Response to “Why We Ditched Attachment Parenting”

(Non-Parents: Sorry about all the parenting stuff lately. It’s just what I’m reading and thinking about a lot these days. I have a few more child-related posts in mind, and then I PROMISE to move on to other topics. I heart non-parents, too!)

I came across an article recently entitled Why We Ditched Attachment Parenting.

The author is gentle(ish) and gracious and non-judgmental to those who don’t share her views. I hope to be the same in my response.

She talks about how she and her husband, after doing research, chose the attachment parenting (AP) route with their first child, because proponents of AP taught that kids developed better that way.

“AP babies are said to have better behavior, development, and learning skills,” she says.

So they practiced the various tenets of attachment parenting – babywearing, bedsharing, etc.

They hated it. They felt sleep-deprived, and her back hurt. To make things worse, she felt guilty about it when she gave these things up.

But with their next baby, they tried sleep-training.

They were much happier the second time around.

I have several thoughts in response.

My first thought: obviously the two kids have very different temperaments. The first was very fussy and sensitive (much more so than my own child, it seems); the second, much more mellow.

There’s no way to judge whether life would have been any easier, had they tried sleep-training with the first, or any more difficult with the second, had they continued with bed-sharing and gentle sleep practices. I know parents who tried sleep-training their baby, and the child was still a horrible sleeper for the first year of life. (And, I must confess, I know  attachment parents whose child was still a terrible sleeper, too.) It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the method, but everything to do with temperament.

(Side note: I really appreciated this post from Exile Fertility, in which the author tells us her story of raising two babies the exact same way but with dramatically different results. Temperament is HUGE.)

My second thought: there is more than one way to co-sleep and baby-wear. The author claims her back hurt from sharing a bed. They could have had him sleep in a co-sleeper, or a mattress on the floor, or whatever, to ease that problem. If bed-sharing isn’t working for you, there’s no rule that says you can’t try something different while remaining close by and sensitive to your baby’s needs.

The same with babywearing. She might have needed a different carrier, or to use hers differently. Hunter-gatherer women used to carry their babies on their backs for miles every day. There must be a way to do it without pain. But of course, you don’t have to wear your baby at all to be an attachment parent, either.

(There are no rules with AP; just an attitude of wanting to be near, to listen and respond to your child’s expressed needs. AP is not a method you apply to your child, after all, but an approach. It’s very flexible!)

Third, and most significantly: I was frankly surprised by her reason for choosing AP in the first place. I didn’t know anyone chose AP because it was supposed to be better for development.

Every approach claims to be best for baby’s development!

(Trust me, I know: I’ve read them all. From Dr. Sears to Babywise to Baby Whisperer to Happiest Baby on the Block: everybody claims that their method produces the happiest, easiest, smartest babies. I do find that Dr. Sears is the least frantic about it, though.)

I was under the assumption that parents chose the attachment approach, then, because they felt it was the easiest, most intuitive, most joyful approach.

Of course, there is the fact that it makes the most sense from an anthropological standpoint, too. Human beings belong to a class of mammals that remains near its young at all times and nurses often. This kind of parenting would have been essential to survival for early humans, and our bodies are thus adapted to that kind of physical contact. Mothers and babies both have natural instincts to these kinds of arrangement. That’s why babies become so distressed when separated from their mothers.

And many Christian parents might also find that this style of parenting resonates with our understanding of God, as a parent who never abandons us, but holds us close, even (and especially) during our darkest times.

But I never thought any parent would choose it because it’s supposed to be best for development.

However, the author says she felt guilty for giving up on these tenets of attachment parenting, because she felt she wasn’t doing the best thing for her child’s development.

I found this surprising. Since I thought most people chose AP for the above reasons (i.e. because it’s easier and more natural), I never would have imagined any parent feeling guilty for failing to enjoy the more touchy-feely, airy-fairy, hippy-dippy route.

If anything, I thought the risk went the other way around: AP parents ran the risk of feeling guilty about not being disciplined enough, being too soft-hearted and weak, letting their kids rule the house and run amok.

* * *

The truth of the matter is, it’s really hard to tell what parenting style is the best for development. Some studies certainly indicate that children who get more positive touch and affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, more intelligent and to care more about others; but (a) that doesn’t necessarily translate into bedsharing and babywearing; and (b) you could probably find sources that say the opposite.

