New Parent and Attachment Anxiety

Life in the AP trenches

While it's well known that many parents these days suffer from enrichment angst -- causing them to pipe Mozart into the womb and commit their toddlers to a rigorous schedule of stimulating activities -- the newest parenting plague is attachment anxiety: the fear that unless parents do just the right things, their child won't grow up happy, secure, and connected to them. For an increasing number of moms and dads, attachment parenting (AP for short) is becoming the new orthodoxy of childrearing for the 21st century. There are 1.6 million copies of Dr. Sears's The Baby Book in print and seven other books he co-wrote with his wife that detail the AP approach from pregnancy through adolescence. His followers have spawned multiple spinoff books and founded Attachment Parenting International (API), which represents 68 parenting groups around the country and 11 international ones. Yahoo alone lists 475 AP chat groups.

The philosophy advocates breastfeeding, wearing your baby in a sling, bed sharing, and responding to your baby's cries as a way to "immunize children against many of the social and emotional diseases that plague our society," according to Dr. Sears. The idea, he explains, is that by replacing our more rigid, independence-focused parenting approach with the "instinctive" childrearing practices of ancient tribal cultures, we'll end up producing happier, more secure children.

But here's the semantic rub: If doing everything the books said made you an attached parent, then not doing it could mean you were... detached? Unattached?

Working moms and dads often have the hardest time, since AP adherents advocate "nighttime parenting," meaning co-sleeping and reverse-cycle nursing (breastfeeding frequently at night to compensate for the closeness missed during the day). While some parents make this arrangement work, others are stung by the implication that working and having a secure attachment are incompatible unless you give up all sleep. Heather Henson, a children's book author in Danville, KY, began co-sleeping because it was easier than getting out of bed to nurse several times a night. But after a year, she says, "the lack of sleep nearly destroyed me." She was chronically sick and increasingly impatient and resentful but didn't know how to stop nursing at night or help her son learn to sleep in his own bed without feeling like she was an awful mother. "I believed in attachment parenting, and there was just no way I could let him cry," she says. "It felt like I was abandoning him."

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