After all these years of writing about attachment parenting on this Web site, it dawned on me a few days ago that we’ve never actually defined the phrase "attachment parenting". This point was reinforced when a new friend of mine commented that he’d read through the articles on this site, but that he still didn’t really get what attachment parenting actually was, even though he agreed completely on what it appeared we were using as our basic approach to parenting.
And so, let us define what we mean when we talk about attachment parenting — a phrase that we didn’t coin, by the way. I think William and Martha Sears, authors of The Attachment Parenting Book, might have come up with it, but in any case, it’s a good name for our general philosophy of parenting!
First off, the main elements of attachment parenting to us are: extended breast feeding, co-sleeping, non-violence towards children, and carrying or otherwise being with babies (especially newborns) every hour of the day. You can tell us attachment parenting types, actually, by the slings we use to tote our babies. 🙂
Underlying these ideas is the basic philosophy that parenting is about really loving each stage of your child’s life, from newborn to toddler, infant to kid, child to teen.
Rather than push newborns into a crib and separate room as fast as possible, attachment parenting folk believe that newborns and babies need to be as close to their parents as possible, even throughout the night. We believe that newborns even learn healthy sleeping and breathing patterns from sleeping close to their parents at night.
We, as well as the other AP parents we know, have had the experience of co-sleeping with a young newborn only to have them stop breathing for an increasingly noticeable period of time. If one of the parents takes a deep breath, in all cases it prompted the baby to breathe again and the breath rhythm was reestablished. Overall, we prefer to cuddle, hold, play with, and generally interact with our little babies as much as possible, day and night.
Pushing children to become independent from the earliest possible age is a definite trend in our society and has been for decades. Attachment parents don’t aspire to have our children become so independent so quickly.
Pushing independence from such a young age also tends to sever the deep attachment a child needs to feel with his or her parents, a connection that forms the foundation of trust and attachment for the rest of his or her life.
I can remember about six years ago a pal of mine telling me proudly how he and his wife had traveled to France for two weeks and that their five and eight year old children didn’t even miss them. He was proud of how independent they were. Me? I was horrified: while I want my kids to be independent and able to live their own young lives, I certainly also want them to miss me, to want to see me and show me what’s important to them every single day, to know that I’m there to protect and love them.
But it’s what we see as this "pushing away" trend that us attachment parenting folk are fighting. Name any element of parenting and I can show you how there’s an element of separation involved. From the shorter and shorter times that women breastfeed to the use of strollers instead of carrying babies, to cribs and separate nurseries at earlier and earlier ages.
We go even further from the mainstream by embracing Waldorf education too, and the anti-media philosophy that is a common underpinning of Waldorf. The truth is that our kids watch some TV (mostly at restaurants) but never in our house. Total TV and movie time, annually, for our kids? Probably 5-10 hours total. But that’s another long posting…
Are there challenges to attachment parenting? Oh yeah, there’s no question that it’s probably a lot more difficult than following the more contemporary parenting approach of TV and video game as babysitter, kids pushed into their own rooms as soon as possible, nannies, au pairs, childcare in lieu of having a parent at home with the children, etc., but for us, at least, this is the path that resonates with our hearts, that illuminates what we’re trying to accomplish on this most important of journeys, the journey to create a whole, responsible, engaged, loving adult.
Or, in our case, three.