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.

21 comments:

  1. I totally agree. You couldn't have said it better! I breastfeed and occasionally cosleep, but I could never get into the babywearing stuff (probably because I somehow create giant children who are toddler-sized by the time they're six months old), and I definitely still feel "attached".

    I always say every family is different and every child is different. I wish everyone could be this respectful of others' parenting choices. Like you said, the key is raising a child who is secure and confident and has all of his/her needs met, and how that's done depends on the child.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Rachel...Yes, babywearing gets uncomfortable after a few months! Hence why I'm on the lookout for a good stroller for dog walks!

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  2. What a great post! I think everyone is doing what feels right for them, what works for them. It's a problem when people demand that others parent the way they do. My daughter may not react to things the way your daughter does so my style might not be right for you.

    This is the hardest thing I've ever done and I'm trying my best every day the only way I know how. We all need to be kinder to each other!

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  3. Agreed! Thanks, Kristen. :)

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  4. Thank you Laura! I formula fed, did not baby wear and used cry it out after 3 months of co-sleeping to help my daughter learn how to sleep on her own. She is now a happy healthy 20 month old that has very secure attachments to her father and myself, and the other people in her life that have help raise her (grandparents, etc). When I was a naive first time mom I felt guilty for not trying harder to BF b/c of rude comments from other moms. I quickly came to realize that my husband and I were doing what was right and what worked for OUR family. We will be welcoming our second child within the next few weeks and will continue to do what's best for our family, our style of "attachment parenting". Thanks again for your post, we get so caught up in current debates sometimes we forget what's truly important, happy healthy children!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words, Jessica! :)

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  5. Good for you, Love. I wore both my babies, co-slept, nursed one of them and was a mess when I went thru "cry it out". Kids know they are loved either way. Every family, every child, every mother is different and you have to do what works best.

    I was a great parent before I had kids... then they broke all the rules. as long as you are not beating or neglecting your kids you are doing whats best for your family. Kudos.
    xoxo

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    1. Yes, I think we were all great parents before we had kids. And even though none of us turn out to be the parents we thought we'd be, most of us are doing a pretty awesome job!

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  6. That was a good read. I am an attachment parent, in a more traditional sense than you are and I am so sick of the negative connotations that have been attached to attachment parenting lately. We are not all baby slinging, green loving hippies that have no regard for other people's parenting style. I would never dream of letting my child cry it out but the person next to me might think that co-sleeping is absolutely ridiculous. But, who cares? Like you said, you have to do what feels right for you and your family. This wave of mommy judgement what is being fueled (although not started) by the media makes me sick. Time magazine should be ashamed of themselves for that picture and that article. Let's stop the judging and start supporting each other!!

    I shared more of my thoughts on this subject recently as well if you are interested :)

    http://mommyoutsidethebox.blogspot.ca/2012/05/yes-you-are-mom-enough.html

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    1. Yes, I agree- less judgement, more support! I loved your post on this topic by the way. I just wrote you a comment on it on your blog.

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  7. Just found you from MomBloggers Club. Great blog. And great post. Makes me realize that most people think attachment parenting is the Maggie Gyllenhaal character in the movie Away We Go. I am following now, so I'll be reading more of you and trying to catch up. I hate the please follow me, but do come visit www.momsnewstage.com if you have a chance.

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    1. I've never seen that movie. Now I'm curious! I just checked out your blog, and I'm following you now. You're a great writer!

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  8. Amen! That is all I have to say. :)

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  9. This is so great I absolutely love it! Very well said and I couldn't agree with you more.

    I used the cry it out method with my son as well. Until he was 6 months old he slept in my room but never in my bed. I was always so worried that if I started letting him sleep with me I'd never be able to get him out. I took this as saving myself and him a bigger struggle later on down the road. It took about a week and I would go into his room and consistently cuddle but lay him back down every 5 minutes or so. He's gone to sleep on his own ever since. he even tells us he wants to go to bed now by saying night night :)

    ANYWAY... Thanks for stopping by and following! I super appreciate it and I'm following you back too. Have an excellent weekend :)

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    1. That is so cute that he tells you when he wants to go to bed. What a good boy! I hope one day my daughter does that!

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  10. Excellent article! I couldn't agree with you more-- parents should rear their children in the best way for their family. We all have different parenting styles, and most of us have tried several approaches to parenting before settling on what seems to be best.

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    1. So true. It's all trial and error... And error, and error and error, until one day...something works!

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  11. I wish I could have heard (or read) these words from another mama 5 years ago when I had my first. We are VERY similar in our parenting, but I thought that no one thought like me. I felt like I had to deffend myself to every other mother...but half the time I couldn't because I didn't have a clear argument, just the confidence that I was doing what I in my heart felt was right. Great post, and great blog all around. I'm a new follower :)
    theharmonbabyfarm.blogspot.com
    ~Angela

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  13. Aw, thank you so much for your kind words, and thanks for following. :)
    I really like your blog as well.

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