I Was Totally Sold On Attachment Parenting When I Was Pregnant. Now, Not So Much

attachment parenting

Something happened to me after watching The Business of Being Born. I should both credit and blame that movie for every parenting decision I’ve ever made. It convinced me to have a home birth, a wonderful experience that I don’t regret. But it also sent me down the path of reading books on “natural parenting,” which led me into the empire of Dr. Sears.

The attachment parenting promise is an enticing one. It encourages closeness through things like breastfeeding and bed-sharing, promotes the ideal of the perfect mother-child bond, and saves you hundreds of dollars you would’ve spent on plastic baby stuff.  It even claims your child will become a tantrum-free toddler, a kind kindergartener and generally the Mother Teresa of all children.

What hormonal pregnant woman wouldn’t buy into this philosophy?

When my daughter was a newborn, the attachment parenting system was nearly flawless (okay, I had to do Lamaze-esque panting every time my baby latched on because it hurt my nipples so bad, but aside from that everything was great). Co-sleeping was awkward at first but within days I was feeling more rested than I could’ve ever imagined. After figuring out how to work the carrier I’d sewn myself, I was toting baby around proudly. I posted proud pictures to Facebook of me giddily “wearing” my baby, this Madonna of modern motherhood.

I must admit I judged mothers out in public who stored their newborns in carseats and strollers. I just knew their children were doomed to be emotionally illiterate deviants. My baby, however, was going to end world hunger and war in the Middle East.

Within weeks baby had doubled her birth weight. She was in the 99th percentile for everything. I was proud that my boobs “worked,” but suddenly I had searing pains through my back, chest and arms from wearing her around. I felt like the hugest failure at home when I opted to lay her down in a bassinet instead of nestling her against my chest. I felt like the hugest of hugest failures when I first put her in the stroller in public. I wanted to wear a sign that said, “I swear I’m a good AP parent, she’s only in the stroller because I can’t physically carry her right now because she’s heavy for her age and my muscles haven’t had time to adjust and please don’t call CPS on me, I swear I’m a good mother.”

I realize now that other mothers probably didn’t give a shit about me.

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    • Justme

      I think that you really picked on what can be the most detrimental aspect of Attachment Parenting – the idea that if you do X, Y and Z then your child will turn out perfectly compared to those children whose parents chose NOT to practice the tenants of AP.

      For me, that’s the problem. There are a variety of methods and ways that parents can develop a close bond with their children.

      But yet…

      Parenting is a total crapshoot at times. You can follow the “formula” for raising respectful, creative, kind and contributing members of society and still end up with a very troubled and struggling young adult. On the other hand, I have seen kids grow up in the worst home situations and then go on to become outstanding adults.

      For me, many of the aspects of AP didn’t work for my mental health, our lifestyle or our marriage. But somehow I have still managed to raise an almost two-year-old who sits still and pays attention during volleyball games, eats *most* of her dinner and has relatively few meltdowns. BUT….there’s always tomorrow and next year….she still has time to develop her independence and push back against rules and expectations. We just take it one day at a time and focus our sights on what WE can do as parents to produce the type of adult we would like for her to become. And then I pray that it works because there is so much of raising a child that feels completely out of my control.

      Personally, I don’t care what type of parenting discipline other people subscribe to…but I have found that what works best for me, my husband, our daughter and even the two mutts is more of a buffet – a little from here, no thank you to that, and yes more please of this!

    • AWB

      Umm…I’ve never read ay of Dr. Sears’ stuff and I was unaware of the term “attachment parenting” until I started reading this blog, actually. I chose to breastfeed because, well, it’s free and it’s natural. I wear the baby in a Baby Bjorn because I like having my hands free, and it’s easy to carry her to places like a football game in it…I also take daily walks where I push her in a stroller. Baby sleeps in a bassinet at the foot of our bed (for now) and if/when she wakes up to eat in the middle of the night, I feed her in the bed then put her back in her own sleep space. I was unaware my choice to do any of these things would be considered attachment parenting.

