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Heather Choate Davis Headshot

Grace in the Parenting Storm

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It was hard to ignore all the media swirling around the TIME magazine cover on "attachment parenting" last week. The shot of the mother nursing a boy who appeared old enough to play t-ball was designed to stop us in our tracks -- it did, good job with that -- still, I found myself curiously unstirred about the issue at hand. After all, my kids are raised, I'm happy with how they've turned out, there are no grandchildren yet to fuss over -- I'm in that lovely place where I can sit back, smile supportively and watch the next generation work themselves into a lather about parenting choices.

My interest was, however, piqued on Sunday during a sermon on the verse "abide in my love." When I heard those words I couldn't help but picture all the moms with baby slings. How that's the very message they are trying to communicate when they hold their babies so close to their bodies that their pulses become one. Abide in my love. How that's exactly what God is trying to tell us when He knows our every worldly instinct is to cut and run. Abide in my love. Funny how the very thing that advocates of attachment parenting are trying to model has been the model for how we are to live in relationship to God and each other from the beginning of Creation.

Of course, this new "trend" in parenting is not in the least bit religiously motivated -- in fact, I suspect many of its biggest fans would be somewhat horrified to hear there is any corollary at all. At the same time, many of the people who are the most vocal about their faith are likely disgusted by what they see as the "indulgent, bohemian" methods of attachment parenting. (Aren't the culture wars fun?) Still, there it is, the first word on attachment: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love." (John 15:9)

According to the non-profit group Attachment Parenting International, their goal is helping parents raise "secure, joyful and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world." Compassion, therefore, is the end game, and kids who know they are loved, that their needs will be met, that their cries will be heard, will grow to be more compassionate people. In Hebrew, the word for compassion is rahhum, which means "a deep, belly-rooted connection." It comes from the word rahamin -- literally, "a mother's womb." It is used all throughout Scripture, perhaps most notably in the passage from Exodus 34:6 when God describes his very nature as "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." In a perfect world- - to which attachment parenting advocates may be trying to help us return -- every child would have the perpetual security of knowing that they are loved and attended to in the same way that God loves and attends to their parents, pulling them close, keeping them secure.

At least that was the plan. But, human nature being what it is, we tend not to like any plan but our own, certainly not some dusty, old, pre-iWorld plan. And so new parents, particularly those who were not raised with any connection to the original "playbook," or who were -- but badly -- seek out a new one. A list of tips, of guidelines -- a new, cooler bible -- that will help them make sure that their lives, and their children's, will all turn out beautifully. So William Sears offers up the Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting. And Miguel Angel Ruiz provides The Four Agreements. And educated, urban parents -- often leading proponents of attachment parenting- - look for serenity in The Four Noble Truths, dressing their closely-slung progeny in Buddha-themed onesies, somehow overlooking the irony that in that lovely, Eastern philosophy, attachment is the origin of suffering.

Therein lies the rub: that love is equal parts attachment and suffering, and so one needs to search for a source of truth and grace big enough to embrace them both. For all the beauty of the attachment parenting movement, those Eight Principles simply do not address the reality that one day, those well-loved children will climb out of their parent's beds and into their own grown-up lives, and they will face challenges and sorrows, no matter how well-adjusted they are. They will, at times, be lonely or afraid or unsure of what value their wonderfulness has to the world. For all their exceptionalism, people will still manage to hurt them. And when that day comes, those grown children will cry out in the night, just as people have since the beginning of time (if you doubt that, read the Psalms), and they will expect someone to answer. But mom and dad will no longer be standing on the other side of the door.

And so it might be useful to add a 9th principle: one that lets kids know that, in addition to their earthly parents, they have a heavenly father. One who knows them better than they know themselves. One who asks only that we stay close enough that He might hear our cries.

The cover photo looks like this: a baby is held in the arms of his parents who are nuzzled in a sling against the breast of God. Think it'll sell?