Attachment Parenting (AP) isn't something parents can follow - it's simply our default setting. Throw in an assault of ideas, instructions and dogma from those seeking to gain from solving the problem you never knew you had (like your child not sleeping 12 hours straight) and the result is a generation of parents confused and disconnected from the decisions they instinctively know the answers to. AP isn't prescriptive because it doesn't see problems that need fixing - instead it's a return to something we already know to feel good - that's why parents who do it, continue to do it. As one mum said, "The more children I have the more ease seems to come from attachment parenting. As I grow more confident and trust myself more, I feel more secure in forging that attachment and belonging to a local APUK group reassures me that my instincts are valid." Here's why attachment parenting might not be what you think it is...
1. You don't have to breastfeed, babywear or bedshare.
Shocked? The media would have us believe these are the cornerstones of attachment parenting, but what if you aren't able to breastfeed? What if you have a pelvic injury from giving birth or a bad back and a weighty baby and can't babywear, what if you're epileptic or an incredibly deep sleeper and can't bedshare?
There are multiple reasons why parents might not be able to practice these 3 B's but this doesn't prevent anyone from nurturing the parent/child attachment in a timely and sensitive way. While breastfeeding, babywearing and bedsharing definitely support mums and dads to recognise subtle infant/child communications they are not essential to AP because the possibilities for positive, loving connections are infinite.
2. You don't have to be velcro-ed to your child 24/7.
Do parents critically damage their attachment when they return to work because they're not with their child all the time? Absolutely not, especially given that these bonds transcend time and space. Supporting children to develop secondary or tertiary attachments with a family member, childminder or nanny (preferable to a nursery setting at a young age) can be hugely positive. Each strong additional attachment actually strengthens the primary attachment as the power of trust deepens. It's also hugely impractical to expect one person alone to take on the heart-expanding responsibility of an all-dependent infant.
3. It isn't about being exclusively child-led or permissive.
Child-led can lead people to imagine a mini-dictator who rules his martyr parents. Attachment parenting supports Positive Discipline which is rooted in kind firmness and setting clear boundaries.
Sometimes following a child's lead is entirely wonderful and respectful, at other times it's a terrible idea! Leaving your 4 year-old to regulate their bedtime would be a big ask because let's face it, if you have a 4 year-old who recognises their own tiredness and puts themselves to bed you have a genius on your hands.
Permissive parenting isn't as fun as it sounds - attachment parenting is about holding limits with loving intention, its about consistency, generosity and love. Children from families where authoritative parenting has been the predominant style tend to be more self-assured, self-regulating and have a higher sense of self-worth. You could replace the A in AP with authoritative if you like - it's based on the importance of listening, co-operation, trust, validation and the encouragement of supportive parents.
You can discover your parenting style on the Attachment Parenting UK Positive Discipline eCourse.
4. It isn't as alternative as you might think!
The vast majority of the world's parents co-sleep with their children. The concept of young children sleeping in a separate room to adults is pretty niche in global terms. While people often think of co-sleeping or bedsharing as something parents are forced into by necessity in under-developed countries it is a cultural norm in countries such as Japan and Hong Kong where the accompanying SIDS rates are unusually low.
Although disposable nappies are a modern invention, baby slings are not. Babywearing has existed for millennia and we are now treated to a smorgasbord of high-quality designs and styles from all over the world and skilled women who can teach how to wear them. This means slings might be fashionable but by no means a fashion.
Breastfeeding is in no way alternative either, it's how we've successfully evolved as a species and we now understand that full-term breastfeeding is the human biological norm regardless of the availability of quality nutrition. It might not be the predominant cultural trend in the UK at this point in our history (despite the World Health Organisation's recommendation to breastfeed until age 2) but breastfeeding beyond the first year is not 'alternative', it's not even 'extended' breastfeeding, simply full-term. Not whacky, just healthy.
5. Children of attachment parents do cry and it's ok.
There is no badge of honour for having a child that doesn't cry - they don't exist. Crying is a natural way to off-load stored feelings and release stress in the same way we laugh, wriggle, sweat, shout and twitch to download tension. Embracing attachment parenting doesn't mean an end to spectacular, irrational meltdowns or tantrums, but it does point parents towards understanding their child's brain development and how attempts to manage or control strong feelings through shame or bribery obscures us from seeing the child and denies them their true experience.
Controlled crying or 'cry it out' (CIO) however is a different matter. Leaving a distressed infant to cry without response is a quick way to sabotage the child's trust in others (which becomes the model for future relationships and attachments) because babies are born with a primordial expectation of being held.
Some infant health organisations now advise against CIO and it's 'inventor', Dr Richard Ferber, publicly regrets it's application with young infants. Evidence about it's safety remains conflicted. What is clear though is that the instinctive maternal response, the most powerful tool mothers have, experiences prolonged and distressed crying as deeply stressful. That in itself is everything we need to know.
Catherine Clifton via The Green Bean