Dear Friends and Parents out there reading,
I believe I have delayed posting an attachment post long enough. As many of you know, I am a self-proclaimed “attachment junkie”. I have spent the majority of my academic and professional life learning about Attachment Theory, pouring into the possible implications of this theory and teaching students the basic premises of this theory and, yet, despite my love and commitment to attachment….many are surprised to hear that I would not consider myself to be a true “attachment parent”. I figured that I might as well take some time to explain.
First, we must distinguish between the theoretical tenants of Attachment Theory (developed by John Bowlby) vs the current movement of Attachment Parenting (led by Dr. William Sears). Attachment theory is a well-developed, well documented and researched developmental psychology theory that addresses the importance of an attuned caregiver, who understands and meets a young child’s needs, exemplifies empathy and compassion, and provides a secure base from which a child can explore the world. Although there are many possible implications that can be derived from this theory they basically all come back to a basic premise that children who do not receive love and care, do not develop correctly. They develop a skewed lens of the world that at the very least can disrupt their ability to form healthy relationships later in life and at worse can cause major physical, emotional, and cognitive impairments. I LIVE by this theory and have found it to be enlightening to me in my journey as a parent and a professional. It is the basis for much of my C-3 parenting writing.
Attachment Parenting, on the other hand, is a trend in parenting philosophy that emerged in the 1990s as a growing reaction to the more distal parenting practices that have been traditionally embraced in the United States. Although it also is based on Bowlby’s attachment theory, its focus is on parenting practices rather than theory itself. According to Attachment Parenting International (API) these eight principles guide this approach (which, by the way, I advocate completely):
Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
Feed with Love and Respect
Respond with Sensitivity
Use Nurturing Touch
Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Provide Consistent Loving Care
Practice Positive Discipline
Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is this approach to parenting that has recently taken a beating on the national stage with the release of the Time Magazine cover story earlier this summer and then the barrage of media coverage that has followed. I have pretty much stayed out of this debate up until now. Those who have attacked Attachment Parenting as a philosophy have chosen to promote it as either an anti-feminist approach to parenthood OR attack some of the outlier practices that Westerners are culturally uncomfortable with. In many ways, these attacks are either greatly misinformed OR they are reactions of discomfort, I have found the whole debate to be very unfortunate as a great theory in child development has now been discounted due to poorly researched, pop culture driven information being dispersed.
I never thought that the day Attachment was all over the news would be a day I would be sad or embarrassed….and, yet, I experienced much of that this summer. I delayed writing this as I didn’t want to just add to the noise, or engage in ongoing debates. Yet, as I entered the classroom again this fall, and began my lectures on Attachment, and as I progress through my third pregnancy, I find myself becoming re-engaged in my passionate desire for people to understand how treating our children with compassion (from conception) impacts their entire path of development.
So, here is the thing. I am a professional member of API and advocate much of the wonderful work they are doing. However, I feel strongly that parents who don’t have natural births, practice extended breastfeed, co-sleep, stay at home, and/or homeschool can be excellent parents who practice what I like to call “Attachment-informed parenting”. I find this type of parenting to be very empowering as a working mom and don’t feel that it has hindered my ability to be productive in the workplace (however, I need to note that I have had a very flexible and family friendly work situation that many don’t).
I have found that the best parents don’t blindly adopt any parenting practice based on the recommendations of friends, bloggers, or trends. Instead, they read, research, and most importantly, remain attuned to their child’s inner needs. They are leery of any parenting practice that inflicts pain or suffering on their children, and they are continually calibrating their approach as children age and grow. Please, be an informed and calibrating parent, treat your child with compassion and consistency, and don’t be afraid to question parenting practices that are not in the best interest of your child.
A working mom with two beautiful C-section born daughters, who both breastfed for a year, one who co-sleeps (one who doesn’t), who is pro public schooling AND is proud to consider herself a great parent who uses Attachment Informed parenting.