Why I no longer practice Attachment Parenting

January 14, 2014 · 43 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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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeanne-Marie January 15, 2014

Beautiful journey, thank you for sharing with such honesty. As you so well said parenting is not about us, but about following the needs of each individual child and you are doing just that.

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2 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 15, 2014

Thank you, Jeanne-Marie. It has indeed been a journey, and I don’t think I would have ended up here if I hadn’t started where I did. I know the journey is still new, and I’m so excited to see where it leads me in the future :)

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3 Amy January 15, 2014

I disagree with a lot of this. I don’t see anything prohibiting a parent from babywearing and also giving the child time to just be.

I do think a baby left to actually cry it out is experiencing unnecessary stress that goes against biological norms. (Of course, this is very different from cries of release or some whimpering before a baby falls asleep.)

I don’t understand why a parent can’t respond to a baby’s cries AP style. If the cry is truly just a complaint, responding with respect involves acknowledging it for what it is and moving on. (So the lack of soothing IS the respectful way to respond, essentially. That is still AP in my book.)

RIE’s stance on babywearing is just crazy to me. Like the BFing example you gave, I think some moms take it to extremes that aren’t healthy for her or babe any more (BFing a 4 y/o solely to keep them quiet is ridiculous)…but on the whole, saying babywearing is unhealthy seems pretty unfounded.

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4 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 15, 2014

In the “7Bs of attachment parenting” developed by the Sears family, there is no discussion of respect for babies, or responding respectfully to babies. While I think I understand the intent of it (the goal of having secure, confident children who have a close, healthy relationship with their parents), this is why I don’t practice it any more. While I wholeheartedly agree that the foundation of attachment parenting is love, I don’t believe it is respect.

As for extremes, I sat in on several talks given by the Sears’ at the conference I went to. There were many questions about babywearing, sleep, and difficulty breastfeeding. The answers were to continue to persevere, that it was hard, especially at first, but to keep going. There was no discussion about when enough was enough, or how to find the balance they encourage by setting limits. It was very eye-opening for me, and one of the reasons AP as it’s described by the Sears’ doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

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5 Katie January 15, 2014

I appreciate that you’ve used the language “AP as it’s described by the Sears’” here.

I think your post is lovely but I agree with the commenter above that encouraging attachment can be respectful. The Sears have created a “brand” of attachment parenting, they did not invent the concept of attachment. RIE is another “brand” of parenting, it does not have a monopoly on respect.

Perhaps I’m just in a different place in my journey of parenting but I do feel that attachment and respect can coexist peacefully, and believe I have both in my home. Although perhaps not “Sears attachment” and “RIE”.

To offer an analogy, it would be difficult to identify as both “Catholic” and “Jewish”… but one can certainly embrace ideas and values from a variety of religious traditions in the spiritual walk.

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6 Kristina January 16, 2014

Katie, I agree with your above statement 100%.

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7 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 16, 2014

Katie, I completely agree, and I don’t think it’s wrong for other people to mix and match and take what works for them and their families. But I also think it’s ok to just be one, and that’s where I’m at right now.

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8 Korenna January 15, 2014

Suchada, I would love to see you be more explicit regarding how “the 7 B’s” and “AP as described by the Sears’s” didn’t work for you.

Nearly 20 years ago, AP went through an evolution. The 8 principles of attachment parenting put forth by Attachment Parenting International and described in detail (and supported by ample research) in the book Attached at the Heart are vastly different than the 7 Baby B’s most people associate with AP.

The current iteration of AP (which has actually been around for decades) shares many similarities with RIE… And, also differs on a few fundamental issues. And that’s great. Parenting isn’t a one-size-fits all endeavor. I’m thrilled to see more than one approach that serves our future generations well!

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9 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 16, 2014

I haven’t read Attached at the Heart, so I looked it up on Amazon:

“The concept of “attachment parenting”—a term originally coined by parenting experts William and Martha Sears—has increasingly been validated by research in many fields of study, such as child development, psychology, and neuroscience. Also known as “conscious parenting,” “natural parenting,” “compassionate parenting,” or “empathic parenting,” its goal is to stimulate optimal child development.” (emphasis mine)

The goal of RIE is to simply see and accept your child as they are.

That made all the difference in the world to me and how I interact with my children.

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10 janet lansbury (@janetlansbury) January 18, 2014

Suchada, you’ve nailed a very important distinction here:

“The goal of RIE is to simply see and accept your child as they are.

That made all the difference in the world to me and how I interact with my children.”

