Why I am not an attachment parent

Time Magazine deliberately started an uproar with its cover photo of a woman confrontationally breastfeeding (seriously, if you can breastfeed confrontationally, she’s doing it) a preschooler. And so the backlash against attachment parenting begins. The article is behind a pay wall, and I really don’t want to reinforce this kind of cover, so I haven’t read it.

I don’t especially welcome this backlash. If someone wants to breastfeed her kid until he’s four, that’s seriously none of my business. It certainly doesn’t constitute abuse. Some version of attachment parenting is definitely the norm among my mom friends, and I’m pretty sure all their kids will mostly turn out fine. I don’t practice attachment parenting, and I’m pretty sure my kids will turn out basically fine, too.

Here is why I’m not an attachment parent.  We don’t know that much yet about child development. We don’t even fully understand how children learn the meaning of words or what other people’s mental states are. I read a lot of developmental psychology for my work, and go to a lot of talks by researchers. Really exciting and interesting stuff is happening in understanding infant minds. But we seriously don’t know anywhere near enough yet to engineer an environment that will make drastically different long term outcomes for our children. The touted long term benefits of attachment parenting are simply not well supported by data. I remember Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist who puts more emphasis on the importance of environmental stimuli to development than many others, saying that parents sweat small stuff. Putting a toddler in a playpen (gasp, baby jails!), as long as there’s something to explore, is actually not the sort of thing that is likely to make a difference one way or another. (I’ve expressed my skepticism about taking significant steps and buying products to boost your child’s cognition here.)

I, like so many kids of my generation (born in 1973), was subjected to an endless stream of cigarette smoke in the womb and in our house, was bottle-fed, watched as much TV as I wanted and whatever I wanted (often 4 hours a day), was regularly kicked outside of the house and told to go play on my own. My parents would not dream of intervening in fights between my brother and me, or my friends and me. They pretty much never sat on the floor and played with us. They took next to no interest in my developmental progress, and later my schoolwork. They certainly had books around the house, but pretty much never read to me once I left the picture book phase. This isn’t what I do with my kids, but I don’t think I turned out that bad in the end.

Given that we don’t know whether attachment parenting techniques will work in terms of making a happier higher-functioning adult, I vote for the easiest, most enjoyable method. If for someone else, that is attachment parenting, great! Not me. I am extremely fond of sleep. Seriously. I do a hell of a lot for my kids, but I will not give up sleep. Non-negotiable. We managed to get the kids sleeping through the night and out of our room by 3 months old (happily, there was no serious crying it out). I could not bear being woken up several times a night for years as many of my friends are. I would have breastfed, but due to reasons too complicated to go into here, I bottle fed. And enjoyed much of it – the fact that my husband could do his share, that I was freer to leave the baby for longer periods of time, that I could drink, etc. I only put my baby in a bjorn if we’re going out somewhere and I will need my hands. I don’t like wearing a baby most of the time. I will usually pick up my baby if he cries, but once in a while, he’s got to wait a couple of minutes while I finish what I’m doing. If he’s fussing but not crying, I leave him alone to see if he can sort it out himself. He often can. I need boundaries. I need alone time sometimes, or I will start crying. I need to let my kids play by themselves. I don’t see how I could balance the needs of all my children, my job, and pursue any interests outside of job and family while doing serious attachment parenting. I definitely get on the floor and play with my kids and talk to them more and am more interested in their schooling than my parents were. I am more vigilant about TV and more encouraging of books and interests. I encourage my kids to express negative feelings in healthy ways. But not attachment parenting.

Most of this is from ease rather than conviction, but a little bit is from conviction. I value self-reliance. I’m glad my kids are self-soothers. One thing that sort of bugs me is that on playdates with attachment parent kids, the parents are always intervening and playing with the kids, and are always insanely loaded with snacks and drinks. If I don’t bring snacks and drinks, my kid will go begging to the other parents like Oliver Twist, which is embarrassing. It’s also socially awkward to ignore when my kid does some infraction, like steal a toy, from another kid. My strong inclination is to let them work it out (with the obvious exception of if my kid hit another kid, or got physical in some other way). But if the other parent is intervening whenever her kids steals a toy, it becomes awkward for me to ignore it when my kid does it.

