How Attachment Parenting My Children Taught Me Self-Love

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 07:59
Submitted by Natasha

When I was19 I travelled to East Africa hoping to live with and learn from other cultures. Arriving in Kenya I was told about a semi-nomadic tribe called the Maasai, who lived in Southern Kenya and part of Tanzania. Traditional way of life for the Maasai revolved around men moving cattle for grazing and water while the women took care of the children and home.

Curious, I went to Maasai Mara in southern Kenya, made connections with the Maasai and was invited to stay and learn from the women in the village. I was equally thrilled and terrified at this opportunity. Very few Maasai in that area spoke English and I knew that the cultural differences would be huge. Still, this was the chance of a lifetime and I couldn’t pass it up. I decided to do all that I could to immerse myself in their way of life. I wore their clothes, slept in cow dung houses, carried water, drank lots of milk, a bit of blood, and cared for the children.

I fell in love with a little girl named Katow, carried her on my back in the day and slept curled around her at night. One of my first observations about the children was that they seemed “spoiled.” They were always held, never left to cry for anything and were never alone. It was very different from the way I had seen children raised in Canada and I thought that if I had a baby I would let it cry in order to teach independence.

As the days went by though, I began to see a difference in the Maasai children compared to children back in Canada. They seemed happier, more confidant in their bodies and they just felt right . Because they felt right, they acted right and were a joy to be around. Babies melted into my body – used to being held and touched and a part of village life. When they wanted something they would give cues and trust that the person holding them would respond. This meant that they cried less as their needs were always met and a beautiful reciprocity between caregiver and child was created. Even their cues for bodily functions were understood and it was common for a woman to stop mid sentence to hold her baby away from her body while he/she urinated. I was fascinated by this and couldn’t comprehend how the mother, older sister or aunt knew that the baby was going to pee before it happened. There was never a baby alone. A baby wasn’t considered singular at all but a part of another person.

For the better part of five years I stayed in Kenya and developed a passionate belief in this style of parenting. I could see that the mother was teaching the baby how to express his/her needs, and that the baby trusted that the need would be met. This intimacy led to an inherent feeling of rightness in the child and provided a secure base for which their life was built on.

A couple years into my time in Kenya I married a Maasai man and my dream of being a mother became a reality. I did many of the things I saw the Maasai women do with their babies. My daughter Acacia, slept with me, breastfed on demand for two years and spent her day observing me work from her spot on my back, lap, or arms. I learnt to anticipate her needs before she told me, and listened to my instinct to touch and hold her even when others told me that she would be spoiled. In this relationship Acacia thrived. She was a fat, happy, healthy, secure baby and I was a mother learning a new kind of intimacy. She felt right and acted right and was a joy to parent. I had four more children after her : Mateyo, Selam, Matakai and Senaya and I practiced this kind of parenting with each one.

As I learnt the intricacies of each baby I discovered that they each liked to be touched and held slightly differently and favoured different areas of their body. I learnt that certain cues meant they needed help right now and other ones meant that I could wait until I was finished what I was doing. I rarely woke at night because they would nurse as needed from my bare breast beside them. They grew to be empathic, kind, and sensitive children. Relishing my role as a mother I worked hard at providing them with a base, while also being authoritative instead of permissive.

The drawback to me practicing this style of parenting was noticed when we moved back to Canada, as life here was very different. My husband went to work and it was me alone with these children all day – a far cry from the community who helped raise the children in Kenya. Still I felt extremely passionate about “attachment parenting”, as it was called in Canada, and continued to practice it proudly. My desire to support other parents, who were interested in this style of parenting, led me to become a leader of Attachment Parenting International and start a support group in my area of Canada.

