Thursday, July 31, 2008

AP Dads

One of us recently brought up in conversation the fact that her husband was having a hard time embracing attachment parenting the way she had. This comadre really wants to co-parent with her husband and hopes fervently that he will come round.

Like many of us on the road to the AP lifestyle, her husband has these shining moments of tenderness with their baby when it seems like he’s acting intuitively and listening to his innermost voice about how he wants to parent; he also has a lot of other moments when it seems as though he’s fighting a losing battle with the parenting style in which he was brought up and with the loud voices of family and bossy baby trainers that don’t seem to have an off switch. My friend wants to know what she can do to help her husband feel confident about tapping more completely into his intuition and doing the AP thing full time.

Sound familiar?

As a subscriber of Mothering, a participant in the Mothering Dot Commune forums, and a reader of many AP blogs, I’ve often seen variations on the same story: a woman wants a home birth, but “DH” isn’t into it, how can she convince him? A woman wants to practice attachment parenting with their new baby; how can she get DH on board? A woman is vegetarian and wants to raise her child as same; how can she—well, you get the idea.

Maybe it’s the circles in which I spend most of my time running, but it sure seems to me that things like having a home birth, practicing attachment parenting, eating a meatless diet made up of healthy whole foods, and generally living in a conscious and attached fashion somehow become campaigns for many women. Many of our male partners need convincing, and it seems a lot harder for them to fall into the lifestyle.

Part of it might be as simple as upbringing. As one AP dad says in his blog (bolding mine):

I grew up in a household that was a combination of strict and detached, where my parents unquestionably loved me, but in a distant and pretty much uninvolved way. As a consequence, while I have always been determined to not be this way with my kids, it's tough because there's a sort of behavioral destiny in this vein that I've had to fight on and off for years. I think we all have to be very conscious parents if we don’t want to just fall blindly into the patterns our parents used in rearing us, actually, and that’s not very easy to do, particularly in stressful situations.

Yet, it’s an argument any woman could make as well, isn’t it? I’d argue that it’s because we live in a sexist, patriarchal society that women get “permission” to “dote” and practice attachment living whereas men have it the other way around. It’s “natural” for us to be nurturing, intuitive, and attached to our children, for us to be demonstrative toward them with our emotions and affections. In fact, some of us may even feel pressure to perform as the perfect AP mama according to those "natural" expectations. Dads have traditionally experienced different parenting pressures, most of which allow for (and expect) distance.

I know plenty of women who are harangued by strangers and even family/friends/partners over their decision to practice attachment living, but it seems the men generally get one of two reactions, depending on the crowd: either they’re criticized for deviating from script society has handed them about how to live up to their masculinity, or they’re given a standing ovation.

The other day, my partner and I went to an outdoor music festival with our 6-month-old son. I toted him around in the Beco most of the time and no one seemed to bat an eye, except for a few smiles (at his big blue headphones) and a couple disapproving grimaces (“concerts are no place for babies!”).

When my husband strapped him on, however, it was an entirely different story. Women stopped him on the street and begged to take his photo, not even noticing I was there! They cooed and complimented him and generally became puddles of goo on the pavement. These well-meaning passersby might as well have said, “Good job being an involved and attached father! You don’t have to do that, you know. You’re really going above and beyond! You obviously don’t care about looking masculine, and that’s so cool.”

Traditionally, men have been kept out of pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing, only advised to play supporting roles. Bradley (and later Sears) began to bring men back into the parenting picture again in a big way; Bradley advocating for childbirth to be “husband-coached” (don’t get me started—his heart was in the right place), and the Sears franchise encourages fathers to enjoy such things as skin-to-skin time with their babies and not to balk at strapping on a sling.

Attachment parenting amounts to practicing “feminine” ways of knowing. It asks us to get down on our children’s level, to intuit and anticipate their needs, to tune into them emotionally and otherwise. It asks us to be tender, to ask instead of tell or explain. It asks us to share our beds, our breasts, our hearts. It’s not a “method” to which you can subscribe, and it’s not always convenient. It’s demanding and it’s hard work. It’s enriching, too, and even better when both parents are into it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, take your pick), for many men AP means giving the proverbial finger to typical ideas of masculinity. It’s hard for some of us to overcome ideas we might have learned about gender when we’re learning to parent our own children. Co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding are areas of the AP lifestyle that often raise the most eyebrows among non-APing men. After all, doing those things must preclude any kind of sex life, right? For a guy to agree to such a thing must mean he handed his wife his man card on a silver platter.

My partner is a computer guy and I’m an academic, so we both appreciate a factual and logical approach. During my pregnancy, we pored over books and articles together, with me taking the lead. I dog-eared pages and sent him links and we both quickly arrived at most of the same conclusions. I see many other women doing the same thing: preparing to do battle over home birth or AP, stockpiling research for The Big Conversation. Hey, whatever works!

So I get why it’s hard for some of our partners to get behind AP at first. It seems to require peeling back a lot of complicated layers. But by setting new examples for masculinity—especially for our sons—we show our children a broader spectrum of gendered and parenting behavior. I think I’m pretty lucky to (e-)know a lot of men—like my partner and Jeremy Adam Smith, for example—who are proud to be AP dads.

So, tell us about your partners and your (shared?) journey to attachment living!


Mom said...

As I write this, my husband is dancing around the kitchen preparing supper with our daughter in a mei tai. She often objects to the various carriers and slings at the moment-I think it's just too warm for her, but it's a joy to watch.

I couldn't be an attached parent without the support of my partner. I couldn't be an attached parent because I wouldn't get the balance that is so important to being a compassionate and attentive parent. We're dealing with a major breastfeeding challenge, for example, and without his help I wouldn't be able to pump for her, but I also would have lost sight of the feeding with love and respect concept because I was so caught up in my anger and sadness over not being able to breastfeed.

For me, parenthood, not just attachment parenting was something that I wanted to undertake with the love and support of a partner. I think it makes me a better parent-I have someone to fill in my weaknesses and to support my strengths. It's a good balance.

Anonymous said...

I've seen these posts on MDC too, and it makes me realize just how lucky we are. My husband quit his job to stay at home with our babe and is on board with attachment parenting. We researched and did a lot of link sharing as well and it all just made so much sense to us! I think I could have made some of the same choices on my own, but it would have been MUCH harder to maintain long term.

s t a c y said...

Thanks for this post... So much of what you write is familiar to me, and resonates.

I feel so blessed that my husband and I are able to talk through our parenting choices and to work together to create a peaceful and balanced home.

As our children have gotten a bit older, and we feel more stretched, we both struggle to keep from parenting reflexively and to keep with our ideals.

I love that my kids love their dad so much, and that he is so cuddly with them, and that my husband wore them so often (he walked both our boys to sleep every night for many, many months)...