So now my oldest of three is a formerly bottle-fed, rarely-worn 4 year old who has been in his own room since he was two weeks old. Here’s my n of 1 observation. He’s pretty much like all the other kids he plays with who are raised by attachment parents. He is quite bright and verbal and reasonably well-behaved. His most serious health problem has been strep throat one time. He sleeps 11 hours a night unfailingly. He is less cuddly than other children. He is also less inclined to cry or have a temper tantrum than others.  Who knows whether that is temperamental or not?

If I got a kick out of attachment parenting, I would do it. I don’t, so I don’t. And I’m pretty sure if we all, attachment parents and non-attachment parents, love our kids and have a reasonably stable environment, they’ll all mostly turn out all right.

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122 thoughts on “Why I am not an attachment parent

    • But if it is “better” shouldn’t it be considered obligatory?

      Whining about work a little: The more we see data that says “Students do better in classes with X” we hear from administration that “you better be doing X”. It doesn’t matter one iota what X is most of the time, if there’s a link between X and better outcomes, X becomes mandatory.

      That said, I tend to agree that there are so many variables that any mandate is problematic…..

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      • On an act-utilitarian view, yes. On a Kantian view (and other moral views) there’s more wiggle room for doing things that are morally neutral, even though there is something better you could do (so it’s okay to prop your feet up and watch TV even if you could be volunteering at a homeless shelter).

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  1. Good post. I work with parents professionaly and am a parent. Parent’s defiently sweat all the small stuff and get hyper focused on doing things just their own way. There is no wonderful, perfect way to raise the best kid ever.

    There are many ways to be a good parent and to raise a kid well. Doing it just that one perfect way is usually impossible and more about the parent feeling perfect. What is importnat is being a “good enough” parent; give the kid plenty of love, a good amount of time and attention, basic education and avoid doing any major harm and that is good enough.

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      • Kazzy-I do custody evaluations for the court. Essentially i act as an expert witness for the court when parents are in a divorce or are contesting custody. My role is to meet all the parties, gather records and offer recomendations to the court about what custody plan is best for the kids. So one parent will always be unhappy with what i recomend. I also get to meet people at one of the worst, most stressful times of their lives. Some people have great difficulty putting the needs of the children above their own anger, bitterness and dislike of the other parent.

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        • Interesting. I’d love to hear from you more sometime on how such decisions are ultimately rendered. I’m most curious about A) the tendency to favor mothers by default and B) how the court weighs the wishes of the parents versus the needs of the children (and, as a subquestion of that, how the court determines what the needs of the children are). Is you background in child psych or development or anything of the sort?

          I’m an early childhood teacher, FWIW. And my parents divorced when I was 9.

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          • K- How these decsions are made can be really complex or very straight forward depending on the case. Here in Alaska the courts are very good about not favoring moms. I can’t really speak to other states well. Familiy law is state based so each state can be very different. I’ve heard Texas, for example, is very mom biased. As a general statement most courts are much less mom biased then a couple decades ago. The wishes of parents are secondary to the “best interests” of the chlid. Of course figuring out those best interests isn’t always easy, clear and can sometimes dovetail neatly with what one parent wants. The needs of the child should be paramount and typically are.The needs of the child are often driven by their age and development; what they need to do well in school, stabilty, any special needs and if the parents can meet them. The legislator has actually given us a list of what factors to look at for the chlids best interest.

            My background is in mental health. I was a therapist with families and addicts for years as well as working with runaway teens and a lot of other mental health work.

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            • Thanks. I can’t imagine having to decide between “This child needs a stable and consistent home environment” and “This child needs regular time with both his mom and his dad”. My hat is off to you, sir.

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  2. If I had to pick one type of parent I am, it’s the type of parent that doesn’t nor will I ever read any parenting books. I do like to observe other parents, however, and I’m rarely surprised that the kid whose mom always negotiates his friendships freezes up when he’s on his own or the little girl whose dad sits there texting the whole time at the playground is often the playground’s token toy klepto. Generally, I encourage my children to solve their own problems and try to avoid involvement unless something dangerous is happening.

