Attachment Parenting Is About Sacrifice
Most people have seen the controversial cover of Time Magazine, or perhaps read the Motherhood vs. Feminism debate at the New York Times revolving around Attachment Parenting, the parenting theory coined by Dr. William Sears that emphasizes breastfeeding, sharing sleep, and wearing your baby.
So is attachment parenting this weirdo hippie movement wherein parents stifle their children and impose martyrdom on themselves with endless efforts at a childcentric life complete with nursing, carrying, tending-to on demand with organic food on the side?
I don’t think so. Nor do the others parents we know who follow Dr. Sears’ theory. It’s not a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing. Lots of parents incorporate his suggestions into their parenting style. We follow many of his suggestions and I’d like to think we’re normal, and our children are balanced, loved individuals.
At its heart, I find that attachment parenting is about self-sacrifice and prompting parents to be aware that having a child means you have to set yourself, your world, your needs, everything aside, and take up caring for this little human in a respectful and loving manner. Put yourself last, focus on your family, and you’ll feel tremendous satisfaction and joy and see the way love grows! (A radical notion in our egocentric society.)
Dr. Sears and his wife have written extensively, and we’ve read most of their books. Their AP focus is a lens that says, “Your child has these particular biological and metaphysiological needs. Be aware and try to meet them, even if it’s hard or challenging. And here are some tools to do so.” Their books do not say “Organic homemade baby food, or you’re a terrible mother.”
With regard to nursing, extended or not, Dr. Sears explains the medical and emotional benefits. Same with co-sleeping. It’s about biorhythms, bonding, and ease of night parenting. Baby wearing is convenient, helps soothe and calm babies, is bonding, and means less crying! His approach is to present options, reasons, and not to shame parents who choose, or whose circumstances dictate, otherwise. He offers tips, help, and Q&A in each chapter of his books.
So whether or not you can or choose to nurse, whether or not you share a family bed or co-sleep, whether or not you have a sling or carrier you use for your little one, you can still follow attachment parenting principles because they are more than the cover of Time suggests. (That mother looks oddly complacent and very cool, and the child looks disconcerted by the photographer, and the chair pose? Who nurses like that?! Total shock value only.) This isn’t the most recent fad, or yuppie hipster movement. It’s about identifying and meeting your child’s developmental needs the best you can.
I’m an attorney and mom of two who choses to stay home with her kiddos. Attachment parenting makes sense to my analytical brain, and making all the extra efforts that it encourages have resulted in a happy household, happy children, and a happy marriage for us. Are we euphoric everyday? Um, hello! But overall, being attuned to our children’s needs in the manner proscribed by Dr. Sears works for us.
Lovely post! I find attachment parenting to be incredibly freeing for me. With our first baby 9 years ago, I felt torn about what I was told was “good” for my baby (cry it out, taking a bottle, sleeping through the night) and what felt right and normal to me. Yes I was a Mama who sat outside the bedroom door, listening to her baby cry and trying to convince myself that he had to learn to self soothe. Obviously, I swapped out those theories and have moved toward what feels natural and normal to me. I am a much much happier and more confident Mother when following my natural instincts in regards to my children.
I was torn too! I finally didn’t care what others said, or what others thought, and just went with what felt right and balanced for our family. Natural instincts are there for a reason!
SuperBoy likes to sing “Aaaaaamen. Aaaaaamen. Aaaamen. Amen. Amen. ALLELUIA!” so I smiled when I saw your comment 🙂 Amen indeed!
I think plain ol’ parenting is about sacrifice, no matter what approach you take. Parents who work multiple jobs to support their families, whose work situations require them to put their children in full-time day care, or who sleep train their babies because their own mental health depends on a good night’s sleep – those parents are focusing on their families and sacrificing themselves just as much as co-sleeping, breast-feeding, baby-wearing parents. While I’m not trying to criticize your own testimony of what has worked well for your family, I’m simply extremely leary of any theory or ideology that claims to be The Way to Parent. Human beings are too complex to be reduced to “x in childhood equals y in adulthood.” While I do think some of the attachment parenting practices can be beneficial – I’ve nursed into toddlerhood, worn my babies, etc. – I recognize that my socioeconomic status is frankly what makes much of my parenting choices possible. I can be at home with my children, work part-time and afford a sitter to come in for help, prepare healthy, organic meals for my family – all because my family enjoys a level of comfort that many, many families in this country – to say nothing of around the world! – do not. So I really struggle with some of these debates over parenting practices because they seem so shaped by economic realities that never enter into the equation. The whole Time magazine debate has pushed one of my buttons – namely the fact that so many families slip through the cracks in these mommy wars. I want to be mindful of the fact that many parents make different choices than those of my family because of much larger realities they are struggling with, rather than a personal philosophical decision to parent one way or another.
