Monday, May 14, 2012


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.
And from the moment they were born, I wanted them to sleep happily and safely and soundly - which they do when they are snuggled against me - either in my wrap or in my bed. I did not plan to bedshare with Sweetie. We bought a beautiful crib when I was pregnant - a crib that sits in a lovely nursery a world away on our second floor. But when she slept between us, we all three slept better. And by the time Dibbs was 6 weeks old, it was clear that he would sleep through the night only if he was snuggled in the crook of my arm where he could nurse at will throughout the night.

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.


  1. I guess I was attachment parenting without knowing it, when my oldest was born in the early 1990's. I loved everything about it. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I for those parents who it's not for, that's OK too. To each his own I say. I just wish the whole Time piece honestly hadn't been presented with that cover - cause come on, that's just controversial with the pose and the stool and the look. I found it demeaning to all of us.
    Thanks for your great thoughts, Melissa! And you grow the cutest kids!

  2. I nursed 3 babies over the course of 6+ years straight!!! That included nursing through my last pregnancy, and then tandem nursing my toddler and my newborn for a year. I wore my babies in a few different wraps/slings (the BabyHawk and Maya Wrap were my favs). We co-slept, and there are still nights a child ends up sleeping with her parents.

    The thing is, though, these were just my natural mothering instincts of mine. I didn't realized there was a "name" for my mothering style. It's just the way things worked for us.

    Enjoy those babies, and mother them however your heart leads.

    As for TIME, well...the picture just seemed in poor taste to me. It wasn't an accurate representation of my experience with extended breastfeeding at ALL!

  3. You totally had me on board except the "dig" at the "far right" for wanting to parent in a two parent household. I have probably come to that decision with as much thoughtfulness as the way you choose to parent.

    1. Point well taken, Sara. I was bothered by the interaction I had with this woman because of the suggestion that a child was better off in an orphanage than under the care of a successful, loving single parent. Admittedly, I can't imagine the struggles of single parents, but I know that many could provide a loving home for a child. I have no doubt that someone could responsibly decide to have children until they were in a loving marriage - it's a choice I made as well after all. I should have been clearer about the context of my interaction.

  4. We lost our little girl in October...I would give anything to snuggle her in the crook of my arm and the six months that I held her close to me...all the time...I surly do not regret. Keep holding your babies is not gaurenteed. If I am blessed with more babies you bet I will be holding them tight. I also have a nine year old son...who, once a total momma's boy, will now barely will hold my hand in public. Time is precious we are not gaurenteed tomorrow and if you do get tomorrow it usually comes to quickly. I love this article!

  5. I am a mom of two kids a son 3 1/2 years and a daughter almost two years old. I breastfeed both for the first year of their life and loved using my ergo carrier. I am super pro nursing but the cover of Time still didn't give me a proud feeling. I think you summed it up in your last two sentences. It was the posing that threw me off. I read several excerpts from the Time magazine posted for free on line and felt like they were worded in a way to cause a mommy war that just doesn't exists among the moms I have meet. Anyone who has been a parent knows the challenges are nonstop and always changing as our children grow. As women we just need to be there to support not undermine each other.