Real Simple: Attachment Parenting My Way
Attachment parenting: it is the foundation for this entire website, and I have become quite passionate about its advocacy. I wanted my first article to be significant, so I am giving you my definition of this parenting style as well as some other things I have learned over the last few years.
First, though, I have to tell you something – don’t obsess about finding a name to give your own parenting style. No one is going to stop you on the street and ask “what parenting philosophy do you follow?” I did not even know about attachment parenting until after my first child was born, and I had obsessively read and researched everything when I was pregnant. As cliché as it may sound, I guess you could say that attachment parenting found me. Not the other way around. It’s totally OK to not have a name for what you practice.
I also have a confession. I hate the name “attachment” parenting. I guess it is my educational background that makes me think of a parent hovering around their child, wiping their nose and keeping them from experiencing anything. In the teaching world, we call that “helicopter mom” – and it is definitely a derogatory term. So my initial impression was of a paranoid germaphobic mom and a clingy, emotionally unstable child.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I personally define attachment parenting as “doing what is best for the baby or child, taking into account what is the most natural and simple way to meet all of their needs.” I often think about what the earliest Homo sapiens would have done 200,000 years ago. Back then there would not have been a lot of fancy bouncers and swings to put your baby in, and you certainly could not have run to the nearest Walmart to buy more Similac. Epidurals were nonexistent, and so were pacifiers. That is the epitome of the natural and simple solution, and I try to keep that in mind when dealing with various obstacles as a parent. The same goes for what our children crave.
Our babies are hardwired to want to be with us at all times. Heck, when they are in the womb they want for nothing. They are the perfect temperature, they never hunger nor thirst, they have no concept of what it feels like to have a wet diaper or gas. Mama’s heartbeat constantly plays a comforting rhythm and her voice is so familiar. Moving throughout her day, the mother may not even realize that her motions sway her baby to sleep.
And then they are born.
When you think about it from the baby’s perspective, the beginning of life can be pretty scary. Suddenly there are bright lights, loud sounds, you are cold and wet and OMG WHAT IS HAPPENING. Your body kicks into “life outside the womb” mode, and has to start to breathe air. Once the umbilical cord is cut the baby will experience hunger for the first time. Oh, and don’t forget that fantastic first poop of meconium.
Thinking about it this way – and realizing that each negative sensation is literally the worst thing your baby has ever experienced thus far in their life – forms a lot of my parenting philosophy. We may think, “my baby can wait 10 more minutes to eat, I just want to finish the dishes.” But to them, this is a real serious issue which needs to be addressed now. They are not being high maintenance, or bad, or inconvenient. They are a tiny human who has been thrust into our world. And it is completely selfish and unfair for us to think that our babies will just adapt to our schedule.
As you read on – and I hope that you are still with me – keep in mind that the baby’s mother is his comfort. Everything through 200,000 years of nature’s programming tells him that nothing replaces Mama. She is his warmth, nourishment, and peace.
As a mother, you are home.
This is all well and good, but being a parent is not easy. Being a selfless parent is really not easy. But fear not, weary warrior. I have great news.
It turns out that attachment parenting is not only what is best for your baby, but it is oftentimes the easiest way to do things. Dare I say… The lazy way to do things. Let me explain.
The three big components which you usually see associated with attachment parenting are: breast-feeding, baby wearing, and cosleeping. Let me go into each of these a little bit and you will start to see what I mean.
Whenever possible, you should breast-feed your baby from birth. The World Health Organization recommends that you nurse your baby within an hour of birth, exclusively breast-feed for six months, and then begin solids or purées or whatever. But it is important to note that the WHO also recommends that you continue to breast-feed for two years or more, as long as it is mutually enjoyable for mother and baby. Most first world countries other than the United States breast-feed their children for an average of 4.2 years. I know in America it unfortunately is considered taboo to do this, but there is not a switch that goes off in your child that suddenly makes nursing non-beneficial. But that is a whole other rant.
Breast-feeding is also the easiest option for feeding the baby. In the beginning it is time-consuming and difficult, and do not let me belittle that. I breast-fed my first child for over a year and a half, and we had serious difficulties for two months. I know that it can be tempting to think about it just mixing up some powder in a bottle. But if you can make it through that rough beginning, breast-feeding becomes the easiest thing in the world. As soon as your baby gets hungry, pop a boob in his mouth and go about your day. Nothing to buy, no dishes, no measuring and no formula poops that smell like death. See what I mean? Lazy.
