What Not to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

What NOT to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

You know, I’m not really a big fan of all those “what not to say” posts.  Because I think that most of the time people mean well, and the people who don’t mean well are going to keep right on saying whatever they want to anyway.

But hey! There’s a first time for everything, right? And today I feel like ranting about What Not to Say to the Parent (that would be me) of a Picky Eater (that would be William).

So what should you not say?  Probably pretty much anything you are thinking of saying.  Just don’t say it.  Because William is 14, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you are dying to tell me I already know about and it won’t work.  If you want a list:

  1. Don’t tell me he won’t grow or that he will be malnourished.  He is almost 6 feet tall, he’s had his blood checked, he takes a vitamin every day, and I cannot remember a time he had to visit a doctor for an actual illness.
  2. Don’t tell me that if I just don’t give him the food he wants he will eat the other foods I want him to.  There are things that William will NEVER eat.
  3. Don’t tell me to force him to eat vegetables or else.  See above.
  4. Don’t tell me that I’ve spoiled him by not making him eat whatever you think he should eat.  When you have a child who is this picky, you feed him whatever he will eat because he needs calories, even nutritionally inferior calories.
  5. Don’t tell me what YOU would do if you were me.  Let’s make a deal, okay? You do what works for you with your kids, and I’ll do what works for me with mine.

How picky is William?  He won’t eat any vegetables except baby corn cobs.  He won’t eat any fruits.  He likes pasta with salt and pepper, but only angel hair (spaghetti under duress).  He won’t eat hamburgers, pizza, or macaroni and cheese.  He likes crab, canned tuna, most chicken, rice, Asian food, ice cream, milk, some juice, bread, and most (but not all!) sweet things.  This isn’t a complete list, but you get the idea.  William’s pickiness is difficult enough that it has an impact on his life and his family’s.

William has ALWAYS been picky.  This is not my fault.  I did not do anything different with him than I did with my first three kids, who are now grownups who eat pretty much everything, and who were not particularly picky as children.  Shortly after I introduced William to solids, he started spitting out his baby food.  In would go the spoon, then squash (or whatever) would spew through the air.  It didn’t matter what I tried.  Even bananas! What baby doesn’t like those?

It’s a good thing that he was breastfed, because that continued (no lie!) to be his main source of nourishment until he was about two.  For a long time the only things he would eat were butter and sugar sandwiches and he wouldn’t drink cow’s milk unless it was sweetened too.  So really, I look at what he eats now and feel like we’ve come a long way.

I realize now that William wasn’t just going through some kind of phase like I assumed back then, and that this isn’t something that he is growing out of like I’d hoped.  He has actual issues that cause his eating difficulties, and had I realized this back when he was a baby there were likely therapies that could have helped.  But I cannot beat myself up for what I did not know, and now William is an adolescent who can try new foods himself if he decides that he wants to.
NaBloPoMo November 2015

Kids and Politics: The Presidential Debates

The Presidential Debates- An Educational

In this house, we LOVE election season (except sometimes on Facebook!).  We had a great time watching the first GOP debate last month (definitely the most entertaining debate I’ve ever seen) and then talking about it afterwards.

If you had asked me earlier this year, though, I would not have expected William (a 14-year-old 8th grader) to be glued to the screen along with John, Emily, and me.  It’s true that our big kids were interested in watching debates at his age, but I wouldn’t have thought William would sacrifice two or three hours of precious time that could have been spent researching one of his many obsessions about which he wishes to acquire ALL THE KNOWLEDGE to watch a debate.

As it turns out, though, he did watch the entire first debate, and had plenty of intelligent insights and opinions about the participants.  We all enjoyed talking it over and mostly agreed on who we thought did well.  Agreement on matters political is not taken for granted in this house, where the parents have opposing views on some issues and the kids have been raised to think critically and to form their own opinions, so it was interesting that we reached such similar conclusions.

