I met a fellow father this morning for tea and we chatted about what we were working on and shared the ups and downs of fatherhood, but afterwards it struck me that we didn’t talk about parenting itself. We talked about being parents and about our children, yes, but not about parenting.
So I spent today thinking about the difference, and then just happened to get a message from a new reader who asked “what is attachment parenting and how does it differ from other forms of parenting?” and realized that her question would never come up in conversation. If you’re traveling an alternative path with cosleeping, for example, I bet you don’t ever mention that to your friends or office-mates. You just say “I’m so tired, Susanna just would not go to sleep last night!” or “she kept waking up throughout the night with a stomach ache. I’m so tired!”
So in this posting I thought I’d try to tackle the topic of parenting, as opposed to the challenges of being a parent, and perhaps you’ll see them differently, as I do. To make this fun, I thought a Socratic dialog would be a good approach, so common questions we’ve heard are in bold, and my answer is in regular text.
Fine. Whatever. So what is attachment parenting?
As with any style of parenting, there’s no formal definition and checklist pinned to the fridge, but for us, attachment parenting involves extended breastfeeding, having our baby sleep in our bed with us, using a sling or other carrier rather than pushing them into a stroller, pram, or similar, and, generally, just touching them, embracing them, holding them, and being with them throughout babyhood.
What does “extended” mean when you say “extended breastfeeding”?
We personally believe that when the baby’s ready to wean, they’ll wean, so our first two kids nursed until they were around four, or perhaps a bit longer. The World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least two years, and most American pediatric groups recommend at least six months. This doesn’t mean that our children didn’t have other foods along the way: Our baby K-, who is now almost 13 months, eats baby food and gnaws on carrots and, frankly, whatever she can scrounge off the floor (if you have a baby you know exactly what I’m talking about!).
On the other hand, we are cautious about food allergies in very young children, so we have tried to avoid dairy and wheat for at least their first year. Linda’s family has a history of food allergies, so a little bit of prevention in babyhood seems to be paying off handsomely in a lack of food allergies in our eldest daughter (who is 8).
Okay. How about sleeping in your bed. Don’t you worry that you’re going to crush your baby when you roll over at night?
Logically, it seems like that would be a danger, doesn’t it? In fact, in over eight years of sleeping with babies in the same bed, we’ve never smushed anyone once. In fact, even when I’m completely knackered, I can still sense where the baby is sleeping and curl around it. Of course, this isn’t to say that the little nipper can’t somehow conspired to lay in such a way that she takes up 2/3 of a king size bed!
Even at the price of a little less room, though, I love to lay with my face a half-dozen inches from her sleeping face and just look at her cheeks in the moonlight and listen to the rhythm of her breathing. If you compartmentalize your baby in a crib or even in another room, you really have no idea of how close your love connection can be with your child (in my opinion, at least).
Okay, then how do you have sex if you have a little bambino in bed with you?
Sex? Now that rings a vague bell. Let me Google it. Wooooaaah! 🙂
I will simply answer that there are plenty more places you can be intimate than a bed. ‘nuf said on that topic.
What’s the deal with the sling rather than a stroller or baby carriage? Don’t you think your baby needs to learn to be independent and do their own thing rather than always have Mommy and Daddy a pinkie’s wiggle away?
Actually, I don’t think that. Having raise three children, I can tell you that even if you don’t want it to happen, they become independent and explore their world as they grow up. In fact, from what I’ve seen with many children, it’s the kids that are pushed into their own rooms, sat in front of a TV as a babysitter, and otherwise left without lots of human contact that have the hardest time standing on their own – healthy – two feet.
Slings are just a convenient way of carrying a baby that lets them feel cuddled and loved without you having to tie up both your hands the entire time. They can still peek out and, as they get older, can certainly sit up and try to grab everything within a meter of your body, but the whole time they know in their cells, in their subconscious, in their heart, that Mom or Dad’s strong and protective arms are right there ready to envelop and protect them on a moment’s notice.
You talk as if you don’t like TV. Are attachment parents people who don’t watch TV too?
As far as I know, TV and attachment parenting are completely independent of each other, but I have to say that our children watch almost zero television, videos, DVDs or movies. In fact, they’ve never been to a movie theater. All told, including when they’re sick and get to watch something like Mary Poppins, they probably watch a total of 10-20 hours of TV/video each year.
There are reams of data that demonstrate how bad TV is for your children’s physical, emotional and mental well-being, but for us it’s more about how TV crushes their imaginative lives. Watch children that spend a lot of time in front of the tube; the only imaginative play they can do is to mimic what they’ve been forcefed through the complete crap that passes as children’s TV or movies nowadays. Here’s a test I like to watch; give your child a blank piece of paper and some crayons and watch what they do. If anything.
Your milage may vary, and I know that this is a sensitive topic in the parenting community. Pragmatic reality is that once you start down that road it’s bloody tough to even wean children off TV, let alone stop cold. I also understand that “we” grew up watching TV and don’t seem to have too many deleterious effects, all in all. But you flip on Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network and you’ll see, TV is qualitatively different than it was twenty, thirty or forty years ago. It’s more aggressive, more rude, more sexualized, and much more commercially driven. And movies ten times so.
Yeah, uh, okay. No TV. What other weird things do you do as attachment parents?
I could tell you, but then you’d be part of the cult. 🙂 Seriously, we are following the path we are following for the same reason everyone follows their own path as a parent; we want to give our children all possible advantages, the best possible environment for them to grow up, and the safest, most loving and caring childhood to help foster strong, independent, healthy young adults. Hopefully we’ll all end up with kids that are striving to meet their own goals in a healthy and positive manner.
Other questions about attachment parenting? Add ’em as comments and I’ll be happy to answer them!