Before I became a mom, I had no idea there was a cultural "war" among mommies of various parenting styles. My best friend went back to work and her son was a happy formula-fed baby. I knew I wanted to put my career on hold to stay home while my kids were young and that I would breastfeed my kids. Who knew we were supposed to be at war over these choices?
Attachment Parenting as a phrase/philosophy/mindset may seem relatively new, but it's how I was raised, honestly. I shared my parents' bed until I was nine. I was breastfed for a year. I can count the times on one hand that my mom left my side in those very early days. It's no surprise that it seems like an intuitive way for me to parent.
AP has been in the media a lot recently - with Mayim Bialik (tv's Blossom) putting out a popular book about how she parents as an attachment parenter, to French feminist Elisabeth Badinter's book The Conflict that thumbs its nose at some American women's preference for AP, to the most talked about Time magazine cover in years.
In my opinion, it has painted my parenting practices as some sort of 'extreme' parenting. 'Martyr mothering.' Selfish mommies who just can't let go. Downtrodden women who are slaves to their offspring. Many of my friends, relatives, and social media acquaintances occasionally make judgmental remarks about extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping (specifically bedsharing), and babywearing - three of the most popular practices among AP adherents.
I know the whole point is to make us all come to the defense about our parenting choices. It's sport, really - pitting mommy against mommy. There are real issues to contend with. Parents who neglect their children, children without parents, (far right) single women (like one I met the other day) who won't adopt a wanted child because there isn't a man in the picture, (far left) earth mamas who are foregoing critical immunizations out of fear of some autism conspiracy theory. Whether my kid gets boob or bottle, goes to preschool or goes to playgroup...none of these idiosyncrasies should matter.
But I also know that there are some weird misconceptions surrounding the practice of attachment parenting. And I'm of the die hard opinion that it's the right path for me. So I'd like to put a few weird speculations to rest. And it's my blog, so I can do that.
Attachment parenting, developed by a pediatrician and his nurse wife who themselves parented 8 kids, is a philosophy that believes that children who develop secure attachments with their parents in their formative early years, whose needs are met quickly and sensitively, will develop into secure, empathetic, independent adults.
There are 8 principles. The 8th of these is to make sure you are striking a healthy balance in personal and family life - which means that if you feel like a martyr who has to give up their own sense of self to practice AP, it's not the right parenting style for you and/or you're not finding that balance.
AP practitioners like myself believe that "cry-it-out" and corporal punishment (hitting) are not sensitive ways to respond to a child's needs.
We believe in holding babies and in skin-to-skin contact, and many of us practice babywearing as a means of providing that contact that a baby needs and enjoys while still being able to enjoy handsfree parenting.
It is not anti-stroller in the sense that there is anything wrong with a stroller (I own four different strollers myself), but it discourages a culture of "container babies" where an infant is left being held by some kind of mechanical soother or 'container' for the majority of the day.
AP is certainly pro-breastfeeding for both its nutrative and nurturing benefits, but it encourages those who do use bottle feeding to try to replicate the closeness of the breastfeeding relationship. No bottle propping, lots of cuddling, eye contact, etc. It's not anti-bottle.
We get a lot of blowback over co-sleeping (which people think exclusively refers to bedsharing), but AP explains co-sleeping as an infant room-sharing with the mother. Many people do that for the first few weeks and simply don't call it that. But AP believes that infants need nighttime parenting as well and discourages the practice of leaving young babies by themselves.
I wanted to stay home while my babies are young. I wanted to breastfeed them - because it's healthy, biologically normal, and beautiful. I love wearing a baby - the way they just melt into you with their head against your heart, wrapped safely against your body, while you still have your hands free.
People hear that I bedshare and usually say, "Oh, I could never. I need my sleep." Well, for this family, it's how we get our sleep.
What AP is not is a rigid belief system with rules to follow. It does not privilege discipline over understanding. It does not say you must do this or must do that. It does not take a stance about vaccines or circumcision or television or diapering.
That being said, since most AP practitioners are stay-at-home moms (or dads), many of us are cloth diapering or making our own baby food (which I do) or enjoying (or not enjoying) some of the choices that are not an easy option for full-time working moms. Again, there's nothing in the 8 AP principles that say you have to be a barefoot earth mama. But there's also nothing that says you can't.
And, for the record, breastfeeding 3-5 year olds is perfectly anthropologically normal. Posing defiantly with your preschooler on your boob on the cover of Time? Not so much.