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    • CC-
      Though I am not yet a parent, I work with parents of young children on a daily basis. I wouldn’t throw out all parenting books just because so many of them are crap and/or shamelessly aimed at making a quick buck. There are some real good ones out there. Some let new parents know that what they are experiencing is likely normal and nothing to freak out over. This might not be something you need, but certainly are of service for some folks, especially if they lack the personal network to receive this advice more organically. There are also a ton of books that rightfully challenge a lot of the more extreme trends in parenting. These often aren’t as popular as the “trending” books, largely due to the facts that they do offer nuance but don’t offer a guaranteed outcome for your child.

      I get why parenting books might not be your thing in general, but I would advise at least being open minded should the right one come along.

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        • I found the Sears book on parenting a great read! Mostly for comedic value.

          There’s one passage that suggests that you simply tell your boss that you’re going to wear your baby to work. After all, what boss would protest you working at your desk AND showing everyone what a great parent you were? I ~so~ wish I was making that up….

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        • Off the top of my head, “Is It a Big Problem or a Little Problem?” is a fave. I actually know and worked with the authors, so I might be a bit biased, but it helps parents, particularly of young children, gain some context for the difficult behavior their children exhibit, better determine whether more intensive intervention is necessary or if the behavior is “typical”, and how to put in place some basic structures and routines that can often preempt problems of all sizes. It is less a macro guide on parenting and more a quick reference resource.

          Generally speaking, I don’t know of many great macro guides to parenting. Those are probably the types of books CC was referring to and likely with good reason. They all tend towards the “Here is a simple method to guarantee success for your child” which is stupid because A) there is no “simple” way to be a parent and B) there are so many variables in any one child-parent dynamic that a macro approach will only be so applicable.

          I suppose I might have overgeneralized “parenting books” to include essays, resources, studies, and books for teachers and parents. I often send these in dribs and drabs to parents.

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  3. “I don’t see how I could balance the needs of all my children, my job, and pursue any interests outside of job and family while doing serious attachment parenting. “

    I loved the whole post but this was my favorite.As of late, my wife and I have begun counting all the times out friends excalim on Facebook about how busy their kids are making their weekends (as if they have no control over it).

    We’re basically de-tachment parents. We push independent play to the point where it’s almost cruel.

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  4. Great post, Rose. And if this had been this same post but with you being an attachment parent, it would still have been spot on.

    I have said this before in different threads around here, but one of the most surprising things about so many people is the degree to which they believe there is only one single way to parent and any deviation from that leads to your child growing up and begging for change at bus stops, despite the entire world being evidence to the contrary.

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    • one of the most surprising things about so many people is the degree to which they believe there is only one single way to parent and any deviation from that leads to your child growing up and begging for change at bus stops, despite the entire world being evidence to the contrary

      A not insignificant part of my job is debunking this anxiety on the part of numerous parents.

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        • A paraphrase of a line from “Law & Order” of all places: “Children are incredibly fragile. They are also incredibly resilient.”

          Or, in layman’s terms: It is probably easier than it should be to fuck up a child. It is much, much, much harder to fuck up a child beyond repair.

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          • And, of course, it is what makes us so fragile that also makes us capable of greatness.

            Watch a four-year-old for a few hours and it is a wonder that our species is still alive. Most other species are full grown by the time they are four. Ours wouldn’t last more than a few minutes in the wild. But it is our extended childhood that offers us the opportunity for the brain development that makes space travel, skyscrapers, and brick oven pizza possible.

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  5. I haven’t RTFA and I’m not a parent myself. I feel i lack substantial standing to opine here.

    My musings lead me to think that children raised by attachment parents as depicted by the breastfeeding uber-mommy on the magazine cover will eventually have problematic senses of entitlement and diminished independent problem solving skills. But there is little if any data to support such a notion, and “data” is not the plural form of “anecdote.”

    My other thought is that some attachment parenting as described may be an outgrowth of parental feelings of inadequacy and fear. Again, no data backing it up. I’ll be quiet now.

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    • My suggestion would be that the attachmnet kids are going to REALLY rebel when they get older in order let their parents know they don’t need them. All kids do that to a degree and the closeness to the parent usually dictates the severity.