      I think people can take the definition and “rules” a little too far. You can employ some of those parenting styles and also keep yourself from becoming a granola-crunching, sandal-wearing hippie…Why can’t people just do their own thing and what works for them without all these labels? you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty just because you decide to follow a certain set of rules and it doesn’t work out. that’s putting way too much pressure on already sleep-deprived and stressed out new moms….

      • Julie

        Love this. I’m not any particular “kind” of parent. I’m my baby’s mama and that’s it. Stroller sometimes, carrier others. In bed with us some nights, in her crib most others. Sometimes, I sleep on the couch and she’s in her swing (like last night when she woke up at 1:30 in the morning after slamming her head into one of her crib rails). We do what works. I don’t like subscribing to any of the parenting labels because that’s too many rules for me. It might come from my history of working as a waitress. I always said at work “nothing is ever going to go exactly the way you plan it so it’s best to just go with the flow”. And it’s amazing how that philosophy fits so perfect with parenting as well. Something that works for us today might not work tomorrow. And as long as my daughter is happy, I’m going to do my best to keep it that way, however I can.

      • DebMoore

        Exactaly!

      • http://twitter.com/fandymabian Fandy Mabian

        Great commentary. I also don’t like the labeling. ‘Oh look at me, I’m an AP parent…I’m so much better than you are.” Elitism creeps in whenever we label ourselves and act like we’re better because of it. Ridiculous!

      • http://www.facebook.com/courtney.wooten Courtney Lynn

        Exactly. We tend to use some aspects of AP, but not all. We do what keeps us happy, but also what clearly keeps our baby happy. Doesn’t matter what Dr. Sears or anyone else thinks.

    • msenesac

      I knew my parenting style would be laid back but always thought that I wouldn’t use tv as a babysitter for my kid… until my son turned 7 months old. If a tv show will hypnotize him enough in the mornings for me to get some breakfast or a little quiet, then so be it! I also thought that I would LOVE making all of his baby food from scratch. I even got one of those baby food processors as a gift. Now, I’ve been buying jarred food.

      I think parents put WAY too much pressure on themselves to follow all of these crazy steps in order for our child to turn out perfect. All the kid needs is love, affection and attention and he/she will come out of it well adjusted.

      By the way, my baby is a preemie and I still have back problems (and I don’t breastfeed anymore). I know have to go to the chiropractor every 3 weeks (and my son is now 9 months old) and I lift weights 2-3 times per week. It’s crazy what they do to your back! I feel for ya!

      • Julie

        I’m with you on the baby food thing. I wanted to make all of my daughters food from scratch too, but I’ve found that I just don’t have the time or the energy for it. We buy jarred food too, but one thing that I found that’s *amazing* (although a little messy) is this Fresh Food Feeder made by Munchkin. It’s a little mesh sack attached to a ring. You can put anything in it like frozen berries, bananas or melons and then just snap it shut and hand it to baby. She sucks and gums the mesh and the fruit melts into her mouth. It’s an incredibly easy way to get fresh foods into her diet without having to whip out the food processor. And it also doubles as a nice teether when you put frozen fruits into it. So yeah, we still do jarred food in our house, but if you want an easier way to also give fresh fruits and veggies, that’s one way to do it. I got mine at CVS for around $5.. (I swear I’m not getting paid for this, I just really love this thing)

      • msenesac

        I have a couple of those but my son hasn’t done much with solid foods yet (and he HATES anything frozen). Thanks for the suggestion!

      • Julie

        You’re welcome! My daughter didn’t like frozen stuff at first either. She would give me this look.. like “what the heck is this that you just gave me” and pull her hands away like it was the most vile thing she’d ever touched. It was kind of a funny reaction. She did get used to it though, and now she’s got 5 teeth cutting at once so I think she’s given into the cold!

