Katie Allison Granju: A TNH Interview

Author of "Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Parenting for Your Baby and Young Child"

Katie Allison Granju is an online friend of mine; we run into each other all the time on various mailing lists. She has always been a fountain of common sense and good advice, and so I was thrilled when she came out with her new book, Attachment Parenting. I spoke with her over the phone from her home in Tennessee when the book came out in 1999.

Lynn Siprelle: Can you give us a brief definition of attachment parenting?

Katie Allison Granju: Some of the practices we call attachment parenting include:

--little or no separation from the parents in the days after birth;

--breast feeding on cue as opposed to some kind of predetermined schedule; that's watching the baby's cues and you and the baby getting to know each other and not relying on some outside authority to tell you when or how you should feed your baby;

--breast feeding usually past the first year leading to what I'm calling child-respectful weaning;

--baby wearing, which means carrying or holding your baby quite a bit in one of the different kinds of carriers. Parents are growing fond of the sling-style carrier, and I love mine too.

--the family bed, which means sleeping with or very near your baby;

--and also it's just a general willingness to be physically and emotionally present for your child, to honor the way that child is unique and different and not try to fit your child into some one-size-fits-all schedule or mold.

I really want to emphasize that it's not a checklist, it's not this checklist that makes you an attachment parent or not. I mean, many adoptive parents who are unable to breastfeed are wonderfully attached parents. Then again, I see lots of breastfeeding parents who are not attachment parents. It's really more about your thinking about your relationship with your child. These are some core parenting tools that many families use to facilitate attachment.

LS: A lot of people say, "I don't have time to attachment parent--this takes too much time." How important is it to be a stay-at-home mother to attachment parenting?

KG: I definitely think that there's just no way around it, the style of parenting that I'm advocating is a very hands-on--it's time intensive, it involves having your baby near you. But I absolutely reject the idea that it's something only at-home parents can do. I consider myself a working parent, I work from home but I definitely utilize some child care. I think that how much and how early a parent separates from her baby--or his baby--is something that attachment parents are very sensitive about and they put a lot of thought into it, it's not something they go into lightly.

Many of these attachment parenting tools, such as sleeping with your baby, breastfeeding, all of those things, again, they facilitate attachment for people who must be away from their baby, or choose to be away from their baby, for part of of each 24 hour period. But as I say in the book, if you think about it, a working parent who sleeps with her baby probably has more touch contact with that baby than stay-at-home mothers who don't sleep with their babies. These attachment tools are great whether they're working or at-home parents.

There's no way around the fact that what I'm advocating is an intensive way of parenting, but I think the payoff comes later. If you talk to parents who've parented this way through their children's earliest years and now have older teenagers or young adults, they're reaping the benefits now in a wonderful relationship, and seeing their children's healthy relationships with other people.

LS: You said, "must be away, or choose to be away, from the baby." In a recent interview on hipMama Online with Amy Scott, you kinda took the National Organization for Women to task, gently, for really not coming out more for the things that mothers need. It seems to be all focused--I agree with you, by the way--it seems to be all focused on working women and a particular kind of working woman--career women. And I would also say that this is one of my rants as editor of New Homemaker, that there is no support out there for people who choose to put their families first, whether they're working or not, male or female. Do we need to be taking some political action here?

KG: I'd like to see a family movement in this country. There are a lot of things that families need that cross other political paradigms. Lots of women who are liberal breastfeed, and lots of women who are conservative breastfeed. We all need support for that. And in terms of who breastfeeds, it's interesting, the statistics tell us that highly educated professional women are the most likely to initiate breastfeeding with their babies.

LS: Which is kind of ironic considering that they're the ones who can most afford formula.

KG: Yeah! But I mean, these are also women who are obviously very committed to mothering their babies at the breast. And yes, I think we need workplace legislation. I'd like to see an expansion of the pregnancy discrimination act, to cover the period of lactation so that's considered a pregnancy-related disability. I hate that term "disability," but that's a legal term. And I'd like to see that expanded so that lactating women are covered under the CDA, and I think that will come eventually as more and more women find out that there are certain minimal accomodations that need to be made on the job so that we can have healthy babies and healthy families.

think that there are a lot of things that we now need to be doing for women who are not--NOW has done wonderful things in terms of pay equity, sexual harassment on the job, reproductive rights--these are all things we can agree they've done a terrific job on--

LS: Absolutely.

KG:--but there's such a wider range of women's interests and needs and in some ways I think women who aren't in the workplace feel left behind, but they're women too and many of them are feminist too. I'm kind of straying far afield from attachment parenting.

LS: No, I don't think so. I think this is all part and parcel with it. If these things are important to you, then these are the things we need to take political action around.

