Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Attachment parenting for keeping everybody happy!

Yesterday, after a long while of looking very thoughtful, Jemima asked me:

“Mummy? When did we not have Bella?”

I braced myself for the same question my big sister asked about me, when I was two weeks old: Can we take her back to the shop now? It didn’t come, but I am not one for bottling up, so I coaxed her a little.

“Which is better? Having Bella or not having Bella?” I inquired. Without hesitation she responded, in her funny head-nodding way: “It’s better having her, isn’t it mum?”

Phew! But it got me thinking.

One of the things I have found the hardest about having my second child is the constant feeling that I am unable to meet both their needs at once. Having one baby was easy. We did everything together. I rarely had to prioritise anything or anyone over her. Because I carried her everywhere in the sling, I felt free. Knowing she was safe and happy, strapped to me, meant that I was able to take time for myself, to walk, write, cook or settle down in a café with my book. After nearly three years of having me all to herself and vice versa (Sorry James! I mean during working hours), I expected us both to have difficulty adjusting to the new addition to the family. Nature took care of that for me, and so far Jemima appears to have had no real issues with her new little sister either. She has always been sweet with her and often tells me to pick her up when she wakes or cries. I have even heard her tell her: “I love you so much Bella boos.” But I’m half-expecting things to change any day, as I struggle to keep them both happy.

I remember being told by a friend that second time round things have to be different. That sometimes the baby has to cry while we see to the older child’s needs. I didn’t agree at the time and I still don’t. I know that Jemima is old enough to wait without feeling abandoned, whereas Bella is not. But how do I assure Jemima that she is still as loved and as special as always, if I am constantly having to stop what we are doing every time Bella needs something? How can I put Jemima first, and keep Bella happy? Maintaining the balance is hard and I don’t think I could do it without parenting the ‘attachment’ way. I’ll try to explain why – though I am still figuring it out in my head so forgive me if this is a little muddled.

Most days I feel that Bella is like a small animal. She is my sweet little shrew curled up in her pouch, her arms folded and her long fingers curled like claws. Her needs are carnal. I hold her close, feed her, burp her, wash her, change her, love her - all roughly on demand. (As I write this I realise that of course babies rarely demand to be washed. Hmmm she must be due a bath this month). By doing all this instinctively, barely consciously, I know that her emotional brain will develop, and that she is leaving her feral world behind. Her coos, smiles and the fact that she cries when I get cross with her sister, are all testimony to this. Meanwhile I am free to focus on Jemima’s more complicated emotional and psychological needs, influenced, now she goes to pre-school, by so much more than her mother’s care and response. How simple baby Bella seems, in comparison to my walking, talking, dancing, creating, emotionally articulate and disarmingly expressive toddler. And how different it is from the first-time round when I obsessed over every detail of Jemima’s babyhood, counting the minutes that she slept, the nappies that she filled and the number of daily feeds. These days I can’t remember if I fed Bella in the night, let alone how many times. If asked, I take a guess based upon how tired I feel.

But none of this would be possible if I could not plop Bella in a sling, if I had to sterilize bottles and mix formula, or if I had to have her sleep in a cot during the day rather than wherever Jemima and I want to be at a given time. ‘Wearing’ Bella every time we leave the house frees my arms to hold her sister’s hand, steer her bike or root around inside my bag for my wallet. Wearing her about the house, when she needs to be held, allows me to finish Jemima’s bedtime story, get dinner ready or send some emails.

Before you think I am super-mum I must explain that I am not an attachment parent in the purest sense. At home I am often to be found running to the loo/front door/burning smell in kitchen, while at the same time cooing and assuring the complaining baby on the floor that ‘mummy is coming’. I take every opportunity to put Bella down when she has fallen asleep in my arms (it’s so damned hot here!). As I write this she is lying on the bed next to me. And, I confess, every morning I have someone to help me. Srey Mach is her name and her main job is to assist me in my daily battle with the ants. But she can also stand the heat better than I can and wears Bella for me when she goes to the market. I call it attachment parenting by proxy and yes, I know it’s cheating but wouldn’t you if you had the chance?

