Attachment parenting is often touted as the best parenting philosophy. When I was pregnant for the first time, I wanted the best for my baby. I went to the dentist, I took prenatal vitamins, I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol. I did everything I was supposed to. I also researched different types of parenting. I popped into many message boards to learn from other mothers. I found attachment parenting.
It sounded awesome. I picked up a few books and read what I could on the subject. The number one thing I read was something along the lines of, “These are tools to use, they won’t all work for you, use what does work, and throw the rest away.”
The point of attachment parenting is to foster a strong attachment between the parents and the baby. It sounds lovely. When parents focus on the tools more than the relationship, then they loose sight of the whole point and hurt the attachment more. The opposite of what they hoped to accomplish.
Attachment parenting is about fostering a strong sense of connection between the parents and the child. This is done by making things easy for yourself and being physically close to baby as much as possible.
This is not accomplished by stressing about whether you breastfeed or bottle feed hint: it’s possible to be an attachment parent and also bottle feed. Attachment is not formed when baby sleeps best on her own, but you want to co-sleep. Relationships are hurt when a newly walking toddler wants to walk, but the attachment parent insists on wearing the baby.
When Tools Are More Important Than Relationships
I’ve seen many successful attachment parents. They have strong connections between the parents, the children, and each other. All of the relationships in the family are strong. They didn’t all identify as attachment parents. I’ve also seen so many families say they are attachment parents but misunderstand what that actually looks like. They turn the tools into the most important aspect of parenting and in the process hurt the relationship between all family members.
When a mama breastfeeds, and wears baby, and co-sleeps, and believes that all crying is bad, they don’t leave any room for Daddy in the picture. Daddy holds baby, baby cries, and mama rushes in. She means well, she wants the best for her baby, but inadvertently hurts the relationship between Daddy and Baby. As this relationship is damaged, the one between Mama and Daddy is also hurt. (plus baby learns Mommy is the only one able to soothe her, next thing you know you have a 7yr old that can’t be anywhere without Mommy).
It becomes more and more difficult for the parents to connect with each other. Without a strong connection they loose the support they need from each other and the weight of parenting becomes too heavy. Both parents become more snappish, which leads to both of them relying on tools more and more. Those tools that could help foster a stronger sense of connection between family members continues to drive them apart.
Now that I’ve talked about the problems, does that mean attachment parenting is wrong? No. It doesn’t. What it means is it’s important to understand why you’re supposed to use certain tools more so than what tools you use.
It’s possible for a bottle fed baby that spends one night a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s house to still have a strong relationship/attachment with his parents. It’s possible because there are so many different ways of connecting with people. A baby forms a secure attachment when he is fed when hungry, but not force fed when full. If he is picked up and cuddled and hears a soothing voice when he is crying, he develops a sense of trust, and a strong attachment with his caregivers. These are only some of the ways attachment is formed. The key is parents that are calm and generally content.
A stressed parent is less able to form strong attachments with other people, including their baby.
Doing It Right
Attachment Parenting is first and foremost a philosophy that says a consistent, reliable and positive relationship between caregiver and baby helps baby develop into a healthy adult that is independent and able to form secure attachments with others.
That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Is there anyone here who doesn’t want that for their child? Just as I thought – we all want our children to grow up, healthy and to be able to have healthy relationships in the future.
The idea behind attachment parenting is ultimately that parents and caregivers need to consistently respond to baby’s needs with compassion and respect. It means you don’t leave baby to cry on it’s own. But it also doesn’t mean you need to rock baby to sleep forever. In fact there are many ways to help a baby sleep on his own, with respect and without bouncing on a yoga ball for hours at a time.
The specifics will be different for each family, but if you’re feeling stressed and anxious about the way parenting is happening in your home, then it’s okay to change what you’re doing. The attachment parenting tools are just that, tools. If they don’t make your life easier, then they’re probably not the right tools for you.
How To Avoid The Pitfalls of Attachment Parenting
Avoiding the pitfalls of attachment parenting is actually pretty easy. First, relax. The more stressed you are, the harder it (everything) will be. Yes, read the books and the blogs if you want to, but keep in mind, if you’re getting advice from someone at the same point on the parenting journey as you are, then they don’t know if what they’re doing is working or not.
Second, be sure you know what your parenting philosophy actually is. It’s easy to slap a tag onto your life without actually understanding what that means. Are you an attachment parent that believes the tools make the parent? Maybe you believe that having a child sit at the table all the way through a meal is the most important thing they need to learn. This will guide the way you parent other situations as well. If you believe your relationships with your family are the most important aspect of your parenting, then you will keep those in sight to guide your decision making.
Third, find a mentor. I’ve found the best parenting advice I ever received was from parents with older children that had the kind of relationship I hoped to have with my children. Sometimes it was a matter of watching what they did and emulating it, other times I needed to ask for advice. In almost all cases their advice was very different than the advice I received from parents with children the same age as my own (with the exception of parents with older children as well).
Attachment parenting is a way of guiding you into a joyful parenting experience with children that are joyful to parent. It doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it will be easier if you use ONLY the tools that work for you and leave the rest behind.