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      • A lot of these “theories” assume too much nurture and not enough nature. Children who are inclined to rebel likely will, whether it is against attachment parenting or whatever other child their parent chose. Children who are not likely won’t. Yes, the things we as parents and teachers and whatnot matter, but there is a certain amount of hardwiring in effect that makes the presumption that parenting style X will lead to outcome Y just as silly as the idea that any one parenting style is right or ideal. Attachment parenting might work for one parent and not for another, but it also might work for one child and not other, both birthed and raised by the same folks.

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    • Sort of my take on it as well.
      I know there are certain personality disorders that are inter-generational in nature though they have no genetic component; narcissistic PD and borderline PD being the two that come immediately to mind.
      The primary cause of both of those (as I understand it) is parenting behaviors.

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  6. The problem with the whole notion of “attachment parenting” is that the whole debate seems to draw an arbitrary line in the sand and decide everything on THIS side is normal/right/natural and everything on THAT side is weird/wrong/perverse. This isn’t breast feeding versus not breast feeding, where you can at least actually say, “Okay, that woman is doing it and that woman isn’t.” But what constitutes “attachment parenting”? Is it breast feeding after 12 months? 24 months? 36 months? Can one use a pump or bottle and still attachment parent? Looking back historically, what were the typical ages at which children stopped breast feeding? Looking along other measures, there are ways in which nearly everyone nowadays is an “attachment parent” by the standards of previous generations (“What do you mean your kids aren’t working, married, and pregnant by 16?!?!”).
    Obviously, this isn’t unique to this debate. But it seems as if a movement and countermovement have both been created where previously simply differences along a spectrum existed.

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    • Unfortunately I think people read ” THIS side is normal/right/natural and everything on THAT side is weird/wrong/perverse” into everything anyone every tells them about parenting. I understand why – the anxiety that you might be doing something wrong is pretty overwhelming, and must be worse for people with no good role models in their lives – but its mostly in your head and not in what people are telling you. If you were to go check out the Sears book from your local library, you’ll see what I mean – its pretty much the least judgemental parenting book out there, gives lots of options, and describes various incidents in the upbringing of their own kids, in which the attachment parenting fanatics would presumably not recognise their guru were it not in his book.

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    • Kazzy,

      Like Burt, I have not much standing, but I think I agree with you. My parents were very “attached” in some ways and very indulgent in others, and that was all both to the good and to the bad, because life is complicated and nobody’s perfect.

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  7. Yeah, when I was a kid, my parenting was a variant of crate-training. I was expected to show up for meals and for lights out. The rest of the time, I was left to my own devices. I was allowed to interrupt my mom’s plans by asking to go to the library (which was as likely to get a “not today, two days from today” as not) but that was pretty much it.

    Talking to my friends at work, they were all raised pretty much the same way.

    Asking them about their kids, they all explain to me how different things are today and how they can’t imagine spending a Saturday and letting their kids take their bikes and buy lunch at 7-11 to eat down by the creek to have them show up at 6ish for dinner.

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  8. 1) That cover is so obnoxious it makes my head spin. And I am no great fan of Dr. Bill Spears, so another demerit.

    2) I take issue with the goals of Attachment Parenting, as I understand them. I do not actually think it is particularly helpful to focus so obsessively on the attachment between parent and child. Indeed, one of the primary goals of parenting is to help the child thrive as an independent human being. I suspect that there may be more to attachment parenting than just the child’s well-being, and that adherents may have their own psychological stake in it.

    3) I am utterly confounded by proponents of breastfeeding into toddlerhood and beyond. The child has teeth! Breast milk is not nearly calorically dense enough to be a source of significant nutrition, and the child’s immune system is sufficiently developed that the benefit of passive immunity from nursing is negligible. WHY DO IT??!?

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    • > Breast milk is not nearly calorically dense enough to be a
      > source of significant nutrition, and the child’s immune
      > system is sufficiently developed that the benefit of passive
      > immunity from nursing is negligible. WHY DO IT??!?

      Clearly you’re just unaware of all of my friend’s blog posts who tell me that **science** says that you’re, like, totally wrong. There are studies and stuff. I’ve seen facebook posts about blog posts about news reports about scientific studies. They’re **scientific studies**!

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    • Well yeah. Good attachment happens in any half decent parent-child relationship. Its natural, you don’t have to do anything special to become well attached to your kid. I would, as i think your are, suggest attachment parenting is more about the parent’s needs then the childs.

