Saturday, February 25, 2012


Today in a room with 30 other people the little man lay on my chest. For at least 20 minutes. Just like that. Hands on my arms. Legs wrapped around me.
This will not seem worth a mention to you. But considering that he has never done this before (when he was not ill) this was a great first time for me.

From the very beginning he wasn't a very cuddly person. Of course there were times when he fell asleep while nursing or afterwards, when I tried to get him to burp. But the livelier he got, the more he could see of the world the less he wanted to be close to me for longer than a wink. It was fine that he was excited and interested in the world. But it was also hard at times that I simply couldn't lie down and cuddle with my baby as I've always pictured it.
When he was grumpy or unhappy I couldn't just pick him up and hold him and the world was fine. If something bothered him it had to be looked at, talked through, changed. Mama couldn't just come and play "Happy world". On one side this was a good thing. It made me learn what exactly bothered him when, it made me really care for his needs and not just distract him. But sometimes it was hard and frustrating when I just wanted to hug him to help him get over a frustrating situation but he would shake me off.

In the creche he was not one of those children who would run towards me the minute he saw me. He would rather take my hand and lead me towards the door as if saying "Ok then, let's not waste any time, let's go!" or he would continue playing what he just played. Things need to be finished in his world. Whatever finished means for him.

I always hoped that one day he would be the person that would come towards me and hug me. Just like that.

As with I think every parent the moment came when I started thinking about our attachment. Throughout my online course to become a family counsellor I recently read a lot about the attachment theory and the attachment patterns that have been identified. Obviously that got me thinking if everything was "alright" with us. So for a while when I went to the creche to pick up the little man I carefully watched his reaction: He saw me, continued to play, looked at me again and still continued playing. All alarm buttons went off, I got nervous. "little or no visible response to return. Ignoring or turning away with no effort to maintain contact if picked up" (Mary Ainsworth) ---> therefore avoidant attachment pattern!
A door fell into its lock! I felt trapped. How could that be? I thought and thought and squeezed my brain. What could have gone wrong? And where? I went through the last 20months of the little man's life. Could the surgery have shaken our attachment? Did I not carry him enough? Am I a bad mother?

Until I figured - those attachment patterns are categories. Based on some studies that in my opinion are quite vage. Is it really that easy? And what exactly does it mean, if you are A, B or C? Am I really trying to say what type of relationship my son is going to live with other people in his life based on how I see he reacts when I pick him up from the creche? So I finished the part of the course about attachment and put aside the readings. I stopped thinking about the whole theory. And listened to my heart again.
And you know what? When I went to the creche the last couple of weeks the little man would come towards me right away (unless he was eating, which he ALWAYS finishes up). He would come close, rest in my arms, tell me the names of the other kids or show me some toys or materials he likes.

What I see now is that a lot of this big and heavy stuff about attachment is in your head. It is so intense and important that it scares the hell out of new parents. And stresses them. So I think do theories that apparently help you build a stronger attachment by carrying your child, nursing intense and for long, co-sleeping etc. If parents really feel like doing these things and are happy and relaxed with it I think that's great. But I also think that there are other ways to achieve a strong attachment with your child.
This was also what Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber were aiming at: By respecting your child's needs, allowing free movement and play and accompanying him on his way in the world rather than leading and directing him you can build a very fine relationship of love, trust and respect that will be a strong foundation for the child to grow on.

And therefore I think: listen to yourself. To your inner feeling. And listen to your child. Enjoy your relationship together and treat it with love and respect exactly the way you would want to be treated in a loving relationship.

So today, in a room full of 30 adults the little man has seen before and that are going to be his future neighbours he felt the need to be close to me, to lie on my chest and rest. And I loved it, every second of it, his tiny hands on my arms, his legs wrapped around me. I stroked his head and knew: we are attached. And we don't need a cupboard with 4 drawers to tell us how well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


"Parents are often eager to give their babies the breast or the bottle whenever the baby shows signs of any discomfort. For a new mother with a crying child, it can seem like a much too long-term project to find out why the baby is crying. The breast (or bottle) is available and the crying stops right away. No wonder many people believe and advocate that the breast is the ideal comforter and soother. I do not."

