Attachment parenting is an approach to parenting that parts from the conventional “wisdom” of schedules, checklists, and “baby training” programs. Your dear Aunt Linda may have bestowed upon you nuggets of wisdom such as “let her cry it out” or “get that baby on a schedule”. These so-called tried and true approaches may have promised the security of rules for mommyhood success, but there was a monumental oversight. The value system of generations past embraced the idea that children must be compliant and the goal was to avoid their becoming brats. We can all agree that we do not want our son or daughter to be that kid (the demanding, whiny one throwing a fit on the playground that nobody wants to play with whose future includes living in their parents’ basement rent-free). However, society now understands that the values of community and one’s place in it are taught at more mature stages of child development, not during infancy.
The infancy stage is centered around two values: survival and trust. Babies are humans and humans are unique with different needs, wants, and ways of conveying both. Attachment parenting asks you dig deep into something vastly more challenging (and vastly more rewarding)- your own maternal intuition. Whether you are a first-time mommy or a veteran, you know what to do. You know your baby and will get to know him more deeply through listening to him and being in tune with what he needs.
Ditching the Bullshit
Bullshit of Perfection
In the latter part of this article, I outline “The Basic Elements of Attachment Parenting”. I am providing these elements as a guide, not as a checklist of what you must do if you are to be considered legitimate. You may have chosen not to breastfeed (or were unable to). Co-sleeping may not work for you. These basics are explained as straightforward, tangible ways to approach attachment parenting. Following them as a list of “shoulds” or rules is counter to the core principle of attachment parenting. This essential core centers on relying on your natural bond, intuition, and choices for your family. On this, there is no possibility of failure.
Attempting an attachment parenting strategy that does not work for you and your baby is not a fail. That approach may need to be tweaked to fit the needs of your baby or may not fit at all. Parenting has a tendency to magnify our insecurities because we are desperately afraid of screwing things up. The stakes are too high, right? Think of it in a different light. Would we all not have benefitted from having parents who modeled the confidence in trying things based on who we were are as individuals, learning from those attempts, and adapting them into something unique for our families?
Bullshit From Your Childhood
The temptation to duplicate the parenting style that was modeled for you is powerful. One reason is that it is all you know. You are also secured in the fact that it will be accepted among your tribe. From your perspective, you are a novice and your mom is the expert (along with throngs of others whose uteruses have housed humans). These women have done this before and you have not. Taking an approach that is vastly different from your upbringing can feel like rejection to her (and to auntie, grandma, and the whole tribe). Here’s the secret: they didn’t know what they were doing either. You are the expert on what matters-your baby. Have they spent nine months with your baby in their bodies?
Let’s face it, their sacred approaches may have encouraged you to be well-behaved, but left you feeling unable to make decisions without approval. To be fair to them, they were doing the best as they understood it, but you want far better for your baby. You have your own tribe now, and it is up to you to decide. The criticism from your tribe may hurt. Their comments may sting. Their lack of approval may break your heart. Do the best you can to see those for what they are …their insecurities and doubts about their own parenting. Create boundaries if necessary. Trust yourself to act out of love (not fear or insecurity) when it comes to raising your child. Eventually, they will admire your strength and you will earn a seat at the big kid table. (Unless they are complete assholes, in which case you could never have pleased them anyway.)
Bullshit of All-or-Nothing
Ah, the attachment parenting extremists. Aren’t they a fun bunch? They will point out everything that you do that is not in the attachment parenting bible. I have not read this book, but it seems like total crap to me. The same guidelines apply that I gave for those people from whose tribe you emerged. See the remarks as confessions of their own insecurities. Create boundaries. Trust yourself. Steer clear of the assholes.
The beauty of parenthood is that you are the only one who knows how to do it. Deeply biologically rooted in your DNA is this mystery known as intuition. Rather of rules, more of a sense. This feels terrifying to new moms who don’t want to “get it wrong”. Nature constructed a particularly handy feature here…a lack of memory of infancy. If failure is your fear, you can deny that you ever failed. They won’t remember it.
Get to know your baby and his patterns. Listen to his different cries and be in tune to how they sound. Eventually, you will learn that he sounds different when he is hungry than when he is tired. His “quirks” and personhood will become more and more evident. This is true bonding and he will feel that you are present and in tune with him.
Trust (in all relationships within our lifetimes) originates with the same process. We ask ourselves these questions… Do you know me (have you listened to what I have revealed to you about myself)? Do you understand me (do you see me as unique and different from others)? Do you hear me (is my voice heard)? Do you accept me (is it enough that I am me)? Are you here for me (knowing what I have revealed about myself, are you able and willing to be here for me)?
Trust your instinct over what others say. Unless it is a medical emergency, this goes for doctors too. When someone tells you to do something that goes against your maternal instinct, go with the instinct. Do not fall back into a child role when it comes to “authority” of doctors when it comes to parenting. (Again, I am not talking about medical emergencies or life-threatening situations.)
I recently heard a story about a woman whose baby would not breastfeed due to latching issues. The pediatrician told this mother that if she held her baby, the scent of her breast milk would be confusing. The doctor advised that until her milk dried up, that she should not hold her baby. Like a compliant little girl, she followed directions. Eventually, a friend showed up and said, “Are you f*cking kidding me? Your baby is screaming for his mom!” This was all that it took for the young mom to feel like someone was verbally saying what she had been repeating in her head and heart. Follow that intuition and be bold enough to share it with your pediatrician. A pediatrician worth his salt knows the physiological powerhouse of the maternal bond.
The Basic Elements of Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting flourishes through breastfeeding in many ways. Baby is held intimately close to a mother who is completely focused on him and is aware of his sucking patterns, breath sounds, and appetite. With the absence of measuring intake of milk, mom and baby are reliant on hunger and satiety to determine feeding patterns.
Related Article: Breastfeeding Made Simple | Blissful Breastfeeding for Beginners
Related Article: Co-sleeping Basics
(attaches to the bed “side-car” style)
Staying in tune with your child is easiest when he is close to you. The term “babywearing” has become a popular term that basically describes going about your daily routine with your child snuggly connected to you.
Related Article: Babywearing
Sister, trust your instincts and you will kick ass at this. I am here to support you, be your shoulder to cry on when it sucks, and to give you direction.
Recommended Reading for Attachment Parenting: