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Attachment Parenting our Adolescent Life Learning Children

Attachment Parenting Our Adolescent Life Learning Children
By Laurie A. Couture

In the Attachment Parenting community, we have an abundance of critical information about nurturing attachment in infants, toddlers, and young children. As children grow older along the childhood spectrum, there seems to be less and less attention to their attachment needs in AP writings. The minuscule amount written about the attachment needs of adolescent children reads like a clumsy attempt to repackage mainstream Western stereotypes (“peers and sexuality are the primary focus of teens”) and beliefs (“teens need to individuate from parents”) with a slice of “increase communication” on the side.

I have always been dismayed by the sarcastic, disrespectful, even disgusted way that mainstream parents speak to and of their adolescent children. The way that mainstream parents drive their teens to be occupied in some school or work pursuit at all times also saddens me. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I noticed that the cash registers and bagging stations at the grocery store were completely filled with teenagers. I felt heartache contemplating that these kids spend the best part of their weekdays in school, their afternoons and evenings stolen by after-school activities and homework. Then, on a hot, sunny Saturday in early June, they still don’t have the freedom to just be kids; no doubt their parents expect them to work.

Parents wanting something gentler and more natural for their teen children might expect refuge, support, and like-mindedness in the AP and homeschooling communities. However, there is so little support and guidance for AP/homeschooling parents of teens that parents tend to fall back on society’s default: They irritatingly view teens as lazy freeloaders who must be pushed into the working world, out of the nest, and into college lest they become dependent forever. My son and most of his friends are in their later teens now. I am repeatedly surprised by how families who seemed just a couple of years ago to enjoy being part of their teen children’s life learning journey now seem so urgent about wanting their teens to find jobs and get right into college. Now that my son is seventeen, I can’t attend any homeschool group or event without being asked repeatedly, “So does Brycen want to go to college?” When people ask this, I look over at my son who is usually leaping, jumping, or running around with the other teens with absolute playful abandon, his face lit up with enormous joy, his laughter, singing, or quirky witticisms weaving loudly into the rays of sunlight. I am struck with a pang of sadness. College? I forget for a moment that not everyone seems to value his need for play, family, and more childhood the way I do.

I ask myself, “Are these parents tired of parenting? Are they tired of their children? Is it because Brycen has been with me for only about seven years that I am so passionate about him and his process of growing, learning, and reveling in life? Is it different for adoptive families? Does he need me more than his non-adoptive friends need their biological parents? After eighteen years, will I be tired of parenting, too?”

I’m sure “Yes” seems like an easy reaction to these questions. I know deep inside, though, that the reality is more primal, nature-based, and socially complicated than a simple answer. I know that parents’ own childhoods, mixed with ubiquitous cultural beliefs about childhood, parenthood, adolescence, adulthood, and dependence versus independence, form those parents’ way of being with their children. Being the mother of a child who was turning eleven when he came into my life gives me the advantage of viewing how precious childhood is to all older children and how it cannot be rushed without deleterious consequences. Nurturing a child from the ages of eleven to seventeen has given me the advantage of knowing how important a deep physical and emotional connection is to all older children and adolescents. Are parents of teens tired of their children and of parenting? No, I don’t believe so – I know I never will be. I think that when their children reach their teens, parents believe that pulling back emotionally and physically from their teen children, distracting them from play, coercing them to get a job, forcing academics, and pushing them out of the nest and into college and “the real” world is the right thing to do. Regardless of what they may be feeling inside about their children’s deeper needs, parents may be anxious about their children being “left behind” if they aren’t pushed away and out. I find this to be the case whether parents have birthed or adopted their children.

The depressing reality is that the parenting of adolescent children in Western societies is a cycle of self-perpetuating myths, even in AP/homeschooling families. With the exception of Life Learning Magazine and a few other resources, there are very few sources of Attachment Parenting media that state unshakably that natural, family-based, freedom-based learning (un- schooling, relaxed home- schooling) is a critical part of Attachment Parenting. Once children become “school age,” many parents pull back from AP principles, enroll their children in public school, and allow their children’s family time, play time, and free time to become suffocated with homework, school schedules, school rules, peer expectations, pop culture influences, media, electronic gadgets, and the latest trends.

AP parents may find themselves becoming more and more seduced and swallowed up by the mainstream parenting paradigm once their children are in school, even believing that once their children hit nine or ten that they are savvy “tweens” rather than young girls and boys in need of nurturance and protection. Parents, by this stage in their children’s development, often respond to the pseudo-sassy independence of their pre-teen children by further pulling away from them physically and emotionally, dealing a devastating blow to the attachment relationship. By the time they hit their adolescent years, such mainstreamed children of AP parents may begin to show many of the characteristics of their non-AP parented peers, such as pushing away their parents, prioritizing their peers, acting sullen, moody, sarcastic, depressed, angry, aggressive, or withdrawn. Some adolescents may begin to act out use substances, and become involved prematurely in sexual relationships. Teens in our culture are not consciously aware that substances and premature sex are, at a deeper level, attempts to fill the void for the disrupted parent-child attachment relationship.

The AP community is so supportive of parents in the first early years of their children’s lives. There is an abundance of information on cultivating an emotionally and spiritually healthy pregnancy, natural birth, genital integrity for sons, baby wearing, breastfeeding into the toddler years and beyond, co- sleeping, elimination communication, feeding organic food, building natural immunity, and using gentle, non-coercive child guidance once young children begin to assert a will of their own. Unfortunately, the resources are wishy-washy about what to do once children reach the age group when they are expected by society to be institutionalized by school.

