We live online surrounded by emotional words vying for our readership. Loosely brandished inflammatory headers get major feels, attention, and clicks. Inundated with blogs, vlogs, and video clips of everyone’s opinion on everything—from apples to oranges, painting to parenting—we fall victim to extreme headlines and articles that value quantity over quality.
We’re pushed to divide: us vs. them. Pick a side!
Distorted and exaggerated facts parade an internet traffic jam to lookie-loos. With a mob mentality like a pack of dogs, we quickly judge other moms, point fingers, and keep score in the mommy wars. Breast or bottle? Disposable or cloth? Vaginal? Cesarean? What’s it gonna be? Whose side are you on?
Journalism school taught me: When a dog bites a man, it’s not news. But when a man bites a dog? That’s front page-worthy!
Attachment Parenting (AP) hasn’t escaped the media melee. From my little corner of the world, I’d like to build some bridges and talk about attachment parenting without name-calling. If phrases like “secure attachment” inflame you, click back to your newsfeed and carry on.
Like that biting dog, a nursing newborn isn’t news. However, a nursing toddler or a five-year-old in a family bed? That’s a headline prime for exaggeration. Make it a cover story on Time magazine and change the story angle into a sideshow with militaristic headlines. That s*%t sells. Lookie-loos click and buy in a frenzy, and media platforms cha-ching all the way to the bank.
Do you know what attachment parenting is all about? Do you know it’s based on science? On eight basic principles? Maybe there’s room to find what works for you. How about this: Do you know you can bottle feed and attachment parent? Pull up a chair, sister, warm your java, and let’s chat.
Many practices directly supporting secure attachment become fictionalized, humorized, and exaggerated in those multiple-click headlines. Some of these victimized practices include babywearing, breastfeeding, and bed-sharing. While the three Bs foster secure and positive parent-child relationships, they aren’t exclusive means to attachment. No one’s gonna ask for your AP card or scrape off your bumper sticker if you don’t breastfeed. Need breastfeeding support information? The Attachment Parenting International (API) website has you covered. And, they’ve got formula feeding covered as well. See?
“Attachment parenting is about the relationship, not the practices,” says Art Yuen, knowledge coordinator at non-profit organization Attachment Parenting International. AP is based on a securely attached relationship between parent(s) and a baby or child. Rooted in attachment theory, it’s been studied for more than 60 years by psychology and child development researchers and, more recently, researchers studying the brain. Founded in 1994, the non-profit API works to educate and support “ALL parents to raise secure, joyful, and empathic children to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world.”
Let’s look at some of the most common misconceptions out there regarding AP:
Misconception #1: AP’s permissiveness and indulgence creates overly dependent children.
An AP parent’s warmth, nurturance, and closeness is often mistaken for “spoiling a child.” Some believe this misconstrued indulgence will produce perfectly adjusted adults. AP makes no such claims and certainly does not condone over-indulgence. That’s not to say AP parents can’t be over-indulgent. No parent—including an AP parent—is perfect. Furthermore, no parenting philosophy guarantees a perfect adult at the end of the road.
Similarly, many believe AP produces overly dependent, whiny mama’s babies by letting them nurse forever and sleep in family bed. As a rebuttal: I know whiny, overly dependent kids from families who don’t practice AP. For the record, our kids successfully outgrew our family bed. AP doesn’t care how long your breastfeed, if you breastfeed, or if you have a family bed—or not.
AP is founded upon parent-established, safe, non-violent, predictable, and appropriate boundaries and guidance. Read that again. It doesn’t say: let your child do anything he/she wants. The words “non-violent” clearly exclude hitting, slapping, and spanking. We’ve never hit our children. They’re raised with appropriate guidance, boundaries, and expectations. I’m here to say, you can raise kids without hitting them.
Afraid AP will make your kids whiny and dependent? Actually, it does the opposite. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, psychologists from the mid-20th century, founded attachment theory. “They discovered mother’s attention does make a difference. Instead of making children weak and clingy, as [the behaviorist psychologist] John Watson had assumed, early attachment allowed children to grow up confident and secure.”
Our oldest children are young adults. While AP is not a foolproof recipe, I offer this from our experience: the security of our relationships helps us face parenting challenges and the pains of growing up. Knowing our children well and knowing our relationships are solid help us through tough times.
It’s like we’re all making individual pizzas: you can make yours with or without pepperoni, but it’s still a pizza, with a million possible toppings and crust options. (Our family uses a gluten-free crust!) There are blatantly wrong ways to make a pizza (no toothpaste, please), and there are many kinds of pizza that don’t work for me, personally, but may work for you (I’m looking at you, anchovy lovers—yuck!). Your AP pizza probably won’t look like mine.
Misconception #2: You can only be an AP parent if you breastfeed and share a family bed.
AP is so much more than breastfeeding. AP wants you to feed with love and respect: “Whether providing for the very intense hunger needs of a newborn, or serving meals at the family dinner table, parents can use feeding time as an opportunity to strengthen their bonds with their children.”
AP never says you must have a family bed. API does say babies and children need “the reassurance of a loving parent to feel secure during the night.” Read: babies need to be parented during the day AND night. API supports co-sleeping because it is one of many ways to nighttime parent for a secure attachment, which is the foundation of AP.
Misconception #3: AP is helicopter parenting.
AP’s secure parent-child attachment shouldn’t be confused with constantly anxious hovering and controlling. AP is NOT helicopter parenting. Can AP parents be helicopter parents? Sure. They can also have curly hair, wear stilettos, and play Call of Duty. None of those attributes and habits stem from AP foundations.
Based on secure attachments, AP kids become appropriately independent without “helicoptering.” That same built-by-attachment security allows them to become independent. Think: courageous tightrope walker with a net, a college student going off to school knowing he can call home for assistance (or, most likely, money), or an elementary student who sleeps over at a friend’s house knowing she can call home.
The helicopter parent doesn’t let go of the would-be tightrope walker, so he never learns he can do it. The college student may go off to school, but helicopter parents call constantly and visit every weekend. Suzie spends the night at a friend’s house, but only after multiple calls from Helicopter Dad and several tiny post-it notes from Mom in her backpack. See the difference?
Misconception #4: You can’t AP and work outside the home.
This just in: AP mom returns to work a month after giving birth while AP dad returns to school even sooner. This was my husband and me after Sis’s birth in the early ’90s. So there.
Many AP parents working outside the home find AP’s secure attachments help when leaving their children for work. Our young family was established on our secure relationship and general principles of AP. It kept us attached, even when we were apart.
Misconception #5: No daycare allowed!
AP makes no allowances for daycare or nannies—NOT! AP supports parents as the primary caregivers while being realistic. AP supports consistent caregivers in a child’s life. No bonus points given for staying home, and no deductions taken for daycare. It’s all about secure attachment.
Sensing a theme here? Is the picture coming into focus? Can you see it’s so much more than those three Bs? (I’m not talking Bach, Beethovan, and Brahms, either.)
Build your family’s
pizza secure attachment in ways that work for your family. If you don’t know what things support secure attachment, API can help. I often say, in the words of my dad, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” (FYI: Fear not, cat lovers—we’ve never skinned cats.) There are many ways to establish and maintain attachment.
Join me in the future, to talk more about those eight principles of Attachment Parenting. Until then, mind what you believe in the media, don’t fall for overly emotionally inciting headlines, and I’ll keep the coffee warm. Back to you, Bob.
Here are some of my favorite AP resources:
API Reading Group (a great way to find and read new books—they’re connected on goodreads!)