Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Attachment Parenting

It amazes me that when you choose to live an on-purpose life, all of the wonderful things you will learn on your journey.

I've heard of the term "Attachment Parenting" here and there, but never really bothered to look into it and see what it was. I thought it was some extreme, child-led type parenting, and didn't think I was really interested. But the term kept coming up over and over again, particularly whenever I would be reading things on natural family living. So I decided to do a little investigating.

I found a website called Attachment Parenting International, which seems to be a wonderful resource about all things related to Attachment Parenting (AP).

According to this website, the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting are as follows:

1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting

2. Feed with Love and Respect

3. Respond with Sensitivity

4. Use Nurturing Touch

5. Engage in Nighttime Parenting

6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care

7. Practice Positive Discipline

8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

If you actually go on the website, it gives much more detail on these 8 principals. Also, from what I've read, parents who practice AP are generally (although not exclusively) pro-breastfeeding, pro-co-sleeping, pro-baby wearing, and often cloth diaper. From what I understand, this style of parenting is about promoting attachment to people (preferably the mother and/or father) over things. This means not giving mother substitutes, like pacifiers, sookie blankets, etc., but rather giving yourself to your child. They are also very much anti-cry-it-out. And most importantly, they encourage you to listen to your instincts, and do what you feel is right.

Reading about this parenting style has been a mixed blessing for me. Although I'm drawn to it because I feel I already practice much of it, it also makes me sad. I've realized that, in some ways, I've given in to what society expects, and not listened to my instincts.

We did co-sleep with both of our kids for about the first 4 months. With my first baby, I was reluctant to tell anyone, for fear of what they might think. Then our pediatrician told us it was time to let her "cry it out" so that she would sleep on her own. And so that's what we did. After one long, painful week of letting her cry (scream) in her crib, she eventually learned to sleep on her own. We followed suit with the second baby, knowing it worked so well with the first. It took the same amount of time, about a week, and worked like a charm. Our little man has been sleeping on his own ever since. I now realize how much this totally went against my instincts - it was gut-wrenching, to say the least. My oldest child had pretty extreme colic for the first 6 months (which we found out by about 4 months was due to GER - Gastro Esophogeal Reflux), so she basically didn't sleep for the first 6 months of her life - we were desperate, exhausted, and willing to try anything. I am grateful that now my children sleep through the night on their own, but I wonder now if perhaps there was a better way to go about it.

I wish I had done more research, and had a more natural childbirth. I did the hospital birth with an epidural. If I had it to do again, I would LOVE to have a midwife and a home birth.

I wish I had not bought all of the baby gear. My kids had pretty much every gadget - a swing, a jumperoo, a playpen (which we only used for sleeping while we were traveling - but co-sleeping would have eliminated this need), a couple of different seats. I wish I had gotten nothing but a sling. I got sucked into the Wal Mart baby department and thought I needed it all. In reality, I needed none of it.

Both of my kids have sookie blankets. They sleep with them. It breaks my heart now to realize that the reason they are so attached to those blankets is because they use them as a substitute for me.

We don't really engage in nighttime parenting. If our oldest stumbles into our room in the middle of the night, we usually just take her back to bed. Now I just want to bring her into bed with us and snuggle her in between us. If the baby wakes up crying we just wait it out to see if he goes back to sleep. Now I want to go and get him and bring him into our bed.

I wish our children were never exposed to toys and marketing. We have way more toys than any child needs. What they really want to play with is us. Now they think they need all this stuff that they already have, and I would like to get rid of all of it. And turn off the tv while I'm at it.

On the positive side, there are many things that we do that do follow this approach. We decided that it was of utmost importance that I stay at home to raise our children. Having someone else raise them was not an option - I was willing to do whatever it would take in order to do that. We practice extended breastfeeding. Not intentionally - I just decided I would nurse him as long as he wanted to nurse. He's now 19 months old, and not showing any signs that he wants to quit. :) I don't broadcast it (because most people think it's weird), but if someone asks, I will proudly tell them. I believe we do use gentle discipline. At first I found myself giving into society's pressures to give our kids time-outs, and criticize their behaviour. But it never felt right to me, so I found myself hugging my kids when they were having a meltdown, because I was sure that they were feeling sad about something and just wanted me to love them. I plan to do much more of this now. I also try to prevent meltdowns instead of having to discipline them, by trying to avoid the situation that might lead to the meltdown. Signing has played a huge role in this. Whenever possible I try to forsee problems before they occur, and intervene before it becomes a problem.

Anyway, I am really just beginning to learn about this wonderful parenting style. I bought The Baby Book, by Dr. Sears, who is, apparently, the Godfather of Attachment Parenting. It was the ONLY book I could find in our area that even touched on AP. Not even our library had anything. So I plan to read through this book and learn all that I can. Although my kids are 19 months and 3 1/2 years, I don't think it's ever too late to start listening to your instincts.

Do any of you practice Attachment Parenting? I would love for you to share what you know, or point me in the direction of some good resources.


  1. I'd say I practice many aspects of attachment parenting, but not all... I'm actually glad that I didn't co-sleep with my baby, because my husband was against it and so it would have wreaked havoc on our marriage... Anyways, just wanted to say thanks for the reminder that what our kids want to play with is US. While I think independent play is important and has its place, I need to spend even more time down on the floor WITH my daughter... thanks for the good reminder!

  2. Please don't be hard on yourself. We do the best we can with what we know at the time. I'm sure you are a fabulous mother. And no, a bit of machine drying does not disqualify you. :)

  3. We've practiced attachment parenting since birth with our boy but I believe it's never too late.

    Despite everything you read out there, the most important part of AP is going with what feels right to you. If it doesn't feel right to use "gentle discipline," then don't. If it doesn't feel right to wear your baby/toddler, then don't.

