Thursday, July 8, 2010

A discussion of attachment parenting

I want to thank everyone who expressed an interest in a post on attachment parenting; the topic has been on my mind since news reports of the tragic death of the son of one of attachment parenting's gurus, Katie Allison Granju. I want to stress that in no way would I ever blame such a tragedy on a parenting method, and don't condone any such efforts by anyone else--but I bring it up to explain why I, a woman whose children are well past the infant/toddler age and who has never practiced AP herself, would suddenly be interested in this method.

As I said, the news reports reminded me that when I wrote this post two years ago during a heated Catholic blogosphere discussion of AP (and yes, Larry D, the post was titled "Detachment Parenting"), I had made a few assumptions about AP based on what others were saying about it--but had never followed up by further research into what AP is all about, and whether or not my critical view of it was really fair.

After doing some more reading, I've come to three conclusions:

1. I don't have that much of a problem with the "eight principles" of AP--the principles themselves, that is. How the principles are lived is another question.

2. I do still disagree with some aspects of the underlying philosophy of AP.

3. My biggest issue with AP has more to do with the way some people not only practice it, but insist that all others must practice it, and with the twofold negative aspect of a) judging those who don't use AP as "bad parents" and b) insisting that "science" has proved that AP results in happier, healthier, more well-adjusted children who have fewer mental health problems than other children when, in fact, science has been a lot less definitive about those things.

Let's take these one at a time:

The Eight Principles

According to Wikipedia, which I use here merely for convenience, the eight principles are as follows:

  1. Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  2. Feed with Love and Respect
  3. Respond with Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
There's a lot of variation out there as to how these principles are to be lived by the family, but this list of the "seven B's" at Dr. Sears' website is a good complement to the eight principles; the seven B's are birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, believing in the language value of your baby's cry, beware of baby trainers, and balance.

The list of principles is general enough that any conscientious parent might be said to be fulfilling them. For instance, "provide consistent loving care" is probably a goal of the vast majority of parents, as I suspect few if any parents think ahead of time that what the child really needs is inconsistent and non-loving care. But the specifics in the "seven B's" are where things begin to break down--though to be fair to the Dr. Sears website, there is emphasis placed on finding balance, on using these things as tools (an important concept), and on the importance of individual parenting styles.

Nonetheless, out in the world the AP parent who does not co-sleep, or who cannot wear her baby, or who "fails" at nursing is aware that other AP parents are quite likely to judge her for this--but more about that later.

Perhaps the most interesting thing the Dr. Sears website has to say is this:
AP is a starter style. There may be medical or family circumstances why you are unable to practice all of these baby B's. Attachment parenting implies first opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby, and eventually you will develop the wisdom on how to make on-the-spot decisions on what works best for both you and your baby. Do the best you can with the resources you have – that's all your child will ever expect of you. These baby B's help parents and baby get off to the right start. Use these as starter tips to work out your own parenting style – one that fits the individual needs of your child and your family. Attachment parenting helps you develop your own personal parenting style.
On a Catholic forum I read a discussion about AP where the parents were commiserating about the fact that attachment parenting gets so much harder as the child gets older. If AP is a "starter style," though, how can that be true?

The Underlying Philosophy

As I wrote two years ago, there are a couple of problems I have with the philosophical aspects of AP as they are often expressed. One of these problems concerns the notion that the child must create a strong bond with a caregiver; this person is almost always the mother, who then must train herself to respond to her children's needs and meet them immediately, thus creating the attached bond that will supposedly produce all the good benefits down the road.

My problems with this are twofold: one, it's already terribly easy for a nursing mom to fail to make enough room for Dad in the baby-bonding experience (and I speak from my own life, here); it seems to me that AP would make that even easier, setting up a family dynamic of "mom + baby + toddler etc." on one side, and "dad" on the other. The other problem concerns the baby's expression of his needs and mom's duty of instant or near-instant response; while the youngest babies do, indeed, only cry when they are truly in need of some particular thing which can be done for them (e.g., food, changing, sleep, comforting etc.), this is not true of the older baby, toddler, or young child. Take the teething baby, for instance: his fussiness is due to the need he wants met--he wants his sore gums to stop hurting! But mom can only do so much in this regard. Soon, you have a baby who has had some mild pain reliever and some cold chewable toys and comfort nursing and rocking and distractions, as many as mom can think of--yet his need remains unmet, making him increasingly agitated. Mom, who has been trained to meet baby's needs, may also be agitated--there is literally nothing more she can do! But the parenting method seems to be telling her that of course she can stop baby from crying and fussing--he just needs her to meet his need, and if she were any kind of a mother she'd figure out what that meant.

The second idea may be, I admit, a particular hang-up of mine: the insistence by some that AP is all about learning to respect your child. I put it this way two years ago:
The second presumption is that what our children most need from us is the sense that we respect them; this respect is supposed to foster that key sense of trustful attachment or bonding that according to the theory is so extremely vital to the child's life and future development. I love my children dearly, of course, and I do respect my God-given role in their lives, and theirs in mine; but somehow I get the feeling that this isn't what is being discussed in these sorts of parenting methods. I think that what our children need most from us is unconditional love, actually; that respect is a cold and distant substitute for the love which seeks to model the love of God for us, which parents should strive for with their children. Moreover, teaching parents to respect their children seems to put things exactly backwards; parents must love their children, but children are following God's commandment when they honor and respect their parents.
Now, of course I think we should respect our children as unique individuals with priceless immortal souls, their own personalities, and so forth; but, again, I get the feeling that in AP terms the respect being spoken of has more to do with those "seven B's" mentioned above than the more philosophical idea.

