From Attachment to Free Range: A Progression

Free Range Is Not the Opposite of
You know, there’s an awful lot of sneering about “Attachment Parenting” on the Web. (Actually, there’s a lot of sneering about all kinds of parenting, for that matter–and I’ve done my share!)  But most of the snark seems to stem from a misunderstanding of what AP even is.  So let’s talk about it–and how a self-proclaimed slacker mom such as myself, who openly advocates for Free Range parenting and benign neglect, can also embrace (as an ideal, mind you) Attachment Parenting.
So here is what AP is, from the actual website of Attachment Parenting International, and with a link to click if you want to know more:
Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting
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 Your Personal and Family Life
Doesn’t sound as crunchy and weird and extreme as you thought, maybe? It doesn’t mean that you have to breastfeed your six-year-old and have a family bed until middle school.  It does mean that you don’t leave your baby propped up with a bottle in a crib alone in his own room as soon as you possibly can.  It doesn’t mean you have to give birth unassisted at home.  It might mean that you do a little research and preparation for birth instead of just believing every word that falls from the lips of your doctor.  It doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a parent if you ever raise your voice.  It does mean that screaming and smacking aren’t the preferred choices in your parenting toolbox.
For me, it meant extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and staying home with my kids, but you can practice attachment without doing any of those things.  One thing AP theory stresses is following the cues of your child.  Some kids don’t sleep well in bed with someone else.  Some babies self-wean early and never look back.  It’s not AP to force your children to conform to some ideal that that has nothing to do with the people they are.
Which brings me to the Free Range part of this post.
Free Range parenting also gets mocked online by parents who call it neglect, who would never leave their kids alone for one second, who hover over their big kids because they are so scared of the big bad dangerous world.  But Free Range doesn’t mean leaving your baby in the car in the Kmart parking lot for an hour, or abandoning your six-year-old to fend for herself for the day.  Simply put, according the website:
The short Free-Range Kids and Parent Bill of Rights is this:
Children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested.
Now, how does that go along with AP?  It’s all about listening to your child’s cues.  That means when your kid WANTS to stay alone at home, you let him.  You don’t go off for the day.  You make sure he has a phone, and knows what to do in an emergency, and you go to the grocery store five minutes away for half an hour to begin with.  When he wants to stay in the car and listen to the radio while you pick up some milk at the convenience store, you leave him there.  When he asks to walk down the street to play with his friend, you teach him about watching out for cars and you wave good-bye.
A securely attached child, in my experience, is very likely to want to do all those things, because she has learned from experience that you are there when she needs you.  She hasn’t been raised to be fearful, because her needs have been met, she has been listened to, she knows the world is a good place, and she is confident.
Our society is seriously messed up.  We put babies in cribs alone and expect them to sleep through the night and do our best to put them on schedules and make them conform to our needs, and then when they are teenagers we won’t let them out of our sight.  Think about the animal kingdom.  Mammals keep their babies close at the beginning, then start teaching them independence a little at a time, and eventually actively push them away.  That’s the way it is supposed to be for us too, and if you DON’T give your kids a little freedom at the right time, just watch how they will push YOU away.
Free Range v. Attached

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  1. Agatha says:

    I was one of those mums who wanted to let the baby cry itself to sleep; I thought that was what it meant to be a “good mum”. Then when the baby came, he had the horriblest colic and the only way he could sleep was while being held. It worked for us fine because it meant we could all get sleep!

  2. I don’t like to be labeled. So, I don’t know which way I parented…but I did it with love. I have four kids – two sets of two, if you look at it that way. With the older two, I gave them a bottle at night, didn’t have them take naps, and it was a free and open schedule. I thought it was more fun not having structure. But I never got any sleep for years! When the next two came along I swore to do it differently. I was more scheduled AND it was easier on me in the long run. I think you have to know yourself and know your limitations, but also know the different ways to bring up your child and then pick the ways that are right for you. I don’t think there is a right and wrong, just better. Great observations here! Maybe it was good that when I started having kids I didn’t know about these terms! 🙂

    • lesliesholly says:

      You followed your instincts–like Dr. Spock said, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” I find the labels to be useful as descriptors, not as rules to be followed. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  3. Interesting to learn about this. I think we parents often find our styles to be somewhere between the two, and it all depends on the family dynamics. Sometimes it takes time to figure out what works best, too.

  4. SixPackMommy says:

    Interesting point about expecting infants to sleep alone, yet “helicoptering” older children. It’s always a debate for me just how much freedom to allocate at each age.