Me, too, and I’ve noticed that the trust and acceptance you describe is the key to confident, happy parents AND confident, happy kids.

I admire you so much for sharing an “unpopular” opinion….and I hope you’ll focus on the many positive comments you’re receiving. <3

11 July January 15, 2014

I can’t imagine anything more respectful than the tenets of attachment parenting. Gentle discipline, balance for the whole family, “feed with love and respect” (quoting from the 7B’s on that one…).

I think attachment parenting and RIE are both more respectful ways to raise children than some aspects of so-called “mainstream” (for now) parenting, though, and I tend to think those of us parenting consciously and positively should support each other in our choices.

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12 Kirstie January 15, 2014

Wonderful, honest blog post Suchanda. I am a long-time reader of your blog (and Janet’s) and had wondered what you had been up to recently :)
“In the end, though, parenting isn’t about me.”
SO true. I know it is not always the case, but I do see other mums (and myself early on) get so caught up in practicing “The Philosophy” that they forget about the child. Again, I know it is not always the case (and I do know some wonderful AP mums too), but I have seen similar behaviours such as breastfeeding a 4yo to keep them quiet that made me wonder exactly who is the “attachment” most important to? The parent or the child? To me, it should always be about both.
“Nothing awful can be done in the name of respect” gets me every time. I need to find a good poster of that for my house :)
Best wishes to you and your family for your continued journey together, wherever that may lead you.
Kirstie

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13 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 15, 2014

Thank you for sticking with me through such a long dry spell, and for the well-wishes for my family. I haven’t had much time for blogging, what with my focused, respectful attention on my children ;-)

Honestly I’ve been so consumed with having an infant (who is now walking!) and moving that I just haven’t had time to write. I miss the community, though, and I hope to write more. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who’s been down this path.

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14 Kelly M January 15, 2014

Call me up! I won’t think you’re crazy or mean! I just made a San Diego RIE Moms page. We post play dates there. I might have invited you. Not sure!
Kelly

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15 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 15, 2014

Haha Kelly this made me smile :) Thank you! I would love to get together sometime. My life is a little hectic right now, but stay in touch — I will find a way to connect :)

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16 Kiki January 15, 2014

Wonderful insight…I have one child I did the co sleeping and baby wearing with, and one I did not. And I’m not sure if it’s the personality differences or the way I dealt with them as a baby, but the child that I let cry themselves to sleep in their own room in their own crib is much more independent and self sufficient. The youngest who I co slept with and always had in the sling is very needy and does not like doing things on his own. I can’t help but wonder if parenting style makes that much of a difference, or if they are born with their personality and regardless of what you do with them as a baby they will just be who they were born to be. Hmmm

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17 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 15, 2014

Kiki I’ve experienced and wondered almost the exact same thing. I’m sure it’s something we will both ponder for years to come ;-)

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18 Carrie January 21, 2014

Kiki,

In my studies on child development for my undergrad work, I read that it is probably both. While nurture does play a role in shaping human beings to an extent, gene expressions are also very powerful. A clingy child may be clingy because of his/her genes; an independent child the same. When geneticists found the shy gene, they realized that a host of psychological and character types may have genetic components. The definitive answer is still out there but most of the research findings I read said nature and nurture both have strong influences on how we become who we are as adults.

An anecdotal case is my unalike twin daughters. One is always wanting what the other has; even as a year-old toddler she wanted what her sister had even when what they both had was exactly alike and in the same amount. My older brother was the same way but he was raised in a dysfunctional home; my twins are not. My guess is this is a genetic trait, not a learned one.

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19 Karla January 15, 2014

Thank you for this beautiful story.

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20 Jenee January 15, 2014

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t it be whatever works for you from both? And from whatever other methods there are out there that feel right? What about a mother’s intuition and common sense?

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21 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 16, 2014

This article is a reflection of my own experience. While I drew from both and considered myself both for years, I no longer do. If others find inspiration and success from both, then they’re in the right place for them.

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22 Kat Geary January 21, 2014

“If others find inspiration and success from both, then they’re in the right place for them.”

..thanks for the permission. As we say in recovery, “I’m exactly where I need to be.”

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23 JC January 15, 2014

Why do people care so much about a label? I think numerous people’s view of AP is that it is very black and white and taken to an extreme of only being “gentle.” I have never viewed AP as this strict checklist that you *must* follow. I viewed is as a tool to be able to “read” my children and know everything about them so that I can be a better parent to them to help guide them through life. I would not have survived my younger two kiddo’s babyhoods without the tools of AP because they were very high needs and high maintenance. Parenting them a different way would certainly not have changed anything about them unfortunately. I think our society is so stuck on this idea that we have so much control over how our children are and how their personalities are. You cannot create your child’s personality. They are who they are.

