Thursday, March 26

I Am an Attachment Parent

Brace yourself, this is a long one!

Ever heard that holding your baby too much can spoil her? The American Pediatrics Association, among many other parenting and pediatric groups, undisputedly agree babies younger than 6 months cannot be spoiled, and should in fact be picked up and tended to every time they cry. So every time your mom/grandma/friend tells you to let him cry, its good for him, follow your instinct and offer your little one some snuggles.

Attachment parenting takes things a step further. This organization promotes strong and healthy emotional bonding between parents and children through practice of 8 attachment principles. APers encourage parents to do what feels right for their family and to acknowledge your child's needs as you would an adults. No this does not mean you should continue to sprint to the rescue every time a peep is uttered once baby passes the 6 month mark, but it does mean that after much research and trial and error, leaving baby to cry it out or attempting to teach independence and self soothing by not responding to cues, ultimately, is outdated advice and not only doesn't work, its not healthy for development.

The more I read, the more I'm convinced this is the parenting style I most closely associate with, and the more I read, the more I feel AP encourages the values I wish to possess as a mom. I'm not ashamed to say I co-sleep, that I choose to wear my baby instead of plunk her in a swing when I have a full day of housework to do, or that 6 months and 2 weeks after her birth I still pick her up whenever she needs me, even if its not a convenient time or my hands were tied in something else. In fact, I think AP takes more patience, more time, and more commitment to making your schedule meet baby's than making baby's schedule meet yours, and that's hard -- but for me, its right.

Today, however, I'm not going to cover what attachment parenting is. Instead, I'd like to do a little myth debunking by telling you what AP is not. Below is an article derived from

Attachment parenting is not a new style of parenting. AP is one of the oldest ways of caring for babies. In fact, it's the way that parents for centuries have taken care of babies, until childcare advisers came on the scene and led parents to follow books instead of their babies. The baby B's of AP would come naturally to you as they have other cultures who have centuries more child-rearing experience and tradition than all of us have.

Attachment parenting is not indulgent parenting. You may hear or worry that being nurturing and responsive to your baby's needs might spoil your baby and set you up for being manipulated manipulated by your baby. This is why we stress that AP is responding appropriately to your baby's needs, which means knowing when to say "yes" and when to say "no." Sometimes in their zeal to give children everything they need, it's easy for parents to give their children everything they want.

Attachment parenting is about balance – not being indulgent or permissive, yet being attentive. As you and your baby grow together, you will develop the right balance between attentive, but not indulgent. In fact, being possessive, or a "smother mother" (or father) is unfair to the child, fosters an inappropriate dependency on the parent, and hinders your child from becoming normally independent.

As your baby grows, you become more expert in reading her cries, so you can gradually delay your response. Because you and your baby are so connected, your baby can read your body language and see that you're not anxious, so you naturally give your baby the message, "No problem, baby, you can handle this." In this way, you're being a facilitator , and because of your close attachment you're actually better able to help your baby delay gratification and ease into independence.
Attachment Tip:
"It's easier for me to say 'no' to my attachment- parented child when she wants a lot of stuff, because I know I have given her so much of myself."
AP is not permissive parenting. APers become like gardeners: you can't control the color of the flower or the time of the year it blooms, but you can pick the weeds and prune the plant so that the flower blooms more beautifully. That's shaping. APers become master behavior-shapers.

Attachment mothering is not martyr mothering. Don't think that AP means baby pulls mommy's string and she jumps. Because of the mutual sensitivity that develops between attached parents and their attached children, parents' response time can gradually lengthen as mother enables the older baby to discover that he does not need instant gratification. Yes, you give a lot of yourself in those early months, but you get back a lot more in return. AP is the best investment you'll ever make -- in your child, and yourselves.

"Won't a mother feel tied down by constant baby-tending?"
Mothers do need baby breaks. This is why shared parenting by the father and other trusted caregivers is important. But with AP, instead of feeling tied down, mothers feel tied together with their babies. Remember, too, that AP, by mellowing a child's behavior, makes it easier to go places with your child. You don't have to feel tied down to your house or apartment and a lifestyle that includes only babies.

Attachment parenting is not hard. AP may sound like one big give-a-thon. Initially, there is a lot of giving. Babies are takers, and parents are givers. One of the payoffs you will soon experience of AP is one we call mutual giving – the more you give to your baby, the more baby gives back to you. This is how you grow to enjoy your child and feel more competent as a parent.

AP may sound difficult, but in the long run it's actually the easiest parenting style. What is "hard" about parenting is the feeling "I just don't know what my baby wants" or "I just can't seem to get through to her." If you feel you really know your baby and have a handle on the relationship, parenting is easier and more relaxed. There is great comfort in feeling connected to your baby. AP is the best way we know to get connected. True, this style of parenting takes a tremendous amount of patience and stamina, but it's worth it. AP early on makes later parenting easier, not only in infancy but in childhood and teenage years. The ability to read and respond to your baby, carries over into the ability to get behind the eyes of your growing child and see things from her point of view. When you truly know your child, parenting is easier at all ages.

AP is not rigid. On the contrary, it has options and is very flexible. Attachment mothers speak of a flow between themselves and their baby; a flow of thoughts and feelings that help a mother pull from her many options the right choice at the right time when confronted with the daily "what do I do now?" baby-care decisions. The connected pair mirror each other's feelings. The baby perceives himself by how the mother reflects his value. This insight is most noticeable in the mother's ability to get behind the eyes of her child and read her child's feelings during discipline decisions.

One day our two-year-old, Lauren, impulsively grabbed a carton of milk out of the refrigerator and spilled it on the floor. As Lauren was about to disintegrate, Martha mellowed out the situation and preserved the fragile feelings of a sensitive child and prevented the angry feelings of inconvenienced parents. When I asked how she managed to handle things so calmly, she said, "I asked myself if I were Lauren, how would I want my mother to respond?"

Attachment parenting is not spoiling a child. Our answer is an emphatic no. In fact, both experience and research have shown the opposite. Attachment fosters independence. AP implies responding appropriately to your baby; spoiling suggests responding inappropriately. The spoiling theory began in the early part of this century when parents turned over their intuitive childrearing to "experts"; unfortunately, the childcare thinkers at the time advocated restraint and detachment, along with scientifically produced artificial baby milk – "formula" for feeding babies. They felt that if you held your baby a lot, fed on cue, and responded to cries, you would spoil and create a clingy, dependent baby. There was no scientific basis to this spoiling theory, just unwarranted fears and opinions. We would like to put the spoiling theory on the shelf – to spoil forever.

Research has finally proven what mothers have long suspected: You cannot spoil a baby by attachment. Spoiling means leaving something alone, such as putting food on the shelf to spoil. The attachment style of parenting does not mean overindulgence or inappropriate dependency. The possessive parent, or "hover mother," is one who keeps an infant from doing what he needs to do because of her own insecure needs. This has a detrimental effect on both the infants and the parents. Attachment differs from prolonged dependency. Attachment enhances development; prolonged dependency will hinder development.

If you made it all the way through that, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- agree or disagree -- on this article. More information about AP can be found on the API website.

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1 comment:

  1. Great post! I never heard of attachment parenting until months after I had Maddox. After I read about it, I realized that I was an "attachment parent." It made me proud of everything I do - cosleep, breastfeed, wear him around the house, answer his cries right away. It's hard to be proud of that when, like your post says, so many people advise otherwise.