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          • Oi, you’re testing my undergrad knowledge!

            Basically, it had to do with how children formed attachment with caregivers and how this impacted them. There were a few types, with the two primary types being secure and insecure attachment. The studies I saw showed children (probably 2-year-olds or thereabouts) interacting in a controlled environment with their caregiver who slowly removed themselves from the room. They might first go sit in a chair and eventually leave altogether.

            Children who had secure attachment didn’t bat an eye at their parent leaving. They had a relationship founded upon trust wherein the child didn’t fret because they were confident that the parent would come back and that they wouldn’t leave them in harms way. The kids who cried and threw tantrums were deemed to have insecure attachment: they didn’t have enough foundational trust to remain confident that the parents would return and they would remain unharmed, so they sought the parent out.

            At the time, it seemed counterintuitive. We cry when the person we love most leaves! But over time, I sort of got it. You don’t fret about your girlfriend cheating on you if you trust her. A strong relationship is not full of worry.

            The question remained as to how you developed a secure or insecure relationship; the studies I saw were more about documenting their existence and impact and less about how they were arrived at.

            This is a pretty piss poor job of really capturing it, I’ll see if I can find anything beyond the Wiki entry on it that might be useful.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory

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            • I would say, knowing nothing about it, that as a test this seems kind of nuts to me. What about temperament? From infancy, each of my three kids had quite noticeably different tolerances to being in new places, being left alone, clinginess, etc. I’ve seen that in plenty of other kids, with wide variations between siblings.

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    • I too suspect that attachment parenting at the very least will not live out its promise, and might possibly be slightly detrimental. Kids might not be self-reliant enough, etc. But I have no hard evidence for it. And really, I think attachment kids will also probably figure out this whole life thing. They may, however, be in for a rude awakening.

      I’m okay with taking the parents’ needs into account. Why shouldn’t they? But again, I can’t imagine a state where my needs rise and set on “how may I serve my child?” Nor can I imagine desiring to breastfeed my toddler, especially when it is no longer beneficial or necessary. But, as Jane Austen said, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

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        • Many toddlers are not aware of the sleep pattern that you prescribe for them. I’m not advocating breastfeeding past the point where they can eat regular food, but similarly if the mother and toddler both like it, I don’t see the harm in it either.

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    • I think, with little data, that it’s about parental one-up-manship.

      Think of it. It used to be we’d go to a better school than our parents. We’d get a more advanced degree, we’d make more money, we’d have a better job, bigger house. We would simply live better than our parents. And that was our parents’ goal: To give their kids a better life.

      Only we can’t now. It’s harder and harder to do better than our parents have done becuase, well, our parents do pretty well. So what do we do?

      We become better parents than they were. We commit to play with our kids more. We commit to be more involved. We commit to guide more. We commit to PARENT more. And from this born: Attachment parenting.

      Frankly, with the evidence on hand, the only reason a mother would breastfeed a pre-schooler in a modern industrial nation is because the mother wants to. It’s not about the kid, it’s about her and what she wants to do.

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  9. I am a little ashamed to admit this, but when I first came across this cover (I think on the Dish), my brain went through this cycle:

    Hot!/Wait… what?/ NOT HOT!!! NOT HOT!!! YOU CAN’T PROVE I EVER THOUGHT IT WAS HOT!!!

    in the space of about 0.5 seconds. I wonder if other men did the same.

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    • If this makes you feel any better, a straight male friend of mine was forever scarred from a similar, but far more horrifying incident. There was a picture of the face of a fully made-up little girl (maybe 6) on the cover of a magazine that was supposed to be critical of little girls pageant circuit. But she looked quite adult, due to the make-up. He looked at it and thought, “Wow, she’s attractive. Wait, what’s wrong with her teeth? Oh my God, are those baby teeth?!?!”

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    • The woman is no doubt attractive. The child suckling negates that, especially since there seems to be a look of fear in his eyes (of course, that may well be a normal look for a child breast feeding… I’ve never really seen it up close).

      My question is, what would the response have been if the woman WASN’T so attractive? What impact is the fact that she is attractive and confrontational?

