Attachment Parenting: What It’s Not

Attachment Parenting

Recently, I received a number of comments from a childcare provider saying that she believed that attachment parenting creates needy, disobedient and disrespectful children who are not equipped to cope with the world because their every need has been pandered to from day one.

This commenter is certainly not the first person I have come across who has probably gotten permissive parenting mixed up with attachment parenting/gentle discipline. Maybe the parents of the “unruly” children that this commenter had met *thought* they were practicing attachment parenting, but they probably weren’t. Of course, it is perfectly possible for a parent to tick some of the AP boxes – co-sleeping, babywearing, etc – and still fail to guide them, or to parent them in a manner that prepares them for what lies ahead. True attachment parenting isn’t just a case of ticking those boxes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you don’t have to tick *any* of them in order to be an attached parent.

There is plenty of literature out there that details what attachment parenting is and what it entails. This post is about what it’s not.

Attachment parenting is not about refusing to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is part of loving and respecting somebody. We wouldn’t allow another adult to continually flout the boundaries we have set, thus we shouldn’t say that it’s okay for a child to. However, we must remember that children are exactly that – children. They are still learning how to navigate the world we live in. In addition to this, they have very little impulse control. This should always be remembered. Being an AP parent doesn’t mean that you can never say no to your child! Of course there must be boundaries. However this doesn’t mean that enforcing those boundaries needs to be carried out in a way that disrespects the child and makes a joke of the parent/child bond. Which leads nicely onto…

Attachment parenting does not mean zero consequences for inappropriate behaviour. People who practice attachment parenting generally veer away from punitive methods – this is called gentle discipline or loving guidance, and it does not mean that there are no consequences for their children’s actions. In our house, consequences are logical and natural. If my 3yo is throwing a toy in the living room, first I ascertain why he is throwing. Is he frustrated? Angry? Overexcited? Once I have pinpointed the reason for the behaviour, it’s time for guidance. If he is frustrated, I might say “I can see you are feeling very frustrated. Throwing makes you feel better, but It’s not okay to throw toys in the house because somebody might get hurt. Would you like to throw a ball in the garden/go hit a pillow/have a cuddle with mummy instead?” If the guidance goes unheeded, and we cannot, together, find a solution, the toy is removed. My son knows that the removal is not a punishment – the removal is to keep our family and our possessions safe. For those who aren’t familiar with gentle discipline/loving guidance, it can look to the outsider like permissive parenting – after all, it’s more commonplace to see small children being grabbed, dragged, shouted at, smacked, shoved into a corner, forced to say sorry or please or thank-you, or ignored. Loving guidance is about connection and teaching life lessons, not putting the child “in their place”.

Attachment parenting does not mean being with your child 100% of the time. The vast majority of AP parents I know are working parents. Their children are in childcare for at least half of the time, if not more. They are still attachment parents.

Attachment parenting does not mean you have to engage with/play with your child all of the time. We are all human, and we all have lives away from our children. Being present with your children is important, and we should all strive for that – but nobody, attachment parent or not, can achieve that all day every day.

Breastfeeding is not a requirement of attachment parenting! This is one that really gets me. Breastfeeding is, of course, the most natural way to feed a baby. It is the most nutritionally perfect way of feeding a baby. Breastfeeding promotes an emotional connection, too. So yes, it makes sense that breastfeeding fits well with attachment parenting. However, I know way too many women who feel that they can’t possibly be an attached parent because they could not, or chose not to breastfeed – this could not be further from the truth. Feeding a baby with love and respect does not automatically equal feeding a baby from the breast. Some women genuinely don’t enjoy breastfeeding, for whatever reason. Surely it’s better for them to feed their babies in a manner that makes them happy, whilst being a more loving, responsive and present parent than they would have been had they been doing something every two hours or more that they hated doing. I think breastfeeding is amazing and I’m all for it, but not at the expense of happy mothers and babies.

Co-sleeping is not a requirement of attachment parenting. Again, co-sleeping (like breastfeeding) is another wonderful tool you can use to forge a strong connection with your child – but it’s not vital, and it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. I love co-sleeping. It works for our family. It gets us all the most sleep. My husband loves waking up to our little baby, as well as me, every morning. However, it is certainly not for everybody and nobody should feel that they are not a “proper” AP parent if they cannot, or choose not to co-sleep.

Attachment parenting is not a cult, fad or religion. It is a label that is used to describe an instinctive method of parenting that has been used through the ages. No two AP parents are the same. The whole point of AP is that you follow your instincts, and meet the needs of your child in the way that feels right to you – and that looks a little different for every family.