Most AP resources remain silent, passively accept public schooling by default (by accepting articles from authors with children in traditional school), or they run occasional articles about alternative education. Due to this ambivalent message, AP parents are not informed that the parent-child separation and the toxic environment of traditional schooling actually causes injury to the parent-child attachment relationship. AP parents are unaware that this injury becomes cumulative over time due to the traumatic way their children are treated by teachers and peers. The effects, however, may not manifest for several years.

Adolescents are still children in need of a deeply connected physical and emotional relationship with their parents. Circumstances that disrupt the attachment relationship, such as schooling, media, peer focus, materialism, and trauma, cause holistic hurt and injury to adolescent children, leading to many of the struggles that are stereotyped by society as “typical teenage rebellion.” During my years of work with over a thousand youth and their families and the research I did for my book Instead of Medicating and Punishing, I came to realize these facts of nature. In many peaceful indigenous cultures that have not been infected by Western schooling, parents naturally meet their adolescent children’s attachment needs until the youths have married. In fact, in the Yequana culture that Jean Liedloff documented in her epic book The Continuum Concept, orphaned young adults are adopted into families until they find marriage partners! What a beautiful demonstration of attachment-focused caretaking that extends beyond the teen years! It is clear that deeply connected, interdependent parent-child relationships last for life in many peaceful indigenous cultures.

However, in civilized societies, beginning with the years when children enter school, AP parents may begin to gradually withdraw intimacy and connection with their children, assuming that this will allow their children to “socialize,” “be part of the real world,” “learn,” “get an education,” “become independent,” and of course, “get into a good college and get a good job.”

Schooling becomes the gateway process of gradually pushing children out of the nest. By the late teens, over a decade of anxiety has accumulated in parents. This propels them to make those final pushes to sever their older adolescent children from childhood and towards some mythical adulthood platform – whether the children are ready at eighteen or not.

Energy is a gentle, flowing process that allows every cell of life on the planet to unfold naturally, perfectly, as it was meant to be. We can’t coerce a cell to divide, or force a tree to magnificent heights, or lecture a super nova to explode. Yet most parents in civilized societies believe they can micromanage their children’s development and future paths by forcing them to into existence. What results is a hologram of adulthood filled with emotional holes that may negatively affect the youth’s adult functioning for decades. In adoptive children, who typically do need more years of dependency, the consequences are compounded. It is critical that AP resources realize that infancy and toddlerhood last only a few short years but that childhood lasts about twenty.

What should parents do once their children hit age six and the articles in the magazine or on the website don’t progress with them? AP resources have a responsibility to provide nature-based information that will benefit all children. AP resources are the voice of a growing consciousness in our world, where conscious parents come for refuge, oasis, support, help, and answers – some in desperation, as they do not wish to repeat abusive patterns from their own childhoods. How parents parent their children will affect our society, our world, and our planet – and you and me individually. It is critical to humanity and to the planet that the needs of children of all ages be nurtured.

I turn back to the latest parent who asks me whether my seventeen-year-old son Brycen will be preparing for college during his “last year” of unschooling. I take a deep breath, smile and answer confidently, “Brycen is a musician and he is living his passion. He has already released his first CD and we are working on helping him find band mates and more venues for performing. His dream is to use his music to help abused children and to further children’s rights.” At this point, many parents “suggest” or even insist to me that college will open doors for my son that he can’t open without it. I then quote what Brycen says when people press him about college: “Right now, I have access to all of the knowledge and resources I need in order to do what I want in my life. If there comes a time in the future where college could offer me something I need but don’t have, then I’ll pursue it at that time. As of now, I don’t see a need for college in my life.”

Of course there is a deeper reason that Brycen is in no hurry. Brycen loves being a child. I loved being a child at his age, too, but I was forced to jump into adulthood prematurely and incompletely, at only sixteen. I want my son to have as much childhood as he needs. He loves playing, exploring, creating, researching, spending time with his friends, and enjoying intense attention from me daily. Brycen takes many steps towards adulthood, such as working on his music career; helping a family friend restore a house; showing responsibility and excellent judgment when alone and on outings with friends; co-mentoring a disadvantaged young person with me; looking out for younger children; speaking publicly about unschooling, children’s rights, and social justice; working hard to heal the traumas of his first eleven years of life; and growing in the spiritual wisdom that love is the answer to the world’s suffering. However, in many ways he is still very much in need of the joy, security, time, freedom, and play of childhood. Thankfully, childhood’s completion is not dictated by an arbitrary legal age. It is determined by each individual child’s needs, life experiences, and holistic development.

Nature intends for us as parents to continue to provide nurturing, physical affection, emotional support, security, guidance, and trust throughout our children’s coming of age process. At the end of their childhoods, we will joyfully realize that Attachment Parenting actually continues forever! We can look forward as Attachment Parents to a lifelong, interdependent, deeply connected relationship with our wonderful children.

Laurie A. Couture is the author of the book “Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended.” She appears in the documentary film The War on Kids (2009), and she is the host of the podcast The Free and Joyful Childhood Radio Show. She provides Attachment Parenting and Unschooling coaching and consultation for parents of children of all ages through

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