Does Attachment Parenting “Break” a Child?

I received an email from a mother who is clearly in a difficult situation with her 5mo boy: she’s been raising him with the basic tenets of attachment parenting, but is now starting to get negative feedback from her family and friends. So she’s not sure she’s doing the right thing… please, read through what she’s written and, if you have some words of wisdom, add ’em here. Thanks.
“Hi. My name is Anita and I’m the mother of 5 months old Adam. He is my little sunshine but at the moment we are going through a very difficult time. Lets start from the beginning. Me and my boyfriend were trying for 3 years for a baby and after long time of trying Adam was here…

“From the beginning I was very attached to him. He spent lots of time on my chest in sling, or falling asleep on my shoulder and I always did enjoy it. I didn’t know anything about attachment parenting I only followed my instincts. And we were always happy.
“For me as for ex-nanny this was something new as she had always been loving, but quite strict. You know, like baby needs to sleep in his cot and you have to let him cry and all that stuff.
“But as mother I cant do any of this in my past “unbreakable” rules. He is very happy baby and I always believed I’m doing all the best for him but in last 2 weeks I had big argument with my aunt and also my friend about the way I bring up Adam. He is used to falling asleep nursing and in my arms. I know is maybe not the best way but I cant manage to let him cry.
“My friend says that because I leave him after he falls asleep he is in stress. And now I don’t know what to do.
“I’m just so confused. I tried to let him cry but I felt like the worst mother. I need to hear something what will help me and I will enjoy my days as before.
“Did you ever let your kids cry wen they were so young? I just feel so stupid and I have more then 6 years experience in childcare. I just can’t let him cry because I feel I’m breaking him.
That’s a tough situation but I will say first off that babies are far more resilient than you think and if you need to teach him to go to sleep without you being there, well, that’s what the little guy will learn to cope with. Is it optimal? I don’t think so. I think we all need to be touched and loved and it’s only modern Western society that teaches us that it’s “normal” to push the baby away and establish their independence from the very first day they’re born.
Having said that, peer pressure can be very tough, and I can also understand that your boyfriend might get a bit frustrated that baby Adam gets Mama 24×7 but he’