When I read this quote from Magda Gerber today I thought it was quite clear what she was saying. When I read the comments below that quote I was shocked how many mothers misunderstood her words. And how many actually - in my opinion - misunderstand breastfeeding.

Most of the mothers said that breastfeeding is also comfort and closeness. And I completely agree. But that doesn't mean that a baby that is showing any sign of discomfort is seeking this. Of course especially with newborns it works quite well to just pick them up and feed them at any sound of cry. But I can also hold a baby very close and stroke his head or body and then see if he is looking for he breast. This I think is a very easy way of firstly showing your presence and respond to the cry without instantly offering food.

One mother actually said that breastfeeding shows love in a way nothing else can and I get really nervous with such words. There are mothers out there who would give a world to be able to breastfeed but can't and this is just a slap in their face. And I would take this further. Especially when I breastfeed my child any time it starts crying or is obviously unhappy the feeding becomes such a routine that it's no longer this close intimate moment together. Because it then just happens in any situation, anywhere. You see mothers on the playground picking up their child that just fell or hit himself or cries for god knows what reason and offers the breast and - continues talking to her friend. (not to mention the ones on the phone, watching TV, checking emails etc.)

This is the point where I really see the line between breastfeeding and breastfeeding. So many mothers insist on the fact that breastfeeding is THE way of showing love but then don't really show their love in this very moment. Because it's not just about the breast in a baby's mouth right away. It's about the inner closeness, eyecontact, presence. How would you feel if you were crying and a persons hugged you but continued talking to a friend on the phone? You could also hug a pillow, couldn't you?

And here we can bring the breastfeeding in line with the bottle feeding. Because even if the physical closeness is not there - as long as the mindful presence is, it's all the same I dare to say.

I was looked at quite strange when even at some prenatal gym class where there were only mothers with babies I went outside to feed Leander. But I just wanted to be with him.

I wish Magda's (and Emmi's) words would be understood with the respected and loved baby in mind and not the abandoning adult that's refusing love and comfort. And that's why - even if my posts are a little clumsy at times - I'll continue to try and wipe out these misinterpretations of their wonderful work.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Delighted I read Anna's "personal note on rewards, praise and punishment". We have made similar experiences too, throughout our childhood and now with Leander. Of course we were excited when he did his first steps. He was too. But we didn't clap our hands. And that's the difference.

In an Austrian magazine there was a very important article about the so called "overprotected child". It was all about how parents nowadays hover around their children trying to protect them from every accident and every little stumble or fall. By doing so instead of keeping them safe they are holding them from the absolute necessary experiences of balance, height, speed etc. Those children don't learn their own limits, they don't know their own body and become insecure. And then experience accidents (maybe later in life) as a result of the overprotection. By being so well watched and put in classes and courses rather than taken on trips to the woods or the park children become dependent and passive, they can't develop self confidence and self esteem.

That's what Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber both observed and included in their work. That's what the parent-infant-playgroup is about (amongst other topics): to sit and observe, not watch your child in a security kind of job, but with interest: "Where is my child right now?" (development), "What does he like, enjoy, can or is he trying to achieve?" To then follow this observation knowing what I can do or offer to let him explore free and self motivated in an appropriate environment at his very own stage of development.

A very good and important article that was. Up to the point where the psychologist Lieselotte Ahnert says, that parents need to praise their children, when they achieve something new. That this is the "drive children need to continue learning." And I disagree. If a child does not know praise for developmental steps he is going to achieve at some point anyway (considering he is healthy) he will not need it to get going. What he needs is the company of parents who actively "see" what the child is achieving and what effort went into this, who value the process and who enjoy this moment with their child. Not by clapping and sitting him on this imaginery throne but by simply laughing with him, hugging him or offering words for what just happened. "I am so happy for you!" - so simple, so light yet so true and honest.

