Category Archives: Family

Dinner, Montessori-Style: An Update

A couple of weeks back, I mentioned that I was changing things a bit with respect to our mealtime routine. I got some great advice and feedback from a few of you and subsequently changed things even more. Here’s a little update on how that’s going.

Family Style Meals

Serving our food “family style” has made a huge difference. We waste less food, because Annabelle serves herself and starts with a small amount. In the past I gave her a good bit to avoid several trips to the kitchen, but now she controls her own portions. She is also more interested in her food, since the process involves her more. Dinnertime is far more pleasant, because Annabelle is busily involved, filling her plate, pouring her water, sprinkling things, dipping things. Whereas the husband and I used to rush through, hoping we could finish our meals before we had reached the end of Annabelle’s ability to sit still, we’re now finishing up and then enjoying more time to sit and chat as she finishes her food. Of course the whole thing is rich with opportunities for fine motor practice, too. Continue reading

You Are Not Alone: On Isolation and Breaking the Cycle

I have had a few exchanges in the past week with moms who come from a less than ideal family of origin, and deal with their own issues as a result. Of course I have had many such exchanges in the past as well, but a couple in particular have brought this issue to the forefront for me.
The thing that struck me about these mothers is that they felt, even if only for the moment, that they were alone. This was particularly striking for me because I can relate. Like these mothers, and many others I have known in the past, I deal with daily challenges that are the result of a less than ideal upbringing. And I almost never talk about them. Talking about these issues seems to be taboo for some reason or another. Are we afraid of bringing shame on our families? Are we embarrassed of our own hurts, issues, and baggage? Do we just think that no one cares, or are we afraid of burdening people? Do we feel as though we don’t have a right to wear our scars?
Why the silence?

Food for thought:
In 2005, more than one and a quarter million U.S. children were victims of some form of abuse or neglect – that’s 1 in every 58 children. (From the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect)

“About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own childrencontinuing the horrible cycle of abuse.” (From

“Seventy six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family. Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.
Children of alcoholics exhibit elevated rates of psychopathology. Anxiety, depression, and externalizing behavior disorders are more common among COAs than among children of non-alcoholics. 

Children of alcoholics are four times more likely than non-COAs to develop alcoholism.” (From the National Association for Children of Alcoholics)
Approximately 21% to 23% children live with at least one parent who has a mental illness.
“Parental mental illness places children at a significantly greater risk of having lower social, psychological, and physical health than children in families not affected by mental illness.”
“Several studies report increased rates of psychiatric disorders in children from homes with affectively ill parents, compared to children with non ill parents, on both genetic and environmental grounds” (As cited in a 2007 paper from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry on Families Affected by Parental Mental Illness)

Clearly those of us who come from less-than-ideal backgrounds are not alone. My fear is that our silence is a large part of what makes us and others feel isolated. Isolation, in turn, keeps us from healing our hurts so that we can protect our own families from the cycle of dysfunction of which we were a part. How can we break the cycle if we’re unable to acknowledge our place in it?

The effects of growing up around mental illness, addiction, abuse, and neglect are very real. Admitting them is not weak, and it’s not self-pity. Until we can face them, give them a name, and be in the presence of them, we will never be able to put them to rest. This can be done privately or in therapy, but keeping it under wraps  only feeds the sense of isolation that keeps others from seeking help. 
I hesitate to talk about my own scars, because I dearly love my family and don’t want them to feel ashamed or blamed. I hesitate to talk about those scars because I fear that I’ll be viewed as blaming, overreacting, or wallowing in self-pity. But they are there, and I feel compelled to share with you, if only to let you know that you are not alone.
I was raised by two alcoholics, one of whom was severely depressed and both of whom were often physically and/or emotionally unavailable for extended periods of time. Sometimes I didn’t know where my parents were or when they would come home. Sometimes I wished they would leave so the yelling would stop. I witnessed numerous incidences of domestic violence. I learned from a very young age to fend for myself. My parents loved me and often encouraged me, but their own hurts often kept them from being the parents they would have liked to be.
I struggle with anger and bitterness over the things I went through. I struggle with fears that I will somehow fall into some of the same patterns of behavior that were modeled for me. I carry around fears, insecurities, and emotions I have yet to identify, but I know that I am not alone. I am determined to find healing for my own hurts, to use my experiences for good, and to break the cycle.
You are not alone either. You, too, can heal and you, too, can break the cycle.

