Tag Archives: attachment parenting

Context and Motivations Behind Intimate Parenting

Since I published my first post on intimate parenting last week, I’ve had a few opportunities to discuss my perspectives on Facebook. Usually with white, male, non-parents who presented almost universally as angry, offended, confused, or completely dismissive of what I have to say. Given that they are largely the product of a society determined to annihilate their ability to have authentic feelings or experience true intimacy with other humans, I’m not surprised by their upset and and disconnect. Their simmering rage and thinly-veiled hostility.

When I first began looking at gender issues, I believed that violence was a by-product of boyhood socialization. But after listening more closely to men and their families, I have come to believe that violence IS boyhood socialization. The way we “turn boys into men” is through injury: We sever them from their mothers, research tells us, far too early. We pull them away from their own expressiveness, from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase “Be a man” means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection IS masculinity.
–The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

I’ve heard from angry white males who have no way to go back in time and reclaim what was stolen from them during childhood. Men stuck making the hard choice between looking at, acknowledging, believing, and then healing from their wounds—or maintaining their blind eye and forgetting it ever happened. A choice many people, perhaps even you, are intimately familiar with. The choice to continue believing that brutalizing children in the name of socializing them is a perfectly acceptable way to do business. The choice to continue believing that healthy intimacy with little boys will render them far too pussified for accepted masculine standards.

And so, in this context of choosing to heal from patriarchal-induced wounds and why one would ever want to take on arduous, terrifying work like that, I’m going to talk about some of the motivations and lived experiences that directly affect my choice to parent my son intimately. Because I certainly didn’t start from the premise that parenting was a divine calling, or that each of us possess a resonant field inside our bodies that seeks loving connection with other people, or that small bodies and feelings should be respected with the utmost care.

I am, after all, a child of patriarchy, too.

To love boys rightly we must value their inner lives enough to construct worlds, both private and public, where their right to wholeness can be consistently celebrated and affirmed, where their need to love and be loved can be fulfilled. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

I never wanted kids, believing they were a horrid idea for numerous reasons. For starters, I had received wounds from my family of origin and didn’t want to perpetuate their warped worldview by foisting it on another human who had no choice in the matter. I also had many of the same complaints regarding children being uncivilized in public spaces that I’ve heard from the angry white males. Add to that, I worked in a children’s retail store where I daily had to deal with both unruly children and their clueless, checked-out parents. I basically loathed having to interact with them. But it was a small town and the only job I could find given my high school diploma education.

My no-kids stance persisted through the 15 years of my first marriage, where we were far too busy clubbing/partying and experimenting with polyamory to consider them a reasonable or desirable addition. THANK THE GODS. And then my marriage came to an end; I was 34 years old, barely knew who I was as a person, and had no idea what I was going to do with myself. Turns out it was an excellent time to start weekly psychotherapy.

Over many years of therapy, I came to understand that I hated children because I hated their perceived wholeness; that is, I resented the pieces of myself that had been sacrificed on the altar of fitting in, complying, and being a good girl. My abilities to intuitively trust, feel, and love had been disowned as a result of sexual abuse, emotional enmeshment, codependency, and being routinely shamed or manipulated by the adults in my life. Because that’s how we get civilized adults who mind their manners, acquiesce, and wait their turn to speak: we compress and “polish” them, conveniently forgetting how much it hurts to be rubbed that hard. How we eventually abandon parts of ourselves because of it.

It is now clear to me that our society hates children as much if not more than women. They are the most vulnerable among us, and we routinely enact violence upon them in the name of discipline, socialization, or because we are so sunk in our own re-stimulated childhood shame that we can’t protect them from our feelings. There has to be a better way. A way that doesn’t rely on abuse, shame, coercion, and fear. Because it’s crippling every single one of us, but our collective commitment to denial has us acting like we’re walking just fine.

Through my counseling, embodiment, and meditative work both solo with a therapist and in community with peers, I’ve come to understand how important authentic intimacy is to humans. How cultivating the ability to FEEL our feelings realistically and fluidly in the moment might be the most revolutionary, powerful work we take on. How it heals us; has healed me. I now know what it is to be seen, heard, and valued by other people who genuinely care about my well being. I know that this experience has helped me reclaim my identity and intuition.

I want my son to experience that from the start, for it to never be absent from his world. As a result, I reject the premise that in order to be accepted in our society a boy child must be circumcised, emotionally abandoned, shamed, and dominated. Because no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it, and detached disembodiment is a real problem. A problem I’m so committed to calling out and eradicating that I will suffer the personal discomfort of being judged and potentially ostracized by people who want to call me names, to laugh at the silly hippie lady, to discredit and minimize the power of love and intimacy.

