Has the Price Been Too High?
First of all, let me say that I am grateful to Dr. Sears and his Attachment Parenting school of thought. I personally have practiced all of the Seven B’s of Attachment Parenting (Birth bonding, responding to Baby’s cues, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding with baby/cosleeping, Being wary of baby trainers, and… the sometimes forgotten, Balance).
This post is not at all to say that I disagree with these practices, or that there’s anything wrong with them inherently.
I’d like to propose a more nuanced thought to this theory, and indeed, to all parenting theories.
Attachment Parenting, RIE, Montessori, etc… all these have taught me much and I incorporate from each new philosophy heavily into my parenting repertoire and tool box. But one thing will remain, for me, more important than any theory or set of principles: my own critical thinking, attuning to my self and my family, my discernment.
All of these practices, such as breastfeeding, or bed-sharing, can be their own kind of heaven… or hell. And which it ends up being depends entirely on the body, mind, soul, temperament, preferences, belief system and circumstance of the parent and baby applying them. That’s why catch-all phrases like “breast is best” or “kids need their moms” might very well be true, but they can also be guilt-inducing when they’re not possible in our unique and idiosyncratic experience.
Many of the practices preached in attachment parenting, I imagine, work wonderfully well 99% of the time when humans live in large clans and align with the circadian rhythm.
But when a single mom needs to get to work at 8am? Breastfeeding and baby wearing are not in the picture. And guilt over that fact shouldn’t be, either.
One person shouldn’t and can’t be expected to fulfill all of these functions 100% of the time. But they are, and the prices we pay are sometimes hidden, but high. The SAHM who’s forgoing self care, not to mention fun, to keep up with a never ceasing “attachment” demands can easily become secretly (or not so secretly) resentful of her baby.
Further, the idea that babies are so dependent and helpless that they need to share our beds, and cannot be taught to sleep (beware of baby trainers), should be responded to all of the time and be held in a carrier as much as possible… these ideas, when misunderstood or over-applied, can easily lead to us to viewing a child as incompetent and powerless.
I believe that babies are born as powerful co-creators of their experience and as strong communicators. I believe that, from birth, gradually and in an appropriate degrees babies can learn to wait, to work through frustrations, and to respect us and our boundaries.
Some interpretations of Attachment Parenting can lead us to feel guilty about needing time alone, time with our spouse, or time to sleep. They can leave us feeling “not good enough” if our back hurts or if we want some time off. Or they can leave us distraught that our baby cried a bit as he fell asleep.
I believe that children really are capable of sleeping independently, without attaching all night, and doing so gives the whole family rest… which is absolutely necessary for us to function as parents.
I believe crying is a natural and important and valid part of life for toddlers and children and shouldn’t be shushed with a boob, but instead listened to, validated, and empathized. I believe we can hear crying and figure it out, or let it be – allowing the safe expression of emotion – not rush to pacify it.
I believe that a well rested, happy, healthy and comfortable parent is the most important thing for a child, far above and beyond any particular feeding or sleeping pattern.
We must always ask ourselves: What’s the hidden cost of this practice? Exhaustion? Resentment? Anger? Eventually blowing up because my needs are unmet?
As a woman on one of my Facebook groups recently wrote:
“I was go-hung attachment parenting… co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, baby wearing everywhere – the works. But after two years I had severe chronic back-pain and insane sleep deprivation. I was teetering on the border of depression and resented my little guy for what he “put me through”. Plus I could never put him down – at two years old he simply did not know how to play alone for even five minutes. All this and yet I still felt guilty for not being good enough – why?!”
Another fear I have about some attachment parenting approaches is that they may send an overly attached message… that your child cannot cope without you. That your child cannot thrive in the care of other competent and loving adults. That your child needs to sleep with you or needs to nurse continuously, and that it is some mini-disaster if those options are not available. These, to me, can send a message of insecurity and lack of trust. I believe children need to sense a strong feeling of trust in them and their abilities to overcome frustrations and challenges (even really tough ones, like being looked after by grandma for the day).
And most of all, I strongly believe that children, from birth, need to be allowed to play alone. Their sense of self concept and their understanding of themselves in this world depends on this. Continuously holding, entertaining, nursing, soothing, rocking – and even just the continuous presence of a parent in a baby view – can hinder this part of their lives. Not to mention exhaust their parent and deplete their resources.
If any one parenting philosophy has your family paying a price of frustration, exhaustion or depletion – please consider it’s effects on your family holistically. How does this practice affect our family, as a unit?