Attachment parents aren’t supposed to allow themselves to suffer for the sake of their parenting. Martyrdom has no place in parenting, in my opinion. It is very easy to forget that finding balance is a very important part of attachment parenting. Parenting in this manner can be physically and emotionally demanding, which is why it’s so important to make sure that you are looking after yourself and your needs as well as those of your family.

People don’t choose attachment parenting because they want their children to be reliant on them. They choose attachment parenting for the exact opposite reason – because they believe that this method of parenting will help their children become more secure and independent, long-term. And our beliefs are backed up with solid research.

Attachment parenting does not mean “giving in” to your child’s every whim. See the points on boundaries and parental martyrdom. Attachment parenting philosophy hinges on the idea that a child’s needs don’t go away if they are ignored, and that meeting their needs will not “spoil” them. Part of attachment parenting is knowing that a small baby’s wants ARE their needs – and part of the wisdom we parents develop over time is knowing when our children need something versus when they want something. Attachment parents deal with a child’s needs promptly, and their wants with sensitivity, love and respect.

What I find laughable is that all of these points can be applied to *any* method of parenting. There’s no “us” vs “them”. We may disagree with the finer points, but the fundamentals are the same – look after your baby. Look after yourself. Do whatever feels right for your family, and love your baby wholeheartedly.


image: familymwr @ flickr


    • says

      I know what you mean. For me, I found the struggle ended when I actually stopped labelling what I do with the kids. When all’s said and done, we’re all just doing the best we can :)

  1. says

    I don’t know much about attachment parenting, but huzzah to your point about not being a martyr! That attitude drives me nuts all over the parenting blogs, yes, parenting requires some sacrifices, but why do so many people think it means sacrificing your needs to meet your child’s every whim? When did it become a good thing to raise a child who thinks he’s the center of the universe? No thanks.

    • Magenta says

      I know I’m sooooo late on this..but absolutely! My husband and I have had many arguements over this as he fully believes that parents have to run around after their children (actually, he seems to specifically believe that MUMs have to!) and told me he was “frankly shocked” that I thought otherwise..when I questioned him, asking why I even have to sacrifice having a shower or a hot coffee, I was told to have one during the baby’s nap time, in the middle of the day! He genuinely thought that that’s what parents do 100% of the time..
      It stopped when I pointed out that that was what his mother did, and she has ended up a lonely, bitter resentful woman who’ll tell everyoe who’ll listen how she gave up everything and bent over backwards for her sons and now they’re soooooo ungrateful “after everything I’ve done for them”etc..I’d rather have a relationship with my son where he recognises that while I’m his Mummy first, I’m also me!

  2. says

    I really like this post! Attachment parenting does have a lot of different faces and it really centers around knowing your child and your family, following your instincts, and doing what you feel is best instead of just following some “one size fits all” method. I think it is often misrepresented, probably sometimes by people who think they are being AP by letting their kids do absolutely whatever they want. AP is about being engaged, not iron fist OR hands-off, but guiding, and as you said – realizing they need boundaries and need to learn how to operate in the world, while still being allowed to be kids.

  3. says

    Hi there! I just want to say I love your site! Sometimes I worry, like Nurturing Career Mama, about defining the lines. I worry about doing this too much, or that not enough. But, like you said, when you stop labeling and just do what works best is when you….well…work best!
    Just an FYI I reviewed your site on my blog and provided a link to it. I review a different parenting site each Monday (Mummy Monday lol), feel free to come by and have a look; I just love sharing the wonderful sites I find with others, passing on the good fortune of finding such a good site.
    Keep up the good work! I love reading the posts here :)

  4. says

    I know this is over a month ago but wanted to ask about this
    “If my 3yo is throwing a toy in the living room, first I ascertain why he is throwing. Is he frustrated? Angry? Overexcited? Once I have pinpointed the reason for the behaviour, it’s time for guidance”

    I have a 3.2 yr old and a 10 month old, yesterday in the bath he poured a bottle of water over her head (I wasn’t fast enough) when I asked him why he siad “I don’t know”. This is a very common response from him when he misbehaves (horrible term I know) and I am not sure how to deal with it from there (I actually just hauled him out of the bath as I don’t want him thinking pouring water over his sister is allowed).
    Sometimes when I ask him why he does things and he says he doesn’t know I try and help him i.e. I ask him if he was upset, angry etc but he just continues to reply he doesn’t know. How would you handle these situations? Because usually it ends with the timeout here.

