Thursday, October 22, 2009

Introduction to attachment parenting

father's hands holding baby infant's handsIn honor of Attachment Parenting Month, I'm going to write a series of articles on the topics dear to attachment parents. It's similar to my World Breastfeeding Week celebration, but for this occasion the posts will be organized around the 8 principles of attachment parenting laid out at at this link and relisted below. If you're more familiar with the Baby Bs as outlined in Dr. Sears' books on the subject, these are similar but with a broader interpretation to allow the principles to carry through our parenting from infancy all the way to the teenage years and beyond. The Baby Bs, as the name suggests, focused more narrowly on how to attachment parent young infants, but the ideas guiding how we care for infants can be extended into how we care for toddlers, school-age children, and adolescents. Some of them are broad enough that they can inform our relationships with other adults as well.

Here are the eight principles of attachment parenting, with the seven Baby Bs in parentheses following:
Attachment Parenting International month Oct 2009     1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting (Birth Bonding)
     2. Feed with Love and Respect (Breastfeeding)
     3. Respond with Sensitivity (Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry)
     4. Use Nurturing Touch (Babywearing)
     5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally (Bedding Close to Baby)
     6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care (Beware of Baby Trainers)
     7. Practice Positive Discipline (Not originally mentioned)
     8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life (Balance)

Before I dive into each individual topic, I'll spend a little time on the idea of attachment parenting in general, in case you're not familiar with the concept — or if you practice it naturally but aren't quite sure what the background is. I've already told you how I came to discover attachment parenting, in a roundabout, serendipitous fashion. I cracked open a book on the subject by happy accident, and it was as if it answered all the questions I didn't even know I'd had on how to parent a baby. I'd grown up thinking and being shown that babies' cries were manipulative, that babies needed to be taught independence from a young age, that it was wrong to pick up a baby crying himself to sleep in a crib. I somehow instinctively knew that those things I was taught were wrong, but I hadn't formulated even the words questioning them, even in the privacy of my own mind. It felt like a betrayal of my parents to question the way they parented. But here was this book telling me that what I subconsciously thought was in fact correct: that babies cry because they need a response, that babies are dependent and deserve to be nurtured until they're old enough to care for themselves, and that it's absolutely natural to want to pick up a baby who's crying as if his heart would break.

Besides my personal experience, here's a broader little history. Attachment parenting was a phrase coined by Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician and a father to eight children. The term hearkens to the idea of attachment theory, which in turn was a way to describe the positive and natural bonding of children to their caregivers, as opposed to attachment disorders, which may occur if that natural attachment is disrupted. The ideas of attachment parenting are certainly not new, although the psychological language of attachment theory was at the time. My understanding, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, is that Dr. Sears saw a danger of a lower level of attachment disorder associated with mainstream, or generally detachment, parenting. It's not the same type of reactive attachment disorder as, for instance, a Romanian baby in an orphanage with virtually no human interaction might have endured. Indeed, rather than being a negative reaction to a "bad" type of parenting or a "bad" reaction in infants, attachment parenting sought to bring parents back to the most natural form of parenting that had been practiced for centuries before baby trainers and book writers got involved: breastfeeding, keeping the baby close by day and at night, and responding to the babies' communication, that is, their cries.

Just before Sears put out his first works describing how this new-old style of parenting worked for him and his wife, Martha, with their fussy baby (their third, I believe?), Jean Liedloff had already published The Continuum Concept, which came to the same conclusions for where modern parenting had gone wrong and how it could go right. (Here's a helpful intro to the book from Cave Mother, and here's mine.) In fact, Liedloff has suggested that Sears stole her ideas and ran with them, a dispute I can't really comment on one way or the other, though I hope it wasn't that underhanded a situation. (You can listen to Liedloff's assertion if you buy the Raw Mom Summit podcast here, or here's a discussion of the same topic on

For me, there certainly is no conflict in their separate conclusions, and I've been able to take what I need from both sources, as well as what other like-minded parents have written and taught me — coming to mind are Mothering the magazine and message board for information and camaraderie; Scott Noelle's daily emails of parenting coaching; the wonderful book Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, by Meredith Small, to elucidate the biological, cultural, and historical sides of attachment parenting; and all my wonderful blogger buddies in my sidebar lists. Distilled and combined with what my own child has and is teaching me, I have cobbled together my own attachment-oriented parenting philosophy.

That parenting philosophy of mine is ever evolving, but the core ideals are reflected in the attachment parenting principles I listed above. I intended to give a little introduction to each before I continued on my series, but I've decided that this blog post will turn into a monster if I go over each one here. I'll post separately with An Attachment Parenting Primer and then start off on the rest of my series.

I don't know if this is clear, so I just want to state here that I am not an expert on attachment parenting, just someone trying her best to figure out how the principles work in her own family. Please always feel free to comment if you have other suggestions or experiences, because who knows whose story might help someone else.

I also want to point out that when a subject like "attachment parenting" comes up, I automatically start feeling a little faint at the idea of writing about it. There's so much that could be said, but you don't have time to read all the thoughts swirling around in my brain! My articles will touch on each topic, but I definitely don't promise that they'll be the last word on the subject! I'm treating the principles as sparks to set off some interesting discussions.

Here, updated as they come available, are all the links for the articles in the series:
     0a. Happy Attachment Parenting Month: Here's how I came to attachment parenting
     0b. Introduction to attachment parenting
     0c. An attachment parenting primer: The eight principles of attachment parenting
     1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting (Birth Bonding) — Move and groove during labor and birth
     2. Feed with Love and Respect (Breastfeeding) — What I wish I'd known when I started breastfeeding
     3. Respond with Sensitivity (Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry) — Cyring it out vs. the responsiveness of attachment parenting
     4. Use Nurturing Touch (Babywearing) — Giveaway of a mei tai carrier for babywearing!
     5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally (Bedding Close to Baby) — How to have sex when you're cosleeping
     6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care (Beware of Baby Trainers) — Book review of Smart Mom's Baby-sitting Co-op Handbook
     7. Practice Positive Discipline (Not originally mentioned) — Hold On to Your Kids with spontaneous connection
     8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life (Balance) — Balance and how you can't do it all, at least not all at once

Happy Attachment Parenting Month!

Photo courtesy eszter dobay on stock.xchng


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