So William was bitten by the bug, and he has added Donald Trump and his antics to his list of topics he researches.  For the past month he has watched videos about the Donald and has kept all of us updated on what he has learned (most recently being my source of intel about Mr. Trump’s Twitter exchanges with the Mexican drug lord who is on the lam).  William was so excited about watching last night’s debate that he did his homework WHILE IT WAS STILL DAYLIGHT, without complaining, so that he would not miss any of it.

That debate was really, really long, y’all.  Too long.  But we stuck it out, although we were too tired to hash it all over for too long afterwards.  Once again, William had opinions.  But there were a lot of people up there, and he wasn’t clear on all their names.  When he started reeling off his thoughts accompanied by his own unique descriptors, I knew I had to run for my notebook so I could record them for you all to hear.

2016 GOP Candidates, as named by William

1. Trump

2.  Jeb

3.  Young guy

4.  Jersey man

5.  Little curly ugly-haired man

6.  Sad man

7.  Woman

8.  Brain surgeon

9.  Random person

10. Old man that was not afraid to say things (clue: based on observations from the first debate)

11. He couldn’t even remember this one by the end–I wonder what that says about his chances?

Leave me a comment if you think you can guess who is who. 😉 And tell me, do your kids watch the debates? Do you talk to them about politics? Do you get upset if they don’t agree with your political views?

[2017 Update:  William was definitely bitten by the political bug thanks to the 2016 elections.  He now follows politics regularly and wants to hear the latest news when I pick him up from school each day.]

The Fairest of Them All

Lorelei is all about making videos lately.  She has her own YouTube channel, with a weekly posting schedule, and she has custody of my iPhone more than I do.  Today she was telling me that she no longer enjoys watching the videos made by one of her subscribers, because they all involve makeup, whether she is putting it on her American Girl dolls or herself.
“You know what I really don’t like, Mommy?” Lorelei asked me. “Before she puts on her makeup, she says ‘Ugly!’  And she isn’t ugly.”
My heart sank.  The little girl she was talking about is ten years old, just like Lorelei.  She shouldn’t be wearing makeup AT ALL, in my opinion, let alone thinking that she is ugly without it.
When I was a little girl, my Catholic school did not allow us to wear makeup (a policy they should have maintained, if you ask me).  I did not start wearing makeup until the middle of my first year of high school, and most of the other girls didn’t wear much either.
By the time I graduated from high school, though, I wore makeup daily–eyeliner, shadow, mascara, blush, lipstick, powder.  I didn’t go out without “fixing my face.”
I think it was after I started having kids that one day I realized that I thought of my naked face as ugly.  And I didn’t like that.  I knew it was wrong to think that my real face, the one that God gave me, was too unsightly for the outside world to view unless I “fixed” it first.
So you know what I did?
I stopped wearing makeup.  I stopped wearing makeup until I could look at my naked face and see “normal” instead of “ugly” when I looked at my reflection.
These days, I wear makeup for church (if I’m not running late) or for special occasions.  When I put it on I feel dressed up and fancy and pretty, but I don’t feel ugly when I don’t.
I told Lorelei all of this, but she still seemed a little anxious when she showed me a picture of the little girl in question–a BEFORE picture. “See, Mommy?  Isn’t she pretty?”
Of course I said she was, and it was true.  A ten-year-old face cannot be improved by makeup.
If you ask Lorelei (as I often do), “Who’s the prettiest girl in the world?” she’ll promptly respond, “ME!” and she might even add, “In the UNIVERSE!”  What’s wonderful is that she believes it.  When she gets on the scale it’s in the hopes that she will have GAINED weight because she’s proud of how big she is growing and she will tell that number to anyone who asks her.  She might even volunteer it.
I don’t want the world to take that confidence away from her.  But I know it will.
The Prettiest Girl in the Universe

Violence in Baltimore

Featured on BlogHer.com
Am I the only person in America who is having a little problem with this?

