We’ve just been on holiday to Italy, and we had a wonderful time. But it was tough in parts too. And it made me question whether Attachment Parenting was right for me. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to shake the solid foundation I usually stand on.
Italians eat dinner late. Restaurants don’t even open til 7.30pm, and Baby Bu is usually asleep by 7. Healthy for toddler brain development and growth (given that she will wake up between 5-6, no matter what time she goes to bed), but not ideal on holiday at all. We had no idea that this was the case when we booked the holiday (our holidays have always been to family hotels in Asia until now, where you can eat whenever you like), and have certainly learned our lesson for future holiday planning! We ate out late, so she had 2 naps a day to catch up on sleep. Nevertheless, she was still grouchy by dinner time, so dinners were generally a little stressful.
She slept in a cot in our room (at home she starts in her own room and comes into ours by morning, where we have wonderful co-sleeping cuddles), so the little bit of privacy and post-bedtime downtime we’re used to was not available on holiday. That’s fine, it’s just for a week or two. But it would be lovely on holiday to have a little time alone with Mr Bu! Watching Netflix on the iPad in bed, sharing one set of earphones and whispering to each other is cute, but the novelty wears off by day 5.
On day 6, we noticed another couple in the hotel were at dinner without their 1.5yo son, for the second night in a row. We tried to figure out how they were doing it. It would be lovely to have a ‘date night dinner’ once during the holiday, but more importantly Baby Bu had dark circles under her eyes – clearly she needed to go to bed earlier.
We decided they must be using a baby monitor app on their phone, so the next night we tried the same. We booked dinner for 2 in the beautiful hotel restaurant, with romantic views out over the Tuscan landscape. Encrypted monitor app downloaded and tested, bedroom set up, quick early dinner in the hotel courtyard for Baby Bu. Bedtime routine initiated, and all going well. Mr Bu sat outside the hotel room waiting to zip my dress back up after feeding her and putting her to bed. We were excited for our date! I was nervous about leaving her, but I was reassured by the facts that she usually sleeps so soundly for the first few hours, we would have the monitor by our side constantly, and could see the hotel room window from our dinner table (it was a small hotel with only 14 rooms). In fact, I knew from earlier in the day that you could literally hear everything going on in our room from that part of the hotel grounds, having heard Mr Bu changing Baby Bu’s nappy and having a chat about her toy rabbit! Nevertheless, I was still nervous.
I think most AP parents will know where this is headed. I breastfed Baby Bu, we had a cuddle, and she looked drowsy. I told her her favourite story (Goldilocks) in my best sleep-inducing voice. She parroted the words back to me, enjoying the game of learning the words. I nodded, shushed her gently and reminded her it’s time to sleep. I gave her a cuddle and tried all my best tricks. She sat up on my lap and said ‘I’m not tired’, then got up and asked to play with Baba. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, we tried again, a little quiet play time with Mr Bu in between. She looked sleepy, and my excitement grew. Then she suddenly snapped out of it, sat up and said ‘no sleeping’. I’m pretty certain my nerves were palpable to her, for which I’m thankful with hindsight.
Grumpy at having failed in our plan, Mr Bu and I took her downstairs, and she joined us for dinner. She refused to sit in her high chair, so sat on Mr Bu’s lap. Cutting steak with a toddler in your lap is not easy. It was boring for her, having already eaten, so she was wriggling, impatient, trying to grab steak knives, glasses, crockery from the table.
The couple from night 6 sat at the next table, enjoying another date, holding hands as they gazed at the view, and looking over when Baby Bu was particularly loud.
By the time we got to bed we were all completely exhausted, and confused. Why could others make it look so easy, when we couldn’t even manage one night?
The next night, we got chatting to the couple with the 1.5 year old. Our little ones really hit it off and made the cutest little couple, chasing each other around the lawn, giving wobbly toddler hugs and exploring the garden together.
The mother told me her son is put to bed at 7 in his own room, and they do indeed use a baby monitor app. She said he sleeps right through without ever waking up, and they have an uninterrupted dinner every evening. At home they have a nanny and often go out in the evening and leave their son at home. They made it all look so easy and I couldn’t help thinking ‘I’ve got it all wrong’. They had time as a family but also had a decent amount of couple time. They knew the night-time was their time and didn’t worry about their little guy waking up.
After a week of stressful dinners with a tired toddler, I started to question our attachment parenting method. Before seeing this couple, we thought it completely normal to keep her with us and all go to bed at the same time on holiday. It’s a family holiday and we stay together. We hadn’t questioned having her in our room. We loved co-sleeping for the second half of the night.
But this changed everything. Their son seemed happy, well rested. And they were relaxed after having their calmer dinners.
She asked about our routines and my answers were wavering and uncertain, whilst I’m usually so strong and clear in my parenting perspective.
But then something happened that brought my confidence and passion for AP right back to me, in an instant.
It was almost 7pm, and the other mum announced to her son that it was bedtime. Whilst Baby Bu bounced over to us for a cuddle, the little boy (already in his pyjamas) screamed and cried and writhed to get out of his fathers arms. He desperately didn’t want to go to bed, which his father pointed out somewhat nervously, as if he knew the stress that was about to come. His mother said, ‘well that doesn’t matter, it’s bedtime and he’s going to bed’.
I suddenly got the feeling that this little boy probably doesn’t want to be left every night. That this was a routine to suit the parents’ needs rather than his. Sure enough the couple were at dinner 30 minutes later, all freshened up and ready for their date. Admittedly I don’t know what went on behind the hotel room doors, but even just the thought that he could be left alone when he didn’t want to be, brought me back to reality about my own parenting choices. I had for a short while had a momentary lapse in judgement, and wondered about the benefits of leaving her asleep in the hotel room so we could have alone time. But our little ones come first, and all my passion for AP came rushing back to me. I’d rather cuddle her to sleep and whisper over Netflix every night than leave her alone when she’s not comfortable with it.
“No one ever said good parenting would be easy.”
Attachment parenting is beautiful, gentle, loving. It helps you form wonderful bonds and protect your child’s emotional health. But it’s not always easy. No one ever said good parenting would be easy. We make little sacrifices (lack of sleep, lack of privacy, that cup of tea that you probably shouldn’t reheat for the 4th time), but it’s all worth it in the long run. Your little one will thank you a million times a day, with cuddles, happiness and by becoming a secure, independent little person.