Parent Allies- the three problems with attachment parenting

The three problems with Attachment Parenting

When my first daughter was born I slipped seamlessly into attachment parenting. I Instagrammed a photo of my daughter breastfeeding everyday for about 6 months. I would go to Sling Libraries just for fun! I was a proud, evangelistic attachment parent. But increasingly I find myself holding attachment parenting up to the light, peering at it as though seeing the tiny flaws in a bright gem.

Whilst there is MUCH to love, attachment parenting isn’t devoid of problems. Here are the three I’m pondering…

1- For some people the term Attachment Parenting can elicit a triggered shudder or an eye roll. It’s too associated with breastfeeding, natural birth and crunchy parenting choices with a side order or smuggery or judgement.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is rare for parents (and least of all a whole subculture of parents) to set out to judge others, and I’m absolutely not saying attachment parents do that.

But I have experienced that sense of being judged for not trying hard enough when both of my homebirths ended up being pretty average hospital births. Immediately after coming home from hospital, the natural birthers around me unintentionally brought me a narrative of failure along with the flowers and cards. These days it’s hard for me to engage with the ideal of homebirth without feeling those feelings, without a glaze of cynicism.

I believe that the reason some elements of attachment parenting remain largely in a silo, and why it is treated so disparagingly by the press, is because it can be too attached to certain ideals, ideals that can be unattainable, physically impossible or undesirable.

Back when I had a tiny baby strapped to my chest, I would say in an encouraging (and probably quite accidentally condescending) way to my friends, non-cosleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding friends who would never label themselves as attachment parents, but who were nonetheless meeting their children’s needs with such empathy and love and respect, “You guys are totally attachment parents! Even though you don’t do aaaaany of The Things!”  They were like, whatever. They didn’t care. It wasn’t important to them. But it was important to me! I wanted them in my tribe.

And actually, the truth is, they were! If you look at the Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting they are excellent. It is not “babywear, breastfeed, cosleep” – it is much more “meet your children’s needs in ways that work in your family.” Attachment Parenting is much misunderstood, even by its most vehement promotors. Advocating for a child to be fed in love (with breast or bottle) and for a child to experience nurturing touch (not simply worn in a sling) are about meeting our children’s needs in bespoke ways- and this very much a Parent Ally Principle. 

The bones of Attachment Parenting are good, excellent, extraordinarily world changing! I wish they weren’t so misunderstood in the way they’ve been presented as strict ideals.

2 – While the eight principles of Attachment Parenting are excellent, there is little imagery of them working in ways that aren’t the fundamental ideal. The “feeding in love” principles always looks like breastfeeding. The “meeting night time needs” always looks like cosleeping. The “nurturing touch” always looks like babywearing.

Under every parenting “label” I want to see it working in different situations. How do mothers in a wheel chair attachment parent? How do two gay dads attachment parent? I want to know. I want to see it happening. Movements that are about furthering progressive human values should always be diverse and representative of all the different humans on earth.

My hope for Parent Allies is that we can show all the different ways we can be allies to our children. I want to see how people with kids in school are parent allies, I want to see how children in hospital need allies, I want to see the different challenges faced by ally families in poor areas or by families who are marginalised.

Would you consider sharing what being an ally looks like in your home? I would love to share it. Email me on Lulasticblog@gmail.com

3- Attachment parenting left me hanging when my child bared her bold will. We were all loved up, milk drunk, slinged up and highly connected until my daughter wanted to walk to the park and pick up every single cigarette butt and open every gate and get too near the edge of the pavement where the buses rocket by while my back ached carrying my second baby and then I thought What In The Blazes Am I Doing? I felt I’d been left high and dry after a highly successful attachment babydom. I had no idea what to do with a spirited toddler! It was almost as if the practices of attachment parenting had convinced me that my daughter was still a part of me, in the way she was when she was in utero. And it was a shock to discover that she wasn’t.

Is that a problem with attachment parenting? Or my interpretation of it? I’m not sure. I think the term “fourth trimester”, whilst helpful in explaining why tiny babies want to be so close, is an example of us getting the boundaries a little blurred.

