Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On attachment delirium and 'What's Wrong with Timeouts?'

Another post that won't make me popular, yet that I feel compelled to write. I can't keep my mouth shut.  It's a thing. Okay - here goes.

I'm all for some gentle parenting, wherever possible. I'm all for loving and nurturing and raising small people through the least violent means possible. I am.  I AM! But sometimes, when I read attachment parenting-esque articles and blogs, I feel.... what is it I feel?  Oh yeah - I feel some rage.  Yup. I get rage-y. Mostly I try to avoid them. But it's like reading the comments after a particularly good online article - you *know* you probably shouldn't but you do anyways.  And then, yup, a little bit of rage. 

It's not, for the most part, that I have a problem with what attachment parenting is. I wore a sling with my babes, I snuggled and let them sleep with me, I refused cry-it-out sleep training, and I breast fed. I don't believe in corporal punishment. I try not to yell - though often fail at this attempt. I talk to the kids about feelings and how important it is to use our words to express how we feel (even when they feel like their mama is being an arse). I don't have a problem with sharing parenting techniques and tricks. I don't have a problem with reading up to better myself as a parent and as a person. But I do have a problem with the over-zealousness with which some parenting writers express their thoughts. I *do* have a problem with the idea that parents must live only for their children. (I recently stumbled upon a blog titled something like "Does sudden change negatively impact your kids?" I didn't read it. The answer is, of course it does. We all have a hard time with sudden life shifts.  That shit is hard. Does that mean we must avoid sudden change at all costs so as not to ruin our littles?  Sometimes - this stuff is unavoidable. Sometimes, life throws us right round the bend. Sometimes, it blows, for grown-ups and for kids.  And sometimes, the things we'd like to avoid (for ourselves and for our small fry) are unavoidable.) I probably should actually read the blog.  It's probably great.  But I couldn't bring myself to get past the title. (Which is my bad...)

I also have a problem with judge-y.

My recent foray into the world of attachment-y writing was by Dr. Laura Markham. She has a site on parenting, for those who are not similarly affected by such writing, and who'd like to read more. And the article I glanced at was titled: What's Wrong with Timeouts?.  What indeed?  The article described how time-outs are punishment, make our children "feel worse about [themselves]", create worse behaviours, and trigger their abandonment issues. Time-outs are, according to this author, akin to forcing a child to stand in a corner. "You confirm what she suspected -- she is a bad person. Not only does this lower self esteem, it creates bad behavior, because people who feel bad about themselves behave badly." So, parents who use time-outs - you are assholes.  Markham refers to time-outs as a "destructive" practice that will trigger "your child's abandonment panic".  Sweet baby jesus. It's true - you *are* an asshole. You really, really are.  Time to start saving up for therapy now.

Markham also treats parents who use time-outs as basically akin to corporal punishment, and intimates that parents who use both practices are kinda, well, stupid: "Parents who use timeouts are often shocked to learn that there are families who never hit, never use timeouts, and rarely raise their voices to their children. But you shouldn’t need to use these methods of discipline, and if you're using them now, you'll probably be quite relieved to hear that you can wean yourself away from them."

Mkay. I don't hit my kids. Okay - that isn't entirely true. Once, after being really beat up by one of my kids during a particularly lengthy and bad episode (I won't even call it a tantrum because it was much, much more serious than that word implies), after being repeatedly slapped in the face (amoung other places), I swatted my kid on the ass. It was enough to shock them out of the three hour long episode. I felt horrible. I cried. We cried together. And then we held each other and both fell asleep from the exhaustion of the afternoon. When we woke up, we talked about it. I apologized and told my child that I fucked up. We tried to debrief what was going on for my child. In short, we did the best we could.

And I *do* use time-outs. They are for everyone's health and safety. My kids both know the bottom-line rules in our house. And if there is violence - throwing objects or physical violence - a time-out is what occurs.  Perhaps this results in abandonment anxiety. Perhaps I am, in fact, leading my children to a path of ruination. (Though this may be for all kinds of reasons beyond my use of time-outs). Time-outs (which we call chill-outs) enable us all to remove from a given situation and breathe. Then, a few minutes later, we regroup and talk about it. When we are *all* much calmer. If this is a practice of violent parenting - then so be it.

