Thursday, September 17, 2009

Detachment Parenting: from birth to college

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was a naval officer in Naples, Italy. I was working at a communications station and mostly sat behind a desk. I was thrilled to be pregnant and I would sometimes think how wonderful it was that I could bring my unborn child with me where ever I went! I could feel her kicking me when I was writing reports or making official-sounding phone calls. She was safe and always close to me, under my heart.

I was terrified of the day when I would have to leave her in day care to return to work after her birth. How I wished I could keep her snug and close to me always.

By the time I was pregnant with our third child, I was near the end of my obligated service to the Navy, so I was looking forward to being able to stay at home with my three small children. I had not yet heard about the idea of attachment parenting, but once I became a stay-at-home mom, I had more time to read up on mothering topics and I gobbled up all I could on attachment parenting, co-sleeping and on-demand nursing. I had breast-fed all my babies, but early return to a demanding military job meant I couldn't nurse them as often as I would have liked and, as a result, it also meant an early return to fertility for me!

As I grew into my role as a mother of many, I became very comfortable with a more natural type of parenting, which included home births and only breast milk for the entire first year of life (and NO pacifiers). This meant I was always very close to my young children and never left them with a sitter for more than a few hours at a time. This also meant we slept with our new babies for about the first six to nine months until they began to sleep through the night. Breast milk is digested much more easily than formula, so breast-fed babies eat more frequently than formula-fed babies, meaning they don't often sleep through the night until they are several months old.

I didn't mind sleeping with my baby because it meant more rest for me! No more getting up in the middle of the night to stumble around in the darkness and find a crying baby in his crib. In fact, co-sleeping babies don't even need to cry. Mom and baby are so attuned to one another that I'd know when my baby woke and needed to nurse. I'd roll over and nurse and we'd both soon fall asleep.

Homeschooling was a natural continuation of attachment parenting. We were bonded to our children; we loved being around them and we felt it would be better for all involved if we continued that close relationship through homeschooling our kids.

Now we come to the other end of the parental spectrum as we are beginning to see our children grow up and move away. Sometimes I feel like the mother bird who has to give her fledglings a little nudge to get them to try out their new wings. Sometimes I feel like I barely turned around and they've flown away. Now is the time to learn detachment parenting.

We decided when our children were small that they'd have to pay their own way to college. That was a flippant response to nosey folks who demanded to know, "How are you going to PAY for all those kids to go to college?"

Yet so far it seems to be working. We had some rough spots we had to work out in the beginning, but I'm so glad we did. We're so proud of our college kids because they've all worked very hard to earn money and scholarships and have had to take out student loans to pay for their education. As a result, I think they appreciate the value of their education and understand how important it is to pay back the money they've borrowed to finance their education.

Three of the four kids currently in college don't drive. They don't drive because they don't want to pay the insurance and upkeep on a car because they are paying for their education. The one who does drive no longer has a car because it died and she can't afford a new one right now.

I was in the grocery store recently and one of the baggers was telling the checker why she wasn't going to college: she had to make her new car payments and she couldn't afford to both pay for her new car and pay for college. Unfortunately, no one told that young lady that a car will depreciate in value, whereas a college education appreciates in value over time.

I've been thinking a lot about the virtue of detachment. It is a most difficult virtue to practice. Oh, I can tell you how my neighbors could develop that virtue in their own lives, but it's not so easy for me to see how I need to improve. I can point to the numerous "McMansions" in the subdivisions near my house and make snide comments about how they "must have a dozen children with a house that large," but fail to see the McMansion in my own eye.

Having fledglings leave the nest and me having to sort through (and store) what they've left behind has got me to thinking about how much stuff do we really need? (The answer: not much).

Perhaps we don't need most of this stuff we have: a lifetime's supply of wonderful homeschooling books, enough clothes so we don't have to do laundry for weeks, enough toys so that we forget what we have and have no place to put the rest!

Over the next six months I'm going to declutter my house. Yes, that is my noble goal. The kids have been notified. We're going to reduce, reuse and recycle...because it's good for our souls. We're going to get better at this thing called detachment. We're going to learn to love people and use things. And not the other way around. It's more than cleaning up messes. It's a change of heart.


Carmen said...

Debbie, purging is so good for the soul! I love how I feel lighter as I just give things away. It helps to de-tach from things.

Anonymous said...

I like that: "Love people and use things, not the other way around." I admire you for raising kids willing to finance their own education, too. In this day and age, that's a marvel rarer than steak!

Kalynne Pudner said...

Amen! I'll be doing it right along with you, remotely. (The books are going to be the hardest, don't you think? All those years scouring thrift stores and eBay for Faith and Freedom readers...)

I love the picture, too. That's the way I remember them :)

Anna said...

It is such a different way of living as kids leave home. With J our last, I really don't know what is going to come next. But having moved back to the US, a sort of demarcation occurred, one that I'm still feeling.

Good luck with the decluttering! I feel like I'll be doing that for the rest of my life... :)))