Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Is "Attachment Parenting" Anyway?

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about this thing known as "attachment parenting.” Some of the misconceptions are perpetuated by authors who are trying to "sell" their particular method, so it isn't surprising that many times they negatively characterize parenting styles that differ from whatever they’re selling. Attachment parenting, then, gets unfairly labeled as permissive, child-controlled, spoiling children, and so on. While I’m sure that those things could be true of some people who claim to be attachment parents, I definitely don’t think it’s true for the majority.

But some of the misunderstandings of attachment parenting stem from the AP community itself. As with anything, there can be a tendency to become so caught up in the "rules" of what you're doing that you lose focus of the heart of it. That’s human nature. Unfortunately, because of this tendency, many people have a negative impression of attachment parents as self-righteous and judgmental of others who do things differently. And, again, this may indeed be true of some people who practice attachment parenting, but it’s not true of the majority.

Nevertheless, there's this idea out there that attachment parenting is all about breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and looking down our noses at people who don't do these things. I'm going to go on record as saying that, actually, attachment parenting isn't about any of those things.

Simply stated, the heart of attachment parenting is about knowing your children, fostering a healthy attachment with them, and responding sensitively to their needs. It's not about following a list of rules; it's about knowing your children as individuals and choosing to do things that are in their best interest. And it's definitely not about being self-effacing and being controlled by your children; there is a lot to be said for balance. Consider everyone's needs and find what works for your individual family. For example, in some families, co-sleeping is a great solution. In others, it's just not. And that's okay! We don’t need to judge others or ourselves against some imaginary list of AP rules.

When my oldest was a baby, I knew just a little about attachment parenting and I was convinced that I couldn't possibly be considered “AP” because I wasn't breastfeeding my son. Years later, I realized that wasn't true. You can be an attached parent whether you breastfeed or formula feed, co-sleep or sleep separately, use a sling or not, stay home or work, homeschool or school away from home. Because it's not about checking certain things off a list; it's about relationship, sensitivity, and nurturing. I can't see how making certain choices "just because" you think they're on the list of proper AP things is all that different from making certain choices "just because" that's what mainstream culture does. In both of those cases, you'd just be adhering to something without actually thinking it through for yourself and making an active choice.

In the end, it comes back to the same thing I always seem to come back to in posts like this. Don't do anything "just because." Do the research, think about your own family's needs and your own child's needs, and make the choices that fit best with your individual situation. Make informed, educated decisions and confidently own your choices.


  1. Excellent post - - and it is about knowing your child and doing what's best for him or her - - - and being able to withstand the "advice" given to you about what you could do better to help our children develop "normally". (We got a LOT of that when we homeschooled.) It's good to hear from you again.

  2. Well, I don't want to open a can of worms but there has to be more to "Attachment Parenting" than what you describe. The reason I say that is because what you've described is simply good parenting, what any decent parent wants for their children.

    If that is all there is to "AP" then why have the classification at all. Why not good parents and bad parents. Better yet, why not just parents and those who have chosen not to parent their children.

  3. I think that's a good question. No can of worms here. At least not for me. ;) Actually, your question is the point I'm trying to make; I think it's divisive and unnecessary that "attached parenting" has become thought of as a list of specific choices and not an overall goal.

    There are definitely individuals who narrow the focus of what attached parenting is by adding on "rules," but my point is that those specific things are not the actual intended focus of AP.

    Because of that, I wanted to post about what the *heart* of attachment parenting really is, which is relationship, not following a set of rules. The hows of parenting are not a one-size-fits-all thing, and I have no interest in buying into a method that says ALL parents SHOULD do some specific thing. Not everyone can or should do things the exact same way. However, I think the heart of good parenting stays the same. :)

    The idea that attachment parenting IS things like breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping is just not an accurate understanding. Yes, many parents who identify themselves as "AP" make those choices-- but many don't. Some parents do some but not others. And many parents who don't describe themselves as "AP" make those choices, or some of them, or none of them. ;)

    Legalism doesn't only happen in religion. But the presence of legalism in some people doesn't mean the overall concept is legalistic, just as the presence of legalism in some groups of Christians doesn't mean Christianity as a whole has that focus.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Ha, oops, I forgot to include the link I was coming to post.

    I think this is another really good post on the heart of attached parenting, plus it includes links to two articles: "What Attachment Parenting Is" and "What Attachment Parenting is Not," both written by the Christian pediatrician and father who came up with the term "attachment parenting." They don't take long to read, but they're more in-depth than I have time to type out at the moment. ;)

  6. I guess my point is that what you describe is parenting. In order to have a classification of "AP" there are things that must be added to or taken away, otherwise it too is just parenting and the distinction should just be dropped.

    Your post is entitled "What is attachment parenting anyway" but your post is really just, "What is parenting".


  7. Well, to be fair, I didn't come up with the term. ;)

    Also, the term at least partially originated as a distinction from other parenting methods that had become popular through books and such, that suggest that responsive parenting spoils children, is permissive, is child-centered, etc.

  8. Knowing your child and responding to his or her needs...What a concept! lol. :) I agree that every child is different, and therefore needs different things, and it's important to have a good relationship with your child to be able to do what's best.

  9. "Knowing your child and responding to his or her needs...What a concept!"

    lol... I know, right?! Crazy talk. ;)

  10. 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.