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:
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:
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.