My Personal View on Attachment Parenting

Welcome to Part 3 of my Time Magazine blog series. In this post, I will address my personal response to Attachment Parenting (AP), the parenting style coined by Dr. Bill Sears. First off, lets look at Dr. Sears’ own description of AP.

In the first chapter of Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, he introduces the AP concept. He makes sure to clarify before he even begins: “Our suggestions are just starter tips. From these basics you will grow and develop your own style, one that best fits your baby’s temperament and your personality.” Sears also urges readers not to close their minds to different parenting techniques: “Stay open to new ideas, and then select what best fits your family.”

Sears says there are three main goals that underscore his AP philosophy:

1) To know your child,

2) To help your child feel right,

3) To enjoy parenting.

Then, Sears describes the seven “Baby B’s” that make up attachment parenting:

1) Birth bonding. Connect with your baby early. The first hours, days, weeks, and months, can set the tone for allowing natural attachment and nurturing to unfold.

2) Belief in Baby’s Cries. Read and respond to your baby’s cues. Sears argues that since crying is a baby’s only way to communicate, the tears should not be ignored. He encourages working to figure out what your baby needs as best as you can. The more you try to help your baby, the better you become at reading his cues. Likewise, the baby will learn that he will be attended to in a timely manner, and his cues will become more predictable. This sets a foundation for good communication between mother and baby.

3) Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is optimal feeding, and offers the best health for both babies and mothers. (Even Dr. Sears suggests, however, that a mother who bottle feeds still has just the same nurturing opportunity with her child as a breastfeeding mother.)

4) Babywearing. Carry your baby a lot (not necessarily all day long!), either in a sling, wrap, or some other type of carrier. Dr Sears says that this practice is “good for the baby, and it makes life easier for the mother.” He says that carried babies cry less and they learn more about their world because they are more involved, seeing what their parents are up to all day long.

5) Bedding Close to Baby. Sears says that “wherever you and your baby sleep best is the right arrangement for you, and it’s a very personal decision,” but also proposes that parents to be open to sharing sleep with their baby. It’s one more way to make life easier for tired parents, and can give great benefits to the baby who needs nighttime closeness.

6) Balance and Boundaries. Dr. Sears is careful to add that parents need to know when to say yes and when to say no to baby. Parents have needs too, and they must have wisdom to attend to them as needed. Sears recently said on The View that this section was added because some mothers were “overdoing it” by taking attachment parenting principles to the extreme.

7) Beware of Baby Trainers. Sears calls the “cry-it-out crowd” those who give “detachment advice.” He says that baby training interferes with getting to know and read your baby better and is based on the assumption that babies cry to manipulate, not to communicate. He says that baby training may make your baby more “convenient,” but it undermines the mother’s inherent intuition, sensitivity, and her drive to respond to the cues of her baby.

Lastly, Sears sums up his view by saying, “The important point is to get connected to your baby. Take advantage of all the valuable things that attachment parenting does for parents and babies. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately arrive at your own style. This is how you and your baby bring out the best in one another.” (Sears, The Baby Book, pp.3-10.)

Now that we’ve learned some of what Dr. Sears actually says AP is about (rather than relying on all the misquoted versions flying around right now after the recent Time Magazine controversy), I will talk some about my personal view on AP.

My Take on The Three AP Goals

Remember the three main goals that fuel the AP philosophy? Just so you don’t have to scroll back up, I’ll write them again for you. They are to get to know your baby, to help your baby feel right, and to enjoy parenting. I think that there is a lot of good to be said about these, though I do have one concern.

For example, getting to know your baby and how your family communicates is very important. When you become a mother, everybody around you suddenly feels the need to tell you what worked for them (myself included). While these comments may be well intended, you need to remember that nobody knows your baby as well as you do. The more you allow yourself to get to know your child and meet his needs without worrying about whether or not you’re meeting everyone else’s standards, the more you will be at peace with what works for you and your family. I wholeheartedly agree with this point.

Also, I really appreciate the idea of learning to enjoy parenting. The Bible says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3). How often do we really think like this? So many times we find ourselves grumbling and complaining about our kids, or fighting a lack of joy in caring for them. Sometimes it’s because of a willful attitude problem, and sometimes it’s out of a deep struggle with darkness. Either way, moms often need encouragement and refreshment in their mothering walk. I love that Dr. Sears strives to make parenting easier and more joyful through his principles.

Now, the middle point- this one is trickier to address. Dr. Sears wants to help your baby feel right. He says many times in his writings that when a baby feels right, he acts right. I think there is a certain truth to this. For instance, if a baby is hungry, he will be fussy. If he is tired, he might scream because he doesn’t know how to put himself back to sleep and he’s frustrated. You helping him with these things will result in his needs being met, and also with a happier baby.

My concern here is that parents might interpret this principle to mean to cater to their child’s every whim. I’ve known parents who work to bring “happiness” to their children by purchasing them every candy, toy, or thing that they want, or by giving up their authority as parents and dismissing all boundaries. Other parents try to help their children “feel right” by avoiding conflict resolution or appropriate discipline for fear of hurting their child’s feelings. I don’t think that this is Dr. Sears’ intent, but I can see how it could easily happen to a mom who is afraid she might damage her child if he doesn’t “feel right.”

