Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Moving away from being the constant presence

This was a messageboard conversation. A mother of a 16 month old who co-sleeps and still breastfeeds a lot is feeling the classic attachment mama burnout.

Without judging whether she was right or wrong to get into the position of being burned-out AP mother, what advice would you give her? (I'm sure at least one of my regular commenters will have something to say!!!)

This is what I said so far (criticism welcome)

If you want a longer gap between day-time feeds, and less of an assumption that breastfeeding is the default I'm-bored activity, try pushing the envelope so you are away a little longer than 3-4 hours in the daytime but the child isn't distressed. Beginn to find more interesting things to do than breastfeeding a lot in the day time - it might take a lot of some favourite food to be more attractive than the breast (chocolate mini milks?! Lots of good calcium in there!)

And then for the night time, if you are wanting to escape from being the only parent who will do at night time, I would think first in terms of giving a huge feed about an hour before bed time, and then disappearing to a cafe around the corner with a book so that your Dh can help your child go to bed. I'd recommend him lying down with the baby, and reading lots of favourite stories and then singing lots and lots of lullabies, giving as many cuddles as needed. No pressure on the little one to fall asleep, but just Daddy being there to help. And if it goes wrong, you can be called home to help, and try it another day! It would be a lot of work for your Dh to start with, but needn't be distressing for your child.

Same with the mornings - do whatever normal feeding happens at night and then any morning when you wake before your child, you just slip away, leaving water and biscuits or something even nicer to eat, and Daddy snuggled next to the baby, and see how Daddy does. Are there any foods which your child would take in preference to milk? Chocolate buttons? (this is at breakfast time, after all, you can always clean their teeth afterwards) And something to help them get out of dozy dozy mode really fast (a favourite DVD on a portable DVD player, maybe?)

All of this requires a lot of creativity on your husband's part. It might be that daytime naps would be a better place for him to start learning how to help your child to sleep rather than the night - get together with your husband and brainstorm like mad about things which are really comforting which aren't your breasts.

And Attachment Mama burn-out is really really classic. The big thing is to learn how to absent yourself so the Daddy can learn how to do some comforting and soothing.

I think the I-am-the-only-parent-who-can-comfort trap is particularly dangerous for SAHMs with WOHDs, because the breasts become the be-all and end-all so easily. It's much easier for those of us whose circumstances have meant that other care givers (the father, or a grandmother, or whoever) have been an accepted part of the comfort-giving landscape from the start.

Does anyone have any other wisdom about ways in which other care-givers learned to offer comfort without the magic breasts (while I still think that breastfeeding is the best possible start for a child, and that it should continue as long as both the mother and child are happy, I do think it's important to develop those other comfort options, and it can be harder for the wearer of the magic breasts to think of those options, since the magic breasts are always there in times of stress)


Monica said...

Sometimes doing something unusual helps change the routine.

It is important that the focus of the mother is on nurturing herself when she is away from the child, and not on being away. I find it sort of hard to articulate, but I think it makes a huge difference to the whole relationship dynamic if the mother leaves home to go to the coffee shop to read something is is very keen on reading, or if she is thinking anxiously if the baby will survive without her. And it is important that the father is confident that the baby will be fine and is happy about staying, and not resentful. I think the father or other carer should focus on having fun, not on avoiding distress.

I always find it amazing how when one is keen on doing things, one finds a way, but when one feels trapped, one is trapped...

emma said...

Dear wise Monica,

Can I post your message (anonymously) at the message board?

Monica said...

As to critizing your message, I think "getting away" is not the one and great solution. (though it will probably play at least a part)

And I don't think alternatives should always be food, if the sense is that it is an "I'm bored" default.

I think offering non-food alternatives when child is bored can be extremely hard, but play and being engaged in doing can be a great proative alternative to *getting* bored.

Hope this makes sense!

Monica said...

oh, yep, if you think it would be helpful and appreciated please do!

I am not feeling very articulate today...

emma said...

Yes, lots of sense.


Thank you.

Betula said...

I think that breastfeeding is like 'intense mothering time' and (totally plucked from the sky numbers coming up) 1/2 an hour of breastfeeding is worth 2 hours of intense non-breastfeeding mothering time, so replacing breastfeeding with something else *does* require work and effort and creativity. Being busy and being out a lot in the daytime can help, but I notice that a lot of toddlers seem to have a quota of breastfeeding over 24 hours and will fill it at night if they don't get it in the daytime.

