By Lysa Parker, CEIM
How Doulas Can Support Parental Presence
When I think about my own birth experiences over 30 years ago, I had no clue as to what a doula was or how important a doula could be in the trajectory of a family until I began reading the work of Marshall Klaus and John Kennell. I don’t think I was very “present” at my first birth because I was too busy fending off what I considered unnecessary childbirth interventions and advice. Everything I learned from that point on was through trial and error, doing my own research and finding my own tribe of like-minded mothers.
Fortunately, my son and daughter-in-law were able to hire a doula for the birth of my granddaughter two years ago, and we all felt it was an incredible experience. What a difference doulas make in the lives of families! Doulas help take away the fear of the unknown and empower mothers and fathers in making informed decisions. When parents feel they have a trusted and knowledgeable advocate at their birth, it allows them to be present and focused on each other and the birth process that benefits the bonding process.
Parental presence is the theme of Attachment Parenting Month, sponsored by Attachment Parenting International, a nonprofit organization I cofounded with Barbara Nicholson, over 20 years ago. Being “present” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but in our world of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting (and grandparenting) we see it as a continuum, a life practice and our life’s journey.
How can you as a doula help parents become more conscious and present in their children’s lives? The way we see it, doulas are pivotal in this role because they have established a relationship of trust with the parents. You are their “sherpas” or guides for the magnificent parenting expedition they are embarking on, where they can discover more about themselves than they ever thought possible.
Your role doesn’t necessarily end with the birth of the child. You can help prepare and guide parents to seek out trusted resources to help them nurture their parent-child relationships; strong loving, connected relationships that will truly make a difference not only in their families but in society as a whole. We at API believe that attachment parenting is a natural progression for the parents you serve, and we want to work with you as a trusted resource that cares about families and nurturing children for a more compassionate world.
About Attachment Parenting
All the discussion and controversies that have surrounded attachment parenting (AP) through the years are many; what it is and what it isn’t seems to overlook what underlies the reasons why parents are attracted to or choose to practice AP. At the heart of practicing AP is the process of learning to become attuned to our children and to one another, to listen with our whole hearts, to be more respectful and empathic, to communicate in a more loving way. We are asking parents to be emotionally present in their children’s lives. Sounds easy until we realize how difficult it can be when we often can’t even be present to our own emotions and needs in this chaotic, disconnected world we live in. Dr. Gabor Maté once said, “We can only be as attuned to our children as we are to ourselves.” When we talk about being “present” with our children, our spouse, or others, it most definitely becomes an inside job.
One of the key points we discuss in our book, Attached at the Heart, has to do with reflecting on our own childhood experiences before or during pregnancy. We tend to parent our children the way we were raised, and that often involves overreacting, yelling and spanking because we don’t understand child development, which colors our perceptions and expectations of children. To learn to be present with our children requires new tools and new understandings to help us be more conscious and calmer in our interactions. Our book goes into depth on the comprehensive new science that supports API’s Eight Guiding Principles of Parenting, such as “prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting” and “responded with sensitivity” (Check out all of API’s Eight Guiding Principles of Parenting!) that we believe strengthens the attachment relationship and supports the optimal emotional development of children.
We invite you to learn more about AP and about API at www.attachmentparenting.org.
Lysa Parker is the cofounder of Attachment Parenting International. She received both her bachelor’s in education and her master’s degree in Human Environmental Sciences specializing in human development and family studies. She earned her designation of Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) from the National Council on Family Relations in 2004 and was the 2014 president for the Southeast Council on Family Relations. Lysa is also a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM).
She is the coauthor of Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children (HCI, 2013) and the co-developer of a new curriculum based on her book. The first edition of Attached at the Heart won the 2009 Book of the Year Gold Award from Foreword Magazine. She is a frequent guest on national, international, and local radio and TV programs. Currently Lysa is a writer, speaker and parenting consultant in private practice at www.parentslifeline.com. She is the mother of two grown sons and a stepdaughter and is the grandmother of three grandchildren. She lives with her husband in the Huntsville, Alabama area.