Lemondrop asked me to talk about my take on attachment parenting, and I’m happy to oblige.  Let me preface the post by saying that pediatric training teaches you nothing about attachment parenting, so everything I know has been discovered through alternative channels.  In fact, pediatric training really doesn’t give much training in normal child behavior and development beyond understanding what normal milestones are, so keep that in mind when asking your pediatrician about routine parenting issues.  We get very little teaching on how to provide counseling around normal development, and it isn’t unusual for that teaching to emphasize a more clinical approach to parenting.  I came into parenthood thinking that co-sleeping is bad and cry it out is good, for example.

Little Jacks wouldn’t sleep in a bassinet or crib, and the few times we tried CIO, she ended up vomiting after choking on her own secretions, or putting teeth marks into the crib.  I stood outside her room crying just about as hard as she did, and Mr. Jacks was sick about it.  (I am so embarrassed to admit this, but I might as well just be real about it!).  We knew that LJ wasn’t going to conform to the advice given by the American Academy of Pediatrics, so I started digging into other sources.

I began to read about attachment parenting.  AP is defined as, “a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology.  According to attachment theory, the child forms a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong consequences. Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style which fosters a child’s socio-emotional development and well being.” [source Wikipedia]

There are 8 “principles” of Attachment Parenting:

  1. Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting – Become emotional and physically prepared for birth.  Research options for delivery and care of a newborn and educate yourself about behavior and development
  2. Feed with Love and Respect – AP advocates that breast is best, but that in absence of ability to breast feed, once can “bottle nurse” to achieve the same result.  This advocates following the baby’s cues for feeding, encouraging eating when hungry and stopping when full to promote lifelong healthy eating behaviors.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity – Trust what your baby is trying to tell you and respond consistently and empathetically.  Babies cannot manipulate your emotions and do not have the ability to self-soothe.  AP believes that self-soothing is taught over time once a strong attachment has been created.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch – Skin to skin contact and baby-wearing foster security and fulfill a basic need for infants and young children.
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally – This can be achieved through co-sleeping or otherwise providing a night-time environment free from fear or loneliness.
  6. Provide Consistent Loving Care – Keep schedules flexible but consistent,  and provide caregivers that minimize stress and who are bonded to your child.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline – This involves anticipating needs that lead to bad behaviors and intervening before such behaviors occur.  Eventually, the child’s inner conscience will help guide and regulate their behaviors.
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life – Meet the needs of individuals in your family without compromising personal physical and emotional health.  Take time to care for yourself!

So, I read all of this and thought, “well, that makes a ton of sense!”  At the time, I had no idea of the hippy image of AP or how far to the extreme these principles could be taken.  I thought about it more as “natural” parenting that reflected the wisdom of hundreds of thousands of years of child rearing.  Most importantly, it was a style that wasn’t going to have me outside my daughter’s room shaking and crying while I tried to enforce a style that wasn’t working for her or me.

It was only later that I learned about the dark side of AP which sometimes gives it a bad name: the parents who never say “No” to their children (fearing that it isn’t positive discipline,) or the parents who get zero sleep for years because they have two unruly babies sleeping in a queen sized family bed with them (clearly not fulfilling #8!).

Each child is a snowflake, unique in personality, temperament, and physicality.  To take any of this to an extreme would be disingenuous to the child in question.  You have to find what works for that child and adapt methods to the child.  For example, we have two close friends who we consider very much to be “attachment parents”.  Yet both of them used a modified CIO method when family sleep was disrupted.  And you know what?  It worked great for them.  Do I think that they are any less attachment parents for doing this?  No way!  Those babies are so bonded to and trusting of their parents!

I also see principle #8 as the overarching guideline… not so much a get out of jail free card, but more of a “Hey, do this in a way that works for you” statement.  You can apply all these principles in a reasoned fashion that works for your family, and integrate them with other techniques that work for you.

I wish there was a definitive study that says this is THE way to parent children… but of course there isn’t.  We do know that in children whose mothers are taught these principles, attachment security is rated higher in the mother-child pair.  A style of parenting informed by attachment parenting worked for us with Little Jacks, but I would seek to empower every parent to find a personal style that works for their family and their little one.  I would also encourage people to not judge the parenting styles developed by their friends and families.  I wish there was an easy magic bullet, but there isn’t.  I, for one, am glad that there are lots of different options out there, and by informing myself about them, I’ve become a better parent!  To read more about AP, you can check out http://www.attachmentparenting.org/ or Dr. Sears.

I’d love to hear what techniques or blend of techniques you are using in your parenting!