Please understand, I am NOT bashing this mother.  I am sure she loves her son and was concerned for his safety and his future.  I’m not accusing her of abuse, or saying that her parenting caused her son to be a rioter, or advocating that he be removed from her care.
I am thankful every day that there are no video cameras recording my parenting.  I have slapped my kids.  I have screamed at them.  I have said mean things to them.  Sometimes these tactics were effective at stopping whatever misbehavior motivated them–temporarily.  I doubt they produced lasting change, or if they did it wasn’t for the right reasons.
But seriously, am I the ONLY ONE (I think I might be, judging from every comment I’ve read on this video) who sees the irony in applauding an angry and violent outburst against a child who just engaged in an angry and violent outburst?  Aren’t riots themselves proof that violence begets more violence?  If we want justifiably angry people to channel their anger into peaceful solutions, isn’t that the behavior we should be modeling?
violence quote

Please join the discussion on this post at BlogHer.
Fridays Blog Booster Party Featured

First Communion, a Catholic May Tradition

First Communion, Nostalgia, and How Time Really Does Fly

Facebook newsfeeds teem with Prom photos this time of year, and–if you are Catholic–with First Communion pictures.  Both are rites of passage that many of us can relate to and which engender nostalgia (or PTSD, depending on what your Prom experience was).
I love attending First Communion Mass, even (especially?) when I don’t have a kid of my own participating.  We made sure to get to church early this morning, knowing that our own second-row pew would be occupied by proud parents but hoping not to have to sit in the very back, or (horrors!) on the wrong side of the church.
The little kids wanted to know what the hurry was and when I told them William moaned, “No! Not First Communion!” I assumed he was concerned about the extra time that would be taken out of his Sunday (a concern apparently shared by many regular parishioners who are noticeably absent on such days).
But no, he said, it was that, “It can’t be time for First Communion again! Time is going by too fast!”
Yes, William is prematurely (he’s in the 7th grade) concerned with the swiftness of the passage of time, something I don’t remember thinking about until I was a Senior in high school worried about leaving my friends to go away to college.
I can’t offer any comfort to William in this area.  If I were to be honest I’d have to tell him, as any parent reading this knows, that time only flies by all the faster as we age, particularly if you have children.  (Christmas, for example, which took an eternity to arrive when I was a child, seems to come around frighteningly fast!)
When all those middle-aged women told me, a young mother with a newborn baby, that it goes so fast, they were annoying, but they were telling the truth.
I remember my own First Communion quite clearly, and it was just over 40 years ago.  Sixteen years ago, I had a very particular idea about the dress I thought Emily should wear to make her First Communion, and it was my very first online purchase (greeted by everyone I told with, “Really? You can DO that?”).  Spring followed Spring, celebration followed celebration, and our last baby made her First Communion just two Aprils ago.

Emily's First Communion
Emily on her First Communion day (1999), in my rose garden in our first house

Jake's First Communion
Jake on his First Communion day (2002), with the peony bush in the front yard of our second house

Teddy's First Communion
Teddy on his First Communion day (2003), in Immaculate Conception Church with our pastor at the time, Father Haley

William's First Communion
William with Lorelei on his First Communion day (2009), in the garden of Immaculate Conception Church

Lorelei's First Communion
Lorelei on her First Communion day (2013), in the Immaculate Conception Church garden

And now I will never have another First Communicant of my own (although I hope to be the grandmother of many!).  Those are days I can’t ever live again, and maybe that explains why there were tears in my eyes as I watched the adorable little ones process down the aisle this morning.
The days are long but the years are short.  I wish I had understood that sooner.
The days are long