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      • Why does it negate it? Why is she no longer attractive? I get that the act of breastfeeding isn’t (at least for most of us) an arousing act, but why can’t a woman be attractive while breastfeeding?

        (Hell, my wife’s attractive when she’s breastfeeding.)

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        • The woman remained attractive. The scene, as a whole, did not.

          If you said, “Is this picture hot?” I’d say no.
          If you said, “Is this woman hot?” I’d say yes.

          I would not be able to make the dolphin spit to it, if need be. I hope I would never be able to with a child’s frightened eyes staring back at me (again, does the kid look terrified? Or is that just how they look when they do that?).

          I will also say that I am not yet a parent, so I might be indulging in a bit of out-group ick factor unnecessarily.

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          • I kinda thought the kid just looked awkward, sort of a “am I doing this right for the camera”, sort of thing.

            ‘If you said, “Is this picture hot?” I’d say no.
            If you said, “Is this woman hot?” I’d say yes.’

            That’s a good way to differentiate.

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            • Yea, I phrased it poorly. I’m not one of those people who thinks a woman who has contact with a child is immediately rendered unattractive and asexual. I totally get the whole “sexy glow of pregnancy thing” on certain woman. Breast feeding, no matter how attractive the woman, itself isn’t very attractive largely because I don’t see it as a sexual act, and might even go so far as to say being aroused by a child breast feeding (as opposed to men who are into lactation, which is probably a whole ‘nother ball of wax) is a little creepy.

              I still wonder though… what would our response be if the woman WASN’T hot? If the cover photo featured a curvier woman or someone more plain looking… would the cover, the image itself, garner a different response?

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                • Not sure if I understand your “Huh?” If you are implying that the woman in the picture is sufficiently curvy, I don’t have much to offer you.

                  If you are wondering about my wondering… well, my point is that the attractiveness of this woman was not lost on the photographers. A quick google image search seems to show other woman also photographed and featured in the article, none of which are quite the looker the blonde lady here is but all of whom most folks with consider attractive. Why is this? Was the intention to make them more palatable, as is so often the case when the media only uses images of attractive people? Was it to make the images more arresting and controversial, as if attempting to garner rage that not only is this woman engaging in what many might perceive to be a crazy parenting technique, but she had the gall to be hot and sexy while doing it? I don’t know. I don’t know enough about branding or sociology, but it is curious to me, since it is pretty clear that the magazine made a deliberate attempt to seek out attractive women and seemed to put the most attractive of them on the cover (again, I haven’t gone through the paywall to see the whole article but Google Images has a handful of images of women in similar poses staring similarly at the camera).

                  Would people have responded differently (better, worse, or just differently) if the woman was black? Or fat? Or ugly? Or 63? We can pretend that these things don’t factor into our responses… but they do. They impact our visceral response to the visual image but also color how we interpret the story. This isn’t a criticism of anyone’s response here… just a curiosity.

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                  • See here: http://lightbox.time.com/2012/05/10/parenting/#1

                    I don’t know what other photos were used, but there appears to be one woman who doesn’t conform to traditional beauty standards in the shoot. She is also the only one without an exposed or semi-exposed breast. And she does not appear within the first couple pages of a Google Image search as the other three women do (Disclaimer: I have zero clue how Google Images works).

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                  • I read

                    what would our response be if the woman WASN’T hot? If the cover photo featured a curvier woman or someone more plain looking

                    as opposing “hot” to “curvier” and/or “plain”. If I misunderstood, cancel the “Huh?”.

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                    • I am with you 100%.

                      I wrote a paragraph talking about what shoes the woman could have been wearing instead of those and discussed the virtues of her shoes, versus these shoes, versus those shoes, versus these other shoes, versus bare feet, then I started talking about bare feet A LOT and I realized “this satire is too deep, even for me” and I deleted the comment without posting it.

                      So thanks for digging into what I failed to dig into.

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                    • Gotcha. Yea, I was opposing those things, which was really just sloppy language. I didn’t want to say “fat” or “ugly” because I was afraid they might risk offense.

                      So, yes, to the extent that I implied hot =/= curvy and hot =/= plain, that was a fail there. I guess I meant to mean, “Curvy/plain to the point of no longer being hot.”

