Attachment Parenting & How it Chose Me
Let me first start out by saying that this article is not intended to shame non AP parents. You do you! I have had multiple loved ones ask me to explain what it is, why I chose it, and how we practice it. This article is a basic overview, and an answer to those three questions. It’s also a long one, so grab a drink and a snack, and join me.
WHAT IS ATTACHMENT PARENTING?
If you have heard of AP prior to this article, there is a chance you may have the incorrect idea about this philosophy. Perhaps you think dads that wear their babies are crazy. That parents who respond to their babies cries instantly are spoiling them. Or perhaps you are uncomfortable with the idea of mothers breastfeeding their babies beyond the first year. (Or at all.) Perhaps you balk at the idea of bedsharing and sleep trained your babies early, so you can’t imagine your life any other way.
Attachment parenting is all of those things, but it can also be none of it. Because AP is not so much about strict rules, and more about the principal and intentions behind the parents actions. It’s important to note right off the bat that any parent can be an Attachment Parent.
And that includes father’s too.
When a child (or anyone of any age really) knows that they are loved and have somewhere safe to go in times of crisis, or return to after an adventure, they are more likely to feel secure taking that first step out. The goal for most AP minded mothers and fathers is to create a safe, welcoming and accepting atmosphere so that their children know they are safe to explore. Because they know that they are always loved and welcome.
AP children (hypothetically) are raised knowing they are loved, so they do not need to spend time in their lives searching for fulfillment from others for the type of emotional wounds so many people struggle from who had abusive or absent minded parents.
There are people who define AP as unattainable, unsustainable, insane, etc. And for some, it may very well be given lifestyle circumstances. But, no matter what actions (bedsharing, extended breastfeeding, gentle parenting, etc) you may choose to take advantage of from the attachment parenting philosophy, it is important to note, it can be possible if you are honest with yourself about your limits. Despite what the critics and the haters will tell you.
Instinctively a parent and child form a hard and fast bond post birth as a means of survival. The baby knows that their mother is their food source and warmth. Especially if they were just born, it can be hard on them to be alone with very little contact. Things like low visitors in the early weeks and high skin to skin can help lessen the pressure and keeps the oxytocin flowing. Of course the bond is not always instant, and both parents should be on watch for postpartum mood disorders in each other and themselves.
Any parenting style can become toxic and unhealthy if the parent can not achieve some kind of balance, or is putting unneeded pressure on themselves. I have found that AP often gets a bad wrap because it is heavily misunderstood.
A Brief History
For thousands of years, the concept of ‘parenting styles’ did not exist. Women wore and slept with their children because work did not stop and they needed to both work and mother. Or they lived in village type settings were other members of the family and tribe would happily (and freely) watch the younger children.
It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that doctors began pushing schedules, fear mongering spoiled children and banishing attachment. “If you must, kiss your children only once in the forehead...” and “Never hug...or let them sit on your lap. Shake hands with them in the morning...” John Watson, a behaviourist quoted in the ‘20’s.
It’s no wonder that most mothers today are consistently met with shaming for holding their babies too much. It’s most likely because those people shaming us, did not hold their children as much as they would have liked, or were not held as much as they should have been in their early years.
Advice from older generations is not all bad. But it is foolish to think that the advancements we have made throughout generations and discoveries should be brushed aside simply because our parents and grandparents, etc say “Well look at us. We turned out just fine.” Sorry to say, but ignoring our genuine parenting instincts that come naturally to us for the advice of someone else is not fine. It’s no wonder that previous generations impacted younger ones on and on the way they did with this kind of advice going on.
Think I’m bashing those that came before us because I’m just one of those hippie millennials? Well, listen to this:
Women were once told to cleanse their nipples with a type of acid as part of self care during breastfeeding in the ‘20s and ‘30’s. (That same type of acid is now used as an industrial strength insecticide btw.) Pregnant women were told that travelling of any kind, even just a ride in a car could cause miscarriage. Don’t forget about listening to music too loudly for fear of feeling excitement...and potentially enjoying herself. Two things a mother should not be feeling while working to create a new life. Following birth, postpartum depression was prescribed with a list of EXTRA household chores to give the mother something else to focus on besides her thoughts and feelings.
