Thursday, April 19, 2012

Attachment parenting without judgment... a celebrity interview at BFWOBS!

Breastfeeding Without BS's first ever celebrity interview! This week, I shared a cup of coffee and a (vegan) chocolate biscuit with Hollywood actress and mom-of-two Laurel Reznikov, who has also acquired a PhD in neuroscience while somehow finding the time to write a book on attachment parenting. She's here to tell us about works for her as a mother. Welcome to the blog, Laurel!

Laurel: Thank you, Emilie. It's a pleasure to be here.

BFWOBS: So, this book of yours is all about attachment parenting--your favored parenting style. Tell me a bit about that.

Laurel: Well, I don't really regard attachment parenting as a parenting style, Emilie--it's about following the biological norm for human societies and primates... the way people have parented for 99% of our species' existance. There are a thousand "baby books" out there telling parents what to do. That isn't what my book is about, because what I believe is that fundamentally, attachment parenting is about following your instincts as a parent. Specifically, things which are popular with attachment parents include extended breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping and elimination communication.

BFWOBS: Sounds good, Laurel. I'm really happy to think that more parents will learn about how using a sling, for example, can make their lives easier, and it's nice to see someone challenging widely myths about things like extended nursing and early potty training. Although, for me personally, co-sleeping is something I could never have done; I don't sleep well with people touching me, so I suspect me and my baby would have been waking each other up all night long...

Laurel: Well, Emilie.. some of us (mentioning no names!) have made the decision to give up a good night's sleep because they know--deep down inside--that this is what's best for their child. So you've not convinced me yet that you can't co-sleep!

BFWOBS: Okay, Laurel, I'll try harder in future. But attachment parenting, as we all know, is not just about the baby years; so called "positive discipline," as you call it, can be done with children of any age. Could you talk a little about that?

Laurel: Well, positive discipline is not about permissive parenting or letting children run the show--it's a philosophy that is based on seeing children as partners in the family relationship and helping them to understand why they should do certain things and not others--and of course, no physical violence.

BFWOBS: You know, that all sounds very sensible, Laurel.

Laurel: But positive discipline goes deeper than that, Emilie--it's about choosing to see children's behavior as being fundamentally good. Even when they scream and whine and create havoc in the supermarket, we choose to see that not as misbehavior, but as a way of expressing a true need--a need that the parent has failed to meet.

BFWOBS: Okay, I see.

Laurel: Of course, I would like to emphasize that this isn't about making parents feel guilty; it's about educating them to understand that when your child appears to misbehave, it's basically your fault.

BFWOBF: So, coming to specifics, what are the things about positive discipline that look different?

Laurel: Well, for a start, we avoid using the word "No" to our children.

BFWOBS: Wow, so you never say "No" at all?

Laurel: Well, almost never. We try to save the "Nos" for really important things, like when one of our kids is being offered a slice of non-vegan birthday cake at a party. Don't worry though, we always bring a wholewheat organic bran muffin to the party for him to have instead!

BFWOBS: (laughs) Oh, wait--I see you're being serious. Okay, well, so what are some other rules?

Laurel: Well, we don't reward or punish, or require children to share things if they don't want to. We don't say "Mine" or "Yours" either; we say "Mommy's" or "Johnny's" instead. We say things like "Listening is important so that we can communicate well and stay safe at the park" or "The prickly words you are using are for grownups" (if they swear)...

BFWOBS: I have to say I'd feel a bit forced and artificial, having to remember all these rules every time I interact with my child...

Laurel: Well, it's true that positive discipline is all about cerebral, conscious parenting, and it's pretty difficult for everyone to master--even me! It's been a slow, painful learning process. Whole books have been written on this subject. That's why I advise people to study a few of these books, and take a parenting class to improve their skills. By taking classes, studying your parenting books carefully, applying all the rules they describe and painstaking analyzing each word you say to your child based on complex psychological theories, you can learn how to follow your intuitive instincts and parent the way that comes naturally.

BFWOBS: So... it's essentially about just following our intuition?

Laurel: Exactly! You've basically summed up the true meaning of attachment parenting--it really is just about following your instincts! Well... unless of course your instincts tell you to punish your child when they misbehave or something like that, in which case you should obviously suppress your instincts as hard as you can.

BFWOBS: Thanks, Laurel, it's all much clearer now. Now, I understand that you and your husband don't use any kind of childcare other than each other--not even a babysitter?

Laurel: We have chosen to look after our children ourselves with no help from babysitters, daycare or even extended family--nothing remarkable, simply taking care of our own children exclusively within the  nuclear family, just as human societies have done for millennia. My husband is currently the primary parent while I do my acting.

Of course, I don't mean that leaving your children with babysitters or daycare is bad. It's just that being a full-time parent lets you experience all the true joys of parenting, like getting to hold them when they cry and see their joy when they build something awesome with LEGO--things which part-time parents who use babysitters or daycare never get to experience. Nothing can make watching a video of your child's first steps match the experience of watching it actually happen.

BFWOBS: It's sad but true, Laurel; Baby Seal spends a few hours a day with a local daycare nursery or my mother-in-law, and to be honest, I can't remember the last time I saw her playing with a toy. But couldn't your children just as easily build a LEGO wotsit or take their first steps when they are with your husband as they could if they were left with a babysitter?

Laurel: Sorry, Emilie? Didn't quite catch that.

BFWOBS: Ah, nothing. Go on.

