Why I no longer practice Attachment Parenting

January 14, 2014 · 44 comments

I’ve had a long, slow breakup with Attachment Parenting.

As a new mom I was drawn to the hippie vibe of carrying my baby and sleeping next to him. I wanted to be that earth mama who had a cosmic connection with my child.

After all, this was the child who I knew would be a boy. I knew he would arrive early, and I begged him to stay in the womb until my pregnancy reached 37 weeks so he could be born at the birth center. He arrived on the first day of my 37th week, three weeks ahead of schedule.

Everything about him was so wonderous and precious. I wanted to spend every minute with him, and to have him grow up to be close to me and his father. I wanted us to all be gentle and kind to each other. I wanted him to never feel fear or loneliness. I wanted to wrap him in my cocoon of pink fluffy clouds and float through life cushioned by our love. I wanted him to have everything I felt I didn’t have.

And in the beginning it worked. There was nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for him, and we were both so content together, wrapped so tightly we were almost one being.

When he cried, I answered. I rocked, I shushed, I sang, I carried, I massaged. Even when he didn’t cry I was there for him. He had my full attention and toys and books and my arms. I thought our world was perfect, and I was creating the perfect world for him to grow up in.

Until I had the days when I could barely stand to cook dinner because I was so tired from nursing every hour throughout the night before. (Just work through it — we all have our days but your baby needs you).

Until my second son arrived and I knew we couldn’t all sleep together safely and get rest, but my first son wouldn’t sleep by himself. (When he’s ready he’ll move on his own. Move his bed next to yours and be there for him; he’ll grow out of it eventually).

Until my first son hit my second son and I had no tools or understanding of how to deal with it. (If you’re gentle with your children they will be gentle with each other. Try time outs. But keep being gentle. He will change).

The cracks in our relationship were starting to show.

I knew it was over when I went to an attachment parenting conference and saw gorgeous earthy mamas breastfeeding their four-year-olds in the middle of the keynote speech to keep them quiet. It was apparent to me the children had no desire to be there, or to be fed. And once I had seen that, and how it was glorified, it couldn’t be unseen.

That was years ago but I had trouble letting go. I still wanted to be the earthy mama with my babies held in slings on my hips, but I had to face what I saw and what I knew.

I still believe breastmilk is nature’s perfect food for babies, but I don’t believe feeding formula makes you a bad mom.

I think co-sleeping is fine if it works for your family, but I don’t believe children who had to cry to learn to sleep on their own are damaged, or have damaged relationships with their parents.

Carrying your baby in a sling is a lovely way to move them from one place to another, but I don’t think it’s necessary for their development or to build a strong relationship.

Most of all, I believe respect and trust transcend all.

“Many awful things have been done in the name of love, but nothing awful can be done in the name of respect.” ~Magda Gerber, founder of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE).

For a long time I cheated on Attachment Parenting with RIE. I thought I could have it both ways, and I wanted it both ways — my old love and my new awareness co-existing happily together.

But eventually I knew it couldn’t be. I couldn’t “babywear” my newborn and respectfully give her time to just be. I couldn’t sleep next to her and balance the needs of my older children, my husband, and myself. And I couldn’t respond, attachment parenting style, to her cries and also learn that some of those cries were just complaining about challenges.

And even though I’ve ended it, it still feels raw sometimes. It still stings when people say I’ve damaged my daughter by letting her cry herself to sleep (she still sometimes cries for a few moments before she falls asleep, but I’ve long since learned what are her cries of release and what are her cries of need). I still look wistfully at colorful woven wraps that hold babies close to their mothers and think how wonderful it would be to feel my sweet daughter’s soft hair on my shoulder all day.

In the end, though, parenting isn’t about me.

I finally saw that having close relationships with my children meant I had to see them for who they are, and not try to (gently) mold them into my (gentle) vision. It meant that I had to create and enforce boundaries to provide balance in our lives and make them feel secure. And it meant that I had to give up my vision of insulating my children in pink fluffy clouds and see that they actually prefer the challenges of overcoming fear and loneliness and rejection rather than having me protect them from it all.

So attachment parenting and I are done.

It was a great relationship that helped me grow, and I have happy memories. I wouldn’t be the parent I am now if I hadn’t started there. But now, it’s time to move on . . .

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