What is attachment parenting?
Oh how I hate labels. They start out innocently enough, but then you involve people, and then those people apply that label to so many different things, it ends up becoming either an extreme caricature or becomes completely meaningless. Take “attachment parenting,” for example, or AP for short.
From the Ask Dr. Sears website:
Attachment parenting is a style of caring for your infant that brings out the best in the baby and the best in the parents.
Well, how can you disagree with that? So, either you adhere to attachment parenting, or you are a terrible parent and your baby will be incredibly screwed up. But if you take attachment parenting to the extreme, indulging your child and becoming a wishy-washy parent…you are a terrible parent and your baby will be incredibly screwed up.
Attachment parenting starts with the idea of being attentive to your child. That’s all that it should be. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But many people, out of confusion, or oversimplification, or fear, or something else, think that attachment parenting is 1) breastfeeding, 2) carrying your baby around all the time, 3) never, ever, ever letting your child cry. Ever.
Here’s what Dr. Sears’ website says, emphasis mine:
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 by your baby. This is why we stress that attachment parenting 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 a question of 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. For example, you don’t need to respond to the cries of a seven-month-old baby as quickly as you would a seven-day-old baby.
Note that in order to respond to a child’s cries, that implies the baby started crying in the first place.
Crying isn’t evil, or even bad.
This can be looked at two ways. One, babies cry, and babies should cry. It’s how they communicate with their parents. To think that crying is evil is to think that writing or speaking any language is evil. Two, allowing your child to cry for a few minutes does not make you a bad person.
Like many other new mothers, when I was pregnant with Champ, I read a lot of blogs and had been convinced that no-cry parenting is the way to go. How could a loving mother let her child cry? How could a good person ignore the cries of a helpless baby? The more a baby cries, the more insecure he becomes, and the more he will end up crying in the future! It’s a vicious cycle!
In a perfect world, babies wouldn’t cry, because we’d understand immediately what they wanted. They’d be talking straight from the womb and using “please” and “may I” and “thank you very much.”
Sometimes babies just cry. Now there’s even a term for it—PURPLE Crying.
Sometimes, you can’t respond to them right away.
Sometimes, you need a break.
I always try to think historically when I parent. Did you know that pacifiers (aka “dummies”) have been around for centuries? I try to think of how moms soothed their children before they had swings and car rides and white noise machines. I constantly remind myself that babies used to be raised by “the village”—it’s really unusual for one woman to take care of a baby. Historically, women raised children with the help of family members, neighbors, or nannies (or, yes, slaves). Personally, I don’t think it’s natural for a woman to be home alone with her children, and yet here I am, a stay-at-home mom. Just last year I was a military wife thousands of miles away from any family members.
All of this is to say, sometimes, we have to make sacrifices. Sometimes, you need to put your baby down (in a safe place, like a bassinet or crib) so you can pee, or shower, or just have a minute to yourself. And chances are, some of those times, your baby will cry. During those times, just take a deep breath, finish what needs to be finished, and then go back to your baby a little more refreshed, and comfort her. The baby won’t care that she cried—what she will care about is that you comforted her after the fact.
the emotional breakdown
As a new parent, and especially as a breastfeeding mom, I was terrified to give Champ a pacifier. I feared “nipple confusion.” I thought of those three-year-olds who still have their Nuks hanging out of their mouths and shuddered. So I didn’t give him one. I was his pacifier. And that actually led to a ton of problems. One, no one else could comfort him, ever. So I couldn’t go anywhere without him, and I never got a break without condemning him to be inconsolable and whoever was taking care of him to be miserable. Two, constant nursing caused milk overproduction, which led to him getting too much milk, which led to reflux, which led to more crying, which led to burping and massaging and cuddling and throwing up and then nursing some more. Three, he wouldn’t take a pacifier or a bottle.
So here we are, a family of three, driving from North Carolina to Georgia for Thanksgiving weekend. It was supposed to be an 8-hour drive. It ended up taking us 16 hours. Champ would. not. stop. screaming. He wouldn’t take a pacifier. He wouldn’t drink out of a bottle. He would only be happy being held and being nursed.
And to me, his crying meant I had failed as a parent.
Have you ever felt like that? Well, it isn’t true. We can’t respond to our children the way we’d like to, 100% of the time. Especially if we have more than one child to care for! But we can acknowledge that they are crying, so they know we are there and not ignoring them. And we can comfort them afterward.
Your children will cry. But they need to know that no matter how bad things get, you will always love them and be there for them in the end.
Moms: there is freedom.
a note to new mothers about parenting styles
I encourage you to read what Dr. Sears has to say about attachment parenting so that you know what it’s really supposed to look like, as opposed to how it is portrayed on blogs and online forums. I especially recommend reading “What AP is Not.” I urge you not to judge other moms. You don’t know what their story is, and judging others destroys a possible relationship you could have with those other moms. If I’ve learned anything about motherhood, it’s that it’s messy and that moms need each other. I urge you not to compare yourselves with other moms. Their lives might look perfect on the outside, but you don’t know what goes on inside their home and inside their hearts. Lastly, I urge you not to disregard what other generations have to say. You may think older generations aren’t enlightened to the best parenting, but which generation is more experienced?
In short, make friends with other moms, have a humble heart, be open minded, take care of yourself, and take care of your children.
Since being attentive to a newborn is a 24/7 job, I can’t make any promises when the next post will be up, but I can tell you what the subject will be. I’ll be posting all my secrets on calming a crying baby. When will it be posted? Oh, who knows. I’d like to start on it tomorrow, but I likely won’t be able to start it until Monday or Tuesday next week, so…keep checking back at the end of next week.
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