I have no idea what parenting approach produces the “best” babies and kids. (One reason being because everyone will have different qualifications for determining what is “best.” Kids who are obedient? Who get good grades? Who are compassionate?)

I tend to believe that whatever approach you take actually has very little effect, in the end, on a given child’s personality, preferences, habits, and virtues.

Each child is her own individual, born with her own predispositions, and the free will to make choices for good or evil. We parents have a certain amount of influence, but not really all that dang much.

So I chose attachment parenting because I thought it would bring me the most joy; and what my baby could use most of all is a joyful mother.

I personally believe that AP has the capacity to bring most parents the maximum amount of joy. So I encourage it wherever and whenever I can.

But my advice would be not to make your parenting decisions based on what you think will produce the “best” child. I don’t think you have that much power over how your child turns out. You will just end up heartbroken when your child doesn’t turn out the way you’d hoped.

Instead, choose what gives you peace and joy. Choose whatever approach strengthens your relationship, and encourages trust and hope.

What do you think?

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  1. Definitely – I think AP works best for a certain type of parent with a certain type of child! As for the complaints about co-sleeping and babywearing you’re totally right – it’s not something that has to be done in a certain way.

    I consider myself an AP parent, but I hardly wore Henry – he too got really big, really quickly and wearing him was not a good idea during my c-section recovery – I did have a basic baby carrier that we used when we could, but instead of trying to wear him all the time I made sure that when every moment I otherwise could, I (or someone else) was holding him, rocking him, interacting with him – even just a gentle touch on the cheek or the head was good in my book. I think the biggest part of “babywearing” is coming up with the best technique for you and the baby to make sure he/she is not alone in a crib or rocker ALL day, but is getting as much personal interaction as possible.

    The long and short of it – no matter the “rules” Dr. Sears gives – Attachment Parenting is simply that; finding your own style or methods to encourage your attachment to the child and the child’s to you. The rest of those “rules” can be considered hints and suggestions at best.
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    • Yes — I think much more important than “babywearing” specifically is just ensuring your kids get lots of positive touch. Not everyone is fit to carry their baby around all over the place; that doesn’t mean they can’t get lots of snuggle time!

  2. I follow a lot of the AP tenets because it makes me happy, and I agree with you that humans raised their children like that for thousands of years, and that it reflects our relationship with God. And I definitely agree that the particular aspects that any parent adheres to is certainly shaped by our children’s temperaments. Example: my first daughter slept through the night at six weeks (in her own crib). She didn’t really care about being worn. At three, she is now extremely independent; even when she gets hurt, she only likes to cuddle for a few seconds. My second daughter turns one in the next few weeks. She takes all the cuddles she can get. I had to wear her all the time, or else nothing would get done. She slept in our room (and usually in my arms) up until a month ago. Night and day difference between these two. So we were a lot less AP with my oldest, mostly because she didn’t care for any of it. I can absolutely understand how someone could feel that AP is ruining their life, however, because one thing that I have noticed about the AP community in general is a tendency to heavily judge anyone who doesn’t follow all of the tenets. If you don’t do follow all of the 7 B’s, you are scarring your child. And it can get overwhelming, if you are unable to take a deep breath and step back to look at the situation with an impartial eye.

    • Arliss: thanks for confirming how important temperament is! It’s so comforting for parents whose kids aren’t exactly the way books say they should be if they just do things a certain way. Kids are just different!

      You say you’ve noticed in the AP community “a tendency to heavily judge anyone who doesn’t follow all of the tenets.” I can see that becoming a problem in any group where one parenting style is dominant. In my evangelical context, where parents are most influenced by organizations like Focus on the Family, AP is definitely outside the norm. But any time a bunch of people get together who share similar ideas, there is the risk of becoming oppressive to those who are different — even if what they share is a desire to parent with gentleness (!). Definitely something for me to keep in mind! It’s so easy and tempting to judge people who don’t agree with me.