Creative K Kids

From Attachment to Free Range: A Progression

Free Range Is Not the Opposite of
You know, there’s an awful lot of sneering about “Attachment Parenting” on the Web. (Actually, there’s a lot of sneering about all kinds of parenting, for that matter–and I’ve done my share!)  But most of the snark seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what AP even is.  So let’s talk about it–and how a self-proclaimed slacker mom such as myself, who openly advocates for Free Range parenting and benign neglect, can also embrace (as an ideal, mind you) Attachment Parenting.
So here is what AP is, from the actual website of Attachment Parenting International, and with a link to click if you want to know more:
Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting
Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Feed with Love and Respect
Respond with Sensitivity
Use Nurturing Touch
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Practice Positive Discipline
Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
Doesn’t sound as crunchy and weird and extreme as you thought, maybe? It doesn’t mean that you have to breastfeed your six-year-old and have a family bed until middle school.  It does mean that you don’t leave your baby propped up with a bottle in a crib alone in his own room as soon as you possibly can.  It doesn’t mean you have to give birth unassisted at home.  It might mean that you do a little research and preparation for birth instead of just believing every word that falls from the lips of your doctor.  It doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a parent if you ever raise your voice.  It does mean that screaming and smacking aren’t the preferred choices in your parenting toolbox.
For me, it meant extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and staying home with my kids, but you can practice attachment without doing any of those things.  One thing AP theory stresses is following the cues of your child.  Some kids don’t sleep well in bed with someone else.  Some babies self-wean early and never look back.  It’s not AP to force your children to conform to some ideal that that has nothing to do with the people they are.
Which brings me to the Free Range part of this post.
Free Range parenting also gets mocked online by parents who call it neglect, who would never leave their kids alone for one second, who hover over their big kids because they are so scared of the big bad dangerous world.  But Free Range doesn’t mean leaving your baby in the car in the Kmart parking lot for an hour, or abandoning your six-year-old to fend for herself for the day.  Simply put, according the website:
The short Free-Range Kids and Parent Bill of Rights is this:
Children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.
Now, how does that go along with AP?  It’s all about listening to your child’s cues.  That means when your kid WANTS to stay alone at home, you let him.  You don’t go off for the day.  You make sure he has a phone, and knows what to do in an emergency, and you go to the grocery store five minutes away for half an hour to begin with.  When he wants to stay in the car and listen to the radio while you pick up some milk at the convenience store, you leave him there.  When he asks to walk down the street to play with his friend, you teach him about watching out for cars and you wave good-bye.
A securely attached child, in my experience, is very likely to want to do all those things, because she has learned from experience that you are there when she needs you.  She hasn’t been raised to be fearful, because her needs have been met, she has been listened to, she knows the world is a good place, and she is confident.
Our society is seriously messed up.  We put babies in cribs alone and expect them to sleep through the night and do our best to put them on schedules and make them conform to our needs, and then when they are teenagers we won’t let them out of our sight.  Think about the animal kingdom.  Mammals keep their babies close at the beginning, then start teaching them independence a little at a time, and eventually actively push them away.  That’s the way it is supposed to be for us too, and if you DON’T give your kids a little freedom at the right time, just watch how they will push YOU away.
Free Range v. Attached

Is Fear Ruining Childhood?