Or perhaps you wouldn’t. I know a woman who has a nanny who always picked up the baby when he cried. She asked her nanny to stop doing this because then she would have to do the same when the nanny was not there. She called it ‘spoiling him’. I don’t buy the whole ‘rod for your own back’ theory. My experience is that if you don’t put the baby down very often they feel more secure and don’t mind so much when you do. And there are times when you just have to! Like today for instance, when the balance tipped in Jemima’s favour. She and I had a great afternoon at the swimming pool, but Bella received no attention or physical contact for over two hours, apart from a quick feed. She slept in the buggy (I never put her in the buggy!) and when she woke, lay by the side of the pool watching us. I kept wondering if, every time we waved at her and called her name, she could read the guilt in my face.

Will I ever get to a stage where I can enjoy being able to devote myself to one child without feeling I have abandoned the other? And will they appreciate it anyway? I asked Jemima if she remembered me teaching her to swim every afternoon when I was pregnant. She didn’t. It makes me sad to think that she is unlikely to remember much about her life before Bella, when she had me all to herself, whereas I, while adoring having both my girls together, will always remember those other special, simple and care-free years with Jemima, before Bella was born.


Pig in the Kitchen said...

There's so much in this post! It seems to me that the more children you have, the more you have to adapt to everyone's needs. Babies demand attention and it should be given, but as your afternoon by the pool showed, their needs are not always predictable - Bella was really happy watching the people she loved, play!
Although Jemima can't consciously remember the special time with you, the unconditional love and attention from you will have contributed to her confidence and feeling of security.
I'm really wittering! It sounds as though you're doing a great job, don't feel guilty!

Georgie said...

Thanks for your comment Pig! Yes it was very long and rather muddled as were my thoughts! Sure you are right though how a mother ever stops feeling guilty is beyond me!

Tara said...

It is all totally clear what you are saying. I only have one child but envisage having another at some point in the future (I think!) Still, looking at it from the outside: Now that Jemima is at school in the mornings - that is Bella's 1:1 time with you / Srey Mach (hey, great that SM takes her to the market etc the 'loving' AP arms don't have always to be yours) and in the afternoons that is Bella's 1:2 time - with her primary and secondary attachment figure(s) i.e. you and Jemima + others. She will be learning a lot just by hanging out with her big sis and seeing how you and Jemima interact etc. And don't forget all that 'hidden' time Bella gets to spend with you - all night in your bed and everytime you breastfeed. Just compare that to a baby sleeping alone - and then you will see you have pretty much nothing to feel guilty about in terms of her having 'you' time! Oh and the fact that Jemima is so cool about it and urges you to help Bella? It just shows that she understands - even if it is only say 90% - it is still pretty impressive and surely is a credit to your (and James') parenting skills in the first place. Life is too short for guilt G - you just carry on doing the great job you are! And keep writing about it so we can learn too! T x

Georgie said...

Thanks and I Definitely agree re secondary attachment figures. I must add that I did not intend this to be a plea for reassurances about my parenting, but rather a plug for attachment parenting as surely the only way to cope, let alone do the right thing for the kids.

Munisha said...

' her funny head-nodding way: “It’s better having her, isn’t it mum?”'

I can just picture her!

The rocking horse dream and ants (real life, alas) are hilarious and appalling respectively.


Anna said...

I just read your blog post about taking care of the two little ones, and for some reason it made me cry. in a good way. Because everything is so hard and so heartbreakingly beautiful at the same time. Anyway I appreciate your words of wisdom. As I am continuing to love my baby infinitely in the best ways i can, it really helps to talk about such things and to feel like i have some kind of example of this in my "community" no matter how far away they may be. I look forward to reading the rest of your blog (bouncing on the ball with babe).
Thanks again,