My belief in the value of Attachment parenting was tested with the birth of my last born Senaya. She came out an incredibly smart but more difficult child who put to test my belief that behaviours were solely the result of parenting practices. Her cues were different than all the rest and she loudly let me know if I wasn’t doing things the way she wanted. Sometimes she cried and nothing that I tried could stop it, but I held her knowing that I could still be there for her in that moment and help her build that secure base. Because her cues were so obvious I began to notice that she got fussy before she had to pee and did not want to go in her diaper. It finally made sense how the Kenyan mother’s potty trained their infants. It wasn’t a training at all.

It was being so in tune with their child that they knew when the baby would pee and could hold them away from their bodies at the right time to prevent being soiled. At four months old I was able to take Senaya, without diapers, to the library or for long walks, stopping to let her pee when I felt her wiggle against my back. I was grateful that I had learnt the value of physical closeness and touch from the Kenyan women, so that I was better able to parent a more challenging child.

I parented this way for 12 years feeling fulfilled and proud until I slowly began to realize that I lacked my own base. Who was I beyond my roles of mother and wife? Where was my feeling of inner rightness and understanding of my own body and how it worked? I didn’t know myself, touch myself, listen to myself or know what my own cues for shame, pleasure or even sadness were. I had learnt to just exist and provide for others rather than feeling deeply inside. I felt like I had hit the bottom and I needed to change.

I told my family that I had done everything to fill their “cups” but nothing for my own. It wasn’t their fault and it had worked for me for years, but now I needed to look inward to discover who I was. What were my own needs and desires and what would give me a feeling of rightness? I thought back to my parenting and how I had gotten to know my children from taking the time to pay attention, touch, quietly listen and simple intuition. How would myself be any different? So I began by learning to dance. At first in a class and then by listening to how my body wanted to move. I changed my diet and started eating foods that made me feel good rather than just filled me up. I went to the gym and started lifting weights – something that I had enjoyed as a teenager.

As my physical body got stronger, I had more energy to look inward. I spent time walking along the river and was moved by the power of the flowing water. I read books on female sexual empowerment, pleasure, orgasm, and mind body connection but there was still something that didn’t quite click. Then I came upon Betty Dodson’s book “Sex for One” and it was all there. What I was truly lacking was intimacy with myself. I didn’t know what kind of touch really felt good for me or where. I didn’t know that I was deserving of pleasure and felt unable to really accept it.

I was looking outward for these things, but I could see that the answers were inside of me. So essentially I did for myself what I had done for my children. I listened, touched, paid attention, responded and understood. Through self touch, learning to meet my own needs, accepting my body and learning how to embrace pleasure I became my own secure base. I was learning to fill holes in myself so that my interactions with others could come from a place of strength and desire to build on what was already inside me, rather than a place of lacking and needing to be filled.

Now, when people ask me how I came to this place where I’m at – working towards being a Bodysex workshop facilitator and running my own Art of Self Loving workshop, I can honestly say that it has been a full circle. In providing the base and “filling the cups” in my children I discovered that my own base was lacking and I needed to give myself that same love and attention that I gave them. I am deserving of pleasure, I can express my wants to others but I also know that I can come back to myself when they can’t be met elsewhere. I know myself, what moves, inspires and turns me on. I am my own greatest lover.

Natasha's Blog

Bodysex Saskatoon, CA

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Thank you

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 09:16

It is always good, always enriching to hear another woman's story. Thank you for sharing.
PS What very beautiful children you have in your photo!

     This is such a beautiful

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 12:47
Feminist Indignation (not verified)

This is such a beautiful expose' of the human experience. How connection transcends culture and how culture is connection. How is it that human biology - genetics makes us distinct yet socially connected in ways that only science is now just beginning to document? Are we separated or brought together by gender identification and how do the woman's or men's rights movements effect this connection or lack there of?

Is separating ones self as a strong independent self-sufficient individual actually what brings us together as community? Why do we need each other? Why do our different beings make us more whole when we are present with others? Is there really a male model to sex as Betty suggests or is there a human way of connection through sex of which gender and gender identification are just different manifestations of the same?