Laurel: We're not better than other people (well, except that we obviously are, but...).  I'm certainly not telling other people how to balance work and family, because that's a very individual decision. I'm not in the business of telling people how to parent; I'm just quietly doing what works for my family--this is something I've emphasized again and again, at every book signing and media interview that I've done for my attachment parenting book so far. I didn't write this book because I wanted to make other people start parenting the way I do...

BFWOBS: ...I think there's no danger of that, Laurel...

Laurel: ... and in my book you'll see several examples of different families making things work for them, through ways and means that are extremely different and varied--apart from the fact that in all three cases, they make it work without making use of daycare, nannies, babysitters or extended family. No wonder I like them so much!

BFWOBS: So... you're not against families using daycare?

Laurel: Well, Emilie, the way I see it, it's not about different parenting styles being right or wrong. It's about different families placing priorities on differnt things and making different choices--which is absolutely great! And here's how it works: some families make choices that are about devoting our... sorry, their lives right now to being the best parents they can be. Other people make choices that prioritize materialism and stuff and expensive clothes and expensive cars and a house with a hefty mortgage and traveling a lot without their children, which is why they both work and use daycare or nannies. And I'm totally fine with that.

The fact that I am a Hollywood actress is neither here nor there--I have committed, heart and soul, to being there for them, and this is a decision I would follow through no matter how much or little money I made; a decision I would honor even if it meant that I had to live in a studio apartment, or stop shopping in specialty markets...

BFWOBS: You would actually consider living in a studio apartment..?? Stop it, Laurel, you're scaring me! Okay, so let's talk medical matters. I know you've talked about trying home remedies for minor problems, and how important it is to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics, which I'm sure nobody could disagree with. How about vaccines, though? Are your children vaccinated?

Laurel: We are a non-vaccinating family, Emilie. However, I would like to make one thing quite clear; I am in no way anti-vaccine, and I make no claims regarding other individuals' decisions. My stance on vaccines is simply this: that parents need to educate themselves on this topic so that they can come to an informed choice that feels right for them.

BFWOBS: Thanks for clarifying, Laurel! And could you share your favorite go-to resources on the subject?

Laurel: Well, the Holistic Moms Network (HMN)--of which I am celebrity spokesmama, by the way--is a great place to start. I believe some of the members of its advisory board, like Dr. Sherri Tenpenny and Dr. Lauren Feder, may have had a thing or two to say about vaccines in the past.

But honestly, Emilie--this whole vaccine issue is about parents making the right decision for their families. Now, let me explain what I mean. For my family, the right decision is not to vaccinate. For many, many other families, the right decision is for the kids to get their shots on schedule--especially if these kids, let's say, sit next to my kids on the bus or share the drinking fountain with them at the park. And I really hope that this kind of healthy diversity of choices will continue, in line with individual families' lifestyles and comfort levels. Because Emilie, I really and truly mean it when I say that I wouldn't want to live in a community where everyone made the same decisions on vaccination as I have! (laughs)

BFWOBS: Oh, I'm sure you do mean that, Laurel. By the way, I would like to reassure anyone reading this that Laurel's point about the drinking fountain was of course purely hypothetical.

Laurel: That's right, Emilie. As I said, we don't require sharing in our family either.

BFWOBS: Of course, non-vaccination isn't the only unusual medical choice that you're a fan of; I understand that you and the Holistic Moms Network are also very keen on acupuncture, herbalism, infant chiro and homeopathy?

Laurel: Well, they work for us, Emilie. I think you have only to look at the results; I had a cold last winter, and once I took the Boiron capsules it couldn't have been more than three days before my symptoms started to subside.

BFWOBS: Fascinating. I wish all people with science PhDs were this open-minded--my own doctor has been terribly dismissive of my attempts to heal my various ailments with leeches and mercury salts, in spite of all I've told him about those infallible instincts of mine, and about how these things were used for hundreds of years. I'm just a bit curious, Laurel, but have any of your ex-colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) or your sponsor organization Texas Instruments had anything to say about your unusual medical ideas?

Laurel: (laughs) Well, to be honest, Emilie, what I've found is that in the world of 21st century mass media, really you can get away with saying pretty much what you like, as long as you always add on the friendly bit about how "It works for my family" or "It's a choice that feels right to me" or "Trust your instincts" or "Some people believe..."! The media nowadays is very enlightened in that respect, I find.

BFWOBS: That's really heartening to hear, Laurel. Now, any closing words about parenting in general?

Laurel: I think there are so many misunderstandings about attachment parenting, Emilie--that it's about doing things a certain way, about breastfeeding, about co-sleeping, about slings. But attachment parenting is not about checklists. It's about making choices that work for your family. Now, what works for my family and others like us are choices that are biologically natural, which are the best for our children and which are about being the best parents we can be, and which lead to stable, loving families who cherish the earth they live on. What works for other families may be choices which are about prioritizing stuff and materialism, which deny our true nature as primates, which take the easy way out and which leave children alone with their feelings and fail to meet their needs. And I'm so not judging that.

I'm not saying these are inferior choices. I'm just saying that they're not the right choices for me and other attachment parenting families... because, well, obviously we know better than to make choices like that. I'm not judging these other parents. I'm just explaining that their parenting sucks.

BFWOBS: Thanks for sharing that with us, Laurel. It's refreshing to talk about attachment parenting with someone who not only is completely non-judgmental, but actually takes the time to tell us that she isn't judging us, in spite of our substandard parenting! Thanks for coming along today.

Laurel: Any time, Emilie.

7 comments:

  1. hahahahaha Awesome. What about homeschooling/unschooling? Isn't that also part of the shtick?

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  2. This is FAN_BLOODY_TASTIC!!!!!!! Thank you!

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