KG: I think the Internet has been a wonderful way for--I think I said this in the interview with Amy, it's really leveled the playing field. For example in the last couple of years, I've been able to work from home and doing what I do, I never could have done this from home without the Internet. I mean, no way. I'm able to make connections and do interviews and get my name out there. And without the Internet I would have had to live in New York or San Francisco and be gone ten hours a day.

I think more and more families, not just women but men and women, are saying "We refuse to be pigeonholed as working parents or stay-at-home parents." Those are too constricting, and they're creating their own ways of working that better integrate their family needs and their needs or desires to pursue their interests and their professions.

LS: I call it "post-Industrial Revolution."

KG: Oh! That's great! That is so good! It's so true. More and more people are just saying "No way, I'm not a working parent, I'm not a stay-at-home parent." And I definitely fall somewhere in between and I meet more and more people who do too. I mean, I am at home, but I definitely work. And you are probably in the same boat.

LS: I sure am, in fact, I recently wrote in the Diary section about feeling really angry about cheating myself of all the years I wasted over-working for other people, ignoring my family, ignoring my own needs.

KG: I think that prior to some technologies that have just become widely available in literally just the last five or six years, they're just a lot of things that--I mean the new technologies that have just become available, mostly Internet-related, have totally changed things for women.

LS: So we've dealt with a little bit of theory here, let's get into the trenches. What do you do when you've decided this is really what you want to do with your child but it goes against societal norms, especially the way that you were probably raised yourself. What advice do you have for people who face familial opposition to stuff like family bed and extended nursing?

KG: I hope, I really hope that my book is helpful to those people, because one of the reasons that I wrote it--there's already some great support out there. William Sears's books are wonderful, and Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is great, but I still felt that there was a need for more in terms of a book that you could show to Grandma, and say, "Look, here is a book that's got medical citations in there, and you can see in the acknowledgements it was reviewed by some top experts in lactation science and pediatrics."

I also suggest for parents who feel unsupported in this sort of thing, to go out and seek other parents who share their views. And a wonderful place to get that support is at La Leche League meetings, I can't say that enough. Great place. If people in your family are questioning your parenting style or you don't really feel like you have any friends who parent like you do, a La Leche League meeting is a great place to find people who probably share some or all of your views.

Again, the Internet, a wonderful place to meet other parents and share this parenting style. And also, Attachment Parenting International, which is a non-profit organization which promotes attachment parenting both at a sort of theoretical academic level and also for parents has started attachment parenting groups, and they're springing up all over the country. Several women have told me, "Well, I couldn't find any friends in my community who parented in a way that I'm comfortable with, I'm getting flack from my mother or my neighbors, so I started my own group."

I think it's really important to have support, especially with a first baby. I remember with my first son Henry, who's standing here talking to me, when he was first born I remember being really sensitive if someone said how you should do it, or I felt that they were passing judgement, and I also felt really proud to have this first grandchild for my parents and I really wanted to make them happy in the way I was doing it. So I really found I was sensitive to people's views on how I should do things, and sometimes the way people thought I should do things conflicted with what felt right to me, and far too often I caved to other people's ideas.

LS: Well, it's hard, you've got your mother, you've got your partner's mother, possibly even your pediatrician--

KG: Exactly, and I had all of that. I had all of that and more, and these are people who love me, but they just, in some cases, they hadn't breastfed themselves or whatever. And looking back, I just wish so much that I had built myself a community of supportive people to kind of offer a different perspective, and it's not as hard as it sounds. When you're a pregnant or new mom you're tired and the last thing you want to do is something that sounds hard like "build a community of supportive people." It can be as easy as looking up La Leche League in the community meetings listings of your newspaper or on the Internet and going to a meeting and you'll be amazed. Or you can put a sign up at the grocery store or the food co-op, saying "Attachment parenting mother or breastfeeding mom seeks other moms for playgroup."

I just can't emphasize how validating it can be when you feel like you parent differently than other people to find other people who agree with you. And you'll be amazed, the number of people who parent in this way I think is growing exponentially. That's just anecdotal. But I really think that's true.

LS: I think I can back that up. I started researching this before my daughter Josie was even conceived, and I thought to myself, my God, I'm going to be out there crying in the wilderness, but as it's happened, I have a woman who lives next door to me who parents that way, a woman who lives over the hedge from me who parents that way and homeschools.

KG: Especially with breastfeeding and family bedding, for a long time a lot of families were sleeping with their babies and were nursing into toddlerhood but were keeping it real quiet because they thought people would think they were weird. And now I think a lot of people are just coming out of the closet. They're tired of being afraid to tell their pediatrician that their two-year-old is still nursing. And they're so excited that there's new research now and also other people who can support them who can say, "Not only do you not have to hide these things, these are positive choices."

