Friday, 8 June 2012
Attachment Parenting My Own Way
I never carried my baby in a sling, I don’t co-sleep, I’m not breastfeeding, and I used the “cry it out” method to teach my daughter to sleep. According to many proponents of attachment parenting, I certainly don’t meet the criteria of an attachment parent. But I beg to differ.
As a social sciences student in university, I read a lot about attachment theory, and none of what I read discussed baby-wearing, breastfeeding or any of the other behaviours that popular media has led us to believe are prerequisites for connecting with our babies.
John Bowlby, the psychiatrist who originally developed attachment theory, believed that a child’s relationship with his/ her early caregivers was integral to his development, particularly with regard to his/her subsequent relationships. Since then, numerous academics have expanded on Bowlby’s work, and attachment theory has become highly influential in the fields of social work, psychology, and psychotherapy.
Briefly, attachment theorists believe that a child develops a secure attachment to his parent when the parent provides a “secure base” from which he can explore the world. Basically, this means that the parent responds to the baby in a consistent, sensitive, loving manner, and raises the baby in a safe, predictable, caring environment in which his needs are met and he learns to trust others. Children raised in this manner are said to have a “secure” style of attachment, and thus develop a secure sense of self and others, have the tools necessary to learn, and grow up well-equipped to form healthy relationships.
In contrast, children who are raised by abusive and/or neglectful parents never form a secure attachment with their caregiver, and thus are programmed from a young age to view the world as unsafe, and to see others as untrustworthy. They are considered to be “insecurely attached”, and as adults they often develop a whole slew of emotional, mental and functional problems.
This is a highly over-simplified explanation of attachment theory, but I think it serves to paint a general picture of the difference between the childhoods of the securely attached individual and that of the insecurely attached individual.
Fast-forward to 2012, and you can barely open a newspaper or magazine without finding an article about attachment parenting. But we seem to have lost focus somewhere along the way about what it really means to raise a securely attached child. We are told that we should be “wearing” our babies in order to foster a strong bond between parent and child. We are told that we must, must, must breastfeed our babies, or else something really really scary and bad might happen. We are told that our babies must sleep in our beds, because cribs are apparently, super, super scary and lonely (really?). We are told that sleep training (Cry-it-out), and scheduling are what cruel and selfish parents do for their own convenience (don’t even get me started on this one.)
Since when did parenting come with such proscriptive rules? For the record, I think that baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding etc are all wonderful things if they are right for your family. If something doesn’t feel right for you and for your baby, then there is probably a reason for that. Some people who call themselves attachment parents would argue that I am most certainly NOT an attachment parent, because of some of the child-rearing decisions I’ve made.
For example, I chose the “cry-it-out” approach to teach my daughter to fall asleep unassisted. I shouldn’t have to defend my decision to do this, but I feel like I need to. I did not do “cry it out” for my convenience; I did not do it out of frustration; I did not do it out of impatience. I did it because it was the kindest thing I could do for my daughter. Every night, she would be awake for hours, crying in desperation, clearly feeling tortured and miserable. I didn’t know what was wrong until I finally realized that she was exhausted, and although she was desperate to fall asleep, she just didn’t know how. I tried everything, but nothing was working, and she was becoming increasingly irritable and wakeful. Sleep training resulted in my daughter learning to fall asleep unassisted, getting good quality sleep, and having a noticeably happier temperament- all of which are more significant for her long-term development, than the fact that she was left to shed a few tears for a bit before falling asleep. I truly believe that it would have been cruel to not do cry it out with her. This is not to say that I think everyone should do cry-it-out type sleep training- quite the opposite. All I am saying is, do what is right for you family, and try not to get caught up in all the judgement, the labels, and the “expert” opinions.
Please know that I am not criticizing attachment parenting. As I said, I really do consider myself an attachment parent. What I have a problem with is the people who think that everyone needs to practice certain particular parenting strategies in order to raise healthy, happy children. Parenting is hard enough. Why make it harder on ourselves? There is an infinite number of “right” ways to raise children. I don’t know what’s right for your family and you don’t know what’s right for mine.
So, if I consider myself an attachment parent, but I don’t practice any of the behaviours commonly associated with attachment parenting, then what is attachment parenting? In my opinion, attachment parenting is parenting in a way that leads your child to develop a secure attachment style so that he or she develops a strong sense of self and others, and grows up to form healthy relationships. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation and I think that's just the way it should be. Attachment parents love their children, respond to their needs, are consistent, and make their children feel safe and secure. There are so many ways to do this, so don’t be afraid to shirk the trends, and don’t be afraid to follow the trends. Love your baby the best way you know how, and I will do the same.