If that’s not enough, give ‘baby cages’ a google if you really want to shake your head. Some advice is meant to be thrown out with the trash. Below is an image of ‘baby care’ instructions hospitals used to send mothers home with. It’s dated 1968. We have thankfully come so far, and yet we still have so far left to go.
The way to tell the difference between insane and sound advice is to listen to your gut and
follow your instincts.
Finally in the 1950’s John Bawlby spoke up about his belief regarding healthy attachment and it’s relation to positive growth and development in children into adulthood. He argued that by giving children a warm and safe place to grow, they are more likely to seek out independence when ready and partake in healthy relationships because they feel secure in their upbringing and carry limited baggage.
They never had to spend time wondering if they were loved. They knew they were and so their minds could focus on other things. Like new relationships, exploring and education.
1975 saw the conversation brought up again by Jean Liedloff who studied mothers that baby wore and bed shared in Venezuela and documented the benefits. She wrote a book and introduced those specific concepts to Western mothers. She argued that babies were born unaware of modern advancements (cribs, bottles, etc) and thrived easier with a more ‘natural’ parenting style. Althea Solter also published a book promoting the benefits of extended breastfeeding and parenting without punishment.
The principal of attachment minded child rearing became the more mainstream (and often misinterpreted) Attachment Parenting movement that we know today when William Sears published what many refer to as the AP bible; Creative Parenting in 1987.
Throughout his career, Sears and his wife promoted the seven Baby B’s.
• Birth bonding
• Baby wearing
• Bedding close to baby
• Belief in the language value of your baby's cry
• Beware of baby trainers
Note: the last two were additions and not included in the original text.
Okay, so how does it all work?
And how do I do it?
Those answers are below, listed out in basic interpretations of the above Baby B’s and various tools from other Attachment philosophy advocates.
Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting to the best of your ability.
AP parents believe that they are giving themselves and their babies their best chance when they are educated and informed about their options and choices and their ability to advocate for themselves.
This was where my Attachment Parenting journey began. However I had no clue that I was following along with any principals at all. I am just a woman that loves to learn, and a bit of a control freak (I admit). So when I found out I was pregnant I legitimately created a ‘Baby Bible’ for myself. It included information on the different stages of labour to my birth plan, to recipes for different DIY baby foods and a chart about the meaning behind every different colour of baby poop.
Feed with love and respect.
The controversy surrounding Breastfeeding and its benefits become a heavily emotional topic quickly. And though breastfeeding is the most natural and common way for mothers to bond with their young, there is not reason why bottle fed babies cannot also receive the benefits of AP should their parents make the choice to follow the above principal. When it comes to baby led weaning vs. Purées and when to feed the child, AP parents are free to make their choices personally with no influence.
In our home, Breastfeeding is a huge part of our lives. It affects everything we do. Our sleeping arrangements (more on that below), the people we have in our lives (haters don’t come around anymore), and the inter-workings of our day to day. From the outside perspective, some may say that breastfeeding has made our lives complicated and left me with 99.9% of the work since Baby Bear won’t take a bottle and every main feed is on me. But I have never complained once about it, and I’m happy to be in the thick of breastfeeding for as long as we mutually benefit from it.
Another way that we respect our daughter with food choices is by not overfeeding her or demanding encouraging her to overfeed herself. We eat when we are hungry and we stop when we are full. Ie: anything leftover on your plate is saved for leftovers. We also teach respect of our bodies by focusing on nutrition and healthy foods with rare treats to teach balance and the importance of enjoyment.
Respond with sensitivity.
Babies and toddlers may be small physically, but the feelings they feel are BIG. Sometimes their outbursts reflect that. AP parents believe that it is our responsibility and privilege, to guide and support our children through their big emotions with love and understanding. We do our best to stay calm and collected, in turn showing them the ‘ideal state of behaviour’, while also validating their negative feelings.
I have another article planned in the near future where I will go more in depth about outbursts tantrums-meltdowns and how we handle these moments of overwhelm with Baby Bear. But for now I will say that the most important part of helping a child to control their emotions as opposed to letting their emotions control them, is to validate and name what they are feeling.
