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Group keeps mothers close, but kids closer

Posted: August 6, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 6, 2012 2:00 a.m.

From left, Katie Mandel plays with her daughter Soleil, 19 months, as she converses with Amy Brusca and Melinda Lynch in an attachment parenting group meetup at Bouquet Canyon Park in Saugus on Tuesday.

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“Gentle discipline” is the order of the day. There isn’t very much yelling, and the judgments are kept to a minimum.

That’s the basic philosophy of the handful of women gathered at Bouquet Canyon Park in Saugus on Tuesday mornings for an unofficial “attachment parenting” group.

While “attachment parenting” has become a popular new buzzword among parenting trends, the concept is not a new one. Dr. William Sears, a physician who’s written dozens of books on the topic, has been a leading advocate for decades.

But members of the Bouquet Canyon Park group say the instinct-based theories on parenting — including extended breast-feeding, addressing a child as an equal and taking a more discerning approach to traditional advice — are criticized by many who don’t understand them.

“Every family and every child are different, so it’s about doing what’s natural and what feels right,” said Amy Brusca, of Newhall, an expecting mom who was watching her 3-year-old play during a recent Tuesday. “That’s what the whole point of it is.”

Sears’ website doesn’t cite a well-defined credo for attachment parenting, nor does the one for Attachment Parenting International.

“AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules,” according to Askdrsears.com. “It’s actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and children too complex for there to be only one way.”

This loosely defined dynamic makes it difficult to track statistics for implementation. But its influence is increasingly prevalent, and sometimes it’s easy to spot children who are raised with this philosophy in mind, said Mariela Quiroz of Los Angeles Universal Preschool.

LAUP is a nonprofit network that provides funding for free- or low-cost care to thousands of preschoolers countywide, including five schools in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Quiroz, a parent engagement specialist, said parents who follow this philosophy often have children who are more in touch with their emotions than their peers may be.

“The child (raised by attachment parenting) is the one who will see another child crying and walk up to them and ask, ‘What’s wrong? Why are you crying?’” Quiroz said. An early understanding of peer relations can be a real asset for a child, she said.

Controversies

These interactions are fostered by a parenting environment meant to encourage moms and dads to “follow instincts” in regard to child rearing: The child traditionally is kept closer through co-sleeping and carrying or “wearing” the child, as in backpacks or slings.

So-called “gentle discipline” — explaining to a child why he or she is misbehaving and reasoning with him or her — is preferred to yelling or corporal punishment, according to Attachmentparenting.org.

Co-sleeping, or parents and children sleeping together, and extending breast-feeding past the first year are among the more controversial aspects.

Despite widespread negative reactions spurred by a May 21 Time magazine cover that depicted a 3-year-old breast-feeding, such behavior isn’t extreme, especially in other cultures, according to Sears and a few of the attachment-parenting moms.

However, most working moms find it difficult or impossible to breast-feed after they return to work.

Elmarie Hyman, a mother of four, sees advantages to attachment parenting and used some aspects of it herself on the four children she raised. As executive director of the CARE Learning Academy, she works with many home-schooling parents, some of whom follow attachment parenting philosophies to varying degrees.

She cautions that, as with all parenting trends, moderation is important.

“I think you have to be careful you’re not creating a child-centered universe,” Hyman said.

Talking to a child as an equal, for example, could develop a sense of entitlement for the child.

Living the concept

The Bouquet Canyon Park group shares parenting tips, pediatric care referrals and, perhaps more significantly, a mindset, Brusca said.

Baby-wearing and extended breast-feeding are debatable techniques among her extended family, and that’s why the group is such an asset, she said.

“I’m lucky enough to have been raised to be confident in what I’m doing,” she said. “But there’s a lot of pressure out there and it’s nice to have a group that’s open-minded and nonjudgmental.”

Lisa Olivera, of Castaic, works out of a home office where she makes children’s audiobooks with her husband and son.

Two years ago, her 7-year-old’s grandfather helped build a spaceship bed, which was how the family began to wean her son from co-sleeping.

She knows her child won’t be “attached” forever, but she and her husband are enjoying the closeness while they can, she said.

“It’s about being in tune and respecting (children’s) emotions and needs,” she said, although there also was a big practical advantage to baby-wearing - it sure helped keep track of her son, she joked.

For Melinda Lynch, the attachment parenting group’s online moderator, the term is useful, though misunderstood, in attracting like-minded moms who are also members of La Leche League, a breast-feeding advocacy group, and the Holistic Moms Network.

But Lynch prefers the terms “natural parenting” or “instinctual parenting.” She made a point of carefully distinguishing her group from a charter listed on attachmentparenting.org. Local members didn’t want to bind themselves to any sort of strict adherence to rules, she said.

psmith@the-signal.com

661-287-5526

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