The Biggest Issue

What is it about parenting methods that make devotees develop a near-zealot style adherence to the method (and to do so even when the method's author or authors preach moderation and flexibility)? I think it's pretty simple: because every parent desperately wants to believe that there's one right best superior holy holistic exceptional dynamic way to raise children so that they will turn out bright and smart and well-balanced and happy and successful (and, eventually, saints in Heaven)--and, at the same time, because every parent desperately fears that one wrong move anywhere along the way will send the potentially happy and successful child into a devastating tailspin such that he or she will end up homeless, in prison, or suffering from one of any number of other social ills (with his or her immortal soul in grave peril as well).

I've listened to any number of "retired parents" talk (and no, parents never do retire), though, and the truth is that life, as always, is far more complex than that. Sure, some parenting decisions really do affect children negatively--one of the ones we don't like to talk about much is divorce, for instance--but others, ironically some of the ones we agonize the most about, don't really have the impact we fear they will. Plenty of children have grown up to be happy, successful, religiously devout adults who weren't ever worn as a baby, who always slept in a crib, and whose parents even used disposable diapers. And plenty of people who swore by a parenting method did not thereby manage to avoid all future problems with their children.

So to insist that "science" has "proved" that AP is the best way to raise a child is to misunderstand both science and attachment parenting, in my opinion. And to judge as lazy, selfish, or incompetent one's fellow mothers for not adhering strictly to every practice ever associated, even casually, with attachment parenting is, quite frankly, reprehensible.

Parenting is already an incredibly difficult job. Those who find value in the tools of attachment parenting are understandably going to be enthusiastic about them, but I think the greatest tool in a parent's toolkit is one word: humility. To be humbly grateful before God for the gift of one's children, to beg His help, and to be open to doing whatever works best for your family seems to me to be the sanest and most sensible approach.


Kim said...

"the greatest tool in a parent's toolkit is one word: humility"

And no doubt any sincere effort at excellent parenting will result in the parent having exactly that!

Thanks for the post!

Ellyn said...

I am glad I practiced what could be called AP back before there were written rules etc. It would have driven me insane.

I did spend about 15 years as a La Leche League leader and I know I was certainly humbled along the way. An enthusiastic new parent can be so sure that they are doing all the right things...only to be crushed when they can't meet their own ideals or the results are not what they expected. I always tried to make it very clear to the mothers I counseled that they could do the their very 'best' and a perfect result would not be guaranteed. Whether that would be repeated ear infections or a trip to the local police station to bail out an extremely rebellious teenager. (That much I can testify to - you can sleep together, use cloth diapers, nurse for over ten years continuously - not just one child! - and still wind up at the police station with a daughter explaining the brass knuckles tucked in her bodice!)

My point? There is no perfect way. Parents have to do what they feel is best; and this is one place a 'cafeteria' approach is great idea. And what works with one child may not work with another. There is that matter of individual temperament complicated over time by the burden of original sin.

Katie Granju has been in my prayers. I think one of the greatest things she has done is share the ordeal of the loss of Henry. Reading the comments on her blog shows that she has freed so many parents to admit that things aren't/weren't working out in picture book fashion. When we try to present a perfect facade to the world, when things are crumbling inside, we add to our pressures and help to create unrealistic expectations for others. We should not let our zeal for any particular 'method' of parenting become obnoxious and hurtful.

melanie said...

I love your blog red, but I must say it was a little cheeky to start out that post with a sensational statistic- god rest his soul- and you may get called out on the carpet for that. That being said, I have 4 kids (would have more if god so allowed) and , although I kinda practiced attachment parenting- at least co- sleeping for the ones who could stand it, and nursing on demand (which now that my kids are older and think that they can open the fridge and snack every 5 minutes I might rethink)- I have to say that bottom line, my kids were each so different in their needs and I tried to do my best to go with that. I really cannot see how there can be a one size fits all thing out there. I do get what AP was sort of a response too- the whole kids should be seen and not heard thing. But like does happen, it may have erred a bit far the other way. I am all for trying to be an in tune and an aware parent, humble when you make
mistakes...communicate, listen! LOVE your kids, love your spouse- because yes red that is a great point that often our spouses get leftbout of the equation, and do your best by them.

melanie said...

I hope it's okay to call you just red I am typing on my iPad and it's so darn awkward!

Deirdre Mundy said...

One BIG quibble-- your claim that practicing AP means you've failed if your teething child is still miserable...

Your child DOES have a need you can meet--the need to be accompanied in his pain, and held. Just like an older child with the flu may want mom or dad to hold her. Obviously, rocking and sympathizing is not unique to AP, BUT the point is to recognize the child's need for company and comfort (on long teething nights I've often compared it to Mary's job at the foot of the cross. I may not be able to stop my son's suffering, but I'm making sure he doesn't suffer alone.)

Of course, that's what ANY mom would do.

But I think AP came about as a reaction to the "Let them cry it out" style... The idea that the baby can be trained not to cry and not to make demands. (Once again, this is for babies. If a two year old is screaming for an hour straight because you told him he was NOT allowed to use the baby's head as a soccer ball, then it's time for a time out and he can 'cry it out' till the cows come home!!!)

I think, for an example of what UN-attachment parenting would look like, you can check out some of the Ezzo's work......(Babywise, and whatnot...)

But honestly, most parents probably practice some variation of AP (in terms of recognizing needs, meeting them, and cuddling newborns on demand!)-- after all, how could you NOT?

Also, it's important to realize that for older kids "meeting needs" includes meeting the need for structure, discipline and consequences for actions. Which IS hard. Exhausting even. But less exhausting than the alternative!

