Is Attachment Parenting Extreme or Calm and Nurturing?


In my previous post about the reactions to the Time magazine issue about Attachment Parenting (AP) I put “techniques” in quotes because, although people are discussing it that way, it does not feel appropriate. A technique seems to me to refer to something that is developed after research, not something that comes naturally.

When I was pregnant, my husband checked out “The Baby Book” by Dr. Sears from the library. As I read about attachment parenting I grew confused, looked up at my husband and said, “I don’t understand what attachment parenting is. To me, this just sounds like parenting”. My husband explained that decades ago there had been so many changes with the introduction of formula and the popularity of cry-it-out that what was considered normal had changed. If that hadn’t happened, attachment parenting wouldn’t have a name.

I consider myself an AP parent simply because I generally do what comes naturally. Then, if something isn’t working or doesn’t feel right, I change it. Imagine my surprise when I was watching The Today Show and they referred to AP as “extreme” or “intensive” at least three times in a seven minute segment. Dr. Sears tried to explain that these are “tools and not rules”, but I felt he was drowned out by the dramatic words of the host emphatically stating that it was intensive and extreme.

Let me be clear here, parenting is intensive and extreme. The first year of my son’s life was quite intensive and did feel rather extreme. But that is the nature of having a child. Your life changes drastically. Your priorities are turned upside down. No one has to force you to do what’s best for your child because you want to do what’s best for your child. You, simply put, are not your main priority anymore, no matter what your parenting style.

Whether your baby is in your bed or a crib in another room, you will still wake at night occasionally and check to see if she is breathing. Whether your child is breastfeeding or formula-fed, you will be concerned if he isn’t gaining enough weight, or too much weight, not peeing enough, or if the poop is a weird color.

In many ways, AP made things easier for me. When my son continued to wake in the night as he grew older, I wondered if I was doing something wrong. Many of the sleep books told me not to nurse him to sleep, but whenever I would try other techniques I would fail miserably and end up more frustrated and sleep-deprived. Ultimately, I would always go back to nursing him to sleep in our family bed. Dr. Sears provided the only books that reassured me that what I was doing was ok. I didn’t do it because he told me to. I didn’t do it as some sort of competition with other moms. I didn’t do it because I felt guilted into it. I did it because it was what my husband and I wanted and it worked for us. In fact, it worked so well that many nights I barely remembered waking.

Throughout it all when friends would suggest various forms of sleep training, I would thank them and politely say that it didn’t work for me. I have no intention of judging those parents, but as I watched the Today Show and heard the word “extreme” applied to AP I couldn’t help but think that alternatives like cry-it-out sounded extreme to me. If it feels ok for someone else, maybe they wouldn’t describe it that way and I respect that. I know that co-sleeping and nursing simply don’t work for everyone and all babies are different. I know that some kids cry themselves to sleep in mere minutes. But I also knew that my son would not. The thought of having him cry for, what I knew would be, hours felt extreme, whereas quietly nursing him in my bed while I snoozed lightly felt relaxing, calm, and wonderful.

Do you have a parenting style or part of it that could be described as AP? In what ways do you feel it is calm, moderate, or even makes things easier?


One thought on “Is Attachment Parenting Extreme or Calm and Nurturing?

  1. As you know, Katie, we tend to parent very similarly to you guys. I was recently visiting family on both sides, and in each situation, I felt there was a moment where my disciplinary style was called into question. One grandmother felt I was being “manipulated,” while the other one suggested that more authority in the way I set up rules for our son would help him “behave” better. Neither said I was a bad mom, and both have been supportive historically. But it set me off a bit and also made visible some things about our disciplinary approach that some might consider “extreme,” even while I consider them natural:
    1. We coparent. While we each have strengths and weaknesses in particular areas, the expectation is that we equally engage in agreed-upon approaches to our son’s discipline. (Note that the concerns from grandmothers were specifically directed at me. HMMMM.)
    2. We don’t engage in a battle of wills unless we have to. We don’t jump to satisfy his every whim, but if I don’t have to “win,” I just don’t push the point. If our son really wants to do something or hold something, and it’s not going to hurt him, cause us difficulties, or directly contradict our standards, then no problem. I’m not interested in being the dictator, but rather the kiddie bumpers on his bowling lane, so to speak. So if he’s not ready to go to bed, okay! Much easier to put a sleepy kid to bed an hour later than I’d like than to hold a screaming child down to a bed for that entire hour and have him fall asleep at the same time. But we do put limits on the kinds of things he can do after a certain hour in order to help him wind down and get ready to sleep.
    3. We explain EVERYTHING. Maybe he doesn’t understand it (although I think he does!), but we do, and if we have to be clear about our motivations, we make better choices. In other words, we believe that we have an obligation to him to behave in a reasonable manner as much as he has an obligation to develop reasonable social behavior.
    Um…seems natural to me.

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