    As long as you are trusting your instincts in the matter, that is the basis of it all.

    There are a lot of hardcore AP parents out there, as well as hardcore nay-sayers, and you may experience hard words from family and friends - that all is irrelevant because they're your children and your decisions.

  4. What an honest post! I think of anyone who listens attentively and responds to their children with love and patience as an "attached" parent.

    I try my best but I know I fall short of what the books recommend. I use them as guidelines. I have The Baby Book too :)

    Following an exact recipe for parenting is rarely a good idea. Every child and family has different needs. Some babies don't want to be in slings and some don't sleep well in bed with other people. Listening carefully, responding to cues and trying your best to raise secure, healthy, happy little people -that's what it's all about in my opinion :)

  5. Thanks everyone for you comments so far. :) Keep them coming!

    Emily, this is one thing I definitely need to work on as well. Sometimes I think my kids are fine because they're happily playing with toys, or quietly watching a show. But I know I need to make more of an effort to be involved in what they're doing, and yes, sometimes it's good to be reminded. :)

    Gift of Green,
    Don't worry, I'm not being hard on myself. :) Just taking a step back and examining my parenting, and realizing that there is room for improvement. :) I know that I am a good mother, but I want to be a GREAT mother. :) And thanks for letting me play in the Clothesline Challenge!

    Green plan(t),
    Oooo, now I have a brain to pick. :) Yes, I agree with you about just trusting your instincts. In fact, when I first started reading (devouring) information about AP, I found myself hesitant to buy a book. lol. I kept thinking, I don't need a book to tell me to listen to my instincts! I'll just listen to them! But I thought it would be good for reference, and I'm going to sell my "What to Expect" series, and just keep this book as the replacement.

    I completely agree. As I said to Green plan(t), I really think it's about just trusting your instincts and doing what you feel is right. What I've come to realize (and what I tried to express in this post) is that in retrospect, I can see many areas where I chose to ignore my instincts, and cave to the pressures of society. In so doing, I felt I was betraying my children. So now I feel I can stand up to those pressures and do what my gut tells me is right, no matter what looks or comments I get from other people. :) I am my children's advocate, and I want to keep them safe, happy, and secure in the knowledge that their parents love them unconditionally.

  6. Don't worry about what you didn't do or did "wrong"'s one of my favorite quotes on motherhood that always makes me feel better:

    "The most important thing she'd learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one."

  7. I LOVED reading your post. I also have been practicing attachment parenting since my first was born. I was lucky that someone gave me a copy of Mothering magazine (AWESOME!!) for my shower and I got my first issue a month or two before my little guy was born.

    Like others mentioned you do the best you can with the information you have. We also had a lot of nay sayers and if I hadn't had that resource and the friend who gave it to me we might have gone a different route.

    I did love cosleeping and we do usually end up every morning with all 4 of us piled into bed. But I LOVE every second of it!

    Good luck and god bless!

  8. What a great post :) Don't worry about the past - we all do the best we can with what we know, and hopefully we know a little more every day. It sounds like you're doing great! I read a bunch of parenting books while I was pregnant, and hated them all except for Dr. Sears' book. I had given up on parenting books until I found his book. We've been wearing our baby several hours a day since he was born, co-sleeping, breastfeeing, and cloth diapering. We're just doing what feels right. Co-sleeping combined with breastfeeing is fantastic - when he fusses in the night I wake up long enough to get him latched on and sucking, and fall right back to sleep. A few hours later, we repeat the process on the other side. So I really haven't had issues with sleep deprivation at all. I'm sure that if I were having to get up and go get him from a crib and then sit up to nurse him a few times a night I'd be feeling a lot more tired during the day. I've even figured out how to change a diaper in the middle of the night with only one eye open :)

  9. Christine,
    Thanks for that quote - so true!

    Mom to 2 boys,
    How lucky that you were given such a great gift. Sometimes it really does seem like luck can change our trajectory. Sometimes just stumbling on the right piece of information or having the influence of others in your life can change your perspective. And how nice to have all of you piled into bed. :) I love hearing the pitter-patter of little feet in the morning, when my 3-year old climbs into bed between us. It's bliss. :)

    Frugal Babe,
    I wish I had been a little more selective about the parenting books I read! I went with the "What to Expect" series, because it seemed to be the most popular... I guess, like you said, we do our best with the information we have at the time. Luckily, I have a background in psychology so I felt like I already had a good grasp of attachment theory, and was doing things to promote attachment - I just didn't realize there was so much more I could do. :) I guess even the text books don't go out of their way to promote things that society generally frowns upon.
    I LOVE the breastfeeding/co-sleeping arrangement too! All of my bottle-feeding friends were walking around like zombies because they had to get up several times a night, make a bottle, feed their then screaming baby, try to get the baby back to sleep, and then put themselves back to sleep. All I had to do was stick a boob in a baby's mouth and then doze back off. It was bliss. :) Ahhh, those were the days. I didn't move my kids to a crib until they were more or less nighttime weaned.

    Thanks everyone. :)

  10. My kids are almost the exact age of yours (3.5 & 21 months). My first coslept with us for a bit, but then spent the next 6 months in a bassinette next to our bed. He nursed only for 7 months (yes, his choice), and I never did master nursing while lying down.

    My second stayed with me in bed for the first 10 months of his life. For 3 months he would not sleep unless he was touching me. And he nursed, every 3 hours for 10 months. (then went to sleeping the night - 11 hours - within a few days). At that point he nightweaned, and started sleeping in his own bed.

    You can be an AP parent without cosleeping, or nursing, or a lot of things. Pick and choose what works for you, and your child. My first slept much better in his own bed in his own room (although not so much anymore! Crazy 3 year olds). My second would have none of it.

    Personally, I think the importance is more about giving your child what he needs!