    • lesliesholly says:

      I find having more children is freeing because it’s just not possible to helicopter over five kids! So I’ve had to let some things go which probably has contributed to me “style.”

  5. Heather says:

    Love this. I am both an attached and free range Mom. I didn’t know there was really a name for either for a long time. Love this.. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Vina Kent says:

    Some very great points. Having to re-blog cause this was so amazing!

  7. Vina Kent says:

    Reblogged this on thefulltimeschoolhouse and commented:
    A wonderful read, so be sure to take a few minutes to check it out!

  8. What a great post! Being both AP and Free Range is part of what led to my blog name (since they seem so different). Glad to hear that I’m not the only one!

  9. Cristina says:

    Here here! I’m with the mammals (and you) I think. I take the cues from my boys. I breastfed Alex till he was 18 months and Gabriel practically smacked my breast out of his mouth when he was three weeks old. You have to follow the baby’s cue. This doesn’t mean that when they’re a teenager you let them do whatever they want! Like my boys now, 10 and 7, they want to play video games ALL the time. They don’t. They *get* to on Friday and Saturday only. In the summer, the rules are slack. This all seems like common sense, but then there’s all the hullabaloo in the media. *tsk* *tsk*

  10. JcCee says:

    As I have gotten older, my style has change. Well, that is what my older children say when they look at their baby brother. I never did believe in letting the baby lay in the crib and cry. I breastfed all of mines and I enjoyed that time of bonding. I do believe in giving them some type of independence because they will be leaving the house soon and they need to know something about doing things on their own. Even though I have let fear get the best of me at times, I try to relax now.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Oh, my youngest is spoiled. I always said I wouldn’t treat them differently, but . . . part of it is just knowing what’s really important now, and being more experienced, but honestly part of it, at least I think so, is that I have been doing this for 24 years and I’m tired!

  11. I’ve known parents who do the extreme either way. Some friends would make their newborn baby cry himself to sleep (how could anyone bear to do that?!) and tried to enforce a feeding and nap schedule on him. And I mean when he was an itty bitty infant! And then I’ve had the AP parent friend who, not trying to sound mean here, were the types to invite the snark by being perhaps a little too extreme and “in your face” on the other side of the spectrum. I’ll be honest, we are no longer friends because they became too intense about their views and got downright nasty about it. I think that’s why there’s so much snark, certain parents have a “my way’s right, your way is wrong” mentality rather than being able to listen to others’ thoughts and opinions with an open mind. I have ideas about how I will want to raise my baby when she’s born VERY soon, but I also realize I might completely change my mind one way or another about certain aspects of it. Us mommy bloggers should be there for each other for insight and advice… in a kind way. Great post, and great triggers for different thought processes! 🙂

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and good luck with the upcoming birth! My opinions about parenting definitely evolved once I had kids, but the most important thing is to trust your own instincts. YOU are the expert on YOUR baby! 🙂

  12. jehdld says:

    Interesting post. I think it is simply a matter of doing what is best for your own children and family and respecting the choices others make to do what is best for their family.

  13. Great post Leslie. I think part of the problem is all the labeling. Free range parenting, attachment parenting, conscious parenting, the list goes on forever. It creates this Us against Them mentality that really doesn’t need to exist. I’m more of an eclectic parent. Whatever works for my children, I do. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m using techniques from a particular parenting philosophy. I do it because it works. When I was a new mom I almost drove myself mad because I would read something that said ” let the baby cry.” Then I would read something else and it would say “no, don’t make the baby cry.” Three kids later I just try to not make myself cry! But seriously, i honestly believe most parents do the best they can and I hate that we can be so critical of each other, myself included.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I agree with you–parenting is hard and I’m not sure any of us really know what we are doing. The only absolute I can think of is to love your kids and make sure they know that.

  14. Annabel says:

    It is interesting to see we can put a name to what I truly believe, but it’s also sometimes hard to stand for thing people don’t necessarily understand! Nice post!

    • lesliesholly says:

      Very true, Annabel! The think about having a name for parenting styles is at least it helps you locate other people who support your approach. Thanks for commenting!

  15. kathyh says:

    You are right, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. We should probably stop trying to label it and accept that the best parenting focuses on the child and their needs. Great post!

  16. sara says:

    I am definitely in between, but taking cues from your children is absolutely imperative. I have 3 and they are all completely different.

  17. Amy says:

    Some great points in here. I often wonder why we need to spend so much time and energy judging other parents methods. We each have our own style and beliefs (and threshold lol) so are all bound to do it differently. It sounds as though you have found a great balance for your family 🙂 Thanks for posting

  18. Deepika says:

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing.