    • says

      Hi mama, thanks for commenting!

      To me, it sounds as if he is probably just experimenting. Like, literally, “what happens if I do this?” It likely elicits a reaction from you and from his sister. It’s probably a case of cause and effect.

      How you deal with it is obviously completely down to you. I don’t do time-outs, so for us I would probably say something like “Pouring is lots of fun, but your sister doesn’t like having the water poured on her head. It makes her very sad. See how she’s crying?” and see how he reacts to that. Some kids will take that on board and not do it again. Others will not really fully understand, and continue the behaviour (like my Monkey probably would, lol). In which case I would give him a warning, something like “If you keep pouring water over her head, you will have to get out of the bath. I can’t let you pour water over her head. Shall we pour water into this cup/toy/whatever instead?” and then take him out if he continues. I would just try to make it clear that it wasn’t a punishment, it was simply an act taken in order to keep everybody safe and comfortable.

      You might also consider experimenting with different ways to help him explore his motivations and feelings. At 3 years old he may be up for drawing how he feels, or roleplaying. Sometimes they can find it hard to articulate their feelings properly. Monkey often says he is sad even when he is clearly angry, if i ask him if he’s angry he will say “NO MUMMY I’M SAD!!!!!” lol.

  5. says

    I keep thinking what would I say if I had just been reading How to listen so kids will talk etc and my mind just goes blank all I can hear my brain saying is ARRGGHH you’ve just poured water all over your sister and now she is crying. I need to learn a new way of thinking and it’s not happening very fast!

    Thanks for your reply and will try the drawing suggestion next time if possible (not in the bath obviously!)

    • says

      It really is so hard to think clearly when you’re angry. I rarely manage to keep my cool if the problem is that Monkey has hurt or upset his baby brother. It’s hard not to be protective when they are so much more vulnerable than their older sibs. Squish loves his big bro so much; I just feel so sorry for him when Monkey behaves in an unkind manner :( so I totally get you, mama. Totally.

  6. Renee says

    Another perfectly wonderful blog post! You put APing so eloquently and i wish every person in my life that thinks i am a raving loony could read this and truly understand what i am trying to achieve and actually am achieving.

  7. Echo says

    I love this artical, a lot of people I know aren’t AP parents. I consiter myself & spouse to be AP parents, I have a hard time explaining our parenting “style” to friends/family who always seem to advise me to spank. I wasn’t spanked & I refuse to use physical punishment on my child, more so when I don’t think he is doing something wrong. Example, when he was 11 months old he learned to climb out of his crib/pack n play (we were using it as his nap space so we didn’t have to lay down in bed with him at nap times). I asked my friends/family for advice & of course everyone said the only way to correct it was spanking…I didn’t see him as doing it because he was “bad” but more that he was testing his own theory. We eventually took down the crib and used a toddler bed for his own safety and it worked just fine. He is now 2 1/2 and we still co-sleep about 90% of the time. BTW I also love that you call you little guys Monkey & Squishy, we have Peanut & Moose here :)

  8. Jenn says

    I’m a little late to the party, but, I love the image that Dr. Gordon Neufeld creates in his book “Hold on to your Kids…” of the mother duck with her little ducklings following behind her. Attachment Parenting is about creating that ‘safe place’ where your little ducklings can ‘rest (his word again…)’ knowing that you are their leader, you are going to take care of them no matter what, you are going to support them, love them, embrace them, and guide them in whatever path they choose. They feel safe to follow you because you have shown them from day one that you are always there for them. Attachment Parenting is about accepting your role as the mother duck. You are ultimately the mother, and as the mother is it your job to lead, guide, and protect. This means that you have to establish boundaries, behaviours, and discipline in order to get the job done. But this also means that your little ducklings will follow along, knowing that you are their compass.

    When the mother duck does not accept her role as the leader then what happens to the ducklings? In nature, if a duckling loses it’s mother than they will ‘attach’ to the first moving thing they see, be it a human, or a car, or a bicycle. Our children are the same. If their mother does not take on the role of ‘leader’ or ‘compass’, and instead takes on the role of ‘passive bystander’ then the children will search for another compass, sometimes with devastating results.

    I agree with what you said about how ‘attachment parenting’ is not just baby wearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping. While those things definitely help to build the baby-mother bond, they are not necessary to the basic principal behind mother-baby attachment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.