FEAR
Like many people approaching the mid-century (ACK!) mark, I look back fondly on childhood as an idyllic episode in my life.  And while it may be true, as Doug Larson says, that “nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days,” I still think those days were pretty good.
I remember running freely through the neighborhood at a very young age, under the supervision of slightly older kids; riding my bike IN THE STREET; selling any number of things door to door to (gulp) strangers; walking home from the bus stop; hanging out in the five and dime while my mother shopped in the grocery store; sitting alone in the car while she ran errands; basically living outside in the summer till after dark.
If you are my age, you probably remember doing the same things.  Now we all know many of our kids are having childhoods that are quite different.  Often we blame the internet or video games or social media, and all of those are valid differences and posts for another day.  What I blame is FEAR.
Having had a happy childhood, I didn’t see any reason to depart too much from the way I was raised when my own kids came along.  Sure, there have been some advances we can all approve of.  Today’s car seats are better than the one I had as a toddler, which came equipped with its own mini-steering wheel.  We now know it’s not good for kids to bask in a constant haze of cigarette smoke.
We received a car seat for a baby shower gift, and we aren’t smokers, so those issues were never a problem.  So I stayed home with my babies, slept with them nearby, diapered them in cloth with rubber pants and pins.  As soon as we had a yard, I let them play outside alone, climbing trees, getting dirty, and having adventures.  I left them in the car when I ran into the convenience store to buy milk.  I let them stay at home alone for short periods as soon as they felt comfortable enough to ask to do so.  In our urban neighborhood, they walked to the playground, to the library, to the drugstore.  I could give many other examples.
free range
Often I encountered others whose children were far more sheltered.  Most parents seemed to be telling their kids to fear everyone, while I was telling my kids that most people are good.  Others wouldn’t let their kids play outside in their own yards unsupervised; I was shooing mine out into the unfenced front yard.  Everyone else seemed to be terrified of the infinitesimal chance of abduction.  Other parents seemed to feel danger was lurking everywhere.
Yet studies show that crime rates are lower and the world is statistically safer than it was when all of us roamed freely.  Maybe it is the influence of the internet, which makes sure we are all aware of every possible horror that could befall our offspring (although, as I have pointed out, if these things happened more often they would no longer be news).  Or maybe, for whatever reason, it’s the product of an increased need to believe that we can be in control of our own lives (an illusion, and an emotionally crippling one).  Whatever is causing it, it’s bad for us and it’s bad for our kids.
I don’t care what other people think about me, so I did what I thought was best for my own kids.  But when they are parents, they might not have the luxury to parent the way they were parented.  Because while I am not afraid that a stranger will abduct my unaccompanied child, I AM afraid that a stranger will report me to the Department of Children’s Services for leaving her alone in the car.  I AM afraid of being arrested and charged with neglect for making parenting decisions that for one thing are perfectly reasonable and for another ought to be no one else’s business.
We all grew up knowing about over-protective parents but now we have to contend with an over-protective society. On every social media post I read expressing outrage about the “nanny state” I read several comments from parents who would never, ever let their kid do this, that, or the other thing alone because the “world is a dangerous place.”  Can we trust parents to make the best decisions for their own families?  Can we trust our kids with a little freedom to play, learn, and grow?

Five Favorites: Books That Change Lives

I’m a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, to Five Favorites, hosted by Mama Knows, Honeychild.
five favorites
Let’s talk books today.  I don’t know how I would go about making a list of my five favorite books ever, so instead I will call this Five Favorite Books that have changed my life.  And if that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s really not.
1.  Humanae Vitae

If you are Catholic, this book should need no explanation.  It SHOULDN’T.  But sadly it probably does.
This is the papal encyclical issued by Pope Paul VI which confirmed the Church’s condemnation of artificial birth control.  But it doesn’t just condemn; it also explains, and does so beautifully.
Of course I grew up knowing that the Church was against contraception.  But in spite of 12 years of Catholic school, no one ever once explained WHY.  I went into college thinking that this was just some sort of old-fashioned and unimportant idea that I should feel free to ignore.
Then I took a Christian marriage class at Georgetown and read this book, and my life was changed.  And the change went deeper than just my understanding of this one issue; it also affected my relationship to the Church.  Because it was in reading this that I realized that Church teachings have explanations, that they aren’t just pronouncements from on high.  I decided right then that before ever disagreeing with the Church, even in matters of conscience, we must first read and reflect on its teachings.
2.  Let’s Have Healthy Children

When I found out I was pregnant with Emily, the first thing I did was go to the library and look for books to check out.  This was in the first batch, but I soon bought my own copy and annotated it heavily.  Adelle Davis’s findings remain a topic for debate today, but I remain convinced that the regimen of vitamins that I took while pregnant and breastfeeding are responsible for my children’s vibrant good health.
When my kids were babies I introduced foods to them the way Davis suggested too.  I have continued to believe that nutrition is the key to good health even when I didn’t always follow Davis’s guidelines.  The effect of the dietary changes I have recently made on my health confirms this belief!
3.  Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing
breastfeeding and natural childspacing

