Attachment Parenting:

Why a Homebirth Couple Said No to Attachment Parenting

by Josh Day

They see the world in black and white. There is no room for compromise. Problems are seldom discussed. Dissenters are pacified. You take the whole package or none at all. Either you're with them, or against them.

No, I'm not talking about a certain executive government administration, but the alternative parenting style known as attachment parenting.

Let's turn to Wikipedia to get the basics on attachment parenting.

Attachment parenting describes a parenting approach inspired in part by attachment theory. Attachment theory, originally proposed by John Bowlby, states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness to another person and feels secure when that person is present. In comparison, Sigmund Freud proposed that attachment was a consequence of the need to satisfy various drives. In attachment theory, children attach to their parents because they are social beings, not just because they need other people to satisfy drives and attachment is part of normal child development.

The eight ideals of attachment parenting are:

1. Preparation for childbirth
2. Emotional responsiveness
3. Breastfeeding
4. Babywearing
5. Co-sleeping safely
6. Avoiding frequent and prolonged separations between parents and a baby
7. Positive discipline
8. Maintaining balance in family life

These values are interpreted in a variety of ways across the movement. Many attachment parents also choose to live a natural family living (NFL) lifestyle, such as natural childbirth, home birth, stay-at-home parenting, homeschooling, unschooling, the anti-circumcision movement, the anti-vaccination movement, natural health, cooperative movements, and support of organic food. (Attachment parenting)

On the surface, attachment parenting sounds quite reasonable and viable. In fact, we follow some of the eight tenets with our infant. Yet, like everything in life, we've found a need to compromise and not swallow the entire pill.

One of the largest reasons we were drawn to attachment parenting is because it ostensibly seems to go hand-in-hand with our natural health lifestyle. However, the more we interacted with attachment parents on various Internet message forums, the more we started to question the movement.

Anything taken to an extreme is a bad thing. This includes a style of parenting, be it attachment parenting, the Ferber method, or one of the more zany "Christian" parenting schools of thought. The more I learned, the more extremes I saw cropping up.

What disturbed me the most was the idea you had to be part of some quasi-activist movement to be a true "Attachment parent." Many attachment parents are pushing a cultural agenda on top of raising children -- indeed, some of the more radical ones use their very children to reach political goals.

Examples would be flaunting a fussy baby in a crowded restaurant or store and refusing to take the baby outside because the parent wants to cause a scene to show how "unfamily" general businesses are. Or breastfeeding not for the sake of the baby but to draw attention to the act itself in the hope of raising ire simply for "cultural awareness." Verbally lashing another mom for her choice to bottle-feed and criticizing anyone who doesn't employ "the family bed"--(where the entire family sleeps together like so many sardines)--are a couple more illustrations of how extreme some attachment folks are.

While my wife and I embrace some small aspects of attachment parenting, the underlying "with us or against us" mentality, self-centeredness, and phony martyrdom was more than enough to get us to coin the term "Moderation parenting," which is what we proudly employ as new parents. We pick and choose from the attachment parenting style, as well as traditional family practices and even the controversial Ferber method,* which has been so maligned in popular culture lately that very few people even understand what it's truly about.

Personally I can't stand attention-getters, rude people, and individuals who blindly accept an unchanging doctrine. Unfortunately, many of the people I saw within the attachment parenting movement were like this, while parents in the so-called "mainstream" line of parenting were much more open to new ideas, even the ones that at first seemed radical--like co-sleeping and refusing all vaccinations as well as skipping the often bogus "well baby" exams.

Author's note: As of mid May 2007, it's been two months since I wrote the above. Our opinions on attachment parenting have changed drastically.

Now that our baby is three months old, we have discovered that almost every aspect of attachment parenting does not work for us. Indeed, the constant breastfeeding (or "breastfeeding on demand," as AP practitioners call it) was in fact causing our baby's afternoon and evening colic.

For weeks all three of us suffered through the turmoil and tribulation of colic. Attachment parenting's only answer was to hold him through the colic by "babywearing." The answers furnished to us by attachment parenting books and websites strictly toed the party line of staying "attached," "feeding on demand," and never leaving your baby alone.

Furthermore, what was startling and slightly insulting was AP's underlying assertions we were bad parents for having this problem and that we were doing something wrong.

Attachment parenting offered us no real solutions.

Trying to "embrace" the tenets of attachment parenting--being attached to a writhing, screaming baby, no matter what--while struggling through colic was nothing short of maniacal. Holding him to us or trying to feed him through the colic episodes was an exercise in futility. We hated what we were doing, our baby hated what we were doing, and it didn't take long for us to realize it was time to make the switch.

Once we stopped the grueling breastfeeding on demand and got the baby on a feeding and sleeping schedule, his colic stopped immediately and has not returned. He is much more alert and happy and he never cries like he used to during the terrible days of "breastfeeding on demand."

In the original version of this article, I wrote:

Please do not misinterpret my words. There is nothing wrong with attachment parenting. Nothing at all. Despite the smear campaign and the never-ending spew of unscientific garbage coming out of the AMA's mouth, co-sleeping with your baby is as safe as crib sleeping and very well be better for your child.

Unfortunately, our experience has shown us there is indeed something wrong with attachment parenting, especially with child-centered feeding. For some parents, it's a fact it works wonderfully. And I'm not here to take that away from you... if the program worked for you, fantastic! AP did not work for us; AP caused a host of problems that we've now thankfully fixed.

To conclude, I'd like to share a few books we've found quite helpful with having a new baby.

Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More, Argue Less, and Communicate Better as Your Family Grows by Cockrell, O'Neill, Stone.

While I haven't read this one, my wife swears by it. Full of pragmatic info and humorous. A great book for "moderate" parents.

How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn

A pediatrician-turned-medical heretic gives the lowdown on the so-called well baby exams and offers information that can help you care for your child, along with correcting loads and loads of misinformation dumped on you by pediatricians. Written in 1984, Mendelsohn was warning against vaccines and correlated SIDS to the DPT shot. And this was more than two decades ago. Sadly, nothing has changed and things have gotten much, much worse.

* I'd just like to add a little bit of information on the Ferber method as it's so misunderstood. The following is from an article entitled "The Ferber Method Demystified" and discusses changes in the newest revision of Ferber's book.

• Cry it out. In the preface of the new book, Ferber takes pains to clarify his position: "Simply leaving a child in a crib to cry for long periods alone until he falls sleep, no matter how long it takes, is not an approach I approve of. On the contrary, many of the approaches I recommend are designed specifically to avoid unnecessary crying." Ferber's "progressive waiting" technique encourages parents to frequently comfort their child during the sleep training process.

• Sleep sharing. In the original edition of the book, Ferber was firmly opposed to the concept of parents and children sleeping together, saying, "We know for a fact that people sleep better alone in bed," and arguing that learning to sleep alone is an important part of a child's healthy development. In the revised edition, Ferber is far less rigid on the subject. Children who co-sleep, he says, "are not prevented from learning to separate, or from developing their own sense of individuality, simply because they sleep with their parents. Whatever you want to do, whatever you feel comfortable doing, is the right thing to do, as long as it works."

Allow me to reiterate Ferber's words in regards to parenting: "Whatever you feel comfortable doing, is the right thing to do, as long as it works."

A very cogent, practical, and moderate approach.

Editor's Note: Leah is my daughter-in-law and an award-winning quilter. She shares insights almost daily about quilting and art and life on her very popular blog, The Free Motion Quilting Project. To see Leah's gallery of beautiful quilts that she's created, click here. If you're a quilter, both of these sites require a visit right now!

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