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    • C.J.

      I never even heard of attechment parenting when I had my kids. I had 10 and 11 pound babies. I feel your (back) pain. I had one of those wraps to wear baby, it didn’t get used very long. At 7 and 10 my kids are happy and well adjusted without following any particular parenting method. I never read any parenting books when my kids were babies because I believe parenting isn’t something a book can teach. All these parenting methods that people are supposed to follow just adds more mommy guilt and mommy judging. It’s much better to just parent with commom sense. Moms and dads have amazing instincts when it comes to their children, they should do what feels right for the child and themselves. That’s even different with each child. How I parent my older daughter is different then how I parent my younger one, they are two different people.

    • Cassy C

      I think some have already touched on this point, but two things bother me about committing to any parenting philosophy or style 100%: 1. You don’t know what sort of baby you have and it’s dangerous for anyone to believe that if you do X your baby WILL do Y. That’s just not true (not even a little bit). and 2. It almost always leads to judgement of anyone who does not subscribe to the style you’ve chosen. I am just so done with the judgement moms heap on other moms. It’s hurtful and ridiculous.

    • Rachel

      Certainly don’t worry! I am closer to my parents (and always have been) than most of my friends, and I don’t think either of them ever wore me in a baby sling. :) Those things can be awesome for hands-free times, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t worry too much about her feeling dis-attached from you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.gauthierparker Amanda Gauthier-Parker

      Amen. I AP’d my first three kids. The third was such a noisy sleeper, my hubby slept on the couch for three years. Now I’m 37, and my fourth baby is 3 months old and in 9 month clothing. I have chronic pain from a damaged nerve in my neck from wearing and co-sleeping with my first three kids. Fortunately, #4 loves her crib, and doesn’t complain about her stroller. I’m too old to believe that there’s only one way to parent, much less one way to create a healthy attachment.

    • Pashmina64

      Why would you kick your husband out of his own bed for some pseudoscience crap? My mom didn’t AP and I was the best reader in my class, and my parents didn’t end up divorcing because the mom neglected the dad, like another AP parent I know…

      • Justme

        I think this is the kind of judgment the author is trying to persuade people to move away from.

      • SingingMommy82

        It sounds from your comment like you do not have children. Have children, see what your life is like, then judge (although you probably will have an epiphany like the author did, and live and let live). If the husband didn’t want to be in the bed, I’m sure he could stand up for himself. He doesn’t need a random stranger making snide comments to his wife on the internet for him.

    • K.

      “Don’t commit to a parenting style before having your baby. You have no
      idea what kind of baby she will be, and ultimately your baby is what
      will dictate the choices you make”

      I’m not in disagreement with this statement per se, but I do think it’s interesting that we’ve become a culture that’s all about baby, perhaps too much. The other component to this statement is you also don’t know how parenting will affect YOU and your needs–and those needs are as important to honor as the baby’s.

    • oof23

      I think the last paragraph is right on the money: you can’t really know what style of parenting works for you and your kid until the kid is here, and you do what works. I only have one child, but I hear it can vary a lot even from kid to kid. You should be proud of yourself, Mama, for finding your way toward what makes everyone happiest.

    • K

      Why do people have to label things? I feel like saying “I am 100% doing (insert method here)” is setting yourself up for so many disappointments because not all babies are the same. When my daughter was born, I told myself I was going to EBF. Then, I didn’t make enough milk, I tried EVERYTHING, nothing worked.I was going to cosleep, and babywear. My husband couldn’t sleep with the baby in the bed, and she slept a lot better when I put her in her crib. Babywearing hurt! Much like you, I felt like a failure. I felt like I was dooming my baby to a life of tantrums, ear infections, every known disease. Now, I realize that breastfeeding, cosleeping and babywearing don’t ensure anything. But, labeling yourself will always make you feel like you’re coming up short.

