Though attachment parenting is often depicted as a woman who breastfeeds her 3-year-old, wears her infant 24/7, and sleeps in a family bed with her children snuggled by her side, the founding concepts of attachment parenting [AP] are much broader. "It's easier [for the media] to say 'AP is breastfeeding, bed-sharing, and baby-wearing' rather than talking about emotional attunement, positive discipline, and secure attachment," says Barbara Nicholson, co-founder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and co-author of Attached at the Heart. But is attachment parenting suitable for you and your family?
First, keep in mind that attachment parenting is neither right nor wrong. "There are different parenting styles and no one way is clearly the right way, as there are varied opinions on the right approach," says Daniel Bober, D.O., child psychiatrist and Medical Director of Pediatric Psychiatry for Joe DiMaggio Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. "This is because every child and every parent is a unique individual and you need to find what works best for you."
A Good Fit
You can't imagine letting your baby "cry it out." If the idea of letting your child cry herself to sleep doesn't sit right with you, then attachment parenting may work for you. The philosophy believes that infants are not capable of self-soothing and only develop this over time, after being in an environment that promotes safety, closeness, and consistency. This method says that a baby's cries are her way of communicating with you, and that by ignoring those cues, you're breaking down her trust and sense of security.
Holding your baby all day feels natural. Attachment parenting believes that physical closeness builds trust and attachment bonds, so attachment proponents use baby-wearing in a sling or other baby carrier as a way to keep your child close during errands, housework, exercise throughout the day. Likewise, nighttime is not seen as a break from your child, but an important continued bonding time through cosleeping or bed-sharing.
You have a support team. "AP is definitely a hands-on type of parenting," Nicholson says, since it is "asking parents to be emotionally responsive to their children, and not ignoring their cues." Whether it's a spouse, partner, nanny, or an API group, a support system provide a breather, advice, or listening ear so that attachment parenting will likely be more successful.
Attachment parenting just feels right. Many attachment proponents say that its techniques are instinctual. If the practices of baby-wearing and cosleeping seem like no-brainers, this style may the one for you.
A Possible Match
You like the ideas of the philosophy, but aren't quite sure how to integrate them with your full-time work schedule, unsupportive partner, etc. "Attachment parenting takes work and commitment," Dr. Bober says. "It remains a highly personal decision and parents should look at factors such as the schedule and time commitments of the caretaker(s) involved and the personality type of each caretaker, and whether this would be compatible with attachment parenting." Still, there are plenty of single parents and parents who work full-time who use this method. In her book, Nicholson found that "many [parents working full-time] have said it was even more imperative that they do all they can to have a close connection when they were with their children to make up for the hours apart." Often these parents would get creative with their schedules, tag-team with a spouse or partner, or enlist the help of a grandparent, family friend, or nanny to provide consistent, loving AP-style care.
You physically can't or don't want to breastfeed, cosleep, baby-wear. An inability to use one of the techniques of attachment parenting, or a disinterest in them, shouldn't dissuade you. Nicholson notes that the Eight Principles of Parenting outlined by Attachment Parenting International are "tools not rules." "API was founded to give parents the loving support they need to find solutions for their family that will keep their connection strong, no matter how many strategies they can use from the Eight Principles that we promote," she says. For example, if you can't breastfeed, API recommends using similar breastfeeding behaviors during bottle-feeding, such as switching which side you feed Baby on and holding Baby in a similar position to one used in breastfeeding.
You have a preemie. Premature babies miss out on key womb time so it can be important for their development to give them as much of a womblike experience as possible during their first few months of life. Even if you don't end up using attachment parenting in the long term, techniques such as skin-to-skin "kangaroo care" have been shown to be beneficial in helping the cognitive, physiological, and emotional development of preemies.
Not an Ideal Fit
You philosophically disagree with the basic concept or many of the strategies of attachment parenting. There is no single correct parenting style, so if attachment parenting doesn't line up with your child-rearing beliefs or personality (for example, you believe in letting babies learn to fall asleep on their own), there's no reason to force it. You can develop a strong bond with your child through other parenting methods.
You've tried attachment parenting and it made you depressed. Proponents of attachment parenting would suggest that perhaps you didn't have enough support or weren't finding adequate balance in your parenting. But a 2012 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that intensive mothering beliefs can be detrimental to the mental well-being of the mother. If trying to perfectly apply attachment parenting is making you feel overwhelmed or like a failure, use the method as a loose guideline or consider looking at other parenting methods.
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