What attachment parenting with three young kids really looks like
Everyone told this mama that she’d have to adhere to strict routines once she had a toddler and twin newborns, but she didn’t listen. Here’s what happened…
Before I saw those two little pink lines appear for the first time, I’d never given parenting much thought. But as my husband and I prepared for the arrival of our daughter, we realized that we were instinctively on the same page. We hoped to breastfeed exclusively and we didn’t think sleep training was for us.
We soon realized that our parenting ideals leaned toward attachment parenting, but without the co-sleeping and constant baby-wearing. We were a child-centered family, but not that child-centered. We still wanted a smidgen of personal space.
From theory to reality
When Arabella was born, we were thrilled that breastfeeding clicked right away. We’d heard so many stories of moms who’d never managed to nurse and we were so glad that it was working out for us. Feeding my milk monster around the clock was exhausting, but I reasoned that it was worth the sacrifice because it was so beneficial for her.
Another thing that was ridiculously tiring was responding to her cries all the time. Sleep wasn’t exactly her favorite activity, so her little wail would jolt us out of bed way more often than I’d like to admit. But we believed in the importance of developing a secure attachment bond, so we kept at it.
While it’s great to have parenting principles and stick to them, you can end up leaving your own wellbeing at the door. I was so caught up in doing everything “right” for my daughter that I completely neglected myself.
After about eight months of almost no sleep and breastfeeding 12 times a day for an hour at a time, I was frazzled, anxious and underweight. I made an appointment with a psychologist and told her I was struggling. She helped me find more balance. And Arabella started sleeping more. So, I started to climb out of the hole.
And then there were two more…
By the time Arabella’s second birthday was approaching, I felt much better and we decided to try for a second baby. We had an early miscarriage, but two months later we fell pregnant again.
The day I went for my ultrasound, my husband made me promise I’d call him right after the appointment to let him know how it went. When I hadn’t called after two hours, he reasoned that either there was a problem… or we were having twins. His second guess was right! We soon found out that we had two more girls on the way. It was the most exciting and terrifying thing that had ever happened to us.
As my belly grew to alarming proportions, I swore up and down that I would instill stricter routines for my sanity. These babies would have to eat and nap at the same time whether they liked it or not. When I spoke to other twin parents, they all told me the same thing: strict schedules are the only way to survive.
A tiger can’t change its stripes
Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. While we’re big believers in predictable routines to give kids a sense of security – especially at bedtime – we were never able to get our twins on the same sleeping or feeding schedule. When one twin decided to have a long nap, I couldn’t bring myself to wake her just to keep her on the same schedule as her sister. Let the poor child sleep! I thought. Plus, mama needs a break.
And while I tried to feed them at the same time whenever I could (using a comically huge double breastfeeding pillow), sometimes one wanted milk while the other was asleep. Plus, breastfed babies are always hungry, so it’s much harder than with formula-fed babies to get them to adhere to a three-hourly feeding schedule. If a baby was howling, I’d pop out a boob without looking at the clock.
The bottom line was that they were two individuals with completely different personalities, needs and desires. How could I expect them to do the exact same thing at the same time? It didn’t feel natural to treat them as a unit.
We followed our hearts
Instead of stressing about the need for strict schedules, we scrapped the idea and did what we’d always done – we parented from the heart.
Was it exhausting? Hell to the yes. For some reason, we do NOT breed good sleepers. If I told you how often we got up each night for the first two years, you’d wonder how we’re still alive. Now that the twins are almost three, I still rarely get a decent night’s sleep (though my husband has somehow learned to slumber like a hibernating bear!)
All that sleep deprivation also had a series of knock-on effects: I suffered from anxiety, our marriage suffered deeply because we had nothing left for each other, and I probably wasn’t the most patient mom at times.
So, would I do it again? Absolutely! Because trusting my gut is the only way I know how to parent. I’m completely incapable of following a strict routine that someone else (even a highly respected parenting expert) has laid out for me. The one time we tried to leave our twins to cry, I panicked and ran in to save them after about 42 seconds.
And do I think my way is the only way to parent? Oh, HECK no. Please don’t follow my example if you enjoy sleep or sanity in the least.
See, it took me three kids and a lot of tough times to finally realize that the only right way to parent is YOUR way. And for me to stop judging other parents for their choices. There are no perfect systems in parenting and we all just have to follow our hearts.
How to survive… It’s all about self-care
These days, I manage the pressures of raising three tiny terrors, pursuing my writing career and running a household with a carefully devised self-care plan:
- I run three miles, three times a week without exception – unless I’m sick. It’s my single best weapon to combat stress.
- I meditate for 10 minutes three to four times a week with the Calm app. These short sessions have given me an amazing arsenal of mental tools to deal with tension and anxiety in everyday situations.
- I limit my consumption of wine to three nights a week. The liquid “stress reliever” can make matters worse if overdone!
The key is to find the self-care plan that works for you. If you fall short, try again next week. Be as kind to yourself as you’d be to a friend!