Red Cardigan said...

Melanie, Red is fine! I like it as a nickname. :)

The only reason I mentioned the tragedy is because it's why I was reading about AP again. To be honest, what shocked me is not anything Katie Granju said specifically, but the number of AP practitioners who seemed to be saying "It's not AP's fault!" I've actually heard a hurtful variation on that from some AP types: any tragedy or bad behavior etc. of a child in an AP family was just proof that the family wasn't "doing" AP right. It's that attitude that I think is harmful no matter what the method parents are trying to use might be.

Deirdre, what if being held and accompanied in his (or my case, her) pain is *not* what the child needs? Some children (some of mine, anyway) *hate* to be held or touched when they're in pain. Part of my point is simply that while children may have many needs (some of them conflicting), they're not always able to communicate in a way that is clear, and we don't always guess right when trying to meet them. That's life as a parent--but I worry about the moms who carry a crushing burden of guilt because they fear that they are poor guessers and are damaging their children by failing to meet their needs adequately.

Rebecca in CA said...

I haven't read all that many sources of Attachment Parenting philosophy--I've read Dr. Sears, Dr. Popcak, the Continuum Concept, and Dr. Neufeld. From what I've read, these folks are trying to discuss what it is our natures call for as humans. Everyone has their own style, but there are some principles of child-rearing which are based upon our natures. Now I know that very concept, that there is any "right" way about it, is galling to people sometimes, because I think we especially as modern Americans are used to "creating" our happiness, "creating" our nature, or thinking that we can do so. In the past, especially in this country, what became acceptable and expected were certain techniques based on both secular behaviorism and on puritanism, which became *very* ingrained. These techniques and principles were aimed at creating children who would be as early as possible self-sufficient, able to be left without mama for long periods of time, so mama could go to work or have a good social life. There were a lot of lies running around which became very well-accepted, even by intelligent doctors--bottlefeeding is better for the baby, it is dangerous to sleep with a baby, picking up a crying baby will spoil it, children will behave badly if they are not conditioned with punishments and rewards from early on. Some people began noticing that people in other less wealthy cultures did not abide by those principles, and yet seemed to have excellently well-adjusted children. And those people seemed to be following a more natural approach, rather than determining cerebrally an ideal to which their babies must conform. So that is what I think of as AP--we are as much as possible trying to follow God's plan, though of course every family will have its own style and personality. Even Popes have stated that it is important to breastfeed if possible, yet it seems that everyone jumps on anyone who says breastfeeding is in general better and says, "so you're judging me if I don't". Well no, there are always exceptions. If you can't, you can't. Sleeping with your baby is normally what mammals do and it's normally great for mom and baby, but if for whatever reason it's disturbing sleep for either of you, then don't do it. I think that's what Sears means about it being a "starter" method; you're trying to start with the wisdom of the ages; what seems most natural and is time-tested, and you adjust if you need to when it comes to particulars, and don't waste time guilt-tripping about it.

Rebecca in CA said...

part 2

Many writers such as Dr. Sears are writing about AP mostly in the baby years, and perhaps that is why it seems to be harder as the child grows older--there is not a larger community supportive of the principles of strong attachment between parents and children, and so it is hard to know how to live that out. Personally I have found that although I must adjust as they grow older, the approach of trusting instincts, encouraging communication, staying close to my children instead of methodically pushing them away as is more accepted in our culture, has made parenting as they grow older seem to come pretty naturally. For older children and a more thorough discussion of what attachment means and its importance, I very highly recommend the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld (Hold On to Your Kids).

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think AP is just another "method" with the same goals as other methods--I think it is at root a radically different philosophy than the one which has been pushed for so long; it claims that it is in our nature and very important to our nature to bond closely to our children from birth and to teach them through gentle responsiveness. The puritan and secular behaviorist ideals had pushed techniques geared to make the baby *independent* from the youngest age and to teach primarily through behavioral conditioning. I think that when AP is separated from Christianity, it, like everything else, can become confused and certainly inadequate. Sears is good at keeping it grounded, and he makes a point of discussing important ways for the father to connect with the baby, even talking about things the father can do which the mother cannot, and really encourages the parents to work as a team.

Rebecca in CA said...

One more thing and then I'll shut up:

"I worry about the moms who carry a crushing burden of guilt because they fear that they are poor guessers and are damaging their children by failing to meet their needs adequately."

Maybe you've read things I haven't read, but among the AP moms I've talked to, this isn't really a problem, at least not more so than usual. AP isn't about playing guessing games. It's about having a good relationship with your children. You know things aren't going to be perfect, you know you will make mistakes, either through moral weakness or ignorance, but when you have a good relationship, you're not walking on ice. This is true in marriage, too.

melanie said...

Yes yes I absolutely get your point and it's a good one. This subject really fascinates me... I wish my kids were grown so I could speak with more conviction. I must say that I am quetioning my own experiences with AP. I'll get back to you in 13 years when my youngest is 18! Ha ha.
But I get what your saying that in some ways part of the problem is picking a "style" and trying to make it an absolute somehow....and that that in and of itself is problematic, let alone what issues we may have with AP specifically...and I have some I just cannot speak inrellegentally on them as, I never did AP as defined in books and such, I just parented by instinct and it happens to follow many of the AP principles. I have to say that I hav eproblems with it and not because my kids at least right now, are not totally wonderful, because so far they are.
It's just I wonder if they aren't too dependent on's complicated, but I am realizing that there may have been many missed oppurtunities to gain fundamental coping skills, necessary emotional growth, necessary independence....but as I said, we are still a work in progress. So I'll check back in after the teenage years!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post.