If you have been around me when comforting my daughter in the midst of an BIG FEELING, you will hear me say things like “I hear you are frustrated about not being able to climb on your own. Do you want to try again, or would you like mama’s help?” If she is not at the space to continue with the previous activity I move on and say “Okay. Mama hears and sees that you need a break from climbing right now. To cool off do you need quiet time and some space, or do you need a hug?”
I validate what she is feeling so she can begin to recognize her emotions for what they are, and let her know that I understand her. And than I provide her with two options to problem solve the situation. The above was just an example, but hopefully I’m making sense.
As she matures I will move slowly away from telling her what (I think) she is feeling and ask her instead to identify the emotion herself and what she would like to do to problem solve the situation. Depending on the circumstance of course.
One of my favourite aspects of AP is that it’s able to evolve with the child because the principles are not rules, but rather tools that parent use and then pass on to their children to use themselves.
Use nurturing touch.
AP parents are big supporters of skin to skin time. Especially in the early days of infant hood. This includes lots of cuddles, breastfeeding/ bottle feeding undistracted, joint baths and can also include contact napping and bed sharing.
If you look at the photos from the first few months of baby girls life you will see that very rarely were Papa Bear and I fully clothed. We did not know that this was AP practice. In fact I still had not even been introduced to the term yet. We were just told the benefits of skin to skin by our doula and felt inspired to take her advice. With a Papa Bear who’s love language is physical touch, I definitely saw the benefits of this bonding technique, not only for our little cub. But also for him as he struggled with not being able to help with feedings the way he’d envisioned. He also loved baby wearing and so did I. However my back pain from the epidural required by c-section, as well as the scar tissue from my incision and the growing weight of our big strong girl made it difficult for me to partake in this practice.
Engage in nighttime parenting.
As AP parents, we believe and understand that parenting is not something you can ‘clock out’ of. Our infants do not suddenly stop needing us simply because the sun has set. However a parent chooses to respond to their child at night is up to their discretion, but generally speaking AP principals recommend sharing a sleeping space such as separate beds in the same room or a joint family bed while following safe sleeping guidelines. Bed sharing is not expressly recommended by anyone for fear of ramifications should SIDS happen. However it normally is a side effect of AP mothers that choose to breastfeed as most find it easier on themselves.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating choices I have made when it comes to parenting (for other people) is the fact that we have chosen bedsharing. Although ‘chosen’ isn’t really the word I would have used. Following our traumatic experience at the hospital both my husband and I found it very hard to let her out of our arms. She agreed, because whenever we would lie her down on her back, whether it was to change her diaper or attempt to get her sleeping solo, she would scream bloody murder. I fully intended to sleep train and have her in a bassinet and then a crib. But often the expectations we have as parents end up being the exact opposite when it comes to reality.
Bed sharing is NOT a necessity of AP, but it was (still currently is) a necessity of our lifestyle. Without it, I would never have gotten any sleep. And there is nothing sweeter than waking up to that little nose. I dare you to find me a cuter alarm clock.
Provide constant, loving care.
AP parents choose to spend their time with their children. They view their children as extensions of themselves and don’t mind bringing their children along on trips, dates and outings. It is not a system of parents and children. It is a system of a single family unit and togetherness. Childcare is not discouraged, but connected and bonding time with each parent and as a full family is recommended as often as possible to inspire consistent routine.
As a side effect of my postpartum anxiety, it has been difficult for me to create space between myself and Baby Bear. It feels scary (that’s the anxiety talking) but also unnatural. I fully support a mothers personal choice for herself, but given our circumstances it is hard for me to detach. I have been trying to work on this internally. It’s a slow moving process, but it is moving. But still, this attachment and focus on quality time came natural to me. I had a child because I wanted to be a full time, hands on mom. I want to sit on the floor and build block towers for her to knock over and read Dr. Suess over and over. I was not aware I was practicing AP to some degree.
Practice positive discipline.
