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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29 Comments

  1. Knittymummy
    March 13, 2012 / 11:57 am

    Anyone who is a militant parent for any parenting technique puts pressure on others (whether it be Gina Ford devotees, attachment parenting to the extreme, or those who frown on you because you didn’t eat the placenta) I don’t mind people offering advice, but why can’t people just let you get on with parenting the way you want to. I will take advice if I like it and ignore it if I don’t. You continue to do attachment parenting the way you want to do it and maybe other parents will see it doesn’t have to be extreme.

    • March 14, 2012 / 9:16 pm

      I’m with you on that – take it if you like it, ignore it if you don’t. I’ll remember that the next time someone at a baby group thinks they’ve found the solution to everyone else’s difficulties.

  2. Anonymous
    March 13, 2012 / 12:47 pm

    I completely second what Knittymummy said. In the end, it’s important that you try to do what’s best for your baby. If that’s co-sleeping or controlled crying, it’s your business and not anybody else’s and although it is easily done, I try not to judge others on their parenting styles. Ben’s family and I regularly clash in our views about what is right for Amy, but I think: Mummy knows best and that’s what other’s should accept.

  3. March 13, 2012 / 1:00 pm

    I’m a complete picker and chooser, doing some things that would be considered “attachment parenting” and others not.  The right solution is going to be different for everyone, and personally I like to information gather like you seem to, but the key is not to get bogged down in all this “advice” and lose site of what actually works for you, your child, your life.  We’re all going to make different choices across the board, then make mistakes, maybe adjust our styles…but if we have our families interests at heart and are not just doing things to comply to this expert or that approach then I think we’re on the money.  This morning LLC looked at me and said “I love you mommy” – so next time I go questioning myself about something as we mothers inevitably do, I need to remember that and know at the end of the day I’m doing something right 🙂

    • March 14, 2012 / 9:13 pm

      You’re right. I’m big on gathering information. It’s the researcher in me. You’re right – you can read all the “studies” but statistics may not speak to your experience. A lot of the time we just have to do what feels right and love them as best we can. Also, I’m sure you’re doing a lot of things right. 🙂

  4. March 13, 2012 / 6:10 pm

    This is a wonderful post, I firmly believe in finding the parenting approach that works for you and your children. I think your attitude to it is right and where I do have friends who parent differently to me, it can cause issues and stress and having people who share techniques and ideas really helps.

  5. March 13, 2012 / 7:39 pm

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. I grimace when I hear any label, because I think it’s so restrictive. I always promised myself I would be led with my instincts when I became a mum, which would involve making decisions on an ad hoc basis rather than sticking to any rigid set of guidelines from any one “approach”. I’ll never forget what my dad once said to me when my daughter was tiny. He summed it up perfectly: “The problems arise when one parent tries to take one approach that doesn’t feel natural to them. You can’t force yourself to be a particular type of mum, just like you can’t force yourself to be a particular type of person.” Good old Dad. 

    • March 14, 2012 / 1:43 pm

      Ad hoc makes sense because different children (and parents) need different things at different times. Your instincts tell you what those things are.

  6. March 13, 2012 / 8:11 pm

    Labelling has really taken off, there was much less of that when my 1st was born 7 years ago. I’ve never thought about what label mother I might be… I bfed both kids for 10-11 months, I’m still co-sleeping with my 3-yr old, i potty trained them at 26 and 19 months, I tried controlled crying once 🙂 I guess I could call myself an almost attachment parent but I see no point in labels. Everyone is just a parent who does what they feel is best for their kids AND for themselves.

    • March 14, 2012 / 1:40 pm

      Labelling seems more useful for marketing than for actual parenting. It sells books, magazines, websites, products… I guess it helps if you’re trying to find like-minded parents but two people can claim a label and still be VERY different.

  7. MsXpat
    March 14, 2012 / 10:56 am

    I’ve never heard the term ‘attachment parenting’ before but from the sounds of it, I reckon that’s how I’m mothering. It is tiring but our kids will only be kids for a short period and as I’m now a stay at home mother I feel its my duty of give my son as much attention as I can and he needs. I’m a big kid at heart anyway so its not a chore or boring for me to do ‘silly’ things to make him happy. I think there I times I embarrass him with my antics at home, but the result is he’s happy,  confident, funny and quite a charmer and I’d have it no other way. It would be wonderful if he slept through the night but that will come with time. I HOPE, lol.

    • March 14, 2012 / 1:36 pm

      I keep telling my mother she was an attachment parent. She just did what was instinctive to her. And that’s the best advice any mother can take – follow your instincts. It sounds like that’s certainly what you’re doing with your son. Yes, one day they’ll sleep through. It’s a developmental milestone. 🙂

  8. Samerahassan1
    March 14, 2012 / 5:16 pm

     ‘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.’