Another article on the same website similarly pissed me off, with Markham pronouncing that the only healthy way to get kids to behave well is to make them want to please their parents. Now, on the one hand, I agree.  I'd like my kids to do things because those are the expectations of citizens of this household, not because they fear punishment or because they are bribed to do so. But something in this is kind of gross and creepy, too. Markham posits that once we change the attitudes of our smalls, they will suddenly become type A smalls - you know - the ones with good grades and loads of friends: "Eventually, of course, kids reap the rewards of good behavior – good grades, self-esteem, approval from peers – and it begins to come naturally. It becomes part of their self image, and they automatically act to preserve that self-image. But this positive way of being always starts with their desire to please us." 

Now I'm creeped out by this. I'm creeped out because first of all, good grades and approval from peers does not a healthy child make. Many, many kids struggle with school and struggle socially.  This doesn't make them mal-adjusted. Moreover, while I want my kids to generally do what I ask of them, I do *not* want to train them to act out of a desire to please. Me, or anyone else. I want to teach them to act with their hearts, in the best way they can. I want them to be true to themselves, not people-pleasers.  Of course, my role as a parent is to teach them appropriate behaviours, in the best and most positive ways I can. Of course it is. But I also want them to disagree with me. I want them to be able to tell me, or any other grown-up, that their ideas are bunk if that's how they feel. I want them to be able to be people, with feelings and ideas.  And I'm down with that.  My kidlets call me on shit sometimes. And fair enough. Sometimes, I just might be a jackass.

The point I'm trying to make here, is that I think we've all gone a little over the top in trying to keep our small people from the hurts of the world. Sometimes, we have to make sudden changes.  It's hard. And we'll all come back from it as best we can.  Sometimes, we need to separate ourselves and our kids from a heated situation. They might feel shitty about that. True. But sometimes, when you are dealing with intense situations and intense kidlets and intense parents - it's the lesser of all evils.

How about a parenting article that says this: Do the best you can. Love your little people. Respect them. Teach them love and respect. Use all the tools at your disposal. Talk to them. Hear their words if your expect them to hear yours.

I'd be able to hear that a whole lot better than: HEY YOU! YES, YOU! You're an idiot parent who's gonna sentence your children to a lifetime of abandonment complex and therapy.  (Because you know what? Attachment parents or not, we're all likely sentencing our kids to a lifetime of therapy. Because we're people dealing with our own effed up shit while trying our best to parent. Which is a hard gig, as I am overly fond of pointing out.)

So parents - I say this. Keep on keeping on. Try your best to be loving and gentle. And when you fuck up, say you're sorry. Ask for help when you need to. Sometimes you *will* need to. And tell your kids that you love them. Often. Try to remember to tell them everyday.

And beyond that - do the best you can with what you've got.

The end.


  1. Love this. I practice a lot of "attachment parenting" but I see nothing wrong with a time out. Sometimes kids need a break to calm down. Or a moment to sit and think about why they're there. I do more of a "time in" with little kids (sit them nearby but make them sit so they can stop the action that was bad and think about it for a minute.) Even with Love & Logic parenting (which I love), they use time outs in some cases. Kids can sometimes blow up and not handle their emotions well and being together can make it worse. Sometimes a moment alone is good for them (and us.) I still find that a moment to myself can help me feel more in control and calm, just as the same can be true for a child. It doesn't mean you've abandoned them. That's just ridiculous.

  2. Yes. This. All of it. If you've found something that works for all the members of the family, by all means, USE IT!

  3. After many hours (not all at once) of listening to screaming (how dare I offer the wrong coloured cup?!? How dare I not allow my toddler to clear all the books off of every single shelf at the public library?!? etc), I decided that I do not deserve, nor should I have to, listen to screaming. So I explained to my daughter, in a moment of calm, that should she feel the need to scream, (sometimes it's the only way available to them to express their anger and frustration, and they're allowed to feel anger and frustration) she can do it in her room. She's allowed to scream, I just don't have to accept to listen to it. As soon as she feels calmer and can speak, or just hug, or whatever, she is welcome to come out. It rarely took more than a minute.