From attachment parenting to Taking Children Seriously

“Like anything truly profound and earth-shattering, I expect the process of sorting out what Taking Children Seriously means for me and all my relationships will go on and on through my whole life.”
– Brooke


From the archives: First published in Taking Children Seriously 31, 2000

I subscribed to Taking Children Seriously because I liked its name—Taking Children Seriously. I have been on the journey of implementing the ideas of Taking Children Seriously for about two years.

Like anything truly profound and earth-shattering, I expect the process of sorting out what Taking Children Seriously means for me and all my relationships will go on and on through my whole life. 

But what of this process? Well, unlike a lot of theories that make sense to me, which I adopt readily and embrace wholeheartedly, Taking Children Seriously was such a struggle. When I first innocently subscribed to the Taking Children Seriously List [Forum], I was basically shocked by what I read. I had thought I was such a cool, casual, alternative parent and on the Taking Children Seriously List so many of my ways of doing things fell under the label of conventional and were condemned (at times most vehemently). I went through all kinds of feelings—defensiveness of course, fury sometimes, thoughts that ‘these people are crazy’ or ‘this goes too far’. 

But somewhere in there was something very compelling. Somehow I felt that my obsession (I was going around in my day thinking about what I read on the List—things that seemed so foreign to my way of thinking) was a real clue that there was something in Taking Children Seriously for me. 

So I stuck with it. I’ve been through a tumult of emotions about it. I kind of feel like I’ve emerged from that now. On the other side, so to speak. There’s no doubt in my mind that Taking Children Seriously makes total sense and is the way I want to raise my two kids. And no doubt that there are great repercussions for all of my relationships. 

I came to Taking Children Seriously from attachment parenting, which I embraced vigorously for my daughter’s babyhood, but whose ideas I found lacking after that. She was 18 months old when I got on the Taking Children Seriously List. I had been exploring various ideas (but content with none), including something called Re-evaluative Counseling, ‘holding time’, further attachment parenting stuff… 

One of the families we most admired before our baby was born used time-outs and I had used them a few times but it never felt right. It seemed that I was always putting her in time-out for something that could be traced back to me not meeting some need of hers—usually for attention. In fact, I was uncomfortable with control in my relationship with her, but I hadn’t considered not using authority at all! I was trying to be clear, firm, and fair about just a few boundaries. But it seemed I was always running up against things that begged for new boundaries. 

The first thing that struck me about Taking Children Seriously was that it reminded me of attachment parenting in the way that it so respects the needs of children (people) from their own perspective. Taking Children Seriously carried these ideas further, expanded on them, and tied them into my whole burgeoning perspective on relationships. 

Some of the ‘theories’ (for want of a better word) that I respect the most are homeopathy, Transcendental Meditation, Taking Children Seriously and attachment parenting of babies. I know that many Taking Children Seriously people would not see it this way, but to me these all seem to be related in a fundamental way. What resonates most with me is a sense of trust. 

Behavior is behavior—sometimes it comes into conflict with others, but to simply subdue it by force does not address its source nor credit its perceived necessity. 

With the philosophy of Taking Children Seriously, there’s a fundamental assumption that other things being equal, children want to do the right thing, to act in the best interest of their growth as autonomous individuals and to the enhancement of their creativity. 

It appealed to me first for this: rather than the child ‘suddenly’ having invalid needs and wrongful actions (with my attachment parent philosophy I had always trusted my baby’s expression of her needs), those needs continued to be okay. Certainly it wasn’t right to just squelch them with behaviorism like time-outs. 

This is quite contrary to any other philosophy of parenting I know of, where at some level there is always the assumption that a child must defer to an authority (because they are ‘wrong’) and that this deference is an integral part of growing up and becoming an autonomous adult. 

There are so many benefits for me personally that I don’t know where to begin. I have stopped feeling responsible for how my child will ‘turn out’, for her tastes, her appearance, her actions. 

It’s very hard at times. That’s where the List and the Taking Children Seriously journal continue to be helpful to me—they’re still very informative, but have also become more of a support network. We are held responsible for how our children behave as parents and for me it makes me want to ‘control’ her behavior partly because I’m aware of my ‘image’. But one of the first feelings I remember having when I really decided to ‘go for it’ with Taking Children Seriously was a feeling of relief and freedom from having to control, and from the ensuing power struggles that tainted our relationships. 

At first I thought I’d reserve a few key areas to coerce in—like food. I imagined this would be okay—my daughter would see that it was only in this narrow aspect of her life that she didn’t have complete autonomy. But it interfered with the trust and goodwill passing between us. I have now let go. The idea that she should control her own diet makes total sense to me but because of my own background and hang-ups sometimes the practice makes me nervous or crazy. The best thing for me to do is to back off at these times—but I’d like to be able to offer my own best theories about nutrition, eating, etc. But I can’t do that effectively if I am really strung out about the whole thing. So I am working ‘on myself’. 

Taking Children Seriously is a huge, hard journey for the parent because it’s about letting yourself be vulnerable to be guided and taught—by a child! 

I’m letting go of the idea that I have to ‘protect’ my child from ideas. Letting go, letting go, letting go! It’s the hugest letting go I’ve ever done. It takes the idea that parenting is about letting go to a whole new level! 

Who am I to try to judge what is going to be best for my child? First of all, I may not know. Second of all, even if I do know, and I am right, how is she going to come to the same conclusion by being forced? As a Taking Children Seriously parent, I aim to give her the benefit of my opinions without the coercion that for so many parents goes with that. She will create her own knowledge, in the light of her experiences, her mistakes, her trial-and-error, from being exposed to innumerable theories and allowed to explore those that she wants to. 

I have always been a seeker but this has been so freeing for me. It relieves me of the need always to be more right than someone else. What matters is how everyone feels in the face of the conflict, and finding ways for everyone to have what they want. The energy I might have spent on proving to myself or my child that I am right, I can now spend in pursuit of self-awareness and healing, and happiness. I seek ideas from any source and judge them only by their content. It is a profound opening for me. 

The happiness of everyone is both possible and paramount, and no one should have to sacrifice themselves or someone else’s autonomy or happiness for their own. It seems so simple. In my giddier moments I think Taking Children Seriously could be called TFS (Families) or even TES (Everyone). 

But ultimately the reason I believe in Taking Children Seriously is not because of how my child is going to ‘turn out’, nor how great our relationship is becoming, nor because it ‘works’, nor because it seems radical and I’m attracted by radical things, nor because it allows me to be open to learning so much, nor because of how it has enhanced the creativity of all of us. It is because I agree that it really is the only right, just, and moral way to treat this person we conceived and are now responsible to accompany through her life.

See also:

Brooke, 2000, ‘From attachment parenting to Taking Children Seriously’, Taking Children Seriously 31, ISSN 1351-5381, pp. 8-9,

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