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.
Here are the eight principles of attachment parenting, according to Attachment Parenting International, and described by Annie:
- 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…
Diana @ NannyToMommy says
We are huge fans of skin to skin contact. I never was able to baby wear, maybe I never had a good carrier, but SweetPea never liked it. As far as “cry it out”, might I suggest “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep”?
I think each parent has their own style. There is no certain way to parent. You are doing an awesome job, mama. Keep up the great work! 🙂
Thank you! I checked out the book. Great resource! I definitely want to get it. (I am saying this as my toddler is refusing his nap completely for the fourth day in a week!)
Janine Huldie says
That last part made me realize that I have been also parenting more on this spectrum then I realized. You know my first was very similar to your son and I truly felt so much in the first few months that I too had failed on some level. This was truly nice to read and know that maybe just maybe it wasn’t all my fault and that I wasn’t alone either. Back then, I would have loved to know this and just happy now to have learned a bit more here today.
When you have a difficult infant, it’s so hard to feel like you must be doing something wrong. The constant crying does feels so unnatural, even though everyone knows that babies cry!
Surprise Mama says
What a wonderful post. I too felt very uncomfortable with the term attachment parenting, but reading this makes me realize that this is part of how my husband and I plan to raise our daughter. We plan to treat her with respect and encourage her independence, and those 8 principles resonate with me. Congratulations on making it through those first few rough months, I know all too well about reading books and gleaning from those books that you are a big failure in the mom department. It takes some practice (and some sleep) to start to realize that every day is another adventure. Love your blog!
I know: sleep is key. You can’t even think — or comprehend well enough to understand what you’re reading — when you’re not thinking rationally because of lack of sleep. It does seem like these principles are general good practices for parenting, doesn’t it?
Julie Chenell DeNeen says
I totally jive with the attachment parenting theory, but I never could carry it out because I hate cuddling. Isnt’ that awful? Oh sure, I breastfed them all for a year (or two) but I couldn’t do the constant holding, co-sleeping stuff. I let my hubby do it!
Stephanie @ Mommy, for real. says
Great post- I read quite a bit on AP when my youngest was an infant- I found that some of the things I did instinctively lined up with the AP philosophy, and that was great. The stuff that didn’t work for me I just ignored. My favorite thing about parenting is being able to assimilate my own hodge-podge of styles and strategies and find something that works for us. A lot of the AP stuff was perfect for us when Sophie was an infant, but she was a very easy baby. Now that she is a toddler, and a very active, strong-willed one at that, I have abandoned some of the AP mentality. I think it is a shame that the 8 fantastic tenets of AP have been skewed by people who are more accurately touting judgment and extremism than the actual AP philosophy.
I agree! So many of the behavioral aspects that people associate with AP — extended breastfeeding, babywearing, etc. — are not requirements of being an AP parent. And I wonder whether there’s actual disagreement within the AP community or if there are just some members who are strict in their interpretation.
I’ll be honest…being a man…I’m not really sure what the best method is…I leave it up to the pros.
The men’s perspective is one of the most interesting parts about attachment parenting. There also seems to be disagreement about how much co-parenting is desirable or even possible as an AP family during the early months.
I would not describe myself as an attachment parent, but after reading the 8 principles, I guess I am. I did learn pretty quickly that reading some of those parenting books made me feel inadequate – never opened one with the second kid!
What an important post, I’m so glad I read it. I really felt for new mom you and identified with you. I think it’s so great that you went back to Dr. Sears and found some meaning in the same content. Not because I am a fan of his theory, I just think it’s so important to be flexible and open minded in life. Great post!
Boy, I can barely remember those early years of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. I breastfed my first for 3 months (because I went back to work) and the other 2 for a year, although I admit I breastfed more out of a responsibility to do the “healthiest” method rather than for the bonding aspect. We never did purposely the co-sleeping thing, but I do know we ended up with a child sleeping in our bed on many occasions. My 3 kids were all so different in their needs and desires that I truly agree with doing what works best for each child.
Such an interesting post. I definitely feel like the pressure was on to be an attachment parent, and at the end of the day I think I mix elements of all kinds of “parenting styles” into my mothering. So far, so good! ;)-The Dose Girls
Very interesting. I’ve actually never heard of childwearing or attached parenting. But then, my boys are 21 and 6.
Found you via “I Don’t Like Mondays” Blog Hop. 😀
Julia's Math says
Wow. That is the first thing I have ever read on attachment parenting I agreed with. My daughter was the same way at six weeks- she would scream and I mean scream her head off from 11P-3A Every. Single. Night. She is still challenging, easy going doesn’t fit into our vocabulary. She is also awesome, and I could not imagine how much I could love someone!
Lady Jennie says
Oh wow – all I can think is how hard that must have been for you. You sound like an attachment parent to me (or however that should be worded). I wasn’t. Although I loved breastfeeding, I was never tempted to try baby signing or massages or natural birth or exclusive breastfeeding – I even failed at slings. The only thing I wanted was to breathe in my baby, meet his or her needs, and SURVIVE. But that mostly worked well for me, and apart from one colicky baby they all seem happy and well-adjusted. Somehow I think that the styles of parenting are more what work for the mom rather than what’s best for the baby – do you think so?
I agree! It does seem like to me that one of the most critical things — if not the most important thing — is what works best for the family, and the overall emotional state of the mom. If any parental style or any technique makes the mom miserable, then all of the evidence suggests that she’ll pass on her unhappiness and misery onto her children.
Angie Ryg says
What an interesting post that brought up the fact that the loose definitions of terms can sometimes dived mothers when in reality they want the same thing for thier childre. I never really thought about if I was a APer (does that even work?), but I know that those ideas:
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.
…still remain true even when a child is older than the nursing stage.
If I can practice each of these still…I pray that my four little ones will grow up to know they are loved.
Thanks for connecting and sharing your words!
Angie Ryg says
Sheesh…I really do know how to spell. I even wrote my Master’s thesis about it…
Thanks for grace. I should not comment this late…
Thanks, Angie! I agree. The principles should apply to parents of older kids too. And, wow, you wrote a thesis on spelling! I loved teaching spelling as a teacher (I know, weird), but I wonder know about the effects of cell phones, texting, etc. on kids’ spelling habits.