And it’s something I see a lot of in the world of attachment parenting; mothers wiping noses, moving limbs, picking babies up with no warning, all as if the baby is an extension of themselves.

I wish that alongside my feasting on attachment parenting literature and blogs I had heard the message “Your baby is her own person. Even when she is a newborn she has a will and autonomy and your role is to meet her needs for attachment whilst respecting her as a whole, independent human.” I feel like that would have been helpful to me.

My daughter’s firey will put me on a whole new, wonderful learning curve. I was led to find Naomi Aldort and Alfie Kohn and in there I found this message, of my daughters independent personhood. I feel sad that I didn’t get it from AP.

I began calling myself a natural parent, and a respectful parent, and an authoritative parent, a gentle parent, as well as an attachment parent. I wanted to call myself SOMETHING GOSHDARNIT and it was a mouthful! I wanted to align myself with others, to sit under an umbrella of some kind and find myself comforted by the presence of others and supported in my counter-cultural choices.

These days I mostly think of myself as a Parent Ally because I know that in my role as an ally meeting my children’s need for attachment is covered, and so is her complete personhood. I know that other Parent Allies might not do things in exactly the way I do things, but that their overall parenting is underpinned by this sense of their child as a whole person, worthy of all the human rights people get.

***

And here’s why it’s easy to forgive Attachment Parenting for these problems: it is has changed norms.  I am forever thankful to the way the Attachment Parenting movement made me a mother. I would have been a different person, and my children different people without it. I also completely beleive that the way attachment parenting prioritises a child’s needs grows empathetic humans. I think attachment parenting has a hand in creating a world that is more socially just. It hasn’t got it all right, but it has normalised some important parenting practices and I hope the principles of attachment parenting continue to gather momentum.

I guess that’s why I’ll probably always, deep down, be an attachment parent…

13 Comments

  • Steph July 13, 2017 at 8:21 am

    This is an interesting article. For me, the issue comes when people try and define parenting using specific styles and definitions. I have two children and my parenting was different with each of them and can’t really be defined. This is because not only are they individual people with different needs, but also I was a different person with different perspectives when it came to parenting my second child. We are all individuals. Parenting for me is indefinable because it is about relationships. Relationships with your children, with your partner (or not), with your family and your parents, with your friends and peers and also your relationship with yourself. Social privilege also plays a big role too. So for now, I settle with a term first devised by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott who coined the phrase “good enough parent” who does their best, focusses their love and attention on their child but doesn’t always get it right but makes up for it in other ways. That’s the sort of parenting I subscribe to.

    Reply
    • admin July 13, 2017 at 8:45 am

      Hey Steph, yeah, I totally appreciate that, and completely agree with the relationship thing. You are totally right that we can miss that b simply subscribing to a brand!

      Reply
      • Steph July 13, 2017 at 8:53 am

        I am aware that secure attachment comes from parents being attuned to their child. This can look different for everyone and has to be based on the needs of the child and their family. It might be that trying to follow a parenting ‘style’ might get in the way of this attunement, by following what they think they *should* be doing rather than learning to trust their instincts and attuning to the needs of the child. I had an experience of that very early on with my first child. By trying desperately to ‘get it right’ I realised I wasn’t listening to what my baby needed. I quickly learned that as with many aspects of life, I listen to the advice from these various ‘styles’ of parenting and I take bits from each and find out what works for me and my family. This is a valuable process for me as a mum to learn to value my intuition but also to listen to my child and what they need.

        Reply
        • Samantha July 13, 2017 at 10:47 am

          Steph, after four kids, I COMPLETELY agree with you! I actually said this exact thing to someone else after reading the article (just not as eloquently as you did!).

          Reply
          • Steph July 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm

            Four kids- I take my hat off to you!! I think there is an awful lot of pressure on parents these days to be perfect for fear of what it might mean for their children in the future if they dont. I’m a psychotherapist, and in my experience, there are so many factors in a person’s development, it’s impossible to say what may or may not affect someone. Often secure attachment can guard against some things but not everything. It’s the age old nature vs. nurture debate. Essentially parents just need to try their best and be loving and protect their children where they can and meet their needs as much as possible. It’s a nearly impossible task but one that is important nonetheless.