Very insightful! And I loved your post on the topic (everyone, check our her blog). I agree that all parenting is sacrifice, and was using the term to describe how I see attachment parenting instead of it being a weird, hip, faddie movement. Does that make sense? People get all hung up in definitions of parenting styles, so my contribution to the discussion was to define Dr. Sears’ approach as something all parents incorporate in different ways into their own approach.
You’re totally right that there is no one size fits all, one way is correct parenting path. And that our socio-economic and country wherein we live have such an enormous impact on what is possible for us as parents, and what isn’t. I’m very privileged, and feel it, that I too get to prepare similar food as you, and spend lots of time with our children.
The best response I saw to this whole discussion/war was a blog dedicated to adoption–and the author spoke about children without parents, and how they suffer, versus the kid in the crib or the kid who sleeps with his parents.
Thank you–I think you’re very real in your response!
Couldn’t agree more, and I think I saw that same blog post, too. Really puts the question into perspective. I’m continually challenged by this question of responsibility to all children, not just my own, in my vocation as a mother. Certainly my primary responsibility is to the children under my roof. But I really feel that my heart has widen to include the needs, cares, and sufferings of children in many different situations and struggles. So I try to be mindful of this whenever I find myself getting embroiled in the kind of mommy war debates that have been so frequent lately. Yes, I’ve made my decisions for my family, but how do I honestly come to see that they are not normative – that many other loving, caring, thinking, devoted parents are choosing differently? Or do not even have the ability to choose? Thanks for starting a good discussion.
I find this conversation to be very interesting. As a brand new mother-just six days in, I have recently read many books on the topic of attachment parenting. I was struggling with the idea that I needed to have my parenting style down before baby arrived. Many of the books I picked up turned me off in the sense that Nell is suggesting; the weird hippie fad portrayed in the discussion; but Dr. Sears’ discussion is different. Throughout his book, he (and his wife) continually emphasize that what is right for one family may not be right for another family. It is a no pressure introduction to attachment parenting with an overall mood that encourages you to take in the information not as an instruction on how to correctly raise a child, but as a guide with all of the tools to be tested in various situations; i.e. I don’t need to feel bad if my child requires a pacifier, because that is what works best for him and co-sleeping is not better than independent sleeping, but may be for your child and should be tested if independent sleeping is driving you both crazy!
Again, thanks for the great discussion!
It’s so affirming to hear that you read Dr. Sears the same as I do: providing tools, not judgment. And everyone incorporates AP into their parenting whether or not they know there’s an actual named “theory” behind why they respond to their child the way they do, or why other parents too chose that same thing that “feels” best to the parent.
The biggest problem with the “natural” parenting approach is that it is inherently judgy and selective and turns people off because it appears to have this all-or-nothing veneer. In truth, no one is 100% “natural” so perhaps the movement should widen its circumference. Dr. Sears is more common sense than anything, I find.
That’s a good point that there are a number of ways to skin a cat–as in, many of the different or differing choices made by other parents are not moral ones, they’re simply more well-attuned to their families. Or, heck, maybe they’re poor choices, but they’re the best the parents can do at that point in time with whatever their challenges are.
It’s hard not to judge when you see parents making empirically worse decisions than what we perceive they COULD chose. It’s a good reminder to affirm that you can make a surface assessment, but you never can judge because you have no idea what wounds the parents holds, or what challenges are transpiring at that place and that time.
[…] many friends who work and stay home cope with these feelings as well. I’ve written about sacrifice as a parent, reminder you’re a great mother, practicing being present versus survival, soldiering on […]