Don’t label my parenting: struggling with “attachment parenting”

I’ve recently become uncomfortable with the term “attachment parenting”.

It’s tricky because it very much describes what we’re trying to do. Though we do have a routine, we watch our baby and not the clock. We refuse to rush her independence. We respond to her physical and emotional needs quickly. This tends to involve a lot of physical closeness – you could say “attachment”.

(For a solid post on what AP is and isn’t, see The Analytical Armadillo)

What bothers me is that people tend to hear the term “attachment parenting” and get distracted by the practices it lends itself to. I’m talking extended breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, elimination communication and the like.

While all of these things are useful, they cannot make anyone a better parent. You can wear your baby dawn to dusk and ignore her. You can put you mattress on the floor in committed bedsharing but resent your toddler for changing the way you sleep.

You can get caught up in a list of rules and feel self-satisfied about ticking all the boxes. It doesn’t improve your parenting. It only means you’ve found a new religion.

Which is why I understand when people call attachment parenting oppressive. Because if that’s what they’re looking at – the gut healing, natural birthing, homeschooling earth mama who’s pouring all of herself into her children until there’s nothing left, patting herself on the back and pointing the finger at anyone doing less – those ideals put tremendous pressure on parents in general but women in particular.

I’m not saying that any of those things aren’t good. In fact, I hold them in esteem myself. It’s the accompanying pressure, the room for healthy practices to become rules, that concerns me.

It, of course, doesn’t need to be so. Parenting is a shared responsibility, not only between two people but within a society. The reason we find parenting today such hard work is that we’re so isolated from each other. In that isolation, we lose perspective, we lose balance.

(For a discussion of where happiness fits with all this, take a look at PhD in Parenting.)

Yet I do consider myself an attachment parent.

I’ve also sought out others who parent similarly. Of course I’ve got lots of friends who take conflicting approaches but I have needed the support of those who help validate what I’m doing – who remind me that I’m not alone.

It’s because I need to know I’m not the only one who would dance her child around for hours rather than leave her in a cot to cry those hours to sleep.

It’s because I need to see others breastfeed their children to term (when did 6 months become a time limit?).

It’s because I need to be reminded that when the woman at the till is shocked that my baby doesn’t sleep independently for 12 hours straight that it’s a) none of her business and b) biologically normal.

I guess my problem with the label is that every now and then I meet someone who crosses a line from being enthusiastically or even evangelistically AP. Instead they come across as unfortunately militant.

It’s led me recently to ask: “What makes a natural parent? What does attachment parenting really mean?”

If I’d given up breastfeeding as I was on course to do when my daughter was four months (see my post Bottle feeding with love) it wouldn’t have changed my mindset.

On days when I’m “touched out” and take the pushchair instead of the carrier it doesn’t mean we’re less attached.

If we do end up deciding to move my daughter into the spare bedroom I don’t think I need to rethink my parenting philosophy.

So much of what we do has little impact on the core of our parenting. And this is the real question at the heart of my discomfort with any parenting label: “What makes a good parent?”

Here’s what I arrived at: good parenting is doing the best that you can with the information you have in the circumstances you find yourself in.

That has little to do with whether you end up picking and choosing what you’ll do from various experiences and sources of knowledge.

It’s the hardest job there is. The easiest to get wrong. All we can do is to give it our best.

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