As human's we are predisposed to bond, it is dangerous to us when those bonds are threatened, whether alone and hungry or alone in our relationships, our family or as community. Anthropologists, have long studied us, theologians and psychologists have sought to explain us by our abnormalities and sin - mandated we to create boundaries separating us from what is threatening. But love-science is showing what is dangerous is boundaries between us. The more securely attached the more we can create connection even as community. It's tragically paradoxical the systematic separation [dehumanizing of people] relaxes our inhibition to harm others.

While by Natasha's descriptions of relationships with Maasai infants may see a bit foreign to people of the enlightenment, glorification of the individual and the reformation. Connection is not foreign in any world as I hear her telling. Connection - needing others- the central question, "Are you there for me? starts before birth and ends after death. Edward Tronick demonstrates in the lab what Natasha seems to have described in her life. see youtube babies

So it is not religion, it's not culture, it's not gender, Female need or Male model it is how we are human.

This quote form Ed Tronick seems to explain how we get it - our biological
predisposition - either right or slightly "off" through culture.

"The phenomenon we have seen is that cultures raise children in culturally appropriately. And culture appropriate, "to get there" involves both benefit (becoming a member of the culture being able join and with them, work with then learn from them) it also has costs (in terms of the individual or with the way the culture sets its self up). To often we develop models in which we pick and choose one aspect of a culture. Like they are always raising children in groups isn't that great. We forget about some of the other problems that inevitably come along with cultural patters which always build and restrict at the same time."

It is found in a now almost buried June 9, 2011 Webinar

featuring really amazing people in the field of attachment like Ed Tronick, Sue Johnson, and Dan Siegel who have capitalized not only on their own work but the research of others. A brief description is found here

Responding to feminist indignation

Betty Dodson's picture
Fri, 02/06/2015 - 12:37
Betty Dodson

Your statement: "So it is not religion, it's not culture, it's not gender, Female need or Male model it is how we are human," and I would suggest how we are human is a combination of all of the above.

During the sevenites sexual revolution when sex with friends in a group was simply part of how we socialized, we broke free from being attached to ONE person for all of our sexual gratificaition. When I speak of the "male model" I'm referring to how we define sexual activity which currently takes place in "two against the world." If we want to get beyond living in isolation, then we must reconsider the ideal of sexual monogamy or I should say, serial monogamy.

Today young adullts that were subjected to Abstinence Only sex ed for rwo decades have turned to hardcore porn as their primary source of sex ed. That's how the "male model" continues to spread  because porn is sexual entertainment for adult men. It does not speak to female sexual needs or pormotes our orgasms. No, I do not want to censor porn but I do believe we must offer girls and women a more practicle system of enjoying their orgasms as well. Then we can discuss a different kind of social community. It began happening in the late sixties with sex and drugs and rock and roll until AIDS "appeared" and put a halt to our healthy hedonism. (CIA anyone?)

     Well that is an

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 15:54
feminist indignation (not verified)

     Well that is an interesting combination of thoughts. I am grateful that you took time to react and write an essay in response. I guess I could write essay in reaction but it would seem we would be getting farther away from Natasha's meaning.

     What I was trying to do was reflect on what
it was thought I heard Natasha say as well as add some things that I thought
amplified or brought out her meaning. Since Natasha has not reflected back we
have know idea if her meaning was understood to her satisfaction. We have no
idea if the things I was attempting to add to her meaning like Ed Tronick's
Still Face video actually added to her message.

Betty the same could be said of your essay. It is clear I touched some kind of 3rd rail
or trigger for you. But since I have no understanding if what you actually
heard was what I intended to say [be heard], to respond to you would only
increase the confusion between us. Would you just reflect back to me the
essence of what you heard me say? Then we can see where that leads us.