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                    • By all means.
                      We should now cancel out the word “ugly” to substitute with “beauty deprived.”
                      It’s just the Man keeping them down.
                      The incapacity to differentiate between kissing a princess and kissing a cow on the ass is now a thing to be lauded.
                      Would that we all were just as mind-numb.

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  10. Good article, Rose. I’ve not actually read the Time article since I suspect it would be a waste of at least several minutes of my life. But this whole kerfuffle has been quite surprising to me. We used the Sears book that is supposedly the bible of attachment parenting pretty heavily when our toddler was a little baby. But what’s being described as “attachment parenting” seems far more extreme to me than what we got from the book. In fact its one of the least prescriptive and judgemental baby books I’ve seem.

    For example, my memory of the Sears book is that they say “some kids really benefit from sleeping with their parents”, and they say specifically that most of their own kids were in their own beds between 6 months and a year. What people seem to believe, though, is that “attachment parenting” says kids are supposed to sleep in their parent’s beds until they go to college, or something. Our 14 month old couldn’t possibly sleep in our bed because “restless” doesn’t even begin to cover his sleep pattern. Similarly, they say “breast feed to about one year”, which isn’t out of line with the mainstream advice that says “six months minimum”. And yet somehow Time is implying something about breastfeeding pre-schoolers.

    Mind you. even though we used the book, we certainly weren’t religious about it. We did wear our kid a lot of the time until he was about 4 months – after that he didn’t seem to like it very much and preferred to lie on a playmat. I can’t imagine trying to wear him as a 27 pound todder – its hard enough to go hiking with him in a backpack. He slept in a cosleeper for about the same length of time, but probably we should have stopped that sooner, as he sleeps better in his own room. We did mostly breastfeed him, but he got bottles of breastmilk at child care and in the evening. He seems fine.

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  11. I’m sorry to step on people’s toes, here, but this thread suggests a significant degree of ignorance regarding attachment parenting. AP is more an umbrella term or a spectrum, rather than some dogmatic parenting structure (though, sure, some are probably pretty dogmatic about it). There are a few things that it tends to include (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, talking and listening to children, etc.) and a few things that it tends to eschew (cry it out, spanking, “time-outs”, etc.). There’s a ton of overlap with parents who don’t consider themselves “AP” and those that do (me, I don’t really care what label people might want to assign my parenting choices), and AP can certainly coincide with raising independent children (AP and that Free-Range-Kids thing often go together); it is not synonymous with helicopter parenting.

    Further, conducting some pop-psychology on parents and kids that we’ve never met seems to be the exact opposite of the point of this post – which, as I take it, is that there’s way too much judgemental bullshit going on among parents – often stoked by media outlets that couldn’t give a crap about kids; they’re just trying to prop up their dying business model.

    The “Mommy Wars” are useless and detrimental. I’m with what (I hope) Rose is saying: try to do the best by your kids and don’t let outsiders who are trying to pick fights guilt you for your choices (and if you do feel guilty about your choices, try to figure out why).

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    • Yes, that pretty much was what I was saying.

      And I perhaps should have been clearer in the original post that I agree that it’s a vague term. Most of my friends consider themselves attachment parents, but few of them parent in exactly in the same way. And by no means are all of them dogmatic.

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    • I agree with you relatively broadly, Jonathan. As far as it goes, using Attachment Parenting as a frame in which to raise your kids with a healthy does of common sense is fine.

      However, my own highly unscientific observation is that many people who describe themselves as using the Attachment Parenting model tend toward the dogmatic, and seem a little light on common sense. I knew one who was trying to expunge all language from her lexicon that seemed to imply a value judgment on her child. Including the word “bad,” used in any context. She was genuinely dismayed when her child (who was, I think, 4 at the time) learned the word “bad” from a preschool teacher, not to describe anyone’s behavior but (IIRC) to describe food that had spoiled.

      Anyway, that’s just my observation. Take it for what it’s worth.

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  12. Anecdotal of course, but this cover totally brought back memories of my sister in law with my nephew over 18 years ago. She breast fed him until he was six iirc. Now he is in his early twenties and is socially immature to the extreme. My brother wonders if he’ll ever move out of the house , get a job and have a life. The sister in law is on prozac or equiv now and might finally adit she blew it. She was not as militant with her second son who has turned out normal. Realize twenty years ago breastfeeding toddlers was virtually unheard of.