      • Yes, I agree it can happen in any group of like-minded people; suddenly it becomes a competition as to who is more “like-minded.” On another note, I laughed a little when I saw you mentioned Focus on the Family. I love AP, and I also love Focus on the Family. I have managed to blend the two very nicely so far :)

  3. I just wanted to chime in and say, as someone who does not have any children and likely won’t (but knows plenty of AP folks of all stripes — and those who have crazy kids and mellow kids regardless of parenting style), I find these articles very interesting and informative. So, no worries that we’re (all) bored over here reading about parenting or kids; its a glimpse into a world I wouldn’t otherwise know. Thank you for sharing your journey so intimately.

    • Thanks so much for being so open and understanding, PepperReed! I really appreciate it! Not all child-free adults share your interest. I like to think I take interest in non-parents’ lives, too!

  4. great post … and thanks for the link-up! when i was quite pregnant with our first child a very respected friend (who is also a psychologist) introduced me to Dr Sears and Attachment Parenting. I devoured a couple of his books and had a robust correspondence with my friend about how things worked for them. She was the only person i knew who openly breastfed long-term, bedshared, and didn’t hit or shame her children.

    I think the most important parenting decision we make is for gentle discipline: choosing not to hit, shame or manipulate your child through praise. Long-term breastfeeding and bedsharing help facilitate a responsiveness to your child that grows a trust in them that gives you authority in their life. Does gentle discipline work? We are testing it out big time with our very strong-willed 2 year old. Do we have the best behaved two year old in the neighbourhood? No. But my husband and I are convinced that gentle, or non-violent, parenting is the right means. We have faith that we will have a healthy, intimate bond with our teenager, who will become an adult committed to non-violence and justice and valuing his own voice and influence in the world.

    the book “Parenting for a Peaceful World” by Robin Grille is incredible. I agree that we should choose what parenting style brings us the most peace and joy (and for me, AP is the way), but also we need to ask what will bring more peace and joy to the world. Grille makes a very good case for attachment parenting.
    becca: exile fertility recently posted..Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you’re on my mind)My Profile

    • Becca, you’re touching on something I hadn’t even thought of when writing this post, and now I feel kind of ashamed. Of COURSE our parenting choices shouldn’t only about making ourselves happy: we should also be attempting to make the world a better place! Most infant-care books focus only on creating happy, easy BABIES. Sometimes, they talk about how to make happy, easy KIDS. The goal is to make life easier for the PARENTS. But they rarely take into consideration how to raise children who will impact the world in positive ways.

      I am SO adding that book to my reading list. Thanks!

      • Grille’s take on ‘parental instinct’ is fascinating – he doesn’t really believe in it. I know AP propaganda appeals to how instinctual it is (if you were alone on an island with no parenting influences, you would breastfeed for years and sleep next to your baby, etc…) but Grille says historically our instinct (in western culture) has been to preserve ourselves at cost to our children. It’s only maybe since the mid-1800s that we’ve even understood there to be a ‘childhood’ rather than thinking children are just small, idiotic adults. we’ve killed our babies, then abandoned them, then sent them to live with wet-nurses for years, then gotten into very authoritarian styles to keep them obedient at any cost …

        I’ve found for myself that as much as i have an instinct to keep my children close and respond to their needs, i also have a strong instinct sometimes to push them away. our “instinct” is very much based on how we have been parented, how our culture parents at the time and how much support we have to realize our parenting goals/ideals. seriously, his book is fascinating.

        i have to face my instinct to hit my child daily when he is frustrating the heck out of me. (fortunately i have good self-control, a supportive partner and Jesus) what keeps me going in non-violent parenting is a bigger vision than just how i’m feeling in the moment. anyway, that’s enough. but Grille’s book is AWESOME. i’d be very intersted to hear what you think about it.
        becca: exile fertility recently posted..Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you’re on my mind)My Profile

        • Interesting stuff, Becca! I guess it does seem true that we in the West exhibit an instinct to preserve ourselves at cost to our children. I must get my hands on that book!

          At the same time, I can’t help thinking that there is a certain amount of instinctiveness. For example, when a mother hears her baby crying, she has an instinct to go to the child and hold it. Even her milk letdown reflex is triggered by the sound of infant crying. And when her baby is lying next to her, most mothers lay in a certain way that prevents them from rolling over onto the child, and maximizes access to the breast. So I feel that we can’t deny a certain amount of naturalness in this kind of arrangement. Maybe I’m wrong?

