I first discovered Attachment Parenting when I was 18 years old, no joke. Since I lived with my sister, I was a very hands-on aunt and when my oldest nephew was in 3rd grade, he started having major issues in school (mostly based on the fact that the teacher did not like him). So I turned to the internet for solutions. First I found homeschooling and then, by following links, I found the Natural Child Project and many other attachment parenting websites and began to read tons of articles and lay the groundwork of How I Would Raise My Children.
As everyone who has ever googled attachment parenting knows, it has seven basic principles that you follow (copypasted from the Attachment Parenting International website):
Of course, these things are rather vague. Off-hand, I would say that the vast majority of parents follow these beliefs. Most parents don’t pinch their kids noses and then shove food in their mouths. Most parents don’t put their kids to sleep in a room with hyenas. Most parents aren’t all loving one day and then lock their kids in the closet the next.
But I didn’t think about this. I immediately knew i would practice attachment parenting. I was going to breastfeed, of course (my sister said she would disown me if I didn’t). I would naturally babywear (slings are awesome!), cosleeping made so much more sense than cribs. Of course I would listen to my baby and not train them! Follow your baby’s cues! During the first year of life, babies don’t have wants. They have needs.
The issue, of course, is accurately deciphering what they need. According to attachment parents, babies need to be held. They need to nurse on demand (but when are they demanding to nurse versus something else?). They need, from the American perspective, 100% total dedication from their parents, especially their mother. And sleeping through the night, in case you wondered, is a developmental issue. Babies will eventually sleep through the night when they get to that developmental stage, just like walking. I know of one AP mom who nursed through the night until her ‘baby’ was 5 years old. Your mileage may vary.
Contrast this with my German friends, whose babies all started sleeping through the night at a very young age. None of them cried it out. Instead, they showed their babies how to sleep and how to go to sleep. Some flexibility is naturally necessary. Occasionally when the baby was sick, they would allow the baby into their bed and the baby (of course) slept worse when sick. They weren’t monsters. They didn’t let their baby cry for hours on end in order to “sleep train.” Clearly, American babies just develop differently!
As befits American culture, there is a lot of emphasis in the US on making your baby (and child) happy. “Never fear spoiling a child by making him happy,” one AP mom’s signature chirps. They just want to make their kids happy—and happy is the American Way to Feel. So they breastfeed on demand, because it makes their children happy, even if it makes mom miserable. They go years without a decent night’s sleep because it makes baby happy. They run around after their children at parks because it makes their kids happy.
I went over to visit an AP mom who I had met only once before and as we were getting to know each other, one of her kids brought her a book and she immediately dropped her conversation with me and sat down to read it, leaving my son and me hanging around, ignored and feeling very, very awkward. This same woman also enforced rules such as “ask my children before you play with their toys!” and that sort of thing, all of which made being a guest at her house feel rather uncomfortable, almost as though you ought to apologize for interloping on her children’s territory. I mentioned a video on youtube she might enjoy watching. “Oh, I wouldn’t have the time—anytime I sit down to watch anything on my computer, the kids all clamor to watch something, so they end up watching something instead.” I guess telling them to wait would have been out of the question.
In so many ways, these women forget the last side note of attachment parenting, the whole issue of balance. Their lives simply have none. They might mention “oh yes, it’s so important to be balanced! Don’t forget to get enough sleep, too! Don’t forget to get time to yourself!” But of course if you’re following all the principles of AP, getting any of that is absolutely impossible. It’s just not in the cards. Add to that the fact that a lot of AP mothers live far away from their families and the father’s work long hours or are otherwise disinterested in their children and attachment parenting is attachment mothering: all mom, all the time.You can forget about balance.
“What’s best for the child isn’t always what’s best for the mom,” another AP mom chirps. Replace ‘child’ with husband and you have an abusive relationship, I think. Nevermind the fact that the quote is absolutely wrong. What’s best for the mom IS best for the child. They live in a harmonious relationship where they both move together to satisfy each other’s needs, not actively work counter to them.
And what happens if you actually take steps to achieve balance? I know a few AP moms who have decided to go back to work, after concluding that staying at home was not for them. One had a fellow AP mom babysit her son and after monumental struggle with the breastpump, ended up switching to formula. They co-slept for the longest time, as well, with her husband sleeping on the couch.
“It’s so sad,” the AP mom who babysat their son commented. “He is so obviously an unwanted child.” She went on to talk about how he obviously had an attachment disorder from having (in her opinion) failed to adequately bond with any of his caregivers. “Why does his mom always talk about being an attachment parent when she is so obviously NOT one?” she continued. “She doesn’t stay home. She didn’t breastfeed. She didn’t wear him in a sling.” I should have pointed out how she did all of those things, for a period of time. Instead I muttered something about how the best laid plains often go awry, but inside I was horrified. How can you say something like that about another mother, especially a friend?
In the final analysis, attachment parenting isn’t about forming a strong attachment with one’s child, whatever that means. Attachment isn’t something that can be measured and charted like height and weight. It can’t be objectively gauged. Sometimes the worst mothers are the one’s that seem most engaged, most enthralled by their children outside the home, but no one can ever see what goes on behind closed doors. More often than not, attachment parenting is about competing with other women. Bringing Up Bébé mentions how, among Anglophones, how long you breastfeed is how you can compare the size of your mothering wangs. The author recounts how she breastfed for a year, to the day, just to stick it to a woman in her playgroup. It’s the same among attachment parents. I breastfed slightly over 2 years. But of course I will never win against those attachment parents who have breastfed 3. Nor against those who tandem breastfed. Nor against those who have been breastfeeding continuously for 5 years since they keep getting pregnant before they wean and nurse through the pregnancy.
The best mother in attachment circles is the one who consistently sacrifices herself for the supposed benefit of her children. The greater the cost, the higher devotion and there is no cross too heavy to bear.
(as an aside, the term Gluckenmutter comes from the image of a hen (Glucke) covered and surrounded by her chicks. It was coined by the Brothers Grim as “a mother with a ton of children constantly running around her.”)