The biggest thing I can say is that toddlers pick up on reluctance to feed. That makes them feel insecure. Feeling insecure makes them want to do the most instinctive thing to try to reassure themselves that Mummy still loves them - breastfeed. Coming to a point where one can be at peace with the level of feeding often leads to a toddler feeding less often simply because it is no longer an issue. Reminding the mother that 'this too shall pass' may be the best help you can give her - very often what a mum needs is space to moan and let off steam, and not actually a 'magic wand' to make it all better.

I'd agree with what you say about getting the dad to be more involved in comforting. Our DD3 weaned very young after a long period with DH bathing her before bed and cuddling her while he read to the older two (well, to her too, but not really her age books!), and then turning the light off and she'd just go to sleep. Then it was only Daddy who could comfort her at night, then he was also preferred in the daytime, then she weaned. Sad for me, and probably too soon, but she's a different child to her sisters. Anyway, the point is, getting Dad involved as much as possible but in *different ways*, as Monica says. If the normal bedtime routine includes a bath, then forgo the bath and get dad to shower with baby instead. Or get dad to take baby out in a sling (or even better, to do the washing up with baby in a sling on his back!) - baby will probably fall asleep quite easily this way, with some gentle music on in the background, while Mum gets a well-earned break and may well feel refreshed enough to take over again during the night.

But the 'it's a phase' thing is something to be stressed - this baby will not be a 16m old with 16m old needs forever. Getting to bf support groups, calling bf helplines or local BFCs, joining any local AP groups, will all help to support the mother and help her cope better with the struggle of APing in our culture.


Monica said...

Clare, I totally agree. Very wise comment! I think the picking up on the reluctance is what I was trying to say yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Attachment parenting is irrational.
Use dummies and baby food.

Don't offer ice cream and chocolate, or else the child will be taken in to care in a few years. ;)

Seriously, why encourage the wrong thing?

Hug and hold quietly, rocking gently, do a back massage and offer a cute water bottle.

Most importantly, play with your toddler. Teach (help him learn) things. Feynman's father used to make him do patterns with tiles as a toddler.

Have more people in the toddler's life, especially other children to play with.

Tears of temporary distress often go on their own, don't give them so much importance.

emma said...

Baby food from birth, Leo? Human guts aren't sufficiently developed to digest anything properly except milk (and ideally human milk) until about 6 months. What do you suggest a baby is fed until that point?

If breastmilk to that point, what then? Go cold turkey and refuse the breast as soon as the child starts accepting, well, cold turkey?

Maybe I'm not sufficiently managing to divorce the simple food-giving role of the breasts (good, presumably) from the emotional nourishment that nursing provides. I'm not yet convinced of what is actually inherently so BAD about the role that breasts can play in emotional nourishment - isn't it a two-for-the-price-of-one here? Baby gets food AND comfort in one action? Is that a bad thing?

Monica said...

emma, in my humble opinion, t is not necessary to separate them totally.

I think breast can actually be a better comforter than dummies... the issue I always have with dummies is the "weaning" of them, all the "you are a big kid now and shouldn't use one" Why did the parent give it in the first place???

The breast as comforter includes the fat that the weaning is a true necessity, with real peoples limits involved, real evolution of a relationship involved. I think it is quite doable.

I really like Leo's concrete suggestions of how to make the transition. I think toddlers are naturally interested in many more things. I think it is mostly a proccess for the mother to learn to "let go", and not something to be pushed.

I think the most important point in Feynman's tiling anecdote was that the father was sharing (teaching) what *he* found interesting.

Monica said...

and sorry for the typos in my last comment

Anonymous said...

The dummies and baby food were for the 16 month old in your problem.

Weaning as soon as possible is a good idea. Do you think being dependent on a person's breast for food and comfort is good for anyone's autonomy? Arm that kid with knowledge instead.

Emotional comfort should not be a goal. It happened because you cannot help the child learn a solution for their problem and change their state of mind that way.

Monica: "I think the most important point in Feynman's tiling anecdote was that the father was sharing (teaching) what *he* found interesting."

