What is Attachment Parenting?

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Newborn in baby carrierIf you don’t know anything at all about attachment parenting, you must have taken a hiatus from the internet for the past month or so. An article came out in Time Magazine regarding the practice of attachment parenting. It was really the cover and the title more than the article itself that caused an uproar, but it certainly got people talking (which is, I am sure, what Time Magazine was after in the first place!). So, what IS attachment parenting?

Background – Dr. william sears attachment parenting

Dr. William Sears takes credit for giving a name to parenting with your child’s individual needs in mind. Essentially, attachment parenting means listening to your child and following their lead. I am certain that many parents have been doing this forever. He’s just the genius that put a name to it (I am sure having that “Dr.” in front of his name helped it to catch on! I’m not sure it would have the same effect coming from little ol’ me!)!

A quote from his webpage defines attachment parenting (typically abbreviated to A.P.) as follows: “Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents. Attachment parenting implies first opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby, and eventually you will develop the wisdom on how to make on-the-spot decisions on what works best for both you and your baby.”

“You’re Spoiling Him”

I say, essentially, attachment parenting is parenting with your heart. It’s not rocket science. If it feels wrong to you, it probably feels wrong to your baby too. The difference is that you have learned to cope with this cruel world and realize that not everything that is painful is bad, babies don’t have that sense yet.

A wise lady once told me that young babies don’t even realize they are a separate entity (realistically, we don’t know this for SURE. We aren’t in a baby’s head, but it makes sense, so hear me out…). They’ve been a part of you for 40 weeks (give or take) and just because they are not inside of you anymore doesn’t mean they don’t depend on you for everything – including their emotional well being and comfort. They were literally IN you, safe, secure and cozied up for nine months. Suddenly, they are in this bright, noisy world and are often expected to conform. I suggest that maybe we should try to conform to them and ease them into our world gently.

I held my newborns a lot! A LOT! It felt like a lived on the couch for the first month. I co-slept with all of them for as long as I felt was necessary for that baby (and each one of mine was different). I breastfed (feed) on demand versus on a schedule. I was accused many, many times of spoiling my babies and even told “You made him this way, you know.” I made my baby need me? No, sorry. They are born that way. And, they NEED us for a short time in the whole scheme of life.

Cruel Reality

Mom and newborn sitting outsideDon’t get me wrong. Having a newborn is HARD HARD HARD! Lack of sleep does horrible things to your psyche and can push your already hormone laden body over the edge into depression. I DO think we are given the task of teaching our babies to live and thrive in this world, I am just not convinced they should be “taught” (and I am not convinced you CAN teach a newborn to sleep on your schedule anyway) those first few months (few, in my world, is 4-6 months typically depending on the baby). Their world, as they knew it, has been shaken enough. Building trust and a mutual respect just seems logical to me if you want your baby to eventually be secure enough to know you will be there for them when they really do need you. Secure enough to sleep alone, knowing if they get hungry, thirsty, have a nightmare,…. you will come to the rescue.

Yes, I whined and complained that I was exhausted those first months. It got me looks and words of sympathy that helped me push through. And, it made me feel a little better to get it out. I also won’t claim that my babies never cried when I put them in bed (Isaac is going through a phase right now where he’s too busy to nurse to sleep, but also too busy to let me rock him. I don’t like it, but he’s pretty miserable when he doesn’t nap, so sleep is a necessity. So, at 7 months, he’ll occasionally need to cry about 10 minutes to settle himself down to sleep despite my best efforts to avoid this. But, there’s a vast difference between 7 months and 7 weeks).

The bottom line is that sure I missed a lot of sleep and wore down my couch cushions a lot those first few months with a new baby (with all four of mine). But, in the long run, those first months of lost sleep and tired arms didn’t really matter. Eventually, my babies slept. Eventually, they sat on the floor and played on their own. Eventually, they ran away from me to go play with their friends. They may be spoiled now (the mounds and mounds of toys in their bedrooms are evidence of this), but it’s certainly not because I held them too much as babies, or because I rocked Micah to sleep for the first year of his life, or because I nursed my baby instead of eating a warm dinner.

Am I A Better Mom Than You?

The article that prompted this entry was titled “Are You Mom Enough”. It suggested that mommies are at war to prove they are the “most attached” to their babies. I don’t subscribe to motherhood being a competition. I do think there are benefits to attachment parenting, so I practice it as much as I can. My kids and I are FAR from perfect (my mom and anyone who has ever been to church with us can tell you my kids – maybe one in particular – can throw some royal, whiney fits). I don’t think there is a one size fits all way of parenting. Heck, each individual kid in my house needs different parenting. I don’t think that if you put your baby in a crib their first night home, you aren’t attached to your baby. I don’t think if breastfeeding didn’t work out for you, you aren’t attached to your baby. The only “requirement”, in my mind, is to follow your baby’s lead and be there for your baby. It’s not a contest, it’s a baby – your baby. Love, protect, cherish and RESPECT them for the beautiful, perfect new little person they are and you can’t go wrong.

