I read an article recently which really caught my attention. The author is a journalist who decided to hang out with some attachment parents and put her thoughts down onto paper in the usual, tired way that mainstream journalists do. Dramatic, sensationalized and inaccurate generalizations and assumptions about a particular subculture within society. The positive that came out of this for me was an opportunity to see a bunch of myths surrounding attachment parenting all nicely wrapped up in one article. As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who has spent the last 4 years writing about my adventures in breastfeeding and attachment parenting on my blog and in my book, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to debunk the shit out of this topic…and article. (*FYI. I’m not the all knowing goddess of attachment parenting. My beliefs and experiences are my own.)
An open letter to Hadley Freeman…author of, “Attachment parenting: the best way to raise a child-or maternal masochism?”
Dear. Ms. Freeman,
- This isn’t the “approach of the moment”. While the term attachment parenting was coined in the 1980’s by Dr. Sears, this is how we have been mothering since, FOREVER. And no, I don’t just mean tribal cultures. Someone who happened to be around (either the child’s mother or a close family member) responding to the baby. Picking them up, carrying them around, sleeping with, or very close to them. Breastfeeding them. The “approach of the moment” is actually the very new (historically speaking) and very mainstream approach which includes putting them in a different room, by themselves, with a bottle.
- We don’t “trust our instincts over the advice of doctors”. It is actually possible to follow our instincts while having educated discussions with our doctors. Instead of just accepting the advice of (for example) “you’re breastfeeding your baby too much”, we arm ourselves with evidence based information so we can make informed decisions, alongside our health care professionals.
- Attachment parenting does not automatically mean cloth nappies and non vaxxing. There are many people who don’t vaccinate and would describe their parenting as the exact opposite of attachment parenting. On the other coin there are many “attachment” parents who vaccinate. Just a side note. I didn’t use cloth nappies as a new mother because I was a crunchy hippy attachment parent. I used cloth nappies because I thought they were freakin’ adorable…and we were poor. Saving thousands of dollars on nappies was a necessity. But you acknowledging that would not feed into your narrative of my experience as an “attached” parent.
- We are not “rejecting modernity”. We are modern…while continuing to answer our babies’ cries and mother through breastfeeding. I know it seems crazy to think that we can be modern while also being “attached”. However as you can see, it is possible for us to wear pearls, be dressed in a collared shirt, work, AND be wearing our baby in a sling. Yeah, it actually happens. Here’s proof…my first born and I…
And sometimes I combined work AND attachment parenting…
- Not every attachment parent baby-wears 24/7 and bedshares and yeah, if we have to pee we might actually put our baby down for a minute even though they are crying. We might even let them cry for a minute while we finish our bite of toast…however we may also choose to put them in the carrier. Many of us end up bedsharing because we notice quite quickly that our baby will not sleep if they are on their own. Babies are usually pretty happy when they are with, or very close to their mother. Many of us find attachment parenting without actually realizing it. We end up there because our babies asked to be held most of the time, asked to be breastfed frequently, asked to be cuddled. Either way…we’re not saying that we are better than you. We’re saying that at every moment possible, we choose to answer our babies’ cries instead of leaving them. And again…not saying we’re better than you. Please stop making it about you and your parenting.
- We are listening to our motherly instincts and following the lead of our babies. This isn’t “masochism”…it’s simply responding to our babies…and being with our babies. Whether you are an attachment parent or not there will be times you are frustrated and exhausted and overwhelmed. There will be times you just need some “me” time! We find it challenging trying to balance being there for our kids, while also finding time to ourselves. Just like every other mother on the face of the planet.
- Let’s stop with the red-herring in which you argue that us attachment parents are telling others that they don’t have good relationships with their child just because they don’t practice attachment parenting…um. No. It would be much easier for your argument if everyone could see us as judging you and your ways of parenting. It actually has nothing to do with you and your parenting. You may have felt that sleep training was best for you and your family. You may have felt that sleeping in a crib was best for your baby. I don’t then accuse you of assuming my kids are going to be overly attached and clingy. I respect your decision and I hope you do the same for me.
- You don’t have to stay at home with your baby for years to be an attachment parent. There are millions of working mothers who would describe themselves as attachment parents. I included a whole chapter in my book about attachment parenting, returning to work and sleep. For my children’s early years I worked with them, I then worked without them as they got older and I could leave them for extended periods of time. This isn’t the path every attachment parent makes. Some stay with their child for many years before returning to work. I didn’t have that financial option. Others return to work much earlier than I did (like my sister). However that does not make one more “attached” than the other. It’s not a criteria that we must fit into.
- We do not only identify as “mother”. We identify as partner, mother, lover, sister, child, feminist…and much more. Just because we choose to practice gentle parenting does not mean it’s our only identity. Oh, and what is wrong anyway with “just” identifying as a mother? When did the identity of “mother’ become a negative thing? I am not a modern feminist if I “only” identify as “mother”?
- EVERY mother is tired. Not just attachment parents…and every mother goes through stages of utter exhaustion and confusion over what she should do to get more sleep.
- EVERY relationship goes through changes when a new baby arrives…not just attachment parents. And relationships are about communicating, having shared goals and respecting each other. Whether or not you temporarily change your sleeping arrangements does not change this fact. People get divorced regardless of whether or not they are attachment parenting…and people stay together for many years regardless of whether or not they are attachment parents. There is such a huge misconception about what our relationships are like since we couldn’t possibly be able to function as a healthy partnership if our kids are around most of the time, right?! FYI…we can…
- You describe attachment parents as “especially intense” in regards to our relationship with our partner and the sleeping arrangements we make, it might be best to look at EVERY parenting style. Parenting is intense. THE END. Relationships change and grow as a result of having children. Everyone is tired. Mothers and fathers can feel overwhelmed and EVERY parent needs to communicate. Relationships are about communication and respect. Relationships take a lot of hard work and needs to be paid attention to. Not every parent wants to do sleep training, not every parent wants to breastfeed 24/7 and bedshare. Most of us go through some sort of change as we grow as parents. Here is my husband talking about his transition to attachment parent and putting baby in our bed…
We don’t practice attachment parenting because we think we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We don’t practice attachment parenting because we think it’s the best for everyone…we simply think it’s the best for OUR family. Maybe we do seem a bit “annoying” at times. I think this is because we are constantly having to work against the mainstream. We are constantly criticised and questioned…”Are you STILL breastfeeding?”, “Is he STILL in your bed?!”, “Don’t you EVER put him down?”…the list goes on.
You said what you saw some something “akin to female masochism in the pursuit of maternal perfection”. I have yet to meet an attachment parent who describes herself as perfect. If there is than that has nothing to do with attachment parenting and everything to do with her own ego. I have yet to meet a non-attachment parent to describe herself as perfect. If there is than that has nothing to do with her style of parenting and everything to do with her own ego.
EVERY mother questions herself while mothering in those early years….and beyond. EVERY mother knows she is not perfect. EVERY mother has moments of wondering, “Is this the right decision?” EVERY mother feels guilt at one point or another. However I know that I will never look back and feel guilty for holding my babies too much. I will never look back and feel guilty for answering their cries. I will never look back and feel guilty for mothering through breastfeeding. My hope for other mothers is that they will be able to do the same, regardless of their parenting choices. It’s about doing the best we can with the resources we have at the time…and following our own motherly instincts.
-Meg Nagle, IBCLC and mother to 3 boys. Attachment parent. And no. I’m not better than you. I’m a mother doing her best…just like you are.