Elsewhere in the article it is mentioned that when achieving a milestone or goal children (or people in general) experience joy and happyness which again leads to the release of dopamine, a very important neurotransmitter. Dopamine then encourages the continuation of that learning process. I think we all know how happy we continue a work that has just reached a new milestone we've been working on for ages. But to make sure this dopamine is released a child does not need praise, it just needs joy and happyness. Of course we can somehow almost stop this cycle by not reacting at all to this joy. But we mustn't overreact neither. It's enough to smile, nod or laugh.

Now is it so bad if I praise my child out of some inner drive? No it's not I'd say carefully. If a mother really has the need to shout "Wow super!" it is not that bad. If this does not become routine because then this "Wow super!" can become the drive the child one day really needs and does things not to for the sake of it but to be praised. And THIS can be counterproductive because then we raise little zoo animals that hop through a loop for a piece of cake.

And that's why I don't like articles like these where such lines like "The parents' praise is the drive a child needs to continue learning." might become the core of the whole point they were trying to make. And that was the one about the problem of overprotection if you remember. You don't? See - that's what I mean.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Yesterday I saw Leander pressing his forefinger against his lips saying "pssst!" after he put his little toy rabbit to sleep. Although it was as cute as everything he is doing for the first time I was wondering where he got it from. Maybe naptime in the creche, maybe somewhere else I don't know but it got me thinking how well the non-shshshing went for us.

As with many things I would have done if I hadn't met Emmi Pikler's approach to wonderful parenting I would probably have tried to shshsh my child to sleep, to shshsh him over a little accident and emotional rollercoasters. But I didn't. And I didn't miss it.

I read about how important it is for Babies to cry if they need to cry when all their basic and existential needs are met and from this moment on I never tried to stop it just for the sake of it. Of course I have been frustrated and desperate at times and would have given a kingdom for him to stop crying. But by then I knew too well that simple shshshing wouldn't do. Not with a child that has gotten so used to his thumb that I could be sure that if he cried, he needed crying, that in this situation the thumb was not enough. (Another reason why I'd always prefer a thumb to a pacifier - it tells the parents if somethings wrong or not, not the other way around).

When Leander falls he usually takes a moment to realise. I do so too. If it's not too bad he will get up and keep doing what he was doing. If he's tired or exhausted he will cry a little and point with his little fingers to the exact place where he tripped or stumbled then to the part of his body that got hurt. We always need to explain what happened and after a few reconstructions of the scenario he'll keep going. When Leander falls badly, gets his fingers stuck in the elevator door or the toes underneath a door he doesn't just cry. He screams. These are the moments he needs us. He needs us most. We need to pick him up and hold him. And then we still have to explaing what happens. When such rather bad things happen he keeps telling them to us even days afterwards. Interestingly I wasn't there when he threw his room door but had his feet in the way. It was his Dad who was there so it was only him who he told what happened every time they went in or out his room together. He knew exactly who was with him in the situation and who would understand what he's saying. He hasn't really got the words for it but my hope is that once he has - he will be able to express not just what happened but also how it felt. For now we try to find words for him and he nods along sobbing when we are right.

The other day I didn't even see how he fell. But he was lying there screaming so I picked him up and held him. In this moment it felt so right and so true. Simply being there. With him. It looked like he just tripped a little, it was dark and cold and snowy and his huge snow suit is a little in the way sometimes so I didn't think it was much. But he screamed so I simply held him in the middle of the footpath and was there for him.
Later on when I changed him and got him ready for bedtime I saw a little bruise above his upper lip. He must have fell on his mouth. And there it was - the moment I realised how bad it can be if we shshsh a child in a moment we think wasn't too bad or a situation we feel uncomfortable having a screaming baby. So out of this relief I just said "Oh you even got a little bruise today, this must have hurt." and I hugged him.

