Welcome to our seventh installment of the Attachment Parenting Series - Balance! Don't forget to use the Mister Linky at the bottom to share your own information and experiences!
What is it?
Balance in attachment parenting refers to balance in the parent’s relationship with the child, with their spouse, and within their own personal life. A lack of balance in any of these three areas can breed resentment and burnout.
How can we encourage it?
Attachment parenting, at its most basic, encourages parents to know their child and respond appropriately to their child’s needs. It is not a set list of rules and requirements, but a fluid, family-specific approach to meeting those needs in a sensitive and positive way.
There is a danger that the enthusiastic attachment parent will swing too far away from a parent- or schedule-centered approach and into a child-centered approach instead. Neither extreme is healthy, however. An imbalance in any area – with the child, with the spouse, or within the parent’s own personal life – will quickly lead to resentment and burnout, leaving the parent without the physical and emotional resources necessary in attachment parenting.
Although the child’s needs must be a priority, balance demands that everyone’s needs be recognized, validated, and met as far as possible. It is important that the family seeks this balance for the sake of both the family unit and the individuals within it.
Balance with the child
In their eagerness to give the child everything he needs, the parent may also begin to give the child everything he wants. When responding appropriately to the child’s needs, however, it is important that an emphasis be placed on appropriately. This requires knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.
Attachment parenting is not permissive, indulgent, or martyr parenting. The parent is not expected to give the child everything he wants, do everything for him, or sacrifice themselves in an unhealthy manner. That sort of parenting creates a false dependency on the parent, preventing the child from developing in a healthy and age-appropriate manner.
Balance with the child will require attentiveness without indulgence, facilitating the child’s journey towards a healthy, age-appropriate independence. This balance will shift as the child grows, as the needs of a newborn, an older baby, a toddler, a preschooler, a growing child, and a teenager are all very different. In this sense balance is fluid, ever-changing along with the needs of the child. Learning to read and appropriately respond to the child’s cues will lead to the understanding necessary to make this balance possible.
Balance with the spouse
As they focus their energy on meeting the needs of the child, the parent may begin to neglect the needs of their spouse.* Conversely, others may find themselves unwilling to acknowledge the new dynamic a child brings to the marriage, putting that existing relationship above the new parent/child relationship. Too much focus on either relationship will be to the detriment of the other.
Children must have their needs met, but the needs of the marriage must also be valued and met as far as possible. The practicalities of this will vary along with the shifting family dynamics. Some seasons of childhood require a more immediate and time-intensive response, while other seasons leave more room for a renewed focus on the marriage relationship. The mature parent will recognize and accept these varying seasons and work to maintain the marriage relationship within their accompanying restraints. This requires dedication, openness, and creativity.
When both parents are working together towards the common goal of fostering an attached relationship with their child, they will naturally be drawn together in the process. It will be easier for the couple to find a healthy balance between fostering these parent/child relationships and maintaining the existing marriage relationship. When the parents have different goals, however, with one parent seeking an attached parent/child relationship while the other takes a more hands-off approach, this balance is more difficult to develop and maintain.
*For simplicity’s sake, I refer to the “spouse” and the “marriage”. Please expand this to fit any form of long-term partnership that involves parenting a child. The unique needs of attachment parenting as a single parent require their own focus, one which I am not qualified to provide.
Balance with self
Finally, as they focus on meeting the needs of the child, it is easy for the parent to neglect their own needs. The emotional and physical demands of attachment parenting necessitate balance; without it, exhaustion and burnout will quickly follow. When a parent has nothing left to give and yet the child still needs so much, it becomes prime breeding ground for resentment, anger, bitterness, depression, and defeat.
Balance with yourself requires valuing yourself and your needs, meeting those needs as far as possible. Again, different stages of childhood have different demands, and the parent must work to meet their own needs within these varying limits. Acknowledge that having a child requires a change in lifestyle, and then work to creatively meet your needs within this new and ever-changing season.
Before balance can be achieved, the parent’s basic needs must be met. Diet, sleep, and fresh air will allow the parent to function at their best. The parent must continue to take care of themselves in order to meet the long-term demands of caring for a child.
After meeting these basic needs, a key step in finding balance is evaluating your expectations. Are you trying to live up to an idealistic but impractical image? Are your goals realistic? Are you struggling with the weight of perfectionism? In getting to know our children and learning how to read and respond to their cues, we must be realistic and practical in the demands we place on ourselves. This requires that we maintain our ability to say no in order to avoid over-burdening ourselves.
With realistic expectations in place, the attachment parent must have the wisdom to recognize when they need help and to make that need known. Ordinarily, this help will come from the spouse; however, parents can also look to extended family, mother’s helpers, and the local community for additional help and support, both emotionally and practically.
Speaking specifically to mothers, there is sometimes a tendency to hover when the father is caring for the child. Doing so prevents the father from developing the confidence he needs to learn how to bond with, soothe, and care for the child in his own unique way. Instead, take advantage of these opportunities to recharge: sleep, read, go for a walk, work on a project, or meet a friend for coffee.