There are different approaches to helping your child “feel right.” It’s one thing to meet a child’s needs. It’s another to indulge every fleeting desire. I think that the solution here is to remember that loving your child means doing the best thing for him/her, 1) even if it’s not always convenient for you, and 2) even if it’s not always what the child wants.  For example, when a newborn baby cries to be fed, she should be fed as soon as possible. That is meeting a need. If a newborn baby wants to cuddle, I still consider that a need of sorts- at that age, babies don’t know anything else but Mama and Dada, and closeness should be facilitated as much as is reasonably possible. However, when a 3 year old throws a tantrum in the store because he isn’t getting the toy he wants, that is him expressing a desire without self control. This is not a need, and it’s okay to stand your ground and walk out without giving it to him.

It’s not that all “wants” are bad, but we as moms need to develop discernment as to when to gratify our child’s wants and when to turn them down or ask them to wait. There is no 100% right answer in all situations. (Note that age makes a difference too- as a child grows, he should be taught patience, self-control, temperance, manners, mutual respect, etc. -hopefully in appropriate, kind, and sometimes firm ways.) I think Dr. Sears’ advice to help your child “feel right” needs to be tempered with wisdom and love.

AP Practices in My Life

We have made use of AP practices with our son many times, but we have also used tools from the other side of the fence. Here are some examples of our own choices:

  • Our son spent many hours in a wrap carrier (and occasionally still does), but also enjoyed his bouncy seat and swing when he was an infant.
  • He breastfed exclusively til the introduction of solids. We did “mommy-led” daytime weaning, and he is still nursing once early every morning at 19 months old. I haven’t felt the need to wean him from this yet, but I don’t foresee myself nursing him indefinitely. (More to come on this in my next post.)
  • He never had to “cry-it-out” when he was very young, though we used controlled crying occasionally for “sleep training” when he was older (which didn’t work well for him, but that’s beside the point!).
  • I responded to my son’s needs as quickly as possible when he was a newborn. Now that he’s a toddler, he’s learned over time that sometimes he has to wait a little while before he gets what he asks for.
  • Our son slept in his own crib in a room connected to ours for a long time, though he needed me frequently at night. Finally, at 10 months, we gave co-sleeping a try and found that it made life a lot easier for all of us. Our son, to this day, goes to sleep in his crib but ends up in our bed by morning.
  • I think Sears’ “gentle discipline” tools can be helpful in some circumstances, but there are also times that my son needs a direct consequence for his action. We aim to discipline consistently,  lovingly, and calmly. Oftentimes, for our family, this requires more of a consequence than using only distraction techniques.
  • I am both a stay-at-home mom and a part-time working mother through a unique arrangement we have devised. While AP doesn’t rule out employed moms, many who work outside of the home have taken offense to AP during its recent time in the limelight. Just thought I’d add this point for your consideration.

In the end, we have fallen into “what works for us” rather than subscribing to any particular parenting style. (For a brief post on this topic, check out Middle of The Line Mommy.) I think it’s great that AP is adaptable, but we do part ways on several issues. My personal motto is, “Follow biblical principals, love your child, and do what works for your family.” There is nothing wrong with being flexible in your parenting approach!

In summary, I think that Sears has good things to offer with his AP philosophy, but this, like any parenting style, needs to be examined with careful thought and a touch of caution. If you like the idea of getting to know your baby well and enjoying parenting (and who wouldn’t?), keep in mind that there are many ways to do this. AP practices can be helpful for many families, and they are adaptable to a variety of situations, so I think they’re worth considering. However, they are not necessarily the only way to achieve “parenting bliss,” and you can love your kids well whether or not you implement all (or any) AP suggestions.

In short- if something works for you and your family- do it. If it’s causing stress for any one of you, then reevaluate. As my mom-in-law always says, “If there was a right way to raise babies, they’d give you a guidebook when they’re born.” I haven’t seen this guidebook yet… so go ahead. Love your kids, do the best you can, and don’t worry.

Photo Credits:

Babywearing in a Mayawrap

Breastfeeding young baby in cradle hold

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dac on May 23, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Love this balance in this post. Well thought out and well said. Thank you.

    Reply

  2. Posted by dac on May 23, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Sorry…”the balance…”

    Reply

  3. Great post! Love this viewpoint. I read a lot of Dr. Sears when I was pregnant with my first. As my daughter grew and we added a son, in some ways I became “more” AP, and in some ways “less.” As you said…we do what works.

    Reply

  4. Another great post! I’m excited to have found you because I’m an attachment parent and blog as well. I’d love to collaborate and have you guest post on my blog!

    Reply

    • Thanks, Sara! I just checked out your blog- I really love it! I’m always looking for ways to make little changes in the way we live- being “greener,” less bad stuff in our food and household items, more DIY, etc… I’d love to collaborate! I’ll “like” your FB page, and we can get talking! 🙂

      Reply

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