Why all the fuss over ‘attachment parenting’?
It’s easy to get carried away with the passionate arguments over last week’s cover of Time Magazine’s US issue. Beginning with the question, “Are you mom enough?” and of course, the breastfeeding cover shot that nobody could miss, what ensued was a flurry of comments, opinions and debates.
All over the Internet and children’s parties, it seemed everybody had something to say about the image of 26-year-old model Jamie Lynn Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son.
It certainly got people’s attention, but it seems to me that rather than bringing understanding, it simply polarized mothers even more. Instead of teaching everyone to support and respect a mother’s choice in her parenting methods, it brought out criticisms from both sides.
So what exactly is that cover supposed to be about? It mentions mothers being driven to extremes, and points to Dr. Bill Sears as the man behind their behavior. But really, the article is basically just a profile of Sears, with the basics of his teachings thrown in. You may not know who he is, but you might be familiar with his book, “The Baby Book,” as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, along with the parenting method he espoused, attachment parenting.
Strong emotional bonds
I am familiar with attachment parenting, but never really knew much about it. I decided to read up on it and see what the fuss was all about.
Attached parenting (AP) is a philosophy that teaches parents to build “strong emotional bonds” with their children beginning from infancy, as this relationship, or the lack of it, is believed to have “lifelong consequences” on the child’s emotional development.
These bonds are built through the establishment of the child’s trust and confidence in his/her parent and therefore develops a “secure attachment” (in contrast to an “insecure attachment”). In order to do this, parents are advised to practice childcare that is sensitive to the child’s “emotional and biological needs.”
According to Attached Parenting International (www.attachedparentinginternational.org), there are eight principles which parents try to achieve:
1. Preparation for pregnancy, birth and parenting
This is believed to be crucial to becoming a good parent. This is the time when parents educate themselves on everything there is to know about safe and healthy pregnancies, and commit to working on their own personal issues from their childhood, as well as between the soon-to-be parents.
2. Feed with love and respect
“Feeding is more than providing nutrients; it is an act of love.” While AP gives a number of ways to “feed with love and respect,” including through “bottle nursing,” the spotlight is currently on its beliefs regarding breastfeeding. Sears believes that a mother’s milk is best for her child. He promotes extended breastfeeding (nursing beyond the first year) into toddlerhood, as it gives comfort to the child, and suggests leaving the decision to wean to the child and mother. This is the point which the Time Magazine cover highlighted.
3. Respond with sensitivity
AP discusses how babies are still intellectually immature and cannot understand much other than our responses. For instance, when it comes to crying, Sears recommends that parents respond immediately rather than expecting them to soothe themselves, as “excessive crying” may cause trauma and, in the long run, lead to developmental disorders. When babies are upset, parents are expected to understand the child and come to his or her side to comfort them until they learn to be secure enough to express themselves properly.
4. Use nurturing touch
While others may see it as a fashion accessory for mommies, AP sees the sling as something more; “baby wearing” is a way of returning to our natural instinct to keep our babies close to us when taking them around rather than pushing them in a stroller. The use of a “nurturing touch” is the best way to meet a baby’s need for “physical contact, affection, security, stimulation and movement.” It is believed to assist in the child’s healthy physical development and emotional growth.
South American parents
Many credit this idea to Sears, but he himself says he got this idea from a book, “The Continuum Concept” by Jean Liedloff, published in 1975. Liedloff was inspired by the mothers and children she observed in South American jungles. She described the children to be well-adjusted and happy and ascribed this to their security in their mothers’ love, which was reinforced by the connection that came with constantly carrying the child in slings.
5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
AP believes infants and young children are still not “neurologically capable” of soothing themselves and depend on adults for this. Forcing them to self-soothe supposedly increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and may lead to developmental disorders. Co-sleeping, wherein the baby sleeps in bed with his parents, is highly recommended in order to meet the baby’s nighttime needs and offer comfort and security in an otherwise intimidating scenario (sleeping alone in the dark).
In other instances, the parents may opt to attach a bassinet or the bed next to theirs, if they are not comfortable with having a baby in bed. Eventually, as with nursing, a child will “wean” himself and move to his own bed.
Co-sleeping is highly discouraged by the US government due to the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and AP clearly suggests that parents educate themselves first on the proper way to co-sleep before attempting to do so. With regard to the debate between intimacy and co-sleeping, AP suggests timing and creativity to avoid any disruptions.
6. Provide consistent loving care
Based on my understanding, AP seems to lean greatly toward the idea of one parent being a full-time caregiver, but in the event that this is not possible, a consistent, loving and trusted caregiver is recommended. Working parents are advised to work their schedule around the baby in order to maximize their time and allow a healthy attachment. Daycare is discouraged and a “nurturing touch” is the preferred method to reconnect after a short separation.
7. Practice positive discipline
AP practitioners believe in using gentle guidance, natural consequences, prevention and redirection, among many others, as tools in disciplining a child. This must begin at infancy until he or she develops an internal self-disciplinary system. Parents must strive to lead by example and apologize if their actions lead to anger or hurt feelings.
Punitive methods, such as spanking and instilling fear and shame, are avoided as they are believed to lead to developmental problems such as being antisocial, violent and abusive.
A parent’s needs
8. Strive for balance in personal and family life
AP acknowledges that parents can get burnt out and that ultimately, a parent’s needs must also be met in order to ensure emotional and mental balance.
Among the tips AP gives its parents are “setting realistic goals, following your heart and listening to baby, taking time for yourself and taking care of yourself.”
To be honest, as I read up on AP, a number of preconceived notions and beliefs would pop up in my head. But at the same time, I was surprised to find some of my personal experiences as a child and current practices as a mother among the core principles of AP, such as co-sleeping. I never thought of this as “extreme” parenting, especially in our country where it is so common, due to our culture and, in most cases, necessity.
In the end, who has the right to judge which method of parenting is correct or extreme? It seems as the years go by and times change, so do parenting styles. Parents have gone from Dr. Spock to attachment parenting to being Tiger moms, French moms… the list goes on. For one parent, a certain method may appear heaven-sent, while for another, it’s a punishment.
Which is why, just as our mothers did before us, we do the best we can with what we have. We take the wisdom from previous generations’ methods and add them to our own experiences. After all, just like every parent, we just want to raise our children the best way we can, driven by love.
Next week: Filipino moms speak out on the issue—and the controversial Time cover