I will stick with natural parenting and following my instincts to parent my children with respect, boundaries, expectations, freedom, and all of the other awesomeness out there. We really don’t have *that* much control. Mainstream parenting has shoved this idea down our society’s throat and the funniest part is the people who buy it the most are the ones so against mainstream parenting.

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24 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 16, 2014

There was a similar comment on my Facebook page, and you’re right — labels can be silly. But I also think they can be helpful. As a blogger, I share my beliefs as a parent, not as an expert, and I know many people who read something that resonates with them will continue to look for more information. In this case, saying that I’ve moved away from attachment parenting to RIE helps people find sources I’ve used, or other like-minded bloggers.

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25 Vanessa S January 15, 2014

Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I did the attachment parenting style with my little one who is now two. I loved the philosophy, but in reality it created a nightmare for us. Neither of us slept for nearly two years. He was whiny A LOT because he was so dang tired from the nursing throughout the night and not getting solid sleep. I was a wreck from not sleeping. All the crunchy friends kept saying wait it out, wait it out, it’ll shift eventually. But at the cost of what?! Depriving us both of sleep, which wreaked all sorts of havoc under the guise that I’d otherwise be abandoning him? No! It’s ok to draw boundaries, to say no, to respect both of your needs, mom and baby. Attachment parenting is supposed to be gentle, but is it really, when it creates outcomes that cause unnecessary suffering? If it works for you, great. But just because it doesn’t work for everybody, don’t judge! Thank you again for writing this. It helps to know there are other moms like me out there.

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26 Jodie January 15, 2014

Thank you for this post. I am at the point of emerging from the attachment parenting way to RIE. Feelings of guilt and uncertainty still pop up sometimes, but I’m beginning to feel more confident with RIE.

I really needed clearer ways to manage certain behaviours and found with AP I would just feel so unsure as to the best way to respond to things. Especially with a second child and less opportunity to rest.

This is such a timely post for me as I emerge from a year of sleepless nights, where I am exhausted and my husband is sleeping in a separate bed.

Thank you.

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27 Clare January 15, 2014

I now truly believe that a child joins you in life, but is not your life.

I did the whole ‘holier than thou’ attachment parenting start up and then became a bit more balanced and found my own way that worked for me and for my child. I’ll never regret the co-sleeping because it just felt biologically right for me to be close in order to respond.

I do find myself wishing sometimes that I had known about Circle of Security Parenting earlier and would probably have been a bit firmer in my resolve and not crumbled on issues because I was SOOOO worried about harming my child if he became upset.

I’ve realised that being upset is part of a process, it’s not bad, it’s not harmful, it’s an expression of how we feel and it’s ok.

Attachment parenting made me feel that if I didn’t respond instantly to my sons cries I was damaging his developing brain, I was so confused and felt judged from all sides, both AP and non AP – but I have realised that I was judging myself more harshly than anyone else and it was destroying me. I so wanted to be perfect.

Eventually I stopped applying theories and started to just trust that we were going to be ok because I knew that I loved him and that he would grow up with my support and respect.

I’ve also realised that a lot of what I was doing was escaping the hurt of my own childhood and trying to protect my son from what I had experienced until one day it hit me hard – I am not my mother, he will never have that experience because I grew from that one.

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28 Melissa Newell January 15, 2014

Hello,
I too bought in to the AP way of life. With two babies 15 months apart and some weeks having less than ten hours sleep in 7 days it became too much. I started to really resent dr sears and all of his books and teachings. Thank you for your candor and honesty. I sometimes feel so disappointed with myself.

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29 Lindsay January 15, 2014

What a brave and lovely post. I am inspired by your honesty and thoughtfulness. No two parents or children are the same. We all must do what we know works best for our family and celebrate those choices.

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30 Vanessa S. January 16, 2014

Thank you for such a brave post Suchada, I appreciate the examples you include of AP encouragement to “keep going”. When I was a new mom that is all I got and kept feeling that there had to be something else, but I still didn’t know what that was. RIE offers respect for the family as a whole and I am glad to say bye to AP as well.

