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A Change of Heart

Scott Noelle

The following is excerpted from an email I posted to an Attachment Parenting advocacy list.  I was responding to a critic who suggested it would be wrong for AP advocates to appeal to traditional, religious parents’ values (e.g., Jesus’ message of nonviolence). He claimed that since fundamentalist religions still sanction violence against children, it would be a “sell-out” to “the enemies” of our cause...

There is no sell-out. We cannot “prevail” in a war against violence. The only lasting cure for hate is love, and unconditional love means opening our hearts to people as they are rather than condemning them as evil or writing them off as hopelessly ignorant.

I’ll share a personal story to illustrate my point, although it doesn’t involve religion...

In my work as a parenting coach, I was once asked by an attachment parenting mother to persuade her husband to allow their toddler to continue cosleeping. He had been pushing to try a cry-it-out method to get the child used to sleeping separately.

I agreed to talk with him, but frankly I was scared. I didn’t want to fight him, and I didn’t think I could “win” if I tried. My experience told me that even the most irrefutable arguments in favor of cosleeping would not be enough to effect a change of heart.

Since I had nothing to lose, I tried an experiment: What would happen if I were to accept him 100% as he is and let go of any thought that he should change? What if I committed to serving him rather than changing him? What if I chose to see what’s good in him rather than what’s “wrong”? I entered the conversation with that attitude, with the goal of understanding. Mostly I listened and empathized. I sincerely considered his perspectives and connected with his needs, hopes and fears.

The more accepting I was, the more his heart and mind opened (and my own fear also dissolved). There was no feeling of being opponents; we were on the same side. At one point I casually mentioned one of the developmental benefits of cosleeping. I was truly only sharing information, with no intent to persuade, but since his mind was open by then, that little tidbit somehow tipped the scales for him. By the end of the conversation, it was clear to both of us that he wanted to continue the cosleeping but had been unable to see how it could be compatible with meeting his own, valid needs.

I am not a practicing Christian, but in this case it was the Christian principles of nonviolence and loving the “enemy” which led to a truly positive outcome.

I hope my story illustrates how it is possible to serve an individual or group without “selling out” to their fear-based positions (nor condemning them). You can always find a common ground if you keep looking for it. What I have learned through parenting and coaching is that the drive to connect with other human beings is ultimately stronger than the compulsion to be “right”. I think attachment research tends to confirm that theory.

Scott Noelle is a father, a parenting coach, and the author of The Daily Groove: How to Enjoy Parenting... Unconditionally! Scott and his partner, Beth Noelle, have been married for over 30 years, and they have two adult children. ( Updated: 2022 )
© 2004 Scott Noelle.