Saturday, March 20, 2010

Read the Labels! AP, Free-Range, and All That Stuff.

I sat down with absolutely nothing of significance to blog about....killed some time on Grilled Cheese Chick's blog and I discovered she is neurotically labeling herself, so I decided to neurotically label myself, too.

Cheesy, it seems, is concerned that she is a Walking Talking Paradox. Well, she didn't actually say that. But one of my hobbies, according to my husband, Jeff, is "making assumptions and reading things into what other people say or fail to say...." I like to point out to him that if it weren't for my imagining he meant more than he actually said - there would be very little substance to our conversations....a good portion of which are made up of manly grunts, umphs, and non-verbal acknowledgements in the form of raised eyebrows. Before I get back to Cheesy (because I do realize I have gone off on a tangent) let me just add that I recently discovered that my personal ring tone on Jeff's phone is the Darth Vader Theme. When I took offense? I was accused of "reading too much into it." This statement was followed by non-verbal cues of grinning and eyebrow raising. Humph. There's my own man-word for you. Read into what you will.

Back to Cheesy. She is trying to distract herself with labeling. She didn't actually say that, of course. I read that between the lines. So she was wondering if she could be an Attachment Parent AND have Free-Range Kids. Her husband concluded that that is exactly what they are and what they have. I am inclined to concur :).

First of all, both Cheesy and I have been at the parenting gig since before either one of these labels were being applied to parenting styles, and our styles are very similar. But, quite frankly, they're somebody else's labels. So they're not going to fit, exactly. But I think the reason these two terms seem paradoxical is because the word "attachment" brings up a very physical image that seems in direct conflict with "free." I'd like to explore a little bit about what these terms really mean.

Attachment....Free Range.....One implies we have children permanently attached to our breasts (which is gross because one of Cheesy's is in college - one of her kids, that is..not one of her breasts; although both of her breasts were once in college) and the other implies our kids are just running around doing whatever the heck they want while Cheesy and I sip our margaritas. do you smother a kid while letting it hop on a subway without you? Duh. You can't. So maybe "attachment" isn't attachment in the physical sense of the word. Aha! I think we're onto something :).

Let's look at Attachment Parenting. Some people (literal thinkers) believe Attachment Parenting is "hard" and requires constant hovering and nurturing and attending. And it is true that most AP parents wear their babies, co-sleep, and breastfeed. So, at least for awhile, there is this strong sense of physical attachment. But the bigger attachment that AP parents strive for is emotional attachment. And you get the emotional attachment by being emotionally responsive to the baby's needs. For me, it was EASIER to wear my baby than push a crying baby in a stroller. But one of my babies LOVED a stroller and so I often pushed him. It was EASIER to bring a baby to my bed than to listen to a baby cry. But one of my babies HATED sleeping with anyone else in the bed - so he slept in a crib. It was EASIER for me to breastfeed on demand than try to stick a crying baby on a schedule (I also don't believe in teaching young children to ignore their own bodies in regards to their physical needs like hunger...) and it was EASIER to breastfeed than it was to prepare and haul bottles around. But one of my babies had a physical problem that made breastfeeding difficult, and so it was EASIER for him to take a bottle. What was EASIER, in each of these cases, was what met the child's needs.

All of my kids have been different in temperament and emotional/physical needs and so I have parented differently for each of my children. Sometimes the parenting looked more "attached" than at other times. And I am still at it - 17 years later - parenting them differently and sometimes in a more "attached" fashion than at other times. Which leads me to the Free-Range business.

I have found that when a child has had his emotional and physical needs met throughout his early years, he seems to need less attachment in his growing years. In short, he wants some space. He's been raised to listen to his needs - and so he wants to eat when he's hungry and doesn't want a lot of interference in determining "what" he should eat. He wants to sleep when he's sleepy and stay up when he's not. He doesn't doubt his ability to find his way "home" to a mom who has always been there to meet his needs, and so he wants to wander around and explore. He hasn't been chastised for making mistakes, so he wants to try a lot of new things. He believes in himself and feels worthwhile and important, so he often doesn't want a lot of help and interference from mom because he's confident he can figure it all out for himself. And the AP mom? Recognizes this need for independence and autonomy and gives her Formerly Attached At The Hip (or boob) Best Friend In The Whole Wide World a little more (or a lot more) FREEDOM. Because she's used to responding to his needs. Even if the emotional response is one of crying quietly at night in the bed where he used to snuggle up against her :). 'Cause that is how it works.

I am working on the Free Range thing. I'm fine with letting the Little People cook their own meals and crack eggs on the floor and spill milk and stuff. *Before I sound perfect, let me make it known that letting them do this often results in my using language rarely heard in civil circles - I have also been known to occasionally sit inside a puddle of flour and cry while curious butter-eating bakers look on.