I know someone who did hardcore AP with her two kids, now aged 8 and 5.

Both kids have emotional/behavioral problems. One is defiant, the other has severe anxiety.

I think the judging can come from every direction unfortunately.

She has relatives telling her that it was her AP style that made the kids like this (basically spoiled and unable to cope with the world). And she is also questioning herself now, that maybe she did spoil them, that kind of thing. And then she has her AP friends reassuring her that things would have been worse, had she not APed.


Deirdre Mundy said...

Erin-- maybe it helps that I have late-teethers.. at this age "pick me up" and "put me down" come with VERY CLEAR body language.

The other thing about Dr. Sears is that he is adament that parents need to keep trying to find out what's wrong. So, for example, in his experience, most "colicky babies' actually hurt because they have GIRD.. so instead of accepting "it's just colic" he encourages parents to rule out physical ailments first.

Commonsense, but he's writing in reaction to the school of parenting that DIDN'T treat babies like very small people who have trouble being understood.

I think this is more a secular problem than a Catholic problem, actually. If you think your baby is a fashion accessory and had him because of how you wanted him to make YOU feel, you need these instructions.

If you know he's a short person beloved by God, you already have a different view. You're starting from a different baseline...

AP as a set of rules is totally bunk. But as a general philosophy "Treat your baby as an individual with his own desires and needs and worth" is a pretty good way to live as a family.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Actually, the AP discussion has a tendency to devolve into the same morass a lot of homeschooling ones do:

A: Homeschooling is great! I can individualize curricula! My daughters aren't getting beaten up at recess anymore!

B: Well, I knew this one family who never let their kids leave their bedroom and only taught them in Greek and Latin. Now both kids are mentally ill. Homeschooling is bad for kids and families!

A: (getting defensive) But WE'RE not crazy like that! We're sane! Crazy people send their kids to public school, too! Homeschooling isn't the problem, THOSE NUTS ARE!

C: Excuse me! I lock my kids in a room and only speak to them in Greek and Latin and they are the most charming, polite, tee-totalling little classicists the world has ever known! In fact, Little Horace is in charge of his own dig in the agora this summer, and he's only 6!

etc.etc. etc.

AP is the same way, because, as practiced, it's not really one cohesive METHOD. There really ISN'T such thing as 'parenting.' There are just PARENTS.

And as Catholic parents, we don't really need a method. (well, its nice to have one in your back pocket so that when your relatives tell you you're spoiling the 3 week old by cuddling him all day, you can blame your transgression on Dr. Sears)

If we try to see our Children as Christ among us, beloved by God, and our special gift and responsibility, the rest will come--whether your baby sleeps in a crip, your bed, or a cardboard box. (know people who did this to hide the baby from an overly affectionate toddler.....)

JMB said...

When I had my oldest 15 years ago, my mother (who had 8 children) said to me: "Be careful, there are a lot of fads in parenting".

What troubled me about my La Leche group was the underlying assumption that if you breastfed exclusively your baby will be: healthy, have no ear infections, not be fat as an adult, have no allergies, get no cavities, have an high IQ, etc.

It just seemed like the only reason why one would breastfeed is to produce a perfect child. It didn't seem right to me, all this guaranteed stuff. So much of my life was unguaranteed.

After 4 children in 6 years, I learned what worked for us and what didn't (co-sleeping) and the more experience I got in taking care of babies, the more confident I became in my own unique ability to mother my children.

So for the count, non of my kids have a high IQ, I don't know if they will be fat as adults, two have allergies, two had very bad ear infections for long periods of their childhood, one has really bad teeth and so far, all four will need braces.

The best you can do is enjoy your children. BTW, Erin, check out this weeks New York Magazine cover story on parenting.

Rebecca in CA said...

"The best you can do is enjoy your children."

Agreed! I think that's why I appreciate the AP idea; it freed me from a lot of thought of having to control everything. With my first, there was so much I tried to control, and I spent so much time worrying that I could hardly enjoy her. My next three I was able to relax and just enjoy; such a different experience.

I like Dierdre's comments too.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Erin-- just read your earlier column and I wanted to mention something about your take on AP and toddler discipline--

If you read Dr. Sears, he says by the time a baby is 7 or 8 moths, sometimes they're just bored, and it's appropriate to start teaching them the meaning of "When mommy is done this ONE thing." He's also a big advocate of child-proofing, so the "attachment" parent can let the kid roam the house and putter and be part of family life without danger or mischief.

And time outs. And telling the baby 'no!' when he dives for that butcher knife.... (as an aside, some of the best parenting advice I ever got was how to get your toddler to PUT DOWN THE KNIFE without hurting himself or others....)

So, it sounds like a liot of the porblems you have with AP is that people take the 'rules' for an infant and then try to infantilize their toddler.

My youngest just hit 7 months. 4 months ago, AP meant nursing ALMOST ALL DAY because he was having a growth spurt, and doing chores one-handed because he loathed the sling but NEEDED to see.

Now it means sitting him in the corner of whatever room I'm in with a ricecake and some toys, and talking to him as I work (and, once he gets stuck on his back or stomach, helping him sit up again so he can go back to playing.) If I forced him to be in arms and nurse when he really wants to bang stacking cups together, it wouldn't be AP--

On the other hand, he also wants to eat the shavings out of the bunny cage. Hence the rice cake (distraction and substitution.) This is AP with a 7 month old. With a six year old, it means sometimes "life-ruining" consequences to get a point across, but listening to her when she talks. And letting her pick out her own outfits, and making her get her OWN healthy snacks instead of depending on me for everything.

