to nurture them into caring, compassionate, creative women and men.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Attached Father

Many members of the New Fatherhood have found "attachment parenting" principles to be an indispensable guideline.  If you are not familiar with this term, it was coined by pediatrician Dr. William Sears as an outgrowth of the attachment theory of psychology.  This theory's main idea is that "an infant needs to develop a deep relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally, and that further relationships build on the patterns developed in the first relationships."  In other words, the deep relationships that a child form with her or his parents early in life go on to shape all the later relationships of life.  So the goal is to make the parent/child relationship one of mutual trust, love, and nurture.  

Attachment parenting is not a set of strict rules to follow (we've had enough of that already!), but rather a set of interdependent practices that work together to form the kind of relationships that infants and children need.  Some attachment parents fallow all these practices, while some follow the ones they feel are best for their particular situation.  The basic attachment parenting principles, as described by Dr. Sears, are as follows:

1.                  Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting - This includes both physical and emotional preparation, and extends through lifelong continued education.
2.                  Feed with Love and Respect - Including breastfeeding and extended nursing, following the child's hunger cues.  Many parents complement this philosophy with organic eating as the child moves into solid foods.
3.                  Respond with Sensitivity - Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately.  The old philosophy of letting an infant "cry it out" is rejected in favor of learning what the child is trying to communicate through the crying.
4.                  Use Nurturing Touch - Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. 
5.                  Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally  -  Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping or bedsharing has benefits to both babies and parents.
6.                  Provide Consistent, Loving Care - Babies and young children have an intense need for the constant physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent.  Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during any short separations.
7.                  Practice Positive Discipline - Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.  In short, we have learned that "sparing the rod" does not, in fact, "spoil the child."
8.                  Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life  - It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". 

Again, these are guidelines rather than rules.  And they take commitment, so each family needs to decide what is best for their unique situation.  But many dads who are a part of the New Fatherhood have found these guidelines to be helpful, empowering, and deeply resonant with their own values.

The New Fatherhood involves much more than just parenting style, however.  It encompasses an entirely new way of being.  While I'm calling this movement the NEW Fatherhood, it's actually a return to a philosophy that is ancient, organic, and natural.  W
e will explore some of the overlapping values that form the New Fatherhood over the new few posts.  

For now, feedback on attachment parenting would be great.  Do you follow all of these practices?  Some of them?  Which ones?

If you follow an attached father lifestyle, what stresses/pressures do you face (for example, many people do not understand these principles, will encourage you to let your child 'cry it out', criticize bedsharing, etc.)?

Modern parenting is all about the parents' convenience, so will have to change their pre-baby lifestyle as little as possible.  Attachment parenting, however, is just the opposite - creating a nurturing home environment for your baby, regardless of whether it "cramps your style."  If you are an attached father, what are some of the personal sacrifices you have made to enable the healthy development of your child?  What is some of the criticism you have received from detached parents for your self-sacrificing choices?

Once again, attachment parenting is about what is best for each child, and is not to be imposed as just one more level of dogma.  So let's discuss - what has worked for you?