Parenting Advice Column Subject: Parents criticized for "coddling" 5-year-old son
We just pulled our 5-year-old son out of a preschool cooperative because we were being pressured to leave him there (i.e. abandon) even if he didn't feel comfortable (crying). My husband or I continued to stay there with him every day for the whole class for many weeks. Then we were ambushed at the parent meeting by our "parent educator" from the community college who passed out a study showing that "fearful" children who were "coddled" remained fearful, but "fearful" children who were handled "firmly and emphatically" went on to develop more self-confidence. We left the school, where the parent educator and the teacher made us feel like we were harming our son by staying with him and keeping him home with us. Our son, on the other hand, thanked us profusely!
I am SO grateful to have found your web site, which I just found TODAY, because we REALLY need some support and validation of our parenting style, which I now learned, is called "attachment parenting." THANK YOU a million times over. I feel so much stronger knowing that there is a group of like-minded parents & professionals out there to turn to when we feel like we're swimming against the tide, yet again.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I deeply appreciate the kind words. I am also very glad you found our site, and more importantly, the "attachment parenting" philosophy. I commend you for the insight and strength you have, in spite of being without this kind of support previously.
The situation you describe is, unfortunately, not uncommon. There is a serious misunderstanding and mistrust of children throughout the Western world. As you have discovered, it is the child who is truly the "expert" on what he/she needs from us at any given moment. In this sense, parenting is really quite simple, a matter of hearing and respecting the child. It is simple, yet difficult to grasp for those parents who were not shown this by example in their own childhood.
We had a very similar experience when our son was 4. He was taking an art class (the only class he ever had before or since) at a woman's home. At first, she let me stay upstairs, which was fine with Jason, and it also gave me a bit of time to write letters. Then for some reason she changed her mind and insisted that I leave him there without me. I tried that for the next class, but he didn't want me to go, so we both left. The art teacher - and even a close friend of mine (not so close after this) criticized me. I told them that I felt art was an important area and I didn't want him to associate art with abandonment!
I have never regretted taking him with me, I am only sorry that I didn't know enough at the time to explain how harmful abandonment experiences can be. For some reason, our society assumes that young children fully understand statements about time ("I'll be back in an hour") which they don't, and that they should easily cope with a parent's departures, which they can't. Just because an adult fully understands that the child is not being abandoned, doesn't mean that the child is able to comprehend this.
I haven't seen the research you mentioned, but many studies have shown that the more easily a child handles a parent's leave-taking, the less closely bonded that child is to the primary caretaker. Children in orphanages and foster homes "handle" departures very well - by protecting themselves against close attachments. This is not a sign of maturity, but of inner fears and defenses against further disappointments. If a person (of any age) is disappointed too often, a defensive wall is built to protect against further such onslaughts.
There are many studies and books that describe this mechanism. Unfortunately, there are also many so-called experts in our society who value an appearance of maturity in a child, that can in reality be the start of a psychopathic disturbance. In all of my experience, both personal and professional, it is the "coddled" child who develops into the most independent and mature adult, because that person has had his/her infantile needs met in infancy and is then free to meet other needs at later stages. We all know adults who are still attempting, rather futilely, to meet infantile needs that should have been met long ago.
For further information, I highly recommend the books Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin, and The Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce.
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