By Marina Licht & Clare Thorp
The attached mum
Pippa Caldwell, 36, from Northwich, Cheshire, is a part-time school nurse. She is married to Dave, 36, a contract manager, and they have three children, Daniel, 17, Hannah-Rose, 11, and Toby, 31 months.
Lifting her youngest son up on to her lap, Pippa starts to breastfeed him. It’s the most natural thing in the world for her.
But for many, the image of Pippa breastfeeding her child is shocking – because her son isn’t a baby, he’s nearly three years old. While most of his peers finished with breast milk two years ago, Pippa will carry on feeding her son until he weans himself off – which could be when he’s as old as seven. “Other people aren’t used to it,” she says. “But I’ll continue for as long as he wants it.”
Pippa is one of a growing number of mothers who follow Attachment Parenting (AP). The term was first coined in the US over 20 years ago by Dr Bill Sears, the author of over 40 books on parenting and pregnancy. AP now has a strong Facebook community, UK website and dozens of support groups.
The method hit the headlines in May this year when Time magazine featured mum Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son on the cover.
The principle of AP is to keep your child as close to you as possible. Devotees say the more time babies spend in their mothers’ arms, the better the chances they will turn out to be well-adjusted children. As well as extended breastfeeding, the technique involves parents sleeping in the same bed as their children and wearing them in a sling to keep them close to their bodies.
Toby is the first child with whom Pippa has followed the AP method. She read about it while on a work training course. “I fell in love with the ideas,” she says.
Her decision was met with opposition, primarily from health professionals. “When Toby was about one year old, my doctor told me: ‘You can stop that now,’ about my breastfeeding,” she says. “The medical profession has a very set opinion based on how things have always been.”
Pippa’s husband, Dave, supports his wife’s decision. “He is proud of the way we are raising our son,” she says.
For the first few months of Toby’s life, Dave chose to sleep in the spare room rather than in bed with Pippa and the baby. “It made sense as he had a new job and Toby was feeding through the night,” she says. “Friends asked if he minded, but why is it better for a baby to sleep alone than an adult?” They now all sleep together, with Toby next to Pippa.
Dave may support Pippa’s decision to follow AP, but many of her friends and family don’t. “Pretty much everyone I know struggles to understand it,” she says. “I spend my life defending myself. But most people have learnt to respect my choice – or at least keep quiet about it!”
Now that Toby eats three proper meals, Pippa tends to breastfeed just once a day. “It’s usually in the evening,” she says. “Though sometimes he’ll want an extra feed and ask for ‘Mama booba’.”
She rarely feeds him in public now, but a few weeks ago they were out when Toby asked for a feed. “I was aware of people staring and felt vulnerable,” Pippa says. “Some people liken breastfeeding a toddler to child abuse, which is idiocy – not to mention deeply upsetting.”
She dismisses claims that AP means Toby will breastfeed forever, or never sleep alone. “It will naturally stop when he is ready,” she insists.
And she says she can see differences between Toby and her older children. “There is no difference in the love I have given them,” she says. “But Toby is more relaxed and doesn’t have as many tantrums. Because I’m with him so much we have a more intuitive relationship.
“However, it’s totally and utterly up to a parent to choose how they want to raise their child.”
Making that choice can be overwhelming, though – especially with increasing pressure to be a “perfect parent”. Psychotherapist Anne Denny, who runs parenting courses in west London, believes that many parents today feel lost and out of control when it comes to bringing up their children.
“There are parents who use AP and it really works for them,” she explains. “But others feel that it is harder if they don’t set boundaries and discipline their children. Every parent wants his or her child to grow up well adjusted, but in this day and age, there are so many outside factors.”
However, Pippa is certain this is the right way for Toby.
“I have no concerns about him starting school,” she says. “The more secure the attachment the child has with his mother in infancy, the more secure the child will be in later life. I’m sure he will cope well. I have no desire to hold him back.”
The power mum
Deepali Nangia, 39, is a business consultant from London. She is married to Mayur, 37, an acquisitions manager, and they have a daughter, Malaika, six, and a son, Veer, three.
Running her own business consultancy, as well as volunteering for charities and bringing up her children, Deepali knows the importance of hard graft.