Photo Credit: Victor Bezrukov

Finding Our Parenting Style

You can also find me today at the Natural Parents Network, discussing the Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia models for education. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on each, so please head on over and take a look. While you’re there, consider reading some of the great posts from other authors, or browsing the resource pages. There’s a lot to learn!
Day old Annabelle in the “close and secure sleeper”,
which, as it turns out, didn’t work for us after all.
I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how I came to find my parenting style until I was answering Shannon‘s questions for my feature on NPN. It wasn’t until then that I realized what a tremendous influence certain people have had on my journey to instinctual mothering, and how different things could have been.
I could write for days on the wealth of knowledge and the depth of the wisdom I have gained from my grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and from my own parents as well. They have been a tremendous influence on me, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to learn from them. As much as I have taken and put into practice things I have learned from my own family, however, I find that my personal parenting style is different in many ways from theirs.
While my mother breastfed me and all three of my siblings for some period as babies and she could no more stand the idea of leaving an infant to cry it out than I can, she was in many other ways a ‘mainstream parent’. Thanks to her, and to other family members, I always saw breastfeeding as the norm and the question of whether or not I would nurse my child was never a question at all. We did, however, sleep in our own rooms and receive spankings when we misbehaved, and I grew up seeing these things as normal as well. 
My first introduction to attachment parenting came in the home of a preschooler I often babysat. He and his family shared sleep, and I stayed over on a few different occasions while his parents had to be away overnight. Since I was completing my Montessori internship at his school, I suppose it was presumed that I would be accustomed to parenting practices that respect the child, so I was asked to sleep in their family bed. Parenting had not been covered in my training, however, and I’ll admit I thought this was a bit much, but out of respect for a lovely family, I obliged.
Almost 3 month old Annabelle, showing me where she
sleeps best.
I soon began babysitting for another family that shared sleep, this one with both a preschooler and a toddler. With this family, I never stayed the night, but when I learned that the children did not sleep in their own beds, I was a bit surprised. While the first family I mentioned had been undeniably “crunchy,” this family was so normal! Both parents worked, they dressed fashionably, they were social and fun.  This challenged everything I thought I knew about the sorts of families that share sleep with their children. As I got to know this family better and their toddler reached preschool age, I learned that the mother was still breastfeeding her now three old. I tried to be respectful, open-minded, non-judgmental, but … really!? Breastfeeding a three year old? Oh, how little I knew!
As the years went on, I had other brief brushes with what I now know were “attachment parents” and some of these practices began to seem a little less, well, weird. I’m so thankful to have had these experiences before I became a parent myself. When I learned of my own pregnancy, I began reading obsessively. A friend introduced me to the site Peaceful Parenting, where I began devouring resources that helped me learn that practices like cosleeping and “extended” breastfeeding are actually supported by research. I began to see the wisdom of the parents I used to think were insane.
I began discussing parenting topics with a friend who had recently become a new mom herself and upon hearing of a few of my plans for parenting, she asked if I was going to practice attachment parenting. My response: “Huh?” She explained to me a bit about what this meant, and I started doing some reading myself. Everything I read resonated with me – I guess I was planning to practice “attachment parenting” after all. I just didn’t know there was a term for it.
Almost 11 months old, and still teaching me
how to be a better mom every day.
Still, nothing could prepare me for Annabelle’s arrival. Many of the things I thought I would do changed as a necessary response to her needs. She showed me what she needed. She taught me how to parent. The more time goes on, the more I see that “Attachment Parenting,” for me, really is what comes naturally. It is the only logical response to my daughter’s needs and the culmination of everything I have learned from those who came before me. I’m not a better mother because I breastfeed, or because I cosleep, or because I do any of the things I do. I do all of these things, because they’re all I know how to do. Because they work for us. It just feels right.
Last week, Dulce of the blog Dulce de Leche shared the following: “My parents showed greater gentleness to me than they received themselves as children, and my grandparents were kinder to my parents than their parents were to them. My choice to parent my own children non-punitively is not a statement against my parents. Rather, it is thanks to their way of parenting me that I was able to have greater tools and resources to parent my own children even more gently.” 

By no means were my parents, or my grandparents perfect, but had it not been for their parenting, I would be a different person. By learning from the perfect as well as the imperfect, I have the unique opportunity to benefit from their wisdom, added to the wisdom of the parents in my life today and the wisdom I gain from my own child each and every day.

How did you settle in to your own parenting style? What, or who were your biggest influences?