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31 kl January 16, 2014

I had visions of my baby and me snuggled up in bed, but my son had other ideas. He could not sleep in the same room as us as we were too much stimation. At one week he was in his own room sleeping. He hating being close to me and would always wiggle away when I hugged him. When he got older, the only sleep method that would work was the cry it out method. Now as a three year old he is super cuddly, and has one of the biggest hearts. But he is also super independant. It does not matter what method u use as it should be based on the child’s personality. Please do not judge other people’s parenting style as you need to walk a mile in their shoes. If I had used the attachment parenting then my child would have been fighting ms every step.

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32 Ashli January 17, 2014

Hmphf. Don’t agree with you, sorry.

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33 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 17, 2014

No apologies necessary, but I’m baffled when people say they disagree. You disagree that this is my parenting experience? Or you disagree that I don’t follow Attachment Parenting? This article is a narrative of my journey and an admission that I no longer follow Attachment Parenting practices. It’s not a hit piece on Attachment Parenting, nor a directive for others to follow — so I’m confused about what there is to disagree about.

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34 janet lansbury (@janetlansbury) January 18, 2014

Great response, Suchada. I was also surprised on FB when someone complained you were making generalizations. What?! Nothing could be more specific than one’s own experiences and journey.

I agree that self-labeling is problematic when that means someone’s differing opinion makes one feels threatened or is otherwise taken personally. Why take another person’s personal path personally? That makes no sense to me. Approaches to parenting (or to anything for that matter) are only helpful if they ARE helpful…and clarifying and freeing…and exciting…and enlightening… But not if they confuse us, undermine our goals, induce guilt… We all deserve to find what works for us. It’s stunning to me to read that anyone would want to take that away from you, Suchada.

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35 VHS January 17, 2014

Suchada, I’m really interested in further clarification around your comment (which I’ve cut and pasted from a previous reply:

“[AP]…its goal is to stimulate optimal child development.” (emphasis mine)

The goal of RIE is to simply see and accept your child as they are.”

I’d love to hear how this aspect of RIE had such a positive impact on your interactions with your children, as I am having trouble understanding why the idea of stimulating optimal child development is somehow negative, while simply seeing and accepting is preferable. By definition, children develop over time, and often they need parental input to ensure they develop in a healthy, positive way. Since they do not exist in a vacuum, it isn’t a given that the development will necessarily be positive. But if one simply sees and accepts, one might not intervene when needed. A good example is my highly emotional, sensitive daughter; she has a tendency to prolonged, hysterical outbursts at the smallest provocation and has difficulty regulating her affect. I could simply “accept” that she is emotional, but I do not think this would be best for her. Rather, I am trying to provide her with the tools to temper this emotional sensitivity, such as modelling of healthy expression of emotion (while simultaneously validating and supporting her experience).

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36 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 17, 2014

The idea of stimulating optimal child development was negative for me because I became hyper-focused on the end product to the detriment of my children’s feelings of security and confidence. This in turn negatively affected all the relationships in our family.

If what you’re doing is working well for you and is helping you reach your parenting goals, then it sounds like you’re exactly where you should be.

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37 Amber January 18, 2014

I had lots of training, knowledge and practice as a Montessori teacher before I had my first and I had it all planned out. Now I know differently. One of the biggest things I’ve witnessed as a teacher is parents have stopped using their instincts and often ruin to a book/ internet. No one theory is perfect. I will continue to add to my tool belt of knowledge but I will also listen to my heart.

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38 Kat Geary January 21, 2014

Thanks for sharing your heart.

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39 Crystal January 26, 2014

I’ve honestly never actually read a parenting book (although I have been gifted a few) however based on what I’ve heard my approach with my oldest was more attached parenting. However with my youngest I was not able to be as attentive to both as I was when there was only one child. I think there is no correct way to parent. The important thing us to parent period. No two famalies are the same and we all must do what works best for our famalies.

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40 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 26, 2014

There is part of me that wants to completely agree with this, but I have seen to much of parents treating their children terribly in the name of love. It is possible to love your children with all your heart, be attentive, have good intentions, and still not see them as people or develop a strong relationship with them. Effort is definitely good — absolutely the first step. But with parenting it can’t just be “you tried really hard”. It’s important not just to put in the effort but actually do what is going to get good results. Now, that’s not to say that there is only one way to get good results, but respect must be at the heart of it.

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41 Melissa June 6, 2014

Awesome! Thank you! Your story is exactly the reasons I believe attachment parenting fails children. It fails to prepare them for life. While wonderful in theory, we don’t live in a society that will continue to foster those beliefs at the detriment ofrour babies. My baby may cry at first but I believe learning to cope with life and disappointment saves you from far worse trauma later on once you hit the real world, be it in school or as an adult in your daily life. Wonderful, thank you again!!!

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