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      • Agreed Jesse, and I guess we’ll have a large enough population sample 20 years from now to find out if this is all a disaster or merely a new normal. Of course if it /is/ a disaster, hopefully the sample will still be a relatively small percentage of the overall population. If all these kids turn out to be supermen (and women), well too bad it is just a small population but the results could be replicated theoretically. Personally, I’m guessing no superkids will be created via this method, although statistically we’ll just have to wait and see.

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        • Actually, we probably won’t have a good enough population sample.

          I expect that the attachment parenting crowd is *loaded* with confounding factors. The outcomes among their children are much more likely to be significant indicators of something other than the actual value of attachment parenting.

          It’s like homeschooling, or anything else that has to do with children and parenting methodology that is contaminated by faddishness.

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  13. What an utterly lovely and altogether thoughtful article, Ms. Woodhouse. Thank you. (I was gonna write “udderly”, but decided it’d barely register on the cute-ometer but would surely peg the stupid-ometer.)

    Gah. That Time image was uber-disturbing to me. And I’m an active breastfeeding advocate.

    I suppose that, 50 years hence, we’ll all have more (or less) appreciation for this Attachment Parenting thing. Assuming we have some actual outcome data. Meantime, as has already been pointed out in comments, pretty much the entire history of civilized humanity has been carrying on without it.

    Not that I’m at all opposed to new slash evolved parenting ideas, mind you, but empirically speaking about the only thing we know for sure is that chronic abuse and/or dire neglect will screw us up either psychologically or developmentally. Or both.

    My own babies are now 24 and 21. By every societal standard, they are thriving. I don’t think the AP term existed in my own early parenting days, though if it did I suppose there are some who might have considered me a practitioner. But I only did what every loving and responsible parent does, same as you: I found a way to meld my child’s needs with my own.

    I’ll share a bit of my history and hope you’ll forgive me for it.

    During my first pregnancy (1987), I read every pregnancy/birthing/baby/child-rearing expert on the bookshelves because I knew that I was not, in any way shape or form, an expert on anything having to do with any of it.

    What I learned:

    1. Crikey, these “experts” sure do contradict one another. A lot. WTH?
    2. For whatever reasons, some stuff rang truer to me than other stuff.

    Ultimately I decided that whatever works, works. KISS.
    Upon reflection, I was indeed fortunate in that I had an office and could pump in privacy and comfort while downing my tuna sandwich.

    I’ve not read the Time article and, like most here it seems, I know precious little about the official AP philosophy. But I DO know, first hand, that breastfeeding can be a psychological and emotional minefield for modern day moms and this Time cover image does it no favors.

    Some gents, bless their hearts, are squishy when it comes to girlie parts, so let this serve as an official caution.

    It’s a unique challenge for women to transition from our breasts serving a sexual function to serving both a sexual and a nurturing function. It’s a psycho-emotional juxtaposition that’s challenging for many modern women to navigate. How does one judge that? Hopefully we use whatever we learn to move forward. (For instance, DHA is now incorporated into formula. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100945.htm )

    But it’s not just about the sexuality of women who become breastfeeding mothers. It’s also about the children. No infant or toddler is aware of that duality. But children are becoming aware. It’s why they innately develop a sense of privacy without any prodding from parents, typically around the age of 4-6. To my knowledge, there exists no evidence that, historically, or prehistorically, children at this developmental stage (whatever the age) were still breastfeeding.

    I thought it unrelated, but maybe it’s not. Yes, I’m a fan of Martin’s Fire and Ice series and I’m watching HBO’s rendition. There’s a reason why the sight of Robin Arryn’s breastfeeding is disturbing. Because it’s wrong.

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  14. As a child psychologist and a mom, one of the things that is so misleading about attachment parenting is the name. It is only called attachment parenting because of the theory it was based upon. It is not called this because it is the only form of parenting which allows parents to develop a secure attachment relationship with their children. There are numerous ways to develop a secure attachment relationship with our kids. I explore more of this myth here for anyone who is interested:
    http://www.themommypsychologist.com/2012/04/15/what-does-the-mommy-psychologist-have-to-say-about-attachment-parenting/

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