For me - these are moments of true love. Not asking. Not questioning. Not shshshing. Not hectically brushing the dirt of his trousers and jacket while he still screams. Just being there - giving.
In times where I am back to work life and Leander is in the creche, where quality time is limited to certain hours of the day it his not easy to be sure if your child knows how much you love him, how much he means to you. Leander is not a cuddly child either, well he wasn't, he's getting a little cuddlier now but usually it's him who decides when to cuddle and how and how long. But in these moments where he got hurt or scared I hold him and let him cry as much as he needs and know that he knows I love him. Because I do.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Eye contact is a very important way for newborns and infants of communicating with their parents. It is after all also for us a very special moment when we realise, that our child is looking into our eyes, not straight through them anymore. It is also the time, when the first smile brings happy tears into mommy's eyes. I could spend ours looking into Leander's eyes, trying to read his thoughts and feeling completely connected. And yet, I lost it somewhere along the way.

When I look around I realise I'm not alone. But that's not a relief, it's sad. Parents often talk to their children over the paper or the phone or the computer. At the breakfast table we tend to look at the mess that's about to happen, at the changing table we fight with a diaper, poo and wipes.
The only moments that pop into my mind when thinking of a parent-child-eye contact is the angry parent yelling into the child's face or the parent leaving the sad child with a caretaker. Is that all?

When did we loose this special connection? The opportunity to raise a person, that won't avoid the eye contact to a stranger?
Well I've got some thoughts.

1) As soon as the child becomes mobile we start walking ahead. When before I looked at Leander and said: "I'm going to the kitchen, I'll be right back" I then just said I'd leave knowing he would follow anyway. At some point I even started walking out because there aren't many places I could go to in our flat. But the main part is that I didn't necessarily look at him anymore, even if I did say something.

2) We had Leander facing towards us in the stroller for quite a long time. But when he started being artistic trying to face the other way I gave in and turned the seat around. The trailor we've got now doesn't even give us that choice. And most strollers don't give that either. When I talk to Leander I don't even know if he's listening. Until I hear an answer. Or not.

3) The diaper change became much more lively when we started changing Leander while he was standing up. Especially since he can walk I'm trying hard to keep the poo where it belongs while Leander is busy doing... what actually? I never distracted him with toys, I actually took them off him when he was up there on the changing table. But I didn't think that using an unattended moment of his to get the trousers off or the diaper on was some form of distraction too. Until I had another three days of intense Pikler traning last week.

In that training we looked at pictures and videos of diaper change situations in the Lóczy orphanage in Budapest. What struck me was the connection between the children and the nurses. Most impressive for me was their eye contact in so many moments, an eye contact in which you feel a strong relation ship and trust. It was something everyone would expect from children and their parents, but not in an orphanage. And again it made me rethink our (diaper) changing situations at home.

So in the evening I tried what felt easy and doable. And I learned that it wasn't. Because we had lost it. Even when I did remind Leander to "take part" in taking his trousers off, his pyjama on or anything, he did. But he wouldn't look into my eyes. And when he did, I tried to stretch the moment. Because I felt how special it was.
We're still not there yet but I feel that it is getting easier. Because while trying to bring him back to the moment, not using unattended situations to get on, I eventually get him when HE is ready to. I then have this cooperatve child Pikler always talked about. And this is not - as it may sound - a passive unwilling child, it's a happy one that feels being respected and trusted. The other bonus is - I am so focused, so right in this moment trying to connect with him that I don't think of anything else. I'm right there. With him.

As I say - I'm not there yet, but I feel that this is a wonderful upward spiral I just have to hold onto very tight and I will not just have a cooperative child (with moody exceptions I hope - because a "No!"from his side is important too, but that's another topic) but also a very strong and loving connection that's worth every minute we're late for all sorts of appointments.