(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?