Add in the baby wearing and cosleeping, and life is pretty fantastic.
Baby wearing is exactly what it sounds like: using a sling, wrap, or carrier to wear your child. Nowadays there are all kinds of things you can buy or even make so that you can wear your child on your chest, your hip, or your back. I love baby wearing and my kids love it too. Think about it this way: your baby feels your body heat, can hear your heartbeat, and your breath helps regulate their breathing. You don’t even have to take them off when they get hungry, since you just nurse them while wearing them too. This is subtle enough that you can do it in public without showing any skin. I have had full conversations with people in the store while my baby has been nursing, and the other person has no idea! Now would you really rather drag around a big bulky car seat? Didn’t think so.
Cosleeping has a rather fluid definition. It can either mean that your child sleeps in your bedroom, in their own bed or crib; or it can mean bed sharing, which is when the child is in your bed with you. Like other aspects of parenting, there are safe ways to do this and a lot more stupid ways to do this. Make sure to be safe if you choose to cosleep. For us it works beautifully – a lot less furniture, happy children, a drastically reduced risk of SIDS, and it makes breast-feeding ridiculously easy at night. This is the perfect example of what baby wants plus what is natural plus what is lazy.
There are a few other components which AP parents often do, but aren’t necessarily AP habits. Baby led weaning – the act of skipping purées and rice in the bottle, and just giving the kids stuff off of your plate when they are ready to try solids; healthy, organic, and/or vegetarian diets; cloth diapering – less waste, no chemicals; homeschooling, or at least Montessori/Waldorf style education; homeopathics and a desire to avoid antibiotics; and either delayed or vaccinations or no vaccinations. Without going into much detail, I can tell you that I adore baby led weaning and cloth diapering, and we try to limit antibiotics, but we don’t abide by much else on that list.
Now that you have an idea about the basics of attachment parenting, and how I feel about it, I can tell you the best part about it all. My Guinea pigs… Err, I mean kids… And how they have responded to being the results of AP.
My son is 2.5 now and literally the most compassionate child I’ve ever met. He’s kind and gentle and considerate, and we never had an actual deliberate lesson on how to be like this. But I look him in the eye when he talks, I validate his feelings and talk him through his experiences. When he’s taught how to act differently (I hate the words “discipline” and “punishment”), I get down on his level and treat him like a human being. Because hey, he is one. We end those conversations in hugs and “I love yous” and I never forget that he and I are on the same team. I don’t win if he doesn’t win, so it does me no good to belittle him or invalidate how he feels. I always try to be patient, and remember that neurologically he’s going through so much right now that he can’t explain. Tantrums are a chance for him to let out energy and learn how to describe his emotions. We grow together and learn together. And he is thriving.
My son and I are on the same team. I don’t win if he doesn’t win.
My daughter is three months old and the poster child for AP. She is a breastfeeding champion, loves to be worn and held, and is the happiest baby. I think her favorite part of the day is when we lay down with big brother for a long nap – as soon as I put her on the bed she gets all excited, grinning and cooing and kicking her chubby legs. She knows it’s boob-and-sleep time with Mama cuddles! She’s not laid down half the day in a swing or bouncer so she learned really young to lift her head and look around. At two months, she literally met all of her FOUR MONTH milestones. Baby wearing is not only comforting for her, but it encourages her to work her muscles; because of that she is incredibly strong. And she and I share a bond which makes me feel incredibly special. As a mama, especially an AP mama, you never have to worry about not being needed or wanted.
I hope that by now you really have a good idea about the mentality which surrounds my concept of attachment parenting. The whole idea is to never forget the baby’s point of view, what they need and what they want. If you can keep in mind our beginnings as a species and how we would have parented in the early days, it starts to make some of today’s gadgets look pretty silly and unnecessary. Babies need to be warm, they need to be nourished, they need to be clean, they need to rest. And when it comes to a new child, simple and easy is always better for everyone involved.
For all of my faults and imperfections in this world, I feel confident in knowing that I am doing right by my children. Even on rough days they will never have any doubt that they are loved and cherished, understood and accepted. And when the time comes for them to fly away from our nest, I can stand in the doorway with happy tears in my eyes and know that my selflessness has paid off.
That’s why I parent the way I do.
Welcome to Real Simple Mama.