Her father was an entrepreneur who instilled a work ethic in her from an early age. “He led a regimented life, which made me self-motivated and productive,” she explains. “It had an impact on how I wanted to raise my own children. I want them to be able to manage their time well.”
And indeed they do. Last year Malaika made a timetable to manage her schedule outside of school, which includes activities such as swimming, golf, Indian classical dance, gymnastics, ballet and polo. “She enjoys it all,” says Deepali. “I’m not forcing her to do anything she doesn’t want to.”
Extra-curricular activities are, Deepali explains, just as important as school work. “Academic excellence isn’t enough. You have to be a well-rounded individual to succeed.”
Last year, mother-of-two Amy Chua sparked controversy when her book, The Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, advocated what she described as the “Chinese” method of motherhood. This includes drastic tactics such as threatening to take her daughter’s doll’s house to the charity shop when she made a mistake in piano practice.
Tiger parenting is extreme, but mums like Amy want to encourage their children to succeed.
However, Carl Honore, author of Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children From The Culture Of Hyper-Parenting, warns against filling every minute of a child’s time with activities. He champions “slow parenting”, and says that sometimes children need to do nothing in order to develop.
“Children need time and space to explore the world on their own terms – that is how they learn to think, invent and socialise; to work out who they are, rather than what we want them to be,” he says. “Micro-managed kids can end up struggling to stand on their own two feet.”
But unlike the more extreme parenting methods of Tiger mothers, Deepali wants her children to have time for fun, too. “Malaika’s favourite show is America’s Got Talent. She loves performing and gains confidence when she watches other girls doing it on TV. I want her to enjoy herself, too.”
She also wants her children to understand the value of money. “I came from a wealthy family but wasn’t allowed to take anything for granted. My father was strict about that and how you have to work hard to get what you want. Children today have everything, Xboxes, PlayStations… I never want them to think that it’s for free. I want them to know you work to get what you want.
“I want both my children to be strong individuals who do their best in any activity that they take up. I want them to be confident and persistent. They’ll come up against obstacles and I want them to know to not give up and keep trying.”
But most of all? “I want them to be happy – whatever choices they make.”
The stylist mum
Cathy Martin, 38, runs an events and PR company. She lives in Helen’s Bay, Northern Ireland with her husband Julian, 43, a managing director, three stepchildren and their 10-month-old daughter Valentina.
When Cathy’s daughter Valentina was born eight weeks premature in January, she started a Facebook page to keep worried friends and family updated on her baby’s progress. But as her little girl came out of hospital, the page had a new purpose.
“While Valentina was in hospital, friends and family showered her with presents, including gorgeous outfits,” says Cathy. “She came home after three weeks, and as a way of saying thank you for the gifts, I posted photos of her in the clothes she had received.”
Since then, Valentina has become an online fashion star and she now has hundreds of fans who regularly visit her Facebook page ‘What Valentina Wore’ to see her recent looks. “People loved seeing her in her outfits, and the project grew from there,” says Cathy.
Valentina’s wardrobe includes designer outfits by Chloé, Dior and Ralph Lauren, as well as pieces by luxury children’s brands Marie Chantal and Bonpoint. “I love her in Zara, Boden and Marks & Spencer, and have bought things for her from Oxfam and eBay. She gets quite a few hand-me-downs too but I call them her ‘baby vintage’,” says Cathy.
Like most girls, Valentina also loves shoes. “When she was born she was given three pairs of baby Uggs, a pair of Converse, and some mini Havaianas flip-flops,” says Cathy.
Once she’s outgrown her clothes, Cathy gives them to the premature baby unit at her local hospital.
Cathy, who works in fashion PR, took her daughter to her first catwalk show at Belfast Fashion Week, when she was two months old. “She’s been to 12 shows, as well as taking part in shoots for magazines and calendars.
“She’s often style spotted with me at events, and people stop me in the street to compliment her outfits.
“I’ve lost count, but she’s got at least 80 outfits,” says Cathy. “I’m always spotting cute things for her. But I’ve promised my husband I’ll wait until the sales before I buy anything else!
“I’d love Valentina to take over the reigns of her site when she’s older and be interested in fashion. But as long as she enjoys whatever she does, that’s what matters.”