There is another important point which is that his mother would probably have spoilt it all because she disliked that his father didn't allow him to put the tile he wanted when it was the wrong one for the pattern.

Monica said...

Leo wrote:
Weaning as soon as possible is a good idea. Do you think being dependent on a person's breast for food and comfort is good for anyone's autonomy? Arm that kid with knowledge instead.

I insist:
extended breast feeding does *not* need to mean making the child dependent on a single persons breast for food and comfort. I agree that there is this danger of looking at it that way, but I think this article is about how to avoid that - I don't think shortening the breastfeeding extension or limiting its comfort value are the best solution.

Monica said...

Regarding how Richard Feynman was parented, I recommend the first chapter of "What do *you* care what other people think?" (by him)

From that chapter, called "The making of a scientist":
When my mother saw that [that the father and toddler Richard were setting tiles in patterns] she said, "Leave the poor child alone. If he wants to put a blue tile, let him put a blue tile."
But my father said, "No, I want to show him what patterns are and how interesting they are. It's a kind of elementary mathematics." So he started very early to tell me about the world and how interesting it is.

So, the mother did not "spoil it all" with her dislike... or do you mean, that if the father had obeyed the mother he wouldn't have gone on teaching young Richard P.? I think this talks about the self confidence of the father...

Or do you mean that if the mother had said "You are cohercing the child, it is wrong to do that!" she would have spoiled it all?

Other bits of the chapter that strike me as relevant:
On weekends, my father would take me for walks in the woods and he'd tell me about the interesting things that were going on in the woods. When the other mothers saw this ... [T]hey wanted my father to take all the kids, but he didn't want to because he had a special relationship with me.
This is part of what I understand as attachment parenting.

I really like what Feynman says in that chapter (and in that book). I highly recomend it. Let me finish this (too long) comment with the last paragraph of the chapter:
Although my mother didn't know anything about science, she had a great influence on me as well. In particular, she had a wonderful sense of humor, and I learned from her that the highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.

Monica said...

I find this important too:

That's the way I was educated by my father, with those kind of examples and discussions: no pressure - just lovely,interesting discussions

Anonymous said...

Toddler Feynman must have shown some distress for his mother to have said: "Leave the poor child alone. If he wants to put a blue tile, let him put a blue tile."

Feynman's father corrected him in order to teach him, coercion regardless. He didn't take his tears of "but I want to put a blue tile" very seriously. That's the point you (and probably other TCS fans of Feyman)are missing.

Coercion as TCS defines it is often good for learning.

What Feynman's father did was to enjoy his son's company and to be a very good teacher to him and Feynman had the natural ability to easily create the knowledge in his own mind.

Attachment theory is pedagogy based on the irrational idea people need to be emotionally attached to someone to thrive. For instance, when adoption fails, it's assumed it's failure of attachment.

The purpose of attachment theory was to make it easier to discipline children. This is clear in Dr. Sears' books. It's a form of gentle coercion.

If you want to respect a child's autonomy, it's not from attachment theory you should be learning.

Monica said...

Leo said:
Feynman's father corrected him in order to teach him

Oh,yes! Correcting mistakes is a big part in learning/teaching. It's a big part of the humans are fallible world view ;) I don't think I miss that point. I'm not sure whether TCS people do because I refuse to label myself as TCS. But I wanted to emphasize the same you do, Leo:
"What Feynman's father did was to enjoy his son's company and to be a very good teacher to him and Feynman had the natural ability to easily create the knowledge in his own mind."

To me the point is *not* focusing on cohercion (TCS definition), but on sharing theories. (good ones, whenever possible ;) - in other words, one's best theories)

As to attachment parenting theory, I admit I have never read any Sears' book and I was taking the words more or less at face value. I think people can be emotionally attached to each other and still be respectful of their autonomy - but it is paramount that the parents (mother if we are talking of breast feeding) are autonomous themselves, respect their own needs and feel fulfilled not only through their children.

So, in my humble opinion, if you want to respect your child's autonomy you should be respecting yours and be in touch with your child. Does that have a fancy name? I don't care... Is it something you need to learn? maybe, but the idea is quite simple to grasp, the learning is in the doing...

Sorry this has grown quite off topic emma, but I am loving the flow of ideas!