Monday, November 29, 2010

Isn't That Just Good Parenting?

My last post sparked an interesting, and very good, conversation about the implications of the attachment parenting label. It was pointed out that, if attachment parenting really is what I described, then it’s simply what good parents do and it doesn’t need the “attachment” label. It’s just parenting.

I agree with that statement-- but I would be hesitant to say it without first attempting to clear up the common misunderstandings of what is meant by "attachment" parenting in the first place. Here's why:

Suppose you have been given the impression that attachment parenting is breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and co-sleeping, and then you heard me say, “Attachment parenting is really just what good parents do, and it doesn’t even need the label. Just call it parenting.” If you hear that statement with an inaccurate understanding of what attachment parenting is, that would be an incredibly hurtful statement! What you would actually “hear” me saying is that people who don’t breastfeed, baby-wear, or co-sleep are bad parents. And, if you read my last post, you know that’s not what I believe at all.

At the same time, though, I concede that the label itself can cause confusion, but I would say that part of that confusion does stem from not knowing what is actually meant by the term. When you hear “attachment parenting,” it is logical to assume that anything that isn’t described as attachment parenting would be described as detachment parenting. So, if you think that attachment parenting is about outward actions, then you would assume that people who don’t breastfeed, baby-wear, or co-sleep are being called detached. And if you read my last post, you know I don’t believe that either!

Hence the clarification of what, exactly, the point of attachment parenting is. It’s hard, if not downright impossible, to have an honest conversation about the label itself if you think it is implying something it isn’t. This misunderstanding of what the actual goal of attachment parenting is contributes to a lot of the confusion about it.

As I stated in my last post, the heart of attachment parenting is relationship. It’s about forming a healthy parent-child attachment by being responsive and sensitive to your children and parenting them as individuals. Sure, things like co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and babywearing are common ways to help foster attachment, but you are not a “detachment” parent if you don’t do them! Attachment has been one of my main goals with both of my children. Yet one of them hardly ever slept in our room, only nursed for a couple weeks, and was never worn in a sling (I didn't even know they existed!), while the other has co-slept since he was born (now only part of the time), is starting the weaning process at the age of 2, and has been worn in a sling some (but not frequently because of back problems that I have). And I have a very healthy attachment with both of them!

Attachment parenting emphasizes having plenty of nurturing physical contact with your child, breastfeeding (when possible) both for nourishment and comfort, being within close proximity at night (not necessarily in the same bed), and continuing to respond promptly and sensitively to a baby’s needs at night. In all honesty, these are things that are biologically appropriate. Mothers have God-given instincts to hold our babies, to comfort them when they cry, to nurse them, and to be responsive no matter the time of day. However, in recent history, there have been parenting books that promote the author's "methods" rather than encouraging mothers to trust and follow their natural mothering instincts. Here are some common examples: Don’t hold the baby so much; you’ll spoil him. Don’t nurse him whenever he cues that he wants to; put him on a strict schedule. Don’t ever put him in your bed; he may never leave. Don’t respond to his nighttime cries; he needs to learn that nighttime is for sleeping.

Could it be that attachment parenting has to be qualified with the “attachment” label to distinguish it from this attitude of parenting that has honestly become quite common in our culture? I agree that responsive, sensitive parenting shouldn’t need a label; it should just be “parenting.” But in our culture, maybe the label serves a purpose.

I also want to talk about why I think many parents are so eager to identify themselves with various labels and methods, and the pros and cons of labels in general (not just in parenting), but those topics will have to be for future posts.


  1. Great post! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on labels!

  2. I find your approach to parenting and what I have encountered in my almost 4 years of licensed childcare experience such a funny mix. Not funny "haha" necessarily. For example, it never ceases to amaze me when a child is left all day in a classroom when the parent knows that he or she is sick and should stay home to be nurtured. It's a bummer to live in a society where some people have children they can only afford to raise if they bring them rain or shine for virtual strangers to watch all day. Sigh.

  3. It sucks that it's so difficult for many families to make it on one income anymore. :( We're making it, but it's not easy, and we rarely have money for anything "extra." We'd be in a much more comfortable place financially if I was working too, but I know that's not what I'm called to be doing right now. When Isaac's a little older, though... it may be a different story. ;)

  4. I read this earlier and wanted to add it to the conversation. There are definitely books out there that push for something other than following parenting instincts.