One more time:

Betty Dodson's picture
Sat, 02/07/2015 - 02:21
Betty Dodson

What I heard you say: "So it is not religion, it's not culture, it's not gender, Female need or Male model it's how we are human."
That's when I said how we are human is a combination of all of the above: religion, culture, gender, female need and the male model of sexual response that leaves out female orgasm.
The male model of sex is primarily a penis in a vagina fucking untiil the man ejacullates. In other words, it's procreative sex that doesn't consider the neccesity or importance of women's orgasms. 

You are very welcome. 

Sun, 02/08/2015 - 10:26
Natasha Salaash (not verified)

You are very welcome. 

2) engage in restoring connection ------

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 12:31
feminist indignation (not verified)

     Yes I did say, "So it is not religion, it's not culture, it's not gender, Female need or Male model it's how we are human." It was said in the fifth paragraph after four preceding ones and
the Ed Tronich "Still Face" all of which lent my meaning to this
bullet. And what I wanted heard continued for anther three paragraphs plus and
invitation to listen to a webinar by some rather spectacular researchers of the
human mind and human connection [attachment]. So there is more to my meaning
than "
fucking untiil the man ejacullates." Therefore I do not feel hear or understood.

     So the quote you used to demonstrate a
conflict between us is fair but it ignores the obligation to reach an
understanding of our meaning and the way in which meaning is received. At this
juncture I can;

    1) erect a barrier [go silent, not respond, hide]
    2) engage in restoring connection
    3) go to war.

     Your invitation to continue dialog is decidedly War. Yours is a beautiful linguistic construction and skilful use of rhetoric. Wonderfully written in the first case with hyperbole, "CIA anyone?" to the succinctness of the second. However both ignore any
attempt to see if you heard correctly what the speaker intended. This is
evident in disagreeing right away. That sets up an augment [war], second
saying, how I am wrong. Choosing to accept your invitation of war [engaging in
you argument] would negate the entire purpose of my contributing to Natasha's
post. Therefore my other choices are to 1) to walk-away from your linguistic
construction or 2) attempt to restore connection.

     It is rather clear that within Natasha's dialogue about human connection, specificity reading my contribution you have suffered an injury and there is a conflict that has arisen between us as a result. I value and take seriously your ability to say, "I hurt".
Just guessing the injury stems form the "indignation" title,
referencing you Betty in the second paragraph and asking a question, "
there really a male model to sex as Betty suggests or is there a human way of
connection through sex of which gender and gender identification are just
different manifestations of the same?" The
meaning of this question and it is a question not a statement about you.
Differently asked but the same meaning is, what is the biology and neuroscience
behind Betty's observations.

     Again I will request we go to option two, engage in restoring connection. And again asking "Would you just reflect back to me the essence of what you heard me say? Then we can see where that leads us."

Thank you Natasha!!!!

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 01:16
Meg Maccini (not verified)

Dear Natasha-
I just finished reading this wonderful blog on parenting and your equally wonderful blog on body shame.  Thank you for sharing your heart.  Your writing is so beautiful.  What a legacy for your know your willingness and awareness to cross cultural boundaries (In general, I do not believe that white folks are as willing to do this because it means leaving what is known and mediated mostly by our culture (in this case western european culture) and being vulnerable by being a cultural boundary crosser.  As a result, you love and nurture your children according to what feels right and natural according to their own emotional and bodily rhythms.  Through your actions you acknowledge to your children that they, their well-being and knowing and listening to their bodies is a an important and powerful form of intelligence.  You model that through your careful "listening" to and lovingly acknowleging their needs.
Your description of our body massages of one another at the end of our Bodysex weekend took me back to the sense of nurturing, belonging and love that I felt from all of our sisters in that circle.  Nothing is as powerful as recognizing that we are meant to be in community and relationship with one another.  Because we are taught as girls in western "civilization" that the individual is more important than the community and that women are in competition with one another, rather than in relationship with one another.

What an incredible example you are of self reflexivity, self-loving, sisterhood and motherhood to your readers. 
I miss you.