I really think that there were a lot of folks doing this stuff already, and they just didn't feel like it was something they could talk about. I mean, it wasn't that long ago, like seven or eight years ago, that there was a national story about a woman whose three-year-old was removed from her custody for a period of time because he was still nursing. And I remember reading about that, and at the time I thought--it was before Henry was born--I had no nursing toddler experience, I had never known a nursing three-year-old, and I didn't think it was a bad thing, but I was like, wow, if I were still nursing a three-year-old I think I would have been more quiet about that! And now of course, how far I've come.

LS: I hear a lot from people when I talk about this that, "Well, I wasn't parented this way and I turned out okay." I hear that all the time.

KG: I'm not saying that if you don't parent exactly like me your children will be a mess. Different people are resilient in different ways. All three of my children are very different in terms of what their levels for taking things are. I want my children to thrive, not just be okay or fine. Not on an individual level but on a societal level, it'd be pretty hard to argue that we're all "okay." We obviously live in a very violent society, a very detached society, we've got a lot of semi-sociopathic people running around, and in terms of our health, things like cancer and diabetes are at all-time highs. And these are things we're discovering are linked in many ways to whether you were breastfed and whether you breastfeed, both. I rode around without a car seat because my parents didn't know about car seats.

LS: I don't even know if there were car seats when we were little.

KG: Right. And I'm here to tell the tale, but... Our job is not to pass judgement on anyone else's parenting. We're all good-enough parents. To me, my job is to parent in my own best way. And I think each parent does the best she can given her situation and the information she has on hand, and our parents did the best they could, for the most part. Our job is to do the best job we can with our children. And we have a lot more information at hand, and we're a lot freer today to make the choices that are right for our families. I think in the '50s and '60s people who parented, there were pretty strong conventions in place for how you raised children, and if you stepped outside those you were subject to a lot of community approbation, and today that's different, people can find their own parenting way.

LS: One of the things that I've been experiencing lately is getting touched out. I went to a friend's bat mitzvah yesterday, and my daughter was with her paternal grandparents for two or three hours, and you'd think I'd been gone for two weeks! My daughter hung on me for the rest of the day, literally and figuratively. And by the end of the day I was just like, "DON'T COME NEAR ME!"

KG: How old is she?

LS: Not quite two.

KG: Interesting! I think that women need to be aware of the fact that if you are nursing, especially if you're nursing more than one, it's a pretty common phenomenon to get that touched-out feeling. And I think we need to be respectful of it. If you're feeling really touched-out that's your body trying to tell you something and probably that means that hopefully you have a friend or partner or somebody in your life that can help you carve out some mama time, which I think is an important thing, especially as your child becomes a toddler.

Also, it's interesting, now that I have three, each of them has such different touch needs. My oldest and my youngest, they really just don't require as much being in constant contact with my body, whereas Jane, my four-year-old, is just now getting comfortable with separating, and in fact, she's sitting on my lap right now!

LS: There's a lot of guilt involved, I mean, I know my daughter needs my touch, but I just can't stand another minute.

KG: That's how I felt when I was nursing when I was pregnant. I really felt strongly and I did actually stop nursing for a while, and then Jane started back up when the baby was born. But it was a very strong, primal feeling that I just didn't wanna be doing it right then. And I really feel like in nature a lot of mama animals start pushing their babies away at a certain age, and they obviously don't want to be nursing them all the time. But as human beings, we can make choices that are right for our children and not what might feel like a good idea at the moment.

I do think that, and Dr Sears wrote in the introduction to my book and I think he's right, that attachment parenting is an intensive style of parenting, and we have to be careful to strike a balance so that mothers don't burn out, because a burned-out mother is not a good mother, whatever your parenting style. If you don't have a partner, parents can be helpful and neighbors and friends. A community of people that suport your family whatever its configurations, for those times when you feel you don't have any more to give as a parent, is important to have. And I also think that we should never deny it if we get to feeling like that. It's time to call up a woman friend and say, "If he nurses one more time today I'm gonna rip my hair out!" You don't have to pretend to be the perfect mother who loves being touched and nursed 24/7. It's hard sometimes.

Right now, in my own circumstance, I've been talking back and forth with some of my good women friends who parent the way I do about the fact that I'm really getting tired of nursing at night. Jane doesn't nurse at night but my 19-month-old does. I'd like to have my husband ease into doing more of the nighttime parenting. When you have those feelings I think its' important to talk about them and not to deny them or think you're less of a good mama if you have them.