About The Author:

Mother of four boys and the wife of a minister in Georgia. The world is full of medical “miracles” but over time and lots of experience, this mom has discovered that raising a natural baby creates the most wonderful bonds and lessons for her children.

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September 14, 2012 10:20 pm

This is mostly because people will say to me in stores that he doesn’t need his pacifier anymore. I mean I don’t even know these people. He’s got some health issues that make him more prone to tantrums and stuff and I think that he needs his pacifier for a little while longer. I hate the feeling when people say something, but then I stop and have a breath and a thought and make sure that what I am doing is something I feel correct about. I think another part of it is that my son is so big that he looks like a pre-schooler to a lot of people and the fact that he has his pacifier looks wrong to them. But, he’s still my baby, and I know where he is and what his needs are developmentally and so do his doctors. I have noticed that more moms are attachment parenting and really taking pride in their roles as mothers. So at least I know I’m not alone. I am stern with him and clear with him when I need to be, but I try to be understanding first if possible.

September 2, 2012 7:54 pm

I think I’m an attachment parent. I didn’t realize this had a name, but one thing I’ve noticed while out shopping is more mothers being really kind to their kids so I can see giving it a name made an impression on society. I used to see a lot of borderline mean-ness from other mothers living in the city. It was never something that you would call the cops about, and I could tell that the parent was just trying to discipline, but it’s the kind of stuff that makes you wonder if there is a better way because it embarrassed the child.

When I became an adult, I decided to take classes in childcare and work as a teacher because I felt that there were mistakes that some parents make that they just don’t mean to. One of the things I learned as a teacher and in my studies was that you want to discipline but you also want to encourage and be positive and that a lot of times, what looks like “bad,” behavior at first, is really just a child trying to communicate. Listening is a great tool.

August 30, 2012 1:20 am

I completely agree with the author on this one: Attachment parenting seems like normal, even instinctual, parenting. All parents have to do attachment parenting to at least some degree, whether they like it or not, because the baby will cry until his diaper is changed, or until he is fed, or if he needs a nap in a comfortable spot. Following the child’s lead may seem like a lot of work, but really, all children and babies are a lot of work (as the author and all you other parents out there definitely are aware). Being there for your baby’s needs is following his needs, even if it is not to the extent that some attachment parenting advocates say is necessary. Most of us do do even more for our baby than simply make sure his needs are met adequately. I took walks with my baby in a sling almost daily, fed him on demand as well as on schedule, and rarely leave him with a sitter. I did not know I was following the attachment parenting plan, and maybe I did not follow the plan as much as others do intentionally, but it does make the most sense.

August 24, 2012 6:01 pm

I enjoyed this article a lot! The idea of attachment parenting is to listen to your child and follow their lead. Dr. William Sears sounds like a brilliant man to me! After three years of psychology classes, I know that listening to your child is very important. Your child may be voicing their opinion or their needs, but it’s always important to listen to what they have to say. Attachment parenting is an excellent idea for parenting in general.

Children need to have a voice in what happens to them. I can see attachment parenting helping loads of children who have been abused. When children are abused, they often feel like they don’t have a say in anything that happens. In attachment parenting, the parent will understand the child’s verbal and nonverbal cues which would apply well for children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This concept would also work with children with other mental health problems as well. Take for instance, a child with Bipolar Disorder. If a parent understands when the child’s highs and lows are, they are more apt to listen to their sadness or anger.

Kathy Faust
August 7, 2012 10:13 pm

I have no idea what kind of a label my parenting methods would fall under. If I had to give myself a label, it would be eclectic parenting because I do what I need to do at that time. Any decent teacher or care giver for children will tell you that one of the most important aspects of trying to take care of a child and teach them anything is the ability to be flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the child in question. That means needs, not wants.

One of the problems I see with people who are trying to use attachment parenting is that they put themselves at the mercy of the child and forget that as a care giver or parent, you are supposed to be giving the child the tools they need to be out in the world on their own. That does not mean you have to push the child away, but you do have to guide them to independence.

The main idea of attachment parenting is to form emotional family ties that last. In doing this, we can build confidence in our children so that they can be productive adults. There is a world of difference between attachment parenting and coddling.

August 2, 2012 11:49 pm

If attachment parenting is parenting by showing kindness, nurturing and love instead of a lot of discipline and aggression, I guess that makes me an attachment parent.

I’m like that because when I used to teach, I found that most of the time, kids were acting out because of a reason, and if you yell at them and punish them, you might be fixing the problem temporarily, but getting to the source is crucial. I do appreciate the Biblical value of discipline; however, spankings are not always acceptable in a modern world where you can get in legal trouble for them. Also, sometimes the child is being spanked because he is being misunderstood. I remember when I got spanked, a lot of times I just felt like I was talking, but my mother wasn’t hearing me.