Besides the practical advice Sheila Kippley provides on breastfeeding, her stance on mother/baby togetherness formed the way I parented my children.  I didn’t know then what attachment parenting was, but Kippley told me that babies should be fed on demand, that nursing wasn’t just about food, that extended nursing was normal, and that mothers and babies shouldn’t be separated.
Before I read this book I thought of breastfeeding as something you did to give a baby a good start before weaning to the bottle at six months or so.  I would never have imagined myself nursing children until three or four years of age, and I wouldn’t have understood the parenting aspects of breastfeeding that go far beyond nutrition and shaped my mothering as well as my children.
This book also changed my life because it turned me into a breastfeeding advocate, which led me to develop online friendships with like-minded people that endure to this day, after our breastfeeding days are done.
4.  Childbirth without Fear

I never did have the all-natural childbirth I dreamed of when I first read this book, although I got closer each time.  Still, this book changed my life by influencing the way I viewed childbirth, by encouraging me to be skeptical of all interventions into this natural process, by leading me to read further (Painless Childbirth; Thank You, Dr. Lamaze; The Experience of Childbirth; Open Season), to take Bradley and Lamaze classes, and to become an advocate for myself in this area.  This book set me along the road that led to two successful VBACs after three C-sections.  It led me to connect with others who felt the same way who were a support for me and taught me so much.  And it contributed to my attitude toward medical intervention in general, because it became clear to me that doctors can be life-savers but that we have a responsibility to learn about our own health and advocate for ourselves, not just blindly follow medical advice “because doctor said so.”
5.  Kids Are Worth It!
kids are worth it

If you’ve read this book, and you know me, you’re probably thinking, “What’s she talking about?  She doesn’t parent her kids anything like what this book says!”  And you’d be correct.  But we all need something to aspire to, right?  I know that this is the best parenting book I’ve ever read because I keep coming back to it and quoting from it.  I don’t disagree with one word in it and I only wish I’d read it before I had so many kids and was already overwhelmed and making every possible mistake!
Still, even when I don’t follow the principles of this book, I can see where I’ve gone wrong and why, and that’s something, isn’t it?  There’s always hope.  And especially as my kids have gotten older I take comfort and advice from this: “Is it life-threatening? Is it morally threatening? Is it unhealthy?”  That’s helped me pick my battles.  Now that William is 13 I probably should re-read the teenage section of this book and see how I can improve this time around. 🙂
That’s it for this week.  If there are any books that have changed YOUR life, I wish you’d tell me about them in the comments!

Not Your Parents' Rhythm Method

I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.
If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.
NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.
I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.
I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).
I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.
Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.
I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?
Teddy's Graduation

