When our children were young, my wife and I experiment with co-sleeping and other techniques that are now known, in the aggregate, as attachment parenting. Attachment parenting as a philosophy and practice appeals to many parents and families today.
What is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment parenting is a theory or parenting style best associated with Dr. William Sears and his book, The Baby Book published in 1992.
Attachment parenting focuses on keeping parents in close physical and emotional proximity to their babies and children. For example, parents who advocate and practice attachment parenting may breastfeed their children until they are toddlers, may reject the idea of parental "nights out" in favor of staying with the baby around the clock and carrying the baby in a sling rather than pushing them in a stroller. They may also enjoy having the baby sleep with them.
Why Do Parents Embrace Attachment Parenting?
Dr. Sears and other attachment parenting advocates argue that children are best adjusted and happiest when they are in a close and attached relationship with parents. The dangers of having children less attached by their parents can include emotional distance, behavior problems and feelings of childhood insecurity. In addition, a more nurturing relationship seems to benefit the parents as well as they feel more connected to their children and celebrate their natural inclination to nurture, protect and provide security.
The Basic Principles of Attachment Parenting:
The organization Attachment Parenting International is the foremost group promoting attachment parenting. They have created eight basic principles that define attachment parenting. These include:
- Preparation for pregnancy, birth and parenting. Pregnancy can bring many different feelings for prospective mothers and fathers. Some of those feeling may be negative including thoughts about what the parents are giving up to become parents, fears of inadequacy or a sense of dread. Attachment parenting suggests eliminating these fears and feelings by better preparation and understanding of pregnancy, birth and parenting.
- Feed with love and respect. Attachment parenting has breastfeeding as a basic tenet because breastfeeding provides ideal nourishment as well as a secure sense of attachment and security for the child.
- Respond with sensitivity. Parents who use attachment parenting as their style of choice recognize that every effort at communication by a baby or a child should be taken seriously. Children are not just left to "cry it out," but rather mom and dad try to learn the various communication cues in crying to help meet a baby's needs.
- Provide nurturing touch. Attachment parents advocate maximum skin-to-skin contact between baby and a parent. Taking a bath or shower with a baby rather than bathing them in a tub or sink would be a good thing.
- Celebrate night-time parenting. Co-sleeping with babies is a big part of attachment parenting. It allows again that secure, nurturing environment all hours of the day. Care must be taken to protect the infant during mom and dad's sleep, but many parents who are using attachment parenting have a cradle or bassinet right next to the bed to allow mom to just roll over and feed the baby at night and still provide physical closeness and security for the child.
- Provide constant, loving care. Attachment parents make sure that they are close to the baby all the time. If mom and dad go on a date, baby comes with. As a general rule, parents should avoid more than 20 hours of day care a week until a child is over 2 1/2 years old. Thus many attachment parents work split shifts to maximize parental time with the baby.
- Practice positive discipline. Parents are encouraged to help make discipline with a child positive rather than negative. Redirecting, distracting and modeling appropriate behavior are the discipline norms for parents using attachment parenting.
- Strive for life balance. Healthy lifestyles, good exercise and nutrition, and solid support networks are essential to help parents using attachment parenting in keeping their lives in a good balance that provides comfort and security for a baby.
Implications for Fathers
It is important that both parents commit wholeheartedly to attachment parenting. Fathers may see a partner who has embraced attachment parenting without him as having lost interest in him as she fully engages as a mother. Communication is essential.
In addition, many parents embrace some of the basic principles of attachment parenting but not all. For example, an occasional date night or time with a baby in a stroller may make the lifestyle a little less demanding. Every family needs to find their own appropriate level of any parenting style and make it work for their own situation.
That being said, attachment parenting can be a very fulfilling approach to parenting. It has many components which feel quite natural. For example, there are certainly societal issues with breastfeeding toddlers in public (or even in private), but it can be very beneficial for the child's emotional development and can engender tender feelings for a mother. We need to be conscious of both sides of the equation and always work to do what it best and right for our children. Attachment parenting can be a parenting style that works for mom, dad and baby as they learn to become a family together.