  19. When my oldest children were little I hovered over her them and did everything for them. But, now with my little boy and being an older parent,my parenting style has changed tremendously! I don’t like to give my parenting style a label. I do what I feel is right for my child and don’t worry what others think. Thanks for sharing!

    • lesliesholly says:

      Personally, I think the reason we relax with the younger ones is that they’ve worn us down! I do agree though that no matter what you call it you have to follow your instincts!

  20. Like one of the other commentors, I have an early set of children and a late set of children. My early set, although I was more rigid in some ways, such as making them try new foods, potty training and the like, I was much more lenient in the sleeping department, which allowed for pretty much no sleep for about seven years. With my second set, I’ve been much more laid back in letting them decide when they were ready for many of those things, but more structured in our bedtime routine. Now, I’ve had great sleepers, not such adventurous eaters. What I’ve learned, is that, as you said, you really just have to go with your gut. Both sets of my children are great. No method is foolproof, no parent is perfect.. all we can try to do is our best, with as much love as is humanly possible. Doing that, what you think is right for your family and your children, will produce great kids. Thanks for this, Leslie. Well said.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I also have the big kids and the little kids–six year space. I’ve gotten more relaxed about almost everything, some because of life circumstances and some because I just realize that a lot of things don’t matter as much as I thought they did.

  21. alysse7099 says:

    I really do believe that certain types of parenting work for some and not for others. Also, that each child requires a certain type of parenting. Thanks for this… I appreciate learning more information about parenting styles.

  22. Elaine says:

    I set routines, but I choose my battles. I’m always trying to strike a happy balance. Thanks for posting.

  23. Amanda Marie says:

    Great post! It is awesome that you are willing to share you parenting ideals! Parenting is hard and while I believe there is no right way I do believe there are some wrong ways as well! I feel though that each individual needs to parent how they feel is the way for them, we are all different and even every kid is different, even if you have two kids, they each need there own unique way of being raised! Thanks again for sharing!

  24. Jen says:

    Great post! I recently wrote about attachment parenting and I interpret it the way you do! Now I don’t know much about free range (maybe because my kids are not old enough yet) but I don’t think they need to be polar opposites. These are all just labels anyway, it’s best to pick what works for you and follow your intuition! Thanks!

    • lesliesholly says:

      I’m glad we agree! Yes, the free ranging aspect becomes more important as they get older, but I think when kids and parents are securely attached, BOTH feel safer allowing space and freedom. Thanks for commenting!

  25. mamarabia says:

    I’ve never wanted to label my parenting, but I think both of these describe pieces of how I’ve done things. I want my kids to feel close enough to me that they are able to push away confidently when they are ready.

  26. Amy says:

    I certainly think I grew up with a mix of both. Now, as an adult, I’m deeply attached to my 11 siblings and my parents, and I’m also incredibly independent. I feel like it worked for me.

  27. Jane says:

    Parenting is such a personal decision, I don’t think there are right or wrong methods. Just what works best for you, your child and each child is different. There is a huge difference between parenting & outright neglect. A baby needs love and nurturing to become a healthy individual.

  28. My son slept in his crib but cried so much as an infant. Finally I let him sleep with us in bed and he stopped crying. By the time he was 2 he was sleeping in his own room with no problems. I think every child is different. Its all a matter of preference. Do what you think is right is what is important.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Sleeping with my kids was such a life saver and when I first started doing it I had no idea co-sleeping was even a thing! I thought I had discovered this wonderful trick all by myself!

  29. My kids were like night and day and still are … so parenting shifts for me every year!

  30. Letetia says:

    Bravo, Leslie, BRAVO! Amazing post and explanation of the two and how they can mesh nicely together!

  31. I agree that there are shades of grey, so to speak. Everything doesn’t have to be labeled or so extreme. Sometimes you have to follow want makes you comfortable. The internet can be bad about implying things like “if your house is organized you don’l love your kids” and others. But, if having a crazy house makes you anxious, then you just have to keep it clean. You have to do what works for your family, for sure. Hopefully that is the key, just staying true to yourself. Thanks for a very insightful post!

  1. March 26, 2015

    […] « From Attachment to Free Range: A Progression […]

  2. April 2, 2015

    […] all the labels! Blogger Leslie Sholly from Life in Every Limb wrote a great piece on this issue here. People get into their respective corners and start hurling insults at each other to defend what […]

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