I think in both articles, you've taken on an AP straw man....

AP is defining itself in opposition to the whole Babywise, force the baby onto your schedule thing. It's supposed to be about meeting your child's needs in an age appropriate fashion. We err if we expect our newborn to be scheduled like a 4 year old. But we also err if we treat our 4 year old like she's a newborn.

It sounds

Deirdre Mundy said...

ignore the "It sounds... I started typing, repositioned the cursor, and got lost." :)

melanie said...

Okay, but here is the thing-regarding the Babywise movement, that was not just about getting the baby on"your" schedule so that you could "go on with your life". Some of the philosophy involves the idea that baby's should learn to pacify themselves and put themselves to sleep...maybe this does not work on newborns per se, but it can be healthy for a 3, 4, 5 month old baby to be given some time to cry a bit to get to sleep because maybe that helps them get to sleep. And maybe, this ends up being a life skill for them....because they can lie down in their own bed and calmly get themselves to sleep eventually. And because a mom took the time to find this out, she's happier because she's getting more sleep, and because she's getting more sleep everyone else in the family is happier (older kids, husbands...) My point being that there just MAY be some things about the AP philosophy that are, frankly....well I was going to say harmful, but lets say, less than helpful to kids gaining life skill that help the family as a whole. Because the world just does not work to MEET EVERY NEED we know? Now maybe this does get addressed naturally as our kids grow, and the twos hit and discipline becomes necessary-but if you are doing hardcore AP, you might be confused as to how to apply good discipline, because you know, what IS the difference between a NEED and a WANT...(don't mean to sound like I am yelling, just emphasizing-this is in NO way personal because these are thoughts that I have about my own parenting decisions). There just may be some wisdom in allowing kids to figure out for themselves, even as infants, what works for them? So, yes, yes and yes, the common sense approach...but, there are things about some "parenting types, philosophies, approaches" that maybe are not so great. Again, in general, because I have lovely children, I am happy with how and when I have applied AP...but there are instances where definitely I think it might have been better to take a step back, and give my kids a chance to work their "issues" out for themselves. My 5 year old still sleeps most nights in my bed-I know bad parenting, but he is my "baby"...I just think, I am just saying, there may be a point where moms are just "forgetting to meet their own needs" in the sleep department and this can effect every other aspect of the family dynamic.

freddy said...

I've never really felt the need for any sort of method parenting in my life, though I can understand the attraction of various methods. I was blessed to have great role models, as so many of my peers and younger friends were not. Many young Catholic couples are trying to discover how to be good parents after having grown up with a variety of caregivers and situations.

The biggest problem I have with AP or any parenting philosophy is that it is so easy for a philosophy to become in practice a tyranny.

I have heard mothers criticized for not co-sleeping, a mother criticize herself and apologize profusely for not wearing a baby sling (The poor woman has terrible back problems, for crying out loud!), and husband and wife argue about "what junior really needs right now."

If some, or all, or a few, of the AP tenets work for you, great! If it stresses you out, wears you down or drives you nuts, then stop!

When I was expecting my first I heard all the same things about breastfeeding as JMB above. ("Your kids will grow up to be ten feet tall! and bulletproof! and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!") I remarked to someone that baby #2 had awful allergies and got a steely-eyed glare: "You should breastfeed!"
"I am."
"Oh." another glare, "What's your diet like?"

LarryD said...

(and yes, Larry D, the post was titled "Detachment Parenting")

Sorry, Erin, I'm really not paying attention. :-)

(an example of Detachment Commenting)

Mary Liz said...

For whatever it's worth, I just thought I'd leave a note here from a different perspective than anyone so far:

1) I'm not a mother yet - God willing I will be soon
2) I am a counselor at a Pregnancy Resource Center. In our work to help moms (and dads) choose life, we offer parenting classes and goals counseling. Not being a parent yet meant that I had to do a lot of reading and research before I felt comfortable teaching parents how to parent...and lot of that has been comparing and contrasting AP and Babywise.

I've been teaching Dr. Sears' 7 Baby B's to my moms and dads and have seen fantastic results with them.

I always emphasize that they have to find balance (which is something Dr. Sears says too. Read Chapter 3 in Sears' "The Attachment Parenting Book:" What AP is NOT.) We also discourage bedsharing - but encourage "bedroom sharing."

It's been wonderful to watch these parents (mostly low income backgrounds) realize for the first time that their baby is not some unresponsive, unintelligible lump that sits in a baby carrier all day. Sadly, that's the way many of these girls have been raised. There is no bond or respect or trust between parent and child in their world. The general ideas often are "if it can't talk back yet, why bother talking to it" and "they don't learn anything til they can walk."

Through Dr. Sears books they see that the way they interact with their baby will have a lasting impact. -and they get it! That being said, I don't think any of them follow *all* of the Baby B's - and I don't push them too.

My moms love coming back and telling me how everywhere they go they are always complimented and how happy they are - even though it's a lot of work.

Now they are all telling their friends and AP is becoming quite the rage around here. Moms with older children have been coming in and reading Sears' "The Successful Child" and loving it too.

We'll have to see where it all ends up for these families in 18 years, but for now, teaching them the basics of AP with persistent reminders that 1) it's all about balance and 2) no one's perfect, has really turned out well.

One more note: So I've only tapped into Dr. Sears' actual writings and not those of others like Katie Granju. But I must say, I find his words very balanced 90% of the time.

Red Cardigan said...

