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.