    • allisonjayne

      I think one of the key aspects of attachment parenting is balance (which Dr Sears emphasizes as well). The attachment parenting philosophy is meant to be a guide, not a be-all-and-end-all. It’s not meant to be a rigid set of rules one must abide by – and yes, some of it can be preachy for sure but I think that one thing articles online often forget is that the internet is full of outliers…if you browse baby message boards, etc, you’d think that every parent in North America is crunchy-granola, never uses a stroller, shuns all but the most simple wooden toys and eats or makes art with their placentas. But in most communities, that’s not the norm – and there’s a lot of pressure out there to ‘buy this expensive plastic thing’ or pressure from formula-loving doctors/family members, sleep-training/cry-it-out pressure, ‘get that baby on SCHEDULE’….so the attachment parenting stuff i think sometimes goes a bit far to counter that.

      Balance is the key! Co-sleep if it works for you, don’t if it doesn’t. Try the parts of the attachment parenting philosophy that work for you, ignore the rest. Breastfeed if you can and want to, for as long as you can and want to. Wear your baby when it works, don’t when it doesn’t. None of it has to be all or nothing, and nowhere in any attachment parenting text I’ve read ever says that it’s all or nothing. Yes, they might espouse the benefits of doing this and that, maybe sometimes a little too heavily, but ultimately they say that you should do what works for you and your baby.

    • Sharon DiOrio

      I did all the “right” things, drug-free birth, exclusive breastfeeding on-demand, baby-wearing, co-sleeping. But I used to take it on the chin from the APers for daring to go back to work at 12 weeks and putting my baby into daycare. I chose that over poverty, which I saw as having a greater negative impact on my child. Oh well.

      While I believe in the ideal of AP, and many other things worth doing as parents…it’s inevitable we’re going to fall short on some of them. Further, even perfect parents aren’t guaranteed perfect outcomes and imperfect parenting can even help teach our kids the valuable lesson that life isn’t perfect.

    • Fin Williams

      I totally agree with this discussion. It’s so sad that as a motherhood (sisterhood) we make so many judgements about each others parenting styles. If we could admit it, it’s probably this pressure that makes us search for the “manual” on parenting so that we can stand in the playground on the first day of school and look smug that our dear little child has tottered off happy as Larry on the first day. Competition doesn’t belong in mothering.

      Attachment in its truest form is not about a prescribed set of rules, but really a measure of how you and your baby have learnt to understand each others communications. It’s the ability to be able to respond sensitively to your babies needs – whether that involves more stimulation, or helping them to reduce their arousal levels. It’s learning your baby’s style of communication so that you are able to respond before they either get upset at being bored or hungry or tired etc. Only you and your baby share that communication best.

      Sure, i believe that there are some things that help us to learn it – things like babywearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding. All of these share similar outcomes: They bring baby closer to you. That proximity helps you both to learn from each other better. Hearing your heart beat and being close to your skin also calms them.

      There is no ‘perfect’, and sure as anything if your idea of the ‘perfect mother’ came and looked after your baby even for one day, there’s no way they would make as good a job of it as you. That’s because your baby is built to respond best to you. it’s a relationship. why should the symbiosis you had in the womb suddenly stop when they are born?

      My best advice? learn to trust your instincts. Throw the “manual” out of the window, and tell everyone who dares to comment that you are the expert on your baby. And please, please look to your motherhood (sisterhood) to support and be supported

      best wishes

      Fin
      http://www.deepbluebaby.co.uk

    • http://twitter.com/ashleyaustrew Ashley Austrew

      I’m not big on committing to “parenting styles.” I think if you have to label what sort of parent you are and act all elitist about it, it’s probably because you’re insecure in yourself/your own parenting, and that will mess your kid up way more than anything else.

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    • ejohns313

      “I realize now that other mothers probably didn’t give a shit about me.”

      Not true. You were judging other moms with their carseats and strollers until the babywearing happened to not work for you, right?