    Exactly. But I think sometimes it’s hard for mothers to remember this when looking at other mothers, considering what a deeply personal thing being a mother is. It’s very easy to forget that all babies are different, all families are different, what works for some may not work for others. I’ve had flack for pretty much all my parenting decisions from someone or other, but at the end of the day I’m just doing the best I can with the information I have in the circumstances I find myself in. We all are 🙂

    • March 14, 2012 / 9:09 pm

      It is deeply personal. None of us can dictate for another how to play that role.

  9. March 14, 2012 / 7:54 pm

    I feel uneasy with the term attachment parenting. I think you are right, it’s too caught up in the practices it lends itself too. Just because I love baby/toddler wearing, I’m still breastfeeding, and I won’t do sleep training, I’d rather not be pigeon-holed. And I’m sure some of my parenting goes firmly against the usual things associated with attachement parenting.

    It’s also a very good point you made that you can be physically close to your child but still ignore them.

    That’s two extremely good posts you’ve made in the past few days : )

    • March 14, 2012 / 9:07 pm

      Pigeon-holed is a great way of putting it. Labels oversimplify things and parenting is anything but simple. Thanks about the posts. 🙂

  10. Honest Mum
    March 15, 2012 / 6:22 am

    I hate labels. Like our off spring are individuals, so are we and therefore although there are ‘guides’ out there on parenting, we have to meet the needs of our children (which will vary from Joe Blogg’s kid’s need next door) and do it the way we feel is right. Super post. 

    • March 20, 2012 / 11:43 pm

      Certainly. Not all children settle the same, cry the same, feed the same. They are all such individuals. As for parents, there is no one way. There is only your way.

  11. March 31, 2012 / 12:27 pm

    Love this post, Adele. I am like Tanya and a picker and chooser. Breastfeeding as long as we’re both happy to, sleeping in a way that works for all of us (both our girls spent lots of time in our bed when they were babies, but also spent time in their crib/cots), baby-led weaning… RoRo spent most of her time in a buggy, as I didn’t discover baby-wearing till later – LaLa spent most of her time in a sling. I didn’t let anyone push RoRo (including Chris) in her buggy without me until she was six months old, LaLa went out without me within a few days of being born. Some things I’d be inclined to do, if our lifestyle were different – e.g. cloth nappies, more messy play – but it’s not just about what you want, it’s about what you can do – as a family.

    • May 16, 2012 / 10:23 pm

      Definitely! I think there’s a lot of pressure on parents (and ok, especially on mothers) to take a list of rules and be restricted by them. But within an ideology there is usually fluidity to find what works for individuals in individual situations.

  12. April 20, 2012 / 5:22 pm

    For me it’s the smugness that often comes with a declaration of parenting style. The schools my kids have been to have had a large element of progressiveness, so there are a lot of varieties of parenting. There’s a certain type (be it mother or father) who floats around, being all at peace with the world and claims to have the calmest, securest (etc) baby or toddler. The implication (never uttered of course) is that anyone who’s not parenting in the same way is obviously uneducated on the matter, but also somehow to be pitied. 
    Really sets my teeth on edge.

    • May 16, 2012 / 10:21 pm

      I know what you mean. I use the term “attachment parenting” because it works well as shorthand for some of what we do but I’m uncomfortable with it because I wonder whether by using it I’m insinuating that those who parent differently are unnattached? That’s certainly not what I really think.

  13. Squashedfly
    May 8, 2012 / 8:28 pm

    I really like your post. I have 2 kids and with the second both my husband and I are far more comfortable with our “natural” parenting (another label) but that”s what we do. What feels right for our children. I dont expect medals for the things we do but it is always nice to feel we are not alone in how we do things. I meet a lot of first time mums and I always try to reassure them that there is no “right way” but the “what-works-for-you way”. I found it hard first time around that while my instinct said one thing , Gina and the rest said the opposite. Now if anyone has any comment on my babies feeding or eating patterns I just nod and smile and point to my 3 year old happy child who seems none the worst for his parents parenting.

    • May 16, 2012 / 10:19 pm

      “just nod and smile”- that there is probably the best strategy for any new parent!

  14. Em
    July 21, 2012 / 9:04 am

    I had never heard of attachment parenting before this post so I have a question… How do you maintain a healthy sex life if you have a baby in your bed every night?

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      July 21, 2012 / 9:35 am

      Easily. For one, sex doesn’t have to happen in the bedroom alone. 😉

  15. August 15, 2012 / 6:38 pm

    Oh this post sums up so well how I feel about one of my friends and her AP ‘label’. She is following rules and ticking boxes to the extent that, in my opinion, she may as well be using the Gina Ford model. It’s so sad to watch because what she wants to do it the right thing, for all of her children, but what she is actually doing is following the ‘rules’ to the detriment of herself, all of her family and the baby. She is resentful, exhausted and constantly berating herself. So very sad.

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