Rebecca in CA, I've heard the "natural parenting" thing before, too; I may end up addressing it eventually. One objection I have is that the kinds of primitive or third-world societies that sometimes get held up as examples of "natural" parenting aren't always really examples of that. For instance, sure, in third-world countries the "family bed/bedroom" concept gets practiced--but not because it's good for baby and mother or because it fosters a nurturing bond etc.; it gets practiced because a typical family home has only one bedroom--and sometimes that bedroom is also the living room, dining room, and kitchen! (And the bathroom is outside--I have an uneasy feeling that someone, someday, is going to market the "natural toilet training" concept, and convince suburban American parents to buy and build mini-outhouses as the best and most natural way to teach toddlers to move beyond the diaper.)

A twin to this objection is an objection I have to the "Parenting was always AP, until the Puritans/Calvinists/Jansenists etc. came along and insisted that children had to be independent and trained as soon as possible" line, which, again, Rebecca, I've heard from many people (please don't think I'm being personal, here!). There are many bits of historical evidence that suggest otherwise. One thing it's easy to forget is that in times of shorter lifespans and grave danger to children it was important to their own safety to train them early (just consider how many children tragically died in accidents involving the family hearth!).

Rebecca in CA said...

yeah, these conversations are hard because it just seems like there are so many layers to it, and it's hard to know where someone else is coming from. I understand your point about the family bed happening because there just isn't room to do otherwise, and I agree, and don't see it as an argument against what I've said. When a teaching-baby-to-sleep technique involves having several bedrooms with a baby listener, I just have to shrug my shoulders--my house is very small, like one big room, and in most countries and most places, where extended family live together, you just can't do that. Anyway, it's not like I think these people are being all deliberate about what is going to be the best "bonding experience", what I'm saying is that God in His mercy has built into us instincts and environment which happen to encourage us to do what is best for us and for our children.

Your second paragraph, I'm not sure what to say about history. History is full of different things happening at different times, and lots of evil, and lots of treating children badly, and infanticide, and everything else. I don't know about all of history, but I *do* know that there was a very concerted effort to discourage breastfeeding in the first half of the last century, and along with that came many other separation techniques being pushed, with mothers being told it is bad mothering to pick up a crying child. I *know* that Skinner had a huge influence on folks, and that he was a twisted individual. I know all the lines about how everything a baby does, all its cries, etc., are a demonstration of original sin and must be squelched, and I know how seriously people took that and still do, and how it leads one to act in opposition to instinct. I know that AP advocates are reacting to that, and it is a big relief for a lot of people.

The thing about kids needing to be trained for their own safety--here I think again we may be talking past one another. I think we are all aiming for kids who are obedient; I know I've heard people talk as though AP advocates don't care about that and their kids just run around brattily defying them. My own experience is that my kids naturally trust me. It seems to me that some people think it is only possible to punish children into submission, but I think AP advocates are just saying, no, look, as with other mammals, when you're really close and you communicate well, the children naturally want to do what the adult wishes, and can detect fear in the mother's voice, and so on. I'm not arguing against training per se, just saying that training doesn't have to involve punishing a child from the youngest ages, as has been pushed on us.

John Thayer Jensen said...


(And the bathroom is outside--I have an uneasy feeling that someone, someday, is going to market the "natural toilet training" concept, and convince suburban American parents to buy and build mini-outhouses as the best and most natural way to teach toddlers to move beyond the diaper.)

I and my family lived in href="">Yap Island for eight years where I worked as a linguist in the Education Department. For most people, an 'outhouse' would have been a sort of westernised luxury. The sea is the commonest public utility; the bush otherwise.

We had a government house with a toilet - and for something like six months of the year, we actually had water for it, as well! The rest of the time ... well, see above.

We did not rear our children according to any method - but though my wife breast-fed them - until almost three in one case, they slept in separate bedrooms - we had a government house, as I said. Most Yapese then - maybe things have changed as that was thirty years ago - had a house. A house, not bedrooms, etc. A house. Cooking outside (under a rain shelter) on open fire; sleeping - everyone - inside on mats.

I can't say I can discern a lot of difference in the results for children. People are not systems - you know, this input, that output. Children respond especially to love - even to love in imperfect circumstances. Our circumstances were quite imperfect, and I do not only mean physically. But they seem to have known that the love was by far the governing principle. The four of them are now grown with children of their own - but if they were any more attached to us they would have umbilical cords :-)


Alice said...

I don't have a problem with anything that I have found by Dr. Sears taken at face value. In fact, I just instinctively do most of it. I do have a problem with evangelical APers because they seem to be totally unable to accept that mothers who do things slightly different might not be sinning. I remember finding one of my parents' magazines as a child and reading an article in which the author wondered how the sinless Mother of God could put her Child down in a manger, since obviously a true Catholic mother would never do such a thing!

Evangelical APers seem to be completely incapable of teaching their children how to interact with others. I don't know if this is because the parents are rude and model this behavior to their children 24/7 or if it is because the parents are so used to thinking that every want is a need that they do not discipline their children. In any case, gatherings where there will be lots of these people are not a lot of fun. Maybe I'll just start bringing my stroller....

Acerbica said...

The comments on this are really interesting. I myself am not a fan of AP, since my experiences with AP families have universally involved highly distracted parents desperately attempting to meet every demand by children WAY too old (like 6), to be interrupting mercilessly. It is literally impossible for an adult to finish a sentence, let alone for a conversation to get going because the children are CONSTANTLY demanding attention.