Finding balance takes time and involves much trial and error. Trust your instincts and listen to your baby as you work towards achieving a balance that validates and seeks to meet the needs of each member of the family.
What if it doesn't happen?
A parent will often find an imbalance in one or more areas. This imbalance may occur due to an over-focus on one area to the detriment of others, a lack of support, or a natural change in circumstances that necessitates finding a new balance. Attachment parenting under an imbalance is not sustainable in the long-term; steps must be taken to regain a healthy equilibrium.
If something isn’t working, change it
If it isn’t working, change it. Sometimes attachment parents get so caught up in ideals that attachment parenting itself becomes a list of rigid extremes that no longer match the child's needs. They begin to parent to meet other's expectations instead of following their instincts. If something isn’t working, change it.
Ignore negative advice
When that change is needed, there will be a line of baby trainers and parenting experts ready to tell you how to parent your baby. Much of this advice disrupts the parent’s instincts and trust in their baby’s cues. This advice can quickly undermine the parent’s self-confidence and cause them to question their commitment to attachment parenting.
Remember that you are the expert on your child. Change what needs to be changed, but do so in a way that continues to meet their needs. Ignore negative advice that pushes you to abandon attachment parenting altogether.
From your spouse, your extended family, your friends, and your local groups, get help. Find a community of support and use it. Be specific in letting people know what you need and how they can help you.
Fill their cup
It sound counterintuitive, but sometimes parents find themselves trapped in a cycle of being overwhelmed, pulling away from their child, and having their child becoming even more clingy and demanding as a result. The parent pulls away further and the child pushes harder. Break the cycle by spending time focused solely on the child, meeting their need for your attention, after which they will be more inclined to allow you time for yourself.
Reevaluate and prioritize
Rather than trying to do everything more efficiently, reevaluate and let go of unnecessary demands on your time and energy. Prioritize and simplify.
In more demanding seasons, remember that each stage is temporary – this too shall pass. Take a deep breath and continue to meet the needs of your child as you work towards regaining and maintaining balance with your child, your spouse, and yourself.
As a mother of one, I rarely felt the need for time to myself. Even as an introvert, I found I had enough downtime during each day to rest and recharge. I rarely went out by myself, and on the rare occasion when I did, I didn’t enjoy the separation from my child. I enjoyed spending time with my child and resented the constant suggestions that I needed to take time away from him for my own sake.
When our second child arrived, I soon began to feel a growing desire for “me time”. I had less time to recharge and what felt like an exponential increase in the demands placed on me. When I started to care for another baby part-time, the demands (and subsequent need for time to recharge) increased that much more.
As the weeks passed and I allowed my life to become more and more unbalanced, I grew increasingly angry and resentful. I was short-tempered, exhausted, and becoming detached from my children as I struggled to hold on to the last of my own internal resources. There was balance in the way I responded to my child’s needs and balance in the way I met the needs of my husband, but there was a distinct lack of balance with myself and my own needs.
Finally accepting that I needed a break, I left the boys with their dad while I went out for coffee by myself. The short hour that I was gone made a surprising difference in my ability to respond to my children and meet their needs. It was enough to make the need for balance in my life very clear.
Since then, the changing needs of our family have meant a regular cycle of balance and imbalance. When things are balanced, the atmosphere is one of patience, kindness, and understanding. When needs change and we enter a period of disequilibrium, resentment and frustration begin to surface. Recognizing this allows us to quickly take steps to regain balance in our lives.
In order for attachment parenting to be sustainable in the long-term, there must be balance. This balance must be present with the child (attentiveness without indulgence), with the spouse (meeting the needs of the marriage without neglecting the needs of the child), and within the parent (meeting the needs of the individual). Failing to validate and meet, as far as possible, the needs of all members of the family will quickly lead to resentment, exhaustion, and burnout.
Imbalances may occur due to an over-focus on one area to the detriment of others, a lack of support, or a natural change in circumstances that necessitates finding a new balance. This new balance can be achieved by changing what needs to be changed in a way that continues to meet the child's needs, asking for help from others, breaking unhealthy cycles by meeting the child's needs first, and reevaluating and prioritizing.
The varying stages of childhood and the ever-shifting nature of family dynamics will create a regular cycle of balance and imbalance. It is important that a period of imbalance be quickly recognized and resolved in order to regain equilibrium. The parent's instincts and the child's needs should never be sacrificed in the name of forced attachment parenting ideals or expectations.
What Attachment Parenting is Not and Avoiding Mommy Burnout by Dr. Sears
Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life at Attachment Parenting International
On Labels and Limits: Why I no longer call myself an “attachment parent” by Megan Francis
The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to reclaim, rejuvenate and re-balance your life by Renée Trudeau
Now it's your turn! Add your link using the Mister Linky below to share your thoughts, experiences, resources, or struggles as they relate to balance in attachment parenting. I look forward to reading them! See you next Monday for our Attachment Parenting Series summary!