Book Review: Rescuing Julia Twice

rescuing julia
I am so happy that Tina Traster offered me the chance to read and review this important story of her daughter’s adoption from Russia (Siberia, to be precise) and the family’s struggle with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Let me start by explaining why this subject resonates with me, and why I was excited to read this book.
I have long been an advocate of “Attachment Parenting,” which sometimes receives a bad rap in the popular press by people who misunderstand it as a rigid set of rules. Really it’s more about rejecting rigid rules, trusting yourself, and following your baby’s (and later your child’s) cues. It was already something I was doing at least in part when I learned what it was called from my sister (who founded the Knoxville Chapter of Attachment Parenting International), and I’m now friends with someone who actually wrote the book (or at least one of them!) on it. So I know how important secure attachment is for children, and how we as parents should be fostering that from the moment of birth.
But what happens when children don’t get that kind of parenting, or indeed much parenting at all? As Melissa Fay Greene asks in her foreword to Ms. Traster’s book: “[W]hat of babies who . . . are unable to attract permanent devoted caregivers and cannot seem to locate an adult to adore? . . . What happens to such a baby if she is not rescued before the light in her eyes has gone out? . . . When a baby or young child has learned that no one is coming, that no one thinks he or she is the cutest little baby on earth; that he or she must weather hunger, cold, and sickness in solitary, those are hard lessons to unlearn.”
Doesn’t your heart just break, reading that? I know mine does. And it’s something I often think of and worry about because of the work I do.
As many of you know, my husband is an attorney, and we do a lot of work in the juvenile court system. We see babies who are removed from their parents as infants, and allowed to see them for only 4.3 hours per month. Sometimes months and years go by before these children are reunited with their parents. Many times they are moved from one foster home to another. No one seems to discuss the effect this has on their ability to form attachments not just to their parents but to anyone. Conversely, I routinely read Petitions to Terminate the Parental Rights of some of our clients which claim that no bond exists with the birth parents (with whom the child may have lived for many years) and that a bond has formed with the foster parents (with whom the child has lived for a few months). We always question these non-evidence-based assumptions when we answer these petitions, and demand to see the science that would back them up, but of course there is no such science.
So we worry. We worry about these kids, and their futures, because we know secure attachment is so important. And that’s why this book is so important, not only for those who have adopted from foreign countries or are considering doing so, but for anyone who is interested in helping the troubled children in our social services system, or in doing something to reform that broken system.
When Tina Traster and her husband, Ricky Tannenbaum, set out to adopt a baby from Siberia, they did not even consider the idea that their child might have trouble bonding with them. On the contrary, Tina was more concerned about her own “queasy ambivalence.” She hasn’t read any parenting books. She is shocked, and not in a happy way, to learn that Julia’s adoption will take place much sooner than they had been told. She doesn’t even know how to change a diaper.
Tina’s honesty in disclosing her fears and her mixed feelings about adopting a baby strikes me as a bold move. It would be easy to blame Julia’s lack of bonding on a mother who has her own issues with attachment–one who is in fact in the middle of long-standing conflict with and estrangement from her own mother. But this tactic works because of Ricky, who is not ambivalent, who is deft and efficient in caring for the baby from the start, who is loving and nurturing and who seems to his wife to have it all together. We are accompanying Tina on her journey as she worries when she sees other babies and the way their mothers interact with them, and becomes certain something is different about Julia at the same time that she questions her own ability to mother. When Tina writes: “For the first two years after we brought Julia home, I thought I was the only one in the world who experienced difficulties with her, that I’d made a mistake, that motherhood and I weren’t meant to be . . . only in the last year have I seen Ricky become aggravated with her behavior. She’s just as unresponsive to him as she is to me,”  her concerns are validated, and any misgivings the reader may have had as to the origins of Julia’s inability to bond are swept away as well.
It takes a while for Julia’s parents to accept the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder, and some time after that for them to decide to attack the problem head on, which they do not with the help of professionals but via copious research and then applying what they have learned on their own.  They don’t advocate this approach for everyone, noting especially that some children with RAD can hurt themselves or others and would require professional intervention. But it works for Julia.  While Tina is quick to make sure we understand that RAD is not something that goes away, that it will always be a part of Julia and will require constant vigilance by her parents, she has become “solidly attached.”
Rescuing Julia Twice is a gripping story, and Ms. Traster is a good writer (an award-winning journalist–this is no ghost-written memoir).  It weaves together seamlessly the linear events of Julia’s adoption and what follows with scientific information (accessibly presented) on RAD as well as flashbacks to Tina’s past and the conflict with her mother.  So this book is a lot of things put together, and that’s a strength.  You will not be bored by it, and you will also learn from it.  My only criticism is that I would have liked more story about Julia’s transition to firm attachment, and further information on the techniques her parents used.  This is primarily the story of the road toward Tina and Ricky’s definitive realization that Julia has RAD, and I feel that the ending comes a little abruptly.  However, to be fair, this may just be the story that Ms. Traster wants to tell, and she tells it very well.
Rescuing Julia Twice is available on Amazon both in hardback and Kindle versions.  You can read more about Julia here, and more about Ms. Traster’s other writing here.  Additionally, there are many resources on RAD listed in the Resources section at the end of the book.
As always, this review represents my own opinion.  My only compensation was the review copy I received.