I had a brief flirtation with the idea of “attachment parenting” before my son was born. But now I’m not sure what I am.
During pregnancy I was intrigued by several components of what I understood to be “attachment parenting”: breastfeeding, babywearing, natural childbirth, skin to skin contact. I researched each practice individually — rather than buying into a whole “parenting” philosophy package — but, as I wrote about previously, none of these intended practices worked out for me. I viewed myself as an “attachment parenting” failure.
And around that time I got angry — really angry — with Dr. Sears. Before my son was born, I had no idea who Dr. Sears was, or Dr. Karp, or Dr. Weissbluth.
My son was a typical demanding newborn for the first six weeks. Our lives consisted of two to three hours cycles of breastfeeding, diaper changes, and sleep. Exhausting, but I knew enough from my friends’ postpartum lives to know that this was very normal.
Then at six weeks, my son began to cry. The word “cry” doesn’t even do this experience justice. It was wailing, shrieking, primal screaming. Constant. Many newborn babies have that sort of cute little baby cry, kind of a mew. My son was loud, so ear-splitting you could hear him far down the street. Boston was in the grips of a spring and early summer heat wave, we had no air conditioning, and I had literally worn out my copy of Happiest Baby on the Block. It was brutally hot and this baby would not stop crying, no matter how much swinging, shushing, swaddling, or side carrying we did. I spent my days bouncing on my birth ball — which was never used during labor as I had an emergency c-section — to initiate a calming reflex in my baby that he apparently did not have.
Then I bought the Sears book The Fussy Baby Book: Parenting Your High-Need Child From Birth To Age Five. It was the only book on Amazon that even came close in sales to the Dr. Karp book when I searched desperately for solutions to help my son’s colic. I read through it cover to cover as soon as it came. By the end, I was sobbing. Here were the conclusions that I reached from the book:
1. My son was temperamentally a “high need” baby. It was likely that he would be challenging well into childhood. We were doomed to a life with an exhausting and defiant child who never slept.
2. It was probably my fault. Babies and mothers have a natural, cross-cultural bond that should soothe even the fussiest baby. Not a single one of Sears’ suggestions made any impact on my son’s crying. Thus, I was a terrible mother who has a deficient bond with her son.
3. You had to breastfeed and sleep with your child forever.
Now, admittedly, this is not what the book said at all. Trust me. I read it again recently, and it’s actually pretty helpful for parenting a child with sleep problems and high energy levels. But for me, a sleep-deprived new mom would have donated a major organ to get her son to stop crying a few hours a day, the only message that I received was: you’re not a good mother.
And from that, I thought I had dismissed attachment parenting forever.
But since I started blogging I’ve been reading Annie Urban from PhD in Parenting quite a lot. She has caused me to rethink my impressions. And apparently my initial interpretations of attachment parenting are not quite correct, or at least insufficient.
- Be prepared emotionally and physically for birth.
- Feed with love and respect.
- Respond to your baby sensitively.
- Use a nurturing touch.
- Ensure safe sleep, emotionally and physically.
- Practice positive discipline.
- Provide consistent and loving care.
- Strive for balance in personal and family life.
And I’m on board with all of those!
Intrigued, I recently asked Julian Wotherspoon and Meegs Hannan, two writers from Connected Mom, a natural parenting site that supports attachment parenting, to share their thoughts about attachment parenting.
School of Smock: What are the biggest misconceptions about attachment parenting (AP)?
Julian: It’s hard to choose one, most recently I’ve been musing on the misconception that it’s some new fad or club with a whole bunch of strict rules. The truth is that attachment parenting closely resembles the sort of biological and developmental nurturing humans have practiced since we’ve been on this planet and while API has written a few vision statements there is no master check-list. Each family will meet the physical and emotional needs of their child in a different way, nowhere is there a list of specific actions a parent MUST take to be AP.
Attachment parenting is all about respecting your child’s needs. As much as a child needs to be held they also have a need for independence. I am also a Montessori parent and something of a free-range parent, I trust that my child is capable and that he knows what’s best for him most of the time but to recognize when he needs independence and when he needs someone close, to identify the difference between wants and needs, and for him to be comfortable and confident in doing things for himself a secure attachment is vital.
Megan: [The biggest misconception is] that it’s only about breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing. That it is permissive parenting where the children “rule the house.”….Helicopter parenting is hovering, it’s addressing every challenge that arises before seeing what your child is capable of. AP is careful to judge the comfort level of your child and intervene if they are in distress or want your assistance, but standing back and allowing them independence whenever possible as well. It’s about fostering the attachment between parent and child, so the child feels very secure in the availability of the parent, and thus feels comfortable branching out and trying new things for themselves.
So have I been an attachment parent and not realized it? What do you think?
If you are an attachment parent, what do its principles mean to you? If you’re not, what about attachment parenting doesn’t appeal to you or your family?
Stay tuned for my thoughts about attachment parenting and sleep training…