          • so true! our physical bodies are wired for attachment parenting, so i guess that is “instinctual”, and babies definitely expect to be responded to, nursed, worn and slept close. it seems to be in the area of our emotions that our “instincts” are rooted more in how we’ve been parented, abuse we’ve suffered, etc. i do think responsive parenting is God’s design and I think it’s where the universe is headed (although i don’t know if it’s a place we’ve ever been before).

            the benefit for me of not believing too much in a parenting instinct? it’s helped me process other people’s behaviour towards their children without demonizing them. whether that’s parents daily sex-trafficking their young children or mothers participating in FGM rituals or parents facilitating honour killings of their daughters or child abuse across any culture. i can still discern that these behaviours are wrong (and horrific!) but i can see the perpertrator much more as a battered child than a monster. it’s helped me to look at my own “inclination” towards violence and anger with more grace as well.

            and another thing about instinct i’ve discovered recently is during pregnancy i had some strong urges to wean my son – sometimes my aversion to nursing him was so strong. Many women who nurse during pregnancy have this feeling, and I think (but don’t quote me) that most cultures don’t believe it’s right to nurse through pregnancy (although they usually have much larger age gaps). my milk even dried up for a few weeks and i think my body was trying to wean my son and start over. but we decided that what was best for our family was to continue nursing him, at great cost to myself sometimes. so that’s a case where i went against my evolutionary, “natural” instinct in order to do what i felt was best.

            good questions to ponder, hey? great post – thanks for initiating!! (i’m boarding a 14 hour flight to vancouver in a few hours with a toddler who hasn’t poo-ed in three days and a baby girl who only stops moving when she sleeps. should be fun!!)
            becca: exile fertility recently posted..Till there are no strangers anymore (Gaza and Israel, you’re on my mind)My Profile

      • I agree that the effects of parenting techniques on the kind of person the child grows to be, and the effect that person has on the world, are really the most important. I was raised with mostly gentle discipline (spanked just a few times) and lots of respect and dialogue. My parents did many other AP and “natural” things, too, and I believe that all these things were good for me, but the attitude was more important than the physical actions. You might be interested in this article I wrote recently: Should your family be child-centered?

        I like your response to the original article–I just saw it, and came here from there, though I have visited your blog before. I agree that she didn’t take enough account of her children’s different temperaments, and that she didn’t really “ditch AP” so much as “realize how to make AP work for this particular family” so it’s hardly fair to bash AP for her initial misunderstanding.

        Being a developmental psychologist myself, I certainly was drawn to AP and to many related parenting decisions by the goal of helping my child develop in the “best” and most natural way possible. I don’t see that as particularly strange.
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  5. In a way, I think you sort of had the same point as the author. If evey baby has a different personality, so to does every parent. She clearly has a very rules-based personality–you pointed out that she could have taken a more flexible approach etc. but she saw Dr. Sears’ guidelines as hard and fast rules. For whatever reason, she didn’t find joy in AP parenting (or at least those two tenets of it), and so she changed her approach with her second child. And while there’s no way to know if bed-sharing, etc. would have gone better with that mellower baby, we do know that the mother was happier and healthier. So who’s to say what she “should” have done? Everyone works out the best solutions for herself.

    But then, I have a one-week old and have yet to read any parenting book whatsoever, so I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m talking about. ;-)

    • ACK! KATIE!! CONGRATS!!! I’m so excited to hear that T-Rex is finally here!! I hope you tell your birth story on your blog! (I am such a sucker for birth stories.)

      Good points, Katie. And I hope I didn’t imply that I knew what she “should” have done. I guess I was bothered by her claim that attachment parenting was ruining her life. It wasn’t attachment parenting, per se, that was the problem: it was trying to follow a rigid set of rules, and then feeling guilty about “failing.” I wanted to point out that there are no rigid rules when it comes to AP; so if you don’t love bed-sharing, that doesn’t mean AP is ruining your life. It means bed-sharing is probably not right for you.

      I think you’re already a wise mommy, regardless of your baby’s age and the number of books you’ve read; I’m so excited about the journey ahead for your family! *Hugs*

      • Thank you! I plan to write up his story, once I have the chance to sit at the computer and not just my phone. :-)

        Yes, exactly right. It seems to me that the complaints about different parenting methods, whether AP or Babywise or anything in between, almost always come from trying to adhere too strictly to that methodology rather than an inherent flaw in the method itself (not to say there aren’t legitimate problems with certain practices, but most of the histrionic, “this is ruining my life!”-type comments seem to stem from taking everything too seriously and not from those legitimate problems). I mean, even the author said she didn’t ditch all the AP tenets but only the ones that didn’t work for her. That’s sort of the attitude you should have going into it, IMO, that you’ll try different things, keep what works, and adjust what doesn’t.