So, it's nice to hear from AP parents who are also devout Catholics and expect obedience. I'm sure my views on AP would have been less harsh had I ever met such a family myself. :)

Now, for a less popular point of view than even that one: I really liked Babywise. I think Babywise is another thing, like AP, where some people get evangelical about it, a lot of people hate what they've heard about it or hate it because the founders aren't qualified to give advice, etc.

So, I can only talk about my experience. For the first two weeks, per the book's recommendation and our doctor's, we nursed as much as possible, full feedings if possible. After that, I started charting his eating. During the second or third week home, I had plenty of milk, the baby loved to nurse, and I was ready to stop BF, because he would nurse for 45 minutes, stop for five, and want to keep going. I literally could not get enough time to take a shower and get dressed, or get something to eat, etc. Further, I'm not cut out for having to nurse 24/7. Wearing him in a sling while doing other things was out of the question with how weak my core was after the pregnancy/him being born at 9.5 pounds.

I started stretching out his times between feedings and being firmer about getting him to take a full feeding. I kept charting.

Within two days, he was on a great schedule of eating every 2.5-3 hours for 30-45 minutes, then a few minutes of wakefulness, then a nap, start over.

From then on, I knew better what his cries meant. If he had just had a full meal, he wasn't crying for food, but to be held, or to have a fresh nappy, etc. It took a huge piece of guesswork out of it, which was great, since I'm a first time mom.

I also responded to him, although at times he had to cry so that he would adjust to sleeping in the bassinet, rather than face down on my chest (which was his favorite, but also a huge SIDS risk).

He slept through the night at 10 weeks, and has been ever since, with only about 4 nights of wakefulness since then, all due to illness.

He goes to sleep happily, and does not need to be tricked, rocked to sleep, nursed all the way to sleep, etc. It's very freeing for us, for my dad when he babysits, and I've helped my son develop the good sleep habits that I have never had.

Is Babywise the only way to go? No. Is it child abuse? Not the way we're doing it, I'm sure. Could someone go way overboard with it and totally ignore the babies needs and revert to strict scheduling? Yes, but that isn't Babywise.

According to the book, it's about knowing what your baby needs, helping them regulate their eating and sleeping patterns, and using those patterns to meet their needs even better.

I've definitely learned about some AP ideas from the comments that I am going to think about. My son is fiercely independent, although super-kissy when he wants to be, (he's two), so I'll have to think about ways of making sure I keep the connection strong, even as he grows up.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Acerbica-- You are EXACTLY why I say women need more breastfeeding support! Not as an attack BUT as information, especially for all the pregnant women reading this:

Around 3 weeks (earlier or later depending on how much before or after 'term' your child was born), EVERY BABY IN THE WORLD has a few days where he nurses round the clock with no breaks, makes you feel like you're going nuts, and makes you want to scream because the only break you get is a quick trip to the toilet when your husband gets home.

It is the three week growth spurt. It is HARD. If you don't know to expect it because your childbirth educators didn't cover it, it is IMPOSSIBLE.

Moms to be - the three week growth spurt will hit you like a ton of bricks. Have a HUGE stack of DVDs ready and KNOW YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. After 2 or 3 days, your baby will turn normal again.

The same thing will happen at around 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months. It is not a discipline or parenting failure. It's your baby working to readjust you milk suplly for his new caloric needs--your body responds to round the clock nursing fits by producing more nutritive milk, so he can get more calories in the same amount of nursing.....

Also, face down on your chest is NOT a huge sids risk. It's the only SAFE stomach down way to sleep, because your breathing reminds him to breathe. And, when you have a snptty or corupy baby, face down on your chest may be the ONLY way for him to breathe and sleep.

Also, a lot of the criticisms of Baby wise are based on the original edition, which advocated physical punishment to get your child to stop crying.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Also, in terms of constantly interrupting 6 year olds...

Mine is one of those, but not because we APed her. We APed her because she was one of those.

She's ADHD, and some of it was obvious, personality-wise, from birth. (Dr. Sears 'High Needs Baby/Kid" seems to be code for ADHD)

Anyway, as a baby, she could NOT be set down. If you put her down, she screamed like she was being killed. (Her actual PAIN scream). It wasn't colic. If you held her and talked to her, she was a normal happy child. So much so that noone believed us about the screaming unless we showed them.

She NEEDED to be attached. When other babies played with toys, she still only wanted PEOPLE. She never hit the 'selfish' stage as a toddler. She always wanted to share, because she just wanted PEOPLE.

So, we fell into AP because it was what kept her happy and healthy... around 6 or 7 months, she suddenly started letting me put her down, if it was in the high chair, close to adult eye-level, so that she could babble at us while we worked.

Now, she's an interuppting 6 year old. (getting better, but it's REALLY tough for her. As in, you can see her ready to EXPLODE as she holds the words in, and then when we let her talk, they come out in a torrent.)

I wouldn't blame AP, though. I've used it to some degree or other with all my kids. (Mostly less, since she was the neediest) and they're all less people-oriented. (Well, except the baby, but he has siblings too, so he gets more people WHEREVER he is.)

I think, except for the most hard-core zealots, we all adjust our parenting styles to the kid. So the AP kid who acts like she's been on a desert island with no company for 20 years every time she sees a PERSON! is probably not like that due to AP....

Her parents probably PARENTED her like that because she was already hyper-social and sensitive to abandonment. And the alternative methods would have produced something that looked like colic but wasn't. (Since a colicky baby will not magically morph into Suzy Sunshine if you pick her up, say 'Hello sweetheart" and carry her around the house. If that worked, NOONE would have a colicky baby!)

Deirdre Mundy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deirdre Mundy said...

Ugh...sorry about that.. blogger glitch posted a double comment!

Deirdre Mundy said...