I will continue to resist and contradict patriarchy’s violent, dogmatic lessons by choosing to parent him this way. Because I’ll be fucking goddamned if I stand by quietly and breed yet another misogynistic, entitled, white person without a second thought as to the sustainability of that choice. I believe our survival depends on our collective awakening to and rejection of violence. I believe that we must breed love and respect to survive; I really don’t see any other way out of this hemorrhaging empire we’ve constructed. I think we’ve hated ourselves long enough.

Mothers who ally themselves with patriarchy cannot love their sons rightly, for there will always come a moment when patriarchy will ask them to sacrifice their sons. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love


Devoted to Intimate Parenting

Even though sexism has always decreed that boy children have more status than girls, status and even the rewards of privilege are not the same as being loved. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks

In·ti·ma·cy (noun):  (1) the state of being intimate. (2) a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. (3) a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc. (4) an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like. (5) sexual intercourse.

Our world, and particularly its children, suffers from a chronic and debilitating lack of intimacy. Now, before you get triggered and label my intentions criminal, I don’t mean intimacy as its usually marketed and understood by western culture; that is, conflated with sexual intercourse. I mean the vulnerable space that exists between two people who are bonded through choice and intention. The example I’m going to use throughout this post is #2 from the above definition: a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group. So, when I use the term intimate parenting, you will come to know what I mean even as you may struggle with your reaction to what I’m describing.

What has been all but impossible to change is widespread cultural patriarchal propaganda. Yet we begin to protect the emotional well-being of boys and of all males when we call this propaganda by its true name, when we acknowledge that patriarchal culture requires that boys deny, suppress, and if all goes well, shut down their emotional awareness and their capacity to feel. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

My husband, Brendan, and I parent our 4-1/2-year-old son, Avery, intimately. For us this means we choose to feel into the edgy, energetically-charged moments that occur as a natural course of interacting with a young child, and then model what healthy intimacy looks and feels like. Intimacy that isn’t conditional and doesn’t cross personal boundaries. Intimacy that isn’t filtered through the lens of patriarchy, which equates to disembodiment and disowning his feelings.

I would categorize our approach as a subset of peaceful or gentle parenting, which one source via Google search defines as: regulating our own emotions when dealing with our children and responding to problems with compassion. Based on that, I would define intimate parenting as:

Choosing to regulate my emotions when dealing with my son and responding to problems that arise with compassion instead of fear, shame, or punishment, always remembering that he is a human being worthy of love and respect.

During a late-night discussion with Brendan last week, I asked him what intimate parenting meant to him. His response was so good that I ended up recording the remainder of our conversation, and I’m going to include a condensed version of the portion that’s directly applicable to this topic since it beautifully explains our motivations and the container we seek to create as parents:

Parenting is a calling. Since what you’re called to is greater than you, you’re also called to develop skills you don’t have, to develop ways of being you don’t possess or yet have facility with. The process of becoming a better parent isn’t (or shouldn’t be) goal oriented; it’s context oriented and it’s ongoing. You won’t complete this task in an executive fashion and then stop because the experience goes beyond its immediate object (the child).

As part of our being committed to intimate parenting, we choose to devote our attention and express our calling in a way that recognizes there are parts of Avery that are eternally wise and divine. Those parts we’re speaking to in him can receive the love we’re giving, but they can’t return it in kind because they’re filtered through a 4-year-old’s understanding of the world. In essence, he can’t—without being trained and abused in traditional patriarchal ways—reciprocate our devotion.

By staying aware of our shame triggers and seeking balance, we can offer our love and attention from a position of devotion that recognizes his divinity without compromising his humanity. The devotion we’re offering him is appropriate to its object, which is a critical part of keeping the interaction both psychically clean and physically respectful. For example, fetishism is devotion inappropriate to its object, like making shoes into a god. In our case, Avery himself isn’t the object; it’s his divinity, which is the part we can relate to, can resonate with. That’s the part of him that we are nurturing and stimulating.

When we’re close to him, when we are lovingly intimate with him, and we can feel that humming in our chest? That’s resonance between his divinity and ours. As we attune to that, our divinity aligns with and comes into resonance with his divinity. So his becomes stronger, clearer, and develops more depth as we stimulate it in him. If we don’t, and it remains dormant for long enough, it will be disowned. He’ll have to reclaim it and endure the grief and loss process like we’ve both had to do.

What we’re trying to do is contradict the deeply damaging effects of patriarchy, to cultivate an alternative version of masculinity for Avery to embody—one that’s grounded in his body and his intuition. One that nurtures and cares, one that listens and understands, one that believes in its own worth and has a clear sense of identity. One that has no need to dominate or belittle or bully or rape anyone.

One of the tremendous failings of feminist theory and practice has been the lack of a concentrated study of boyhood, one that offers guidelines and strategies for alternative masculinity and ways of thinking about maleness. Indeed, the feminist rhetoric that insisted on identifying males as the enemy often closed down the space where boys could be considered, where they could be deemed as worthy of rescue from patriarchal exploitation and oppression as were their female counterparts. –The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

So, intimacy and the direct modeling of it. Because if Brendan and I don’t model healthy intimacy, how is Avery supposed to know what it feels like when he encounters it in the adult world? If his child’s body is directed to deny its feelings, to suppress its need for love and affection, to react awkwardly and fearfully when someone tries to connect with him, then how can I possibly expect him to choose wisely? How can I entertain the hope that he will respect someone else’s boundaries; will consent to their wishes? How could he know what that looks and feels like if he’s never experienced it for himself?

Attention Deficit and Self Abuse

We are all suffering from attention deficit. And that deficit crushes our souls just as surely as aging kills our bodies.

I think a lot about attention. Specifically my attention and where I’m putting it; to what things, practices, or persons am I giving it? This practice of watching my attention has allowed me to become more sensitive to other people’s attention and where they seem to put it; how it gets moved around as an energetic resource. Brendan and I (as new parents since 2010) have been getting the pressure-cooker, crash-course version of how to give attention as we’ve learned to balance self care, child care, house care, and work care. It’s damn hard; you all know this.

Work care and child care are the least flexible, the most demanding of attention, the hardest to avoid, and it’s upon their altars where self care is usually sacrificed. Need to stay late at the office? Skip exercise and have a slice of pizza for dinner. Kid is sick and awake with a fever half the night? Drink extra coffee in the morning and push to get up anyway. These are the daily micro-manifestations of self abuse.

This practice is not the exclusive domain of new parents; obviously, non-parent people are just as guilty of burning their candles from both ends, so to speak. However, it IS an adult practice; you’ll rarely see a small child ignoring their body’s signals or “pushing through” anything without some serious reinforcement/coercion from the resident adult. Children aren’t born knowing how to abuse themselves.

Self abuse is a learned skill, an adaptation born from a deficit of attention; specifically, attention from the parents/teachers/local adults who were supposed to validate us and tell us we were worth their while. That we were seen and heard. That our experience had meaning and wasn’t simply an inconvenience. That we deserved their attention.

I know my mother loved me. And I also believe that when she gave birth to me in 1971 at the age of 21, she was totally unprepared for the challenges of motherhood. Raised on a farm by good, trustworthy people, she was easy pickings for the charismatic sociopath who was my biological father. Suffice to say, when he abused her in every way imaginable, she took it. Because that’s what her family taught her to do when they repeatedly told her their experience was more important than hers. That her body wasn’t hers. That her dreams were silly, her fears unfounded. That as the only girl on a farm, she was a burden.

She believed them because she loved them and their world was her world. But their lack of attention to her basic humanity, their inability to respect her for who she was, their refusal to give her the kind of attention she needed to flourish had profound and damaging effects on her. And, as a direct result, on me. Because how could she not pass on that level of self hatred and shame? How was she supposed to know what it looked like to give unconditional loving attention? To know what validation sounded like? What self love felt like?

How was she supposed to help me become a powerful, confident woman when she had no idea what that even meant?

My mother’s experience isn’t unique, of course; it’s a common human story. I, my sister, our grandmother, even our father; it’s our story. I suspect it’s a lot of your stories, too. We all come from lines of people who are told from birth that they don’t deserve regard in the ways they require.

Your skin isn’t a boundary to respect; your foreskins and hymens aren’t valuable. Your upset over being moved without consent can be minimized; how you feel is less important than our getting to the store. Your tears or screams aren’t a valid form of communication, but a silliness to be photographed, shared, and even laughed over. Don’t worry; you’re resilient and will adapt.

Is it any wonder we abuse ourselves and our children? With so few healthy models to follow and so much internalized shame to go around, this has reached epidemic proportions. It’s our water; the air we breathe; the reality we experience. We are the unwilling recipients of attention deficit disorder and it’s killing us.