09/05/2013 05:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I'm Learning to Ignore My Kids


My little girl, standing tall.

When my son was born five years ago, I didn't know much about kids. I had done some babysitting as a young teen and worked at summer camps, but I had never spent much time with babies. Quite honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. A trusted friend with several young children suggested The Baby Book by Dr. Sears to me, and it became my go-to resource for a multitude of baby questions, an owner's manual of sorts. The concept of Attachment Parenting made all the sense in the world to me, and I was totally on board with co-sleeping, breastfeeding, nighttime parenting and babywearing.

There are as many parenting styles as there are personality types, and about as many parenting books. I felt at home with the gentleness of AP, and I continue to be guided in a certain way by the principles behind it. However, in some instances, I feel that it can encourage unclear boundaries, and putting off difficult experiences for a later time. Dr. Sears basically says that as babies grow they have certain wants and needs (which are usually the same), and if we meet those needs as they first arise, the need goes away. Apparently, if those needs are not met, they become anxieties, and continue to surface over time.

First, this is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves as parents! I felt a tremendous pressure to meet all of my child's needs, and was afraid of creating some sort of mysterious anxiety down the road if I didn't. Now that my second child is going through the emotional ups and downs of toddlerhood, I have a different perspective. I think that sometimes what our kids need is to be given a clear boundary and the space to express their displeasure with it. To be acknowledged, but not comforted.

This approach is encouraged by Janet Lansbury, a parenting educator who promotes the ideas of Magda Gerber and RIE. I don't agree with all of her suggestions, and I certainly don't feel that Attachment Parenting is wrong. I do feel that there is a time for gentle, loving, attentive care. There is also a time to be firm and kindly ignore.

As I continue to work through my own issues through therapy and writing, I am learning to stand my ground and offer my children more than what I thought I could. I am offering them the opportunity to experience difficult emotions while I acknowledge them. To my daughter I will say something like, "You really want me to pick you up. You are mad and sad! I will pick you up as soon as I'm done making lunch." She cries at my feet for a few minutes, something I would not have been able to handle when my son was younger. Then, she gets up and finds something to play with.

I am so proud of her for discovering that she can experience the strong discomfort of not having what she wants right when she wants it. I think that in this experience she doesn't learn that I don't care about her, she learns that I have limits and boundaries, and she discovers that she is able to work through her emotions without my direct input. I think this is part of a healthy balance in parenting, and I hope you will read along at The Joy of Caitlin as I continue to discover mine. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.