        Though you have to use judgment there, too. If you’re committed to gentle, non-violent parenting for moral and philosophical reasons, you’re not just going to start spanking because your other approach isn’t working. But you would probably try a variety of tactics within that “gentle” framework, and shouldn’t beat yourself up over the ones that fail.

        Ha, thank you! I’m very wise in writing; perhaps less so when confronted with a real live squalling infant. ;-) But yes. We’re excited, and anxious, and mostly just exhausted. *Hugs* right back at you.

        And, full disclosure, when I tried to write “methodology” above, my phone kept suggesting “mixalot” (as in Sir, as in the Big Butts song) instead, so don’t go thinking I’m TOO highbrow…^_^*

  6. “nd many Christian parents might also find that this style of parenting resonates with our understanding of God, as a parent who never abandons us, but holds us close, even (and especially) during our darkest times.”

    I agree!! This AP backlash is really beginning to get to me. I feel for all the babies left to cry in dark rooms all alone. It makes my heart hurt.

    I have 7 kids. 6 were raised the same and they’re all very different. (The 7th, my stepdaughter, lives with me and my husband full time but I didn’t raise her from infancy.)

    Parenting methods aren’t any guarantee.
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  7. Very timely for me to read this, as I have recently become disillusioned with “attachment parenting”. I have many more details than can be said in the combox but through many discussions with my husband about our parenting philosophies and what is best for Samuel specifically, we have made up our own method and hope to publish a book shortly, making millions and letting all parents know once and for all what the very best way to parent is :) I kid (obviously!). But I guess I have become disillusioned with what I once saw as attachment parenting and really, the idea of a method of parenting existing in general. I guess I lost faith that a book or method can tell me what to do in specific cases, although I will always find beauty in natural law and biology. Just a little example, Sam had always slept great on his own from the moment the midwife helped me lay him in the cosleeper. And I’m fairly convinced that my desire to cosleep to be a good attached parent that responded to his every ‘need’ eventually made Sam’s sleep worse…to the point of him waking up every 1 to 2 hrs. Anyways, my husband and I went round and round and finally concluded that our parenting philosophy was this: We believe in loving and nurturing our child, but we understand that in raising a human being, difficult things may and will likely eventually happen to them. We want to be the parents who go through those difficult things with our child, not doing it for them, and not standing idly by, but lovingly supporting them. I guess i realized that this philosophy is bigger than when our baby sleeps or if we hold him all the time. So hows that for hypocrisy? :)
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    • Alison, I feel the same about my son’s sleep patterns when he was a babe. He may not have gotten the sleep he needed, which might explain why he was such a darn fussy baby. He sleeps great now and never throws tantrums now he’s in his own room and we worked at getting him to stay there (merely picking him up each time he came out and putting him back in bed without a word from either of us, at age 2). He is almost 2 1/2 and this original post by Emily made me really think about some of the effects of my choice to hold so fast to AP as an entire, be-all, end-all, philosophy. I am re-thinking things with baby #2 (not quite in the physical picture yet…any week we are going for conception)…and my partner (not my son’s father) is very different from me and is really good at stepping back from philosophy and doing what makes sense for our goals of connection with our new baby AND maintaining connection with each other as a couple (and our own personal sanity factor). I will be using all the best things I like about AP and integrating other things that make sense for me and my family (obviously not CIO, but I’ve got to learn about sleep from someone else). Thanks for being transparent! xx Andrea

  8. We chose AP based on research and my witnessing it working in families I babysat for as a teen. We want to nurture our daughter and help her to become a gracious and caring adult. Coming from the background I have, with the expectation that children sleep through the night early on, are quiet around adult gatherings, and obedient, AP has been difficult at times. BUT we stick with it because we know it is what is best for our daughter, it is what is most nurturing, and in the long run will be worth the effort.
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  9. Her back probably hurt because she wore shoes. :)

    Seriously though.
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