LS: That kinda segues into my next to last question which is actually for my mother, and that's, so okay, you've got the kids in your bed, how about you and your husband? And she's not asking like practical questions like where do you go "do it," but doesn't that have an impact on your relationship as a couple.

KG: You know, I have not found it to have an impact. I'm lucky enough to have a pretty good marriage, and my husband actually really finds that--and I'm not just saying this to sell books--he really would tell you that he loves the snuggly part of sharing a bed with the kids. And he has found it to be something that pulls us all together closer as a family. I think the issue is that the idea that the bed as where the marital couple has their closeness is a cultural construct. Like we have elevated that bed where the couple goes to bed together at night to so much more than just where they sleep, you know?

LS: The marriage bed.

KG: Right, the marriage bed. I have so many friends who don't do a family bed who tell me, oh I was up all night long putting Tommy back in his bed over and over, he kept trying to get in our bed. And even families who don't consider themselves family bedders will tell you well, the toddler does come into the bed at four in the morning every morning. Hang on a minute--(to Jane) Hey sweetie, if you play with my keyboard, it will break.

Jane (in background):I love playing with your keyboard!

KG: I have a new computer, it's very exciting. Anyway, I interviewed a hundred different families--slightly more, like 108--all different families. Gay couples, unmarried couples, married couples, Christian evangelical conservative couples, all of whom parent in this way. And a lot of them told me, "You know, people ask us this all the time. It seems to be this huge concern that the family bed will interrupt the intimacy or primacy of the marital relationship in some way, but we just don't find it to be so." That's the fear that pediatricians have planted in parents' heads, that if they let their children into bed they won't be as close as a couple. But actual couples who are doing it don't find it to be so. One other thing I'd say about that is, if having your baby sleep with you causes marital problems, you have marital problems anyway. You know what I mean?

LS: Bigger problems than family bedding to solve.

KG: Yeah. But I do want to say that familiy bedding can take a lot of different forms. You don't have to, if you decide to have your infant sleep with you, commit to having your kid in your bed til they're four or five. That's something that Chris and I are okay with, but it doesn't mean you have to. Everybody does it in a different way, and James McKenna, who's an anthropologist and the leading family bed sleep researcher at Notre Dame, always emphasizes that family bedding is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Having the baby in the same room with you, having a side car, sleeping with the baby in your arms in a rocking chair--those are all forms of co-sleeping. And deciding that you'd like to have your baby sleep in the same room with you during the period when they're SIDS-vulnerable, say during the first year, that doesn't mean that you're automatically gonna have the baby sleeping with you when they're three or four years old.

LS: Finally, Katie, are you afraid that this book is going to be preaching to the choir, that the people who buy it are already attachment parenting?

KG: Gosh, I haven't thought of that! I don't know. That's an interesting question. Certainly from the feedback I'm getting a lot of people who are interested in the subject are buying the book. But I like to think it's going to become one of those baby shower gift-of-choice for parents who believe in this stuff and have seen the benefits in their own family and have a friend they'd like to give it to. And I also think that there are a lot of people who have heard the term or are interested in breastfeeding who might pick it up who hadn't heard about some of the other aspects of attachment parenting and have their eyes opened to those things. I don't know, I hadn't thought about that. I hope not!

LS: I hope not too. I'm gonna give you a chance to plug your next project, which is a book on big families.

KG: Yeah! Well, we're calling it "larger" families. Because, obviously if you have six kids, three doesn't seem like that many. My friend Jeannie Howitz and I, we're both 31, and we both have three little kids and we both notice that at the third child, people started saying "Don't you two know what causes this yet?" And we started talking with people with three or more children--three, four, five, six children--and we realized that there's no book available for families who are making the choice to have what are considered larger families today.

LS: Isn't that funny that three kids is considered a large family now?

KG: Well, bigger families would tell you it's not--I've had some people take me to task on making three the cutoff. It's what's bigger than the demographic average, which is 1.9 kids right now.

LS: It's dropped to 1.9 from 2.5?

KG: But it's edging up. And a lot more families are blending and so they end up with more kids than they thought they'd end up with through remarriage or some other reconfiguration. And there's really no book out there to support that choice and what a positive choice it can be. We hear a lot about the single child famliy and the child-free movement and overpopulation, but there are a lot of benefits and joys and wonderful things about kids having siblings. The book will have a lot of practical stuff too, but it's mostly about supporting people making the decision to go past that two-child average family. And it's going to be called "Maybe One More."

LS: Katie, thank you very much!

KG: Thank you, Lynn!

Katie Allison Granju is the author of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child. She lives with her three children, Henry, Jane and Elliot, in Knoxville, TN.