        • admin July 14, 2017 at 2:30 pm

          Yeah, I like to take the best bits of everything 😀 Like a jigsaw…

          Reply
    • Kelly August 1, 2017 at 10:04 pm

      I love you comment Steph. I agree that the issue can often come with the label, as it sets us up to ‘fail’ if we don’t stay within its framework. It’s also impossible to behave the same way to each child, especially because you grow and learn with each one too. I feel so sorry for my eldest now, who got totally distraught mummy at 4am in the newborn days, as I questioned if I was doing the right thing and if it will ever end. Whereas my third got smiles and tickles at 4am as I knew she would sleep eventually and so would I.

      Reply
  • Jo July 18, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Lucy, I love the term ‘parent allies’, although for years I have gone with Steph’s preference of ‘the good enough parent’ as well.

    The problem I have found with most parenting style labels is that I feel like I have failed at all of them, because all of them prescribe behaviour or attitudes that I can’t sustain, and neither can my children. And, as you say, sometimes parenting style labels make it very easy exclude everyone who doesn’t subscribe to the ‘correct’ system.

    Parent allies is a term that really attracts me because it says, “Hey, we’re all on the same team here.” And really, it covers everything that works for both the parent and the child. I like it 🙂

    Reply
    • admin July 19, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Yes! That same teamness is the bit I love about it!

      Reply
  • Amy Webb July 24, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Enjoyed this article. I especially like #3. I can totally relate to the spirited toddler who doesn’t want to be held. I didn’t start out trying to be an attachment parent; I just tried to meet my kids’ needs in the best way I could. That ended up being a lot of baby wearing, etc. but things change alotno be they can walk. Thanks!

    Reply
  • CB July 26, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Such a great interesting post and I really understand this perspective. Others may assess me as an ‘attachment parent’ but I have never ever wanted to belong to a tribe or group under one label and don’t feel I fit, nor am I interested in fitting. To do so would be to opt out of flexibility which every family surely need on their journeys together . I feel uncomfortable with the label attachment as much as baby wearing as the terms themselves just seems to take autonomy from our children and they sound more like cargo. I know friends who unfortunately have pressured themselves to be 100% in the AP practice to make up for what they feel is a ‘failed birth story’, so sad to think this pressure is on them. Most folks are doing their best and that’s more than enough to raise healthy happy people. We could be more about support, love and less about labels and tribes.

    Reply
  • Sara August 4, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Do you ever feel like attachment parenting is sort of a heterogenous cluster of parenting behaviors? For instance, I am not against medical interventions and hospital births at all- the whole lineage of medical science makes me feel safe- but in every other way my beliefs align with ‘attachment parenting’. Baby wearing, empathic parenting, connection parenting- yes! Maybe the answer is that respectful, gentle parenting is actually a unique dimension of difference? Also, I feel like that whole realizing your child is a separate person thing is in fact a normal transition in parenting, where individuation for the child begins. Before that, children see us as extentions of them. So I think what you experienced is a natural surprise, but it definitely would be helpful for attachment parenting writers to acknowledge the evolving parent child relationship.

    Reply
  • Natalie August 7, 2017 at 5:34 am

    I had very dilar experiences with attachment parenting, especially the toddler bit. I feel like I came to it because I knew that I didn’t want to do some of the conventional stuff (e.g. With regaled to sleep, didcipline, etc) but I didn’t know what to replace it with, and attachment parenting didn’t quite provide an answer. I will also say that my biggest issue with it is the way it’s frequently interpreted (and the way I interpreted it) was in a way that puts the patent’s (often Mother’s) needs last not only in the infant stage but well beyond it. It took me a long time to get to where we are now, which is that _everyone’s_ needs are important, including mine. I think my kids had a hard time with that because attachment parenting often puts the kids front and center in a way that is unhealthy to the family as a whole. As you said, the general ideals are laudable, the rigidity with which they are often interpreted and portrayed is less helpful.

    Reply

Leave a Comment