I really had a hard time dealing with her when I was young and into adulthood. Now I understand that she did her best and we are just very different. Even now we don’t communicate well but are trying. I think before spanking, you should pray for Guidance on what your child might be trying to say.

July 25, 2012 11:16 pm

I certainly see why attachment parenting is gaining popularity. The concept of listening to your baby and catering to their needs with your sense of logic in place is certainly one that is easy to get behind.

Nobody knows your child like you, the parent. Nonverbal communication, body rhythms, and other sorts of things help this bond build and grow over time and without it, the job of any parent can be much tougher.

My concern with this concept though, is that it relies on the instincts and judgments of a completely subjective being and allows for needs to be inferred upon the child by the parent to serve other needs. Many parents project their own image and sets of ideals on their child and expect them to live up to them or become of that nature. Children, even infants, are still individual beings that have different sets of needs than do anybody else, and without a more clearly defined method of parenting, parents can take their children away from what they really feel they want or need. Conceptually, a very good idea though.

Kathy Faust
July 21, 2012 8:15 pm

This is a term that I wasn’t familiar with. I’m not a parent, and never plan to be, but I have spent time thinking about how I would raise my children, if I ever changed my mind. While I would certainly homeschool my children, I had never considered raising them to make their own choices. In a way it makes sense. Think about it. Children don’t want candy until they know what it is and are usually only introduced to it because their parent (or someone else) says, “Here, try some.” It’s the same with most things in life. So could a child really know what’s best for it, based on pure instinct? I do also have concerns about spoiling a child and allowing it anything it wants, but I know that this isn’t what attachment parenting is all about. There has to be a degree of common sense used by the parents. Would I raise my children using attachment parenting? I’m not sure. I was raised to think that children don’t know any better, which makes me question the whole idea. However, sometimes we need to forgo everything we knew in order to make progress.

July 19, 2012 9:46 pm

An interesting topic in the parenting world these days is a phrase called attachment parenting. The author points out that this is simply a fancy word for what a lot parents have been doing for ages and ages. The only real difference now is that a world class and famous doctor (Dr. Jim Sears) has actually put a name to these series of techniques.

This article answers the basic question of what is attachment parenting. It seems to me that the basic idea is simply loving your new baby enough to really try and get to know them. It is not learning a series of new tricks or techniques, but rather just everything that you do to actually form a real bond with a new baby. After all, they come into this world with nothing and depend on mom and dad for everything.

There also seems to be a lot of discussion about trying to make the baby conform to the world and the situation in order to be more convenient or beneficial for the parents. However, the author strongly dispels this as an authentic version of attachment parenting.

Kathy Faust
July 19, 2012 8:44 am

I know there are a lot of misconceptions about attachment parenting. Some people see it as spoilng the child and other people use it as an excuse to spoil a child. Neither one is correct and completely missing the point of attachment parenting.

The main goal of attachment parenting is to form strong emotional bonds between family members. It is not so much that the children are supposed to get their way all the time. It is really just a matter of having some mutual respect for everyone in the family. You are not always right because you are the parent and your child is not always right because he or she is a child and you are doing attachment parenting.

I think this is a great parenting method to use if you are going to use it correctly. I also think you need to use a little bit of common sense. Of course, this might mean something different to me than it does to you. For instance, I would not breastfeed past infancy because the child does not need it. But, some women seem like they are going to breastfeed right up until they escort their child to his or her first class in school.

Kathy Faust
July 7, 2012 5:29 pm

I was one of those people offended by the magazine cover. I thought it was a great way for Time to lose many fans and I honestly thought the picture itself was disgusting. For one thing, that boy is a minor and he just had his entire concept of himself as the world will view him laid out without really knowing what he was getting into. The other thing is that they totally sexualized breastfeeding.

Motherhood is not a sport. I have no idea why mothers want to compete with each other at all. My son is not your son, hence they will be raised differently. I don’t personally succumb to attachment parenting (which actually has quite a few more elements than you had the room to put in here) because although I do take my child’s interests to heart, I am still the parent here. There is a reason that children should not be breastfed past infancy and there is a reason that they don’t make the decisions in the house. BUT…I would never say that a mother is not a good mom because she does succumb to it.

June 20, 2012 1:42 pm

I’m so sick of people making parenting such a competition. I say as long as we love, protect and provide for our little ones who is to say we are doing it “wrong”. I was with both little ones A LOT the first several months of their lives. Thank goodness I am able to stay home with them. However as soon as each one turned 6 weeks old I would go and work out at Curves 3-5 times a week. Plus when I could go to the store by myself I would. If not for those activities I’m not sure I would have survived or at the least I would have been lock up in an institution. Parenting, no matter how you look at it, is a BIG commitment. But to make women who don’t spend every waking moment with their babies, less attached to them is just crazy.