Attachment Parenting: Embracing Balance



Like many expectant moms do, I spent my pregnancy with my daughter learning as much as I could about what was in store for me. I watched documentaries about pregnancy and birth, scoured the internet for cloth diaper reviews, took a breastfeeding class, and read lots and lots of books. When I stumbled upon the concept of “Attachment Parenting”, I jumped right on board. The basic principles of the AP philosophy resonated with me and seemed to be a natural way to parent.

I’ve been questioned by those who take the “Attachment” part of Attachment Parenting a bit too literally: “Do you mean you’re one of those moms whose baby is always strapped to her or latched on to her breast?” Well…no, not ALWAYS. While baby wearing and breastfeeding are often integrated into AP parenting styles, they are not, contrary to popular belief, strict requirements that must be met in order to claim the Attachment Parent title.

In this context, “Attachment” refers to the emotional attachment between babies and their primary caregivers. Developing a secure attachment, more commonly known as “bonding”, has plenty of thoroughly researched and documented positive effects on both babies and parents that you can find a thousand other blogs and resources detailing. That’s not why I’m here.

I’m here to tell you that it is quite possible to parent following the AP philosophy without, well, being “one of those moms whose baby is always strapped to her or latched to her breast”, if that’s not feasible for you. (If it is, and it works for you and your baby, rock on!)

Yes, I breastfeed, and no, it’s not unusual to see me with my baby strapped to me on a fairly regular basis, but I also work and go to school. I’ve also been seen with my baby in a stroller or shopping cart. I’ve been seen out on a date with my husband while the baby was at home with her Grandma. I even *gasp* leave my daughter at an in-home daycare from time to time.

How can I call myself an attachment parent and still do all of those things? Well, because Attachment Parenting isn’t a strict set of rules and requirements. It’s simply a parenting philosophy based on meeting the needs of your baby and your family in a safe, sensitive, loving, consistent, positive way.

I never got hung up on memorizing what the “B”s in Dr. Sears’ 7 Baby B’s stood for. (For the record, they are: Birth Bonding, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding Close to Baby, Belief in the Language Value of your Baby’s Cry, Beware of Baby Trainers, and Balance.) While Dr. Sears goes on to say that AP is an approach, a starter style, a tool, and a means of sensitive responsive parenting, the “Baby B’s” have always struck me as a little bit too specific and restrictive. I’ve seen women in online communities lament that they have failed at attachment parenting because back problems prevent them from babywearing (or their babies simply didn’t like to be worn!) or because no one gets any sleep when they co-sleep or because they formula feed.

The Baby B’s are NOT a checklist of requirements. They are a set of tools that work well with the AP philosophy. Yes, you can be a formula feeding, stroller pushing, baby-in-crib putting parent and still be an attachment parent. You can have a job or go to school or put your child in daycare and be an attachment parent. It’s not about the specific tricks and tools you use to meet your goals of sensitive and responsive parenting; it’s that you commit to parenting in a way that meets your child’s needs; forms secure bonds, and most importantly, works for your family.

Babies need happy, fulfilled, confident parents to bond with. A parent who is wasting energy beating herself (or himself) up over “failing” at some thing or another that a book or website said needed to be done in order to have a healthy, happy child does no one any good. I rather prefer Attachment Parenting International’s “Eight Principles of Parenting” to the Baby B’s. The eight principles are:

  • Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  • Feed with Love and Respect
  • Respond with Sensitivity
  • Use Nurturing Touch
  • Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  • Provide Consistent and Loving Care
  • Practice Positive Discipline
  • Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

 

Notice that the last (but not least!) on both Dr. Sears’ and API’s lists refers to balance. As parents, the rest of our lives and identities do not stop the moment we become responsible for another human being. If we so choose, we must still keep up our careers, our studies, our hobbies, and our social lives.

The more responsibilities we have and the more thinly we are spread, the more of a challenge it becomes to ensure that our parenting philosophy is being carried out in our absence. In our family, we are fortunate. My husband’s work schedule and my school and part-time work schedules are such that the majority of time, one of us is available to care for our daughter. We share the attachment parenting philosophy, so I do not need to worry that my daughter is being ignored while crying alone in her crib when I’m in class or at work. During those times when our schedules overlap, she is in the care of either my mother, who respects and carries out our parenting choices, or our good friend who does in-home day care.

Scheduling our lives in this way does include some sacrifices. If I worked more, we’d have more money. If I worked less (or our daughter was in daycare more), we’d have more time together as a family. The way we’re handling it is what works for us. It enables us to follow the parenting choices that feel best for our family while still meeting our goals related to other aspects of our lives.

When our daughter isn’t in the mood to be worn, into the stroller she goes, where she enjoys taking in the world around her as she calmly rides. We all get better sleep when she’s in her own room, so that’s where she sleeps the majority of the night. Bed-sharing is reserved for the early morning hours, and is something that my husband and I look forward to, rather than resent. My daughter always receives safe, sensitive, loving, consistent, positive care, whether she’s strapped to me or latched on to my breast, playing with her father, reading books with her grandma, or interacting with the other kids at daycare.

If being a Stay-at-home parent is not the right choice for you and your family, you can still follow the AP philosophy. I have a busy life beyond my role as a mother, and I am an attachment parent. If you raise your children in a safe, loving, consistent, positive manner, then whether you claim the label or not, chances are that you’re an attachment parent, too.

Fine and Fair

*This piece was my first as a guest blogger for Alternative Mama. Thanks to Imogen for the opportunity to write for your site! :)

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