I had an interesting conversation on Instagram a couple days ago about why I don’t use the term “attachment parenting” or “attached parent”.
Years ago there was a documentary on the BBC about “extreme breastfeeding”, I can’t remember a lot of the details but I remember it referring to attachment parenting. The documentary focused on women who were breastfeeding their children beyond baby-hood and even toddler-hood, with some of the children featured having already started school. Although I have only a hazy recollection of the programme itself, it sowed a seed which stuck with me even since: that attached parents are hippy-ish and weird. Add to the equation the Little Britain sketch of Matt Lucas in drag breastfeeding David Walliams and it’s no surprise that my idea of attached parenting was pretty negative.
What type of parent do you want to be?
When I became pregnant I started to think a lot more about the type of parent I want to be and how my actions as a parent will shape my child. An obvious choice for me was using cloth nappies – I have been trying to live more consciously for several years and so the environmental benefits of cloth nappies appealed to me. But other aspects of parenting were less clear cut. Did I want to have a schedule or be baby-led? Would I sleep train? Could I be responsive without being a helicopter parent?
Fairly early on in my pregnancy I bought the Gina Ford Contented Little Baby Book and the ideas that babies need structure, sometimes babies cry because they are over-tired, feeding regularly to a schedule supports the breastfeeding relationship, all made a lot of sense. I had friends who had followed the routines in the book and bragged about how easy it was at bedtime now that their kids are older. Their kids are happy and content so surely it must work! We were going to have a routine and my baby would be happy. It all seemed so simple.
Of course when R arrived I knew instinctively that I couldn’t just let her cry and the easiest way to stop her crying was to put her on the boob. I read about the fourth trimester and decided to cut us both some slack. Although I kept the Gina Ford book to hand and referred to the routines to give myself an idea of what I should be doing I kept thinking “in a few weeks when she’s a bit older, we’ll start then” but we never did.
Instead I kept feeding on demand. I didn’t pump (something advocated by Ford) although I did collect let-down using a Haakaa pump. I’d been conflicted about whether I should pump – the idea of N being able to help with night feeds was appealing but NHS advice was not to pump or offer a bottle for at least 6 weeks to allow breastfeeding to become established. I was terrified at the possibility of nipple rejection so we didn’t bother with a bottle. Instead I fed R for every feed, including through the night. We soon started co-sleeping as it made it much easier for me. We might not have been following a routine but at least I was getting fairly decent sleep.
Am I a crunchy mom?
And so it went on. I gradually slipped further from the strict routine I’d originally planned to a comfortable rhythm of feeding on demand, contact napping during the day (usually with R in a sling) and co-sleeping at night.
I began to discover the benefits of these approaches, creating secure attachments, strengthening bonds and creating confident young children. I joined Facebook groups that advocated co-sleeping and shared horror-story-like articles about the damage that sleep training and the cry it out method can cause.
And then I discovered a phrase that makes me shudder: “crunchy mom”.
Was I a crunchy mom? Was I becoming one of those hippy-ish mothers that breastfeed their kids for years? Sure I love using a sling and cloth nappies but that doesn’t mean that I want to be an attached parent. But was I starting down a slippery slope?
What is attachment parenting?
You see, it’s not that I’m against the idea of extended breastfeeding and sure, I like doing a lot of the things that are advocated by the attached parenting movement like baby carrying and co-sleeping. My issue with attachment parenting is that it normally comes with a hefty dose of judgment.
Attachment parenting as a concept was created in the 1970s by a man called Bill Sears. He and his wife are devout Christians with seven children and while they claim that attached parenting is not anti-feminist, in its purest form it considers a woman’s primary role to be a mother. Once you become a mother you should devote yourself to your children.
And while some women may choose that, it certainly isn’t for me. I love my daughter and I love being a mum but I also love being the person I was before I became a mum. So while I want to give R everything I can I also believe it’s incredibly important to be my own person still as well. I actually think that loosing yourself can potentially be unhealthy, especially when it makes it harder to allow your child to develop independence at the time that is right for them.
Another issue with attached parenting for me is its anti-intellectualism, a rejection of modern methods and fetishisation of ancient ways. I often read articles which argue against some of the parenting methods that I have adopted (such as co-sleeping) on the basis that infant mortality rates used to be far higher and therefore rejecting modern developments is putting your child at risk. There’s obviously a balance to be struck here. I don’t co-sleep because I have an idealised view of time gone by, I co-sleep because I researched the risks and concluded that breastfeeding and co-sleeping, if done correctly, is low risk.
But many attached parents take the view that the western way of doing things is actively harming children. Many attached parents are anti-vaxxers, something I am strongly against (if you choose not to have your child vaccinated you are not only putting your child at risk but my child too). And while these individuals are at the more extreme end of the scale there are plenty of attached parents that want to adopt the moral high ground over parents choosing more mainstream methods.
You’re doing a good job
I think that as parents we all worry about whether we are doing a good job and are making the right decisions. There’s nothing like a bit of mum guilt to ruin your day. Most of us heap enough of the guilt on ourselves without having other parents tell us that we’re doing the wrong thing.
And that’s where I start to have a real problem with the idea of attached parenting and they way that it is presented as the ideal way to raise your child and that other methods are harmful. Never is the moral supremacy of attachment parents more apparent than when it comes to sleep. Most attached parents advocate co-sleeping and vehemently oppose any kind of sleep training.
My own experience is that most sleep training methods aren’t for me, but I don’t judge anyone who chooses to take that approach. A friend of mine recently used a “gentle” sleep training approach that used controlled crying. Before sleep training she had been co-sleeping and contact napping, with her husband sleeping in a separate room. At six months she decided that none of them were sleeping well, which was a problem because her husband has a job where tiredness on the job could not only endanger his life but that of others too.
Do I believe that my friend actively chose to harm her child? Of course not. Nor does she love her child any less. She chose the approach that was right for her and her family. And her child is perfectly happy and content.
Let’s ditch the judgement
Of course there are extremes and there are some forms of extinction sleep training (cry it out) that I find horrifying and can’t understand how any parent would subject their child to. But I do believe that the majority of parents are just trying to do what they believe is best.
So the problem with attached parenting is that it allows those that follow it to heap the guilt on those who don’t. Personally I don’t follow any particular regime strictly, preferring to just do a bit of what works for us. I’m not an attached parent or a crunchy mom or a Gina Ford mom, I’m just a mum trying to raise my daughter with love. So let’s ditch the labels and ditch the judgement and try and hold a bit more space for each other because parenting is hard enough as it is.