I'm fine with letting the Little People say they're not hungry when I really think they should eat. I'm fine with letting them wear non-matching clothes or no clothes at all and doing all sorts of things "wrong" and then learning from it. I'm fine with letting them wander away from me, get filthy, get wet...etc. I'm even fine with saying, "Sure, take the cart back into the grocery store...sure, walk to your aunt's house...ride your bikes to the mailbox..." But I'm not fine with saying, "Ride your bikes to town....or...go swimming alone...." or any number of other things that some Free Range Families do. I'm not saying they shouldn't do them (statistically speaking they're not taking huge risks) but I'm not comfortable letting go quite that much.

Anyway, it is the Medium-Sized and Big-Sized People I want to reign in. I fight it...this constant urge to imagine every horror that could possibly result from teenage driving, or swimming out to the second sandbar, or going places alone, or riding off on a bicycle, or making friends and having relationships outside my own circle of acquaintances. My Rational Mind who knows the odds of this or that happening tends to completely recede to the background so that the Whacko Mind who wants to be best friends with the 911 operator can take front and center. And when the Whacko Mind is in charge I am certain that a kid is five minutes late because she's definitely driven off of a, wait...she's been wait...a large crack opened up in the earth and swallowed her whole. Because these things DO happen...and the parents wonder and wonder what they could have done...But the odds are slim that these things will happen...and people do not thrive while living lives of fear and restriction. But tell that to my Whacko Mind when she's all worked up...My Whacko Mind thinks Free-Range Kids are in Imminent Danger From Everything.

I walk the fine line between wanting my oldest kid to know that the world is her world, she needn't be afraid of it - most people ARE good, or at least not horrible...and wanting her to know that there is such a thing as date rape, that someone could follow her home or hide beside her car in a parking lot....that people do, in fact, get in their cars and drive drunk. It was much easier to just let her sit in a mud puddle or break eggs or wander alone around the "dangers" of our ranch.

I keep coming back to where it all began: Attachment Parenting. She knows she is a worthy and important person who deserves to have her needs met - anyone who doesn't treat her this way is immediately suspect....she knows I've always listened to her and that I've tried my best to be reasonable when she's made a good case for herself - I haven't pulled the "because I said so" she tends to listen to me. I know she trusts herself. She's been allowed to learn from her mistakes. I know she is smart. So yeah, I'm working on the Free Range part. Soon - she'll be off into the world. I don't want to just kick her out of the nest and yell, "Fly!" She needs to have done at least a little fluttering about on her own, first, while the nest is still close enough to crash land in, if need be.

So let's see. What is my official label? I guess it is "Attachment Parent to Quasi-Free-Range Kids." That is as good as I'm going to get - as long as my Rational Mind is bunking with my Whacko Mind, anyway.

Well, this went a lot further than I'd intended. I've no time now to get into identifying my Discipline Style Label or my Homeschooling Style Label. And I'd really wanted to give myself several labels today. I guess the next label will have to wait, though, because we are making cascarones today and I need to get out the food coloring and confetti yada yada yada. I will give you a hint, though. My next post will be, "Sardine Mama's Guide to Permissive Parenting."

Signing Off as a Partially Labeled Sardine Mama


  1. So with all the label talk I got simultaneously impressed and confused and then, I became intimidated.

    I'm supposed to be labeled? But what if I don't know what my parenting style is? I'd have to go with 'fly by the seat of my extra large pants' coupled with 'whatever works'.

    Are those official labels? If they're not, and I'm going to need a label to participate, let me know. Soon. Because my kids are really old and don't need a whole lot of parenting at this stage.

    I don't want to be left behind.

    My hubby does not have a different ring tone for my calls.

    But when he uses the voice dial, he asks the phone to dial 'my old bitch'.

    I wonder what sort of label we could put on that.

  2. oh... and then, I tried to go to the blog you wrote about (Grilled Cheese Chick?) and the link didn't work. But I found it. And am happily reading.

  3. I freaking LOVE the Fly By The Seat of my Extra Large Pants label!! Use that one.

    And I fixed the link - thanks :)

  4. Love this post. Labels are fun - I like your definition of AP. I have free range kids, which gets a bit more fearful on my side now that the little huck fins have close access to the lake . . .I like them to have freedom.

  5. Thank you for clarifying this for me Carol. Maybe I'm not a walking talking paradox after all. Enjoyed reading!

  6. I will guarantee only one thing with all this label talk, you never want to know my label! Way too long to read in one sitting!

  7. This is a pretty interesting post!
    More than any other label, i do appreciate you being mom being it is never an easy job to be pregnant, have the child and raise them, it is the mother who molds them to be God fearing and responsible individuals.
    So for me, you being a mom is more than just any labels you can think of! :>
    Really love your post by the way.

  8. As always, I love your posts. I like to read certain passages to my hubby that I find especially funny, insighful or that just really hit home like the Whacko Mind vs the Rational Mind (I really get that BTW) while he grunts, nods & raises his eyebrows in response :)
    Thanks for the laughs.

  9. As the mother of two teenage boys, I have to say it is very hard to let them go. I have to just give up and remember, it doesn't change their level of danger if I totally freak out when they're away, or not -- that's how I try to keep the screaming meemies away. I wonder if this quasi-panic goes on for a really long time?