Often it is easier to explain what Attachment Parenting is not. As opposed to what it is. One thing most AP parents agree across the board is that we do not spank. We desire to raise non violent, verbal and self aware adults. Our belief is that we cannot achieve that with physical forms of discipline.
Perhaps it was the generation I was raised by or the pressures from others to not raise spoiled brats, but before becoming pregnant I absolutely thought that I would be a mom that spanked. The moment I got pregnant, and then when my daughter was born I knew that I could never discipline her that way. As someone who has been verbally and emotionally abused in the past, I know that I could not forgive myself if I were to hit her with intention. We as adults behave badly and inappropriately, but if our spouse or a coworker was to spank or physically accost us for that behaviour, it would be abusive or assault.
And I know there are people reading this that may disagree with me. That’s fine. I will always say that a parent has a right to raise their child their own way. I know how I want my relationship to be with my daughter and spanking is not part of it.
Recently, Baby Bear has been testing boundaries and limits by hitting. Sometimes out of excitement, but often times as a way to express her anger or frustration. She is still very young, and as far as I can tell it is an instinctual phase almost every child goes through. But as I help her through it, I am able to calmly remind her that we do not hit in our family and our hands are not created for causing pain.
Parenting this way is hard sometimes given the fact that the ‘easy’ way (like spanking) can be effective in the short term. But parenting is a long game, and I’m okay putting in the extra work now to help build her coping skills for the future. Coming from a four generations of women that have experienced abuse at the hands of their spouses -and others, I want my daughter to know that it is not okay for ANYONE to lay their hands on her that she does not consent. And that confidence begins with us.
Strive for balance in personal and family life.
AP is very child minded, but it does not forget the parent as an individual being. We know that we must take care of ourselves and other relationships if we are going to set a good example for our children and avoid burnout. We must create a positive support circle and bring back the village mentality. We are not alone. In fact, we are attached as a community and that’s beautiful.
Personallly, I hate the word balance. It’s right up there with ‘perfect’ for me as an unattainable thing I will most likely never achieve. As far as I am concerned, balance is bullshit and the simple act of striving for it is the opposite behaviour as what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. However, when it comes to AP and giving your all to your children, your spouse, your self and your responsibilities there does have to be a bit of balancing. Or rather, juggling. And this is something I am working on understanding and achieving. Knowing when to step back and let her do her own thing from a respectful but also responsible distance. Should she need me.
Knowing when it’s okay to release myself from the self induced stress over every choice I make and if I am going to mess her up.
Working through my anxiety one step at a time to allow others to step in and care for her so I may have time to recharge. I am a human and I have much room to grow, as a parent and as a person. And especially in this category. But one thing that I can say with pride is that my intentions are pure and every move I make is made with love at its core.
AP & Me
As I hopefully made clear above, AP came very naturally to me. I believe in parents educating themselves, but at the end of the day, we must all follow our instincts. My instincts point me towards this style of parenting, following the guidance of these principles. They sit right in my heart, Though they can be exhausting on occasion, and controversial for others, they are working. I can see it working little by little each day.
I truly believe that I am doing the right thing for myself and my family by having Attachment Parenting be the tool box that we utilize to help our daughter build herself into the woman she is destined to become. And feeling confident in that has helped me overcome a lot of my fears when it comes to parenting.
It was around 7 or 8 months into mothering when I discovered the term and began looking into what it was. I’d heard it tossed around moms groups and been curious about it. Then while fangirling over the end of the Big Bang Theory television show, I discovered that Mayim Bialik had a YouTube channel where she discussed many topics. Including her choice to raise her sons AP. She has written a few books, including one about her AP experience; Beyond the Sling. I have yet to read it, but it’s on my 2020 reading list.
Perhaps after reading this article you will realize what I did. That you were practicing AP all along and you just didn’t know it. You do not need to engage in bed sharing or breastfeeding, etc to practice AP. All you need to do is respect yourself, and your child as you hope they will respect themselves and others as they grow.
Of course there is always the chance you may have discovered that it is definitely not for you and you value different things. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. We all must do what we believe is right. And for me, AP just makes the most sense. It always has, even before I knew what it was.
-Mama Bear 🐻