Oh, Acerbica--one last thing.

Most 2 year olds are fiercly independent. To keep a connection with him, just make sure you're open to listening to him when he DOES want to share.

Oh--and hide the tool box. Even the most-obedient twos are easily tempted by hammers and screwdrivers... and their version of 'fix' looks a lot like our idea of BREAK. :)

Have fun with your little guy. Three is ROUGH, but it won't be because of anytthing you did or didn't do!

A helpful series of books for all first-timers (and we like to reread them for each child to remember what's coming): are Louise Ames's books on Child Development. You can get them through Amazon and they all have titles that start out "Your One-Year-Old" and "Your-Two-Year-Old"

Some of the pictures are a little dated, but we've found their descriptions of the stages kids go through dead-on. And they are very clear about the huge range that is 'Normal.'


But honestly, in parenting, the only way to REALLY screw up your kids is by abusing them.

Bedtime methods, discipline methods, etc. are about what works with your kid RIGHT NOW. It will change. Your child will change. Your family will change. And that's OK.

And, at some point (as Granju so tragically discovered), your child will make his own choices, and he may choose things that hurt him. It's the peril of free will and original sin.

But, unless the parent was there giving him drugs and using him as a mule, it's not the parent's fault. She'll blame herself, because that's what we DO, BUT in the end, it's between her son and God...And no parenting method will give you a sinless child. (Unless your method BEGINS with an announcement from an angel and a virgin birth. Or, alternatively, a miracle to elderly parents followed by a little girl who happened to be concieved without original sin wb/c she's the mother of the Messiah....either way, if you're on this blog, it probably does NOT describe your family situation. ;) )

freddy said...

Deirdre, please forgive me, I know that you are trying to be kind and charitable and helpful to Acerbica above, but your comments are one of the reasons why I avoid method parenting.

Without knowing anything about Acerbica or her knowledge base, you assume you know first, *that* she has(had) a breastfeeding problem, and second, that you know *what* that problem is.

She also made it clear that she found a way that works for her, and is parenting with great love. And your further comments could be taken not only as the enthusiasm for and joy in parenting that you very obviously have, but also (especially in recommending other reading) that her way is not good enough.

Again, I'm sorry for the criticism, but sometimes what sounds to one person like enthusiasm might to another sound like zealotry.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Really, Freddy, I just want to spread the word (not to Acerbica, but to some of the self-identified not-yet-moms) that there is a three week growth spurt, and you WILL think that you and your child have gone nuts....

It's one of those tidbits people fail to pass on when telling pregnant moms about the joys of breastfeeding-- and it's a sort of important piece of info, since it's SUCH a big deal...especially if you're not expecting 2 or 3 days of nonstop feeding......

So I try to pass it on every chance I get, because forewarned is forearnmed...

even if you're NOT doing AP, your baby will have the spurt... the bottle-feeding moms I know have noticed it too, just a bit less dramatically (i.e. "He went from 2 to 8 ounces at a feeding practically overnight!")

No matter how you choose to parent, information is useful......

Dawn Farias said...
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Dawn by Design said...

I wanted to chime in with a distinction:

The 8 Principles listed from Wikipedia were generated by Attachment Parenting International - an organization that is similar in order to La Leche League in that it has local groups, leaders, etc.

As such, they try to keep their leaders and groups in line with those principles. This, by its nature, will result in a seeming 'tyranny' as a previous poster mentioned. I think it's almost unavoidable when trying to create consistency within such a large group.

The reading list and practices promoted in this group are significantly removed from the moderate approach that Dr. Sears takes. So much so, that they are at times almost incompatible.

The most notable exception I can think of is that of logical or natural consequences. I was an active member of my local API group for about 1.5 years (and that was about two years ago). At that time we were all about Alfie Kohn and Unconditional Parenting (UP).

Practically speaking, UP is about not using any consequences or rewards when parenting. Dr. Sears? Not even close.

So, what I'm trying to say is that when talking about AP, it would be effective to attempt some classification of leftist and rightist to how we see ourselves.

The baby stuff in either camp is roughly the same. I'd dare to say that Dr. Sears IS pretty much what "any loving parent would do". When it comes to discipline and/or handling undesirable behaviors in any child older than 6+? Talking about AP would require some clarification of which camp we feel more closely aligned with - otherwise we're wasting our time talking so loudly and not realizing we're on different pages.

Dawn by Design said...

One other thing about AP evangelical types: like us all they are doing the best they can with the information and life experiences that they have under their belt.

They often change their minds a bit as their children grow older. They, too, end up doing whatever works for them. One thing they are NOT likely to do is judge parents for not disciplining enough, which can be a blessing in itself, when so many people are quick to judge a young parent for the infraction of not being strict enough.

And like so many things, after digging under a few top layers, you'll see that the differences are so much more semantic than significant, anyway. Especially when looking at out how they play out in reality, vs theory.

Acerbica said...

Hey Deirdre,

Thanks for the ideas and the perspective on kids who interrupt. I don't doubt you when you say that your daughter refused to be put down, I've seen that in other kids too.

As far as babies go, I think that lots of talking, holding, and breastfeeding will make up for things not done quite right. I liked not nursing on demand, because it let me respond more specifically to my son, vs. treating ever wail with food.

As far as older kids go, as a teacher and parent I like the "love and logic" series. Instead of punishing children, you allow/create natural consequences. So, "When you finish cleaning your room, you can go out," vs. "You can't go out until you clean your room."

Freddy: I see your point, but I didn't personally get offended by the feedback. I'm used to a lot of input, as one of six sisters. Lots of concerned aunts around here.