So I posted a status on the Love Parenting facebook page yesterday asking what people understood to be the difference between Continuum and Attachment parenting…
And I heard crickets.
This wouldn’t be such an issue, except for the fact that these two parenting styles are what Love Parenting revolve around. Often these two labels can become confused, and people aren’t quite sure what makes them an attachment parent or a continuum parent. In fact, I had an email this week from someone claiming they didn’t count as AP because they didn’t co-sleep.
So lets look at these two parenting styles a bit closer and clear up some of the confusion surrounding them.
This is what Love Parenting is all about. The Continuum Concept is a book written by Jean Liedloff after she spent long periods of time in the jungle of Venezuela, living with the Yequana tribe. She observed their way of life, how the children were raised, and how the people were the happiest she had ever witnessed. She surmised that this happiness came from the children being raised in line with their evolutionary expectations, and that in the western world, these expectations are often not met, which interrupts the continuum. This causes us to become stuck, unable to reach our full potential and happiness, as we strive to meet those unmet needs.
Continuum parenting is, simply put, parenting as nature intended. It is what you might find if there were no experts, no books, instead just our instincts to guide us.
What does Continuum Parenting look like?
On the surface, continuum parenting involves:
Full term breastfeeding That is breastfeeding until the child naturally weans from the breast, typically anywhere from age 2-8 years old.
Bed-sharing Again, until the child reaches independence and moves away from the family bed, which may be up until 8, 9 or even older, depending on the child, family circumstances and role models. For example, a child with older siblings, may choose to leave the family bed at a younger age in order to imitate their brother or sister.
Baby wearing Keeping the baby in arms for the first 6-8 months of life is an important aspect of Continuum parenting. Of course, if we lived in the jungle, this would be an absolute must to protect the baby from predators and dangers, however, the in arms phase is so much more than a safety measure. Keeping a baby in constant bodily contact, ideally skin to skin with their carer, regulates the babies heart-rate, breathing and temperature, stimulates milk production and enables the baby to nurse without becoming distressed. It provides the baby with a stimulating and engaging world to observe from a safe viewpoint, allows the carer to get on with her life and her tasks, thus reducing the likelihood of post natal depression, or the shock that western mothers experience as their life is transformed in its entirety after having children. And finally, it enables the mother and child to communicate easily, letting the mother learn and respond to her babies signals. This leads me to the next point:
Elimination communication or Natural infant hygiene The Continuum practice of recognising ALL of the babies signals, including the signals of needing to go to the toilet. Just as carers quickly learn how to recognise when their baby is tired or hungry, it is also possible to quickly learn their signals for needing to eliminate.
On top of these visible practices, there are several other factors involved in Continuum parenting:
Trust Continuum parents trust their children to know what they need and make their own choices. They give value to a babies cry, knowing that it is a form of communication, not a method of manipulation. They recognise their child as an individual rather than as an extension of themselves and as such, will endeavour not to force a child in to anything they are uncomfortable with.
Adult led activities Rather than the child focused days of many western families, Continuum families are more adult led. This means that the child has an interesting role model to learn from and imitate as the children are welcomed and included in daily tasks. Children will be involved in cooking, tidying, shopping and are likely to be brought along to anything the parent attends. I often get looked at with surprise when I turn up to an evening meal out with family, with my toddler in tow, having not even considered getting him a babysitter. Children are valued members of the family and expected to contribute what they can in the way of helping. This however, is something that is expected, but never forced.
The overriding message of the Continuum Concept is that children are social beings who want to meet the expectations of their elders. If we expect them to be kind, helpful and trustworthy, they will strive to meet those expectations. If on the other hand we expect the worse, then they will automatically be the worst, unable to break away from their evolutionary impulse to meet their parents expectations of them.
I could go in to so much more detail, but I will move on to Attachment Parenting now to save this from becoming a ridiculously long article.
As stated by Attachment Parenting International, there are eight key principles to Attachment Parenting. These are:
Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting Or in other words, conscious conception – preparing for the pregnancy and bringing new life in to the world, emotionally, intellectually and physically.
Feed with Love and Respect API recognises that breastfeeding is the optimal way to feed your baby, however if this is not possible, they recommend bottle nursing – imitating breastfeeding behaviours such as feeding on cue and in arms, to maintain a strong connection and meet the babies emotional and nutritional needs.
Respond with Sensitivity Learning your babies signals and responding appropriately to them. Recognising the child’s strong emotions and treating them with the importance they deserve.
Use Nurturing Touch API promotes skin to skin contact, baby massage, bathing together, baby-wearing and regular cuddles to meet the child’s need for touch.
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally Meeting the babies needs throughout the night, in addition to their daytime needs. Avoiding the use of sleep training techniques and understanding that a baby needs his parents help to fall asleep, and that they are not able to self sooth. Not scheduling feeds, but again, feeding on cue when the baby is hungry. API promotes safe co-sleeping.
Provide Consistent and Loving Care This principle recognises the child’s need for the physical presence of a stable and consistent carer in their lives. This means that if the primary caregiver is not able to be around, they would choose alternative childcare with someone who the child is able to form close bonds with, boosting their confidence and reducing stress for the child during separations.
Practice Positive Discipline A need for communication and understanding the child and their behaviour, in order to guide them gently through the struggles they may face, and aid them in developing a strong sense of right and wrong.
Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life This involves the primary carer ensuring his/her own needs are met, that they have formed an adequate support system, and that they feel balanced in daily life, enjoying parenting and family life as much as possible.
As you can see from these two comparisons, Continuum parenting really does go hand in hand with Attachment Parenting, which is no doubt why the two are so often confused and intertwined. On the other hand, it is not necessary for an Attachment parent to follow all of the principles of Continuum Parenting.
It is, in my mind, unfortunate that many of the ideals behind Continuum Parenting have become lost, especially in the western world. However it is my passion for this style of natural child rearing that inspired me to start this blog and share the joys of Continuum parenting with the world. My own parenting style is first and foremost as a Continuum parent, which as a by-product, makes me an Attachment parent too.
It is not my business to tell anyone else how they should be parenting or why I believe the way I have chosen to do things is ideal. What works for my family may not fit right for yours.
The purpose of this blog is to share the things that I believe work – Not only for raising happy children and reducing the stress that can come with parenting, but to share that we don’t have to be in conflict with our children, that they are indeed social, cooperative and trustworthy little people who are not out to get us, and who don’t need to be trained or broken in order to comply.
Please, feel free to take what you like and leave the rest, after all, that’s what modern parenting is all about – sifting through a pick and mix of advice and tips until we find the right fit for us and our families.
So tell me, where do you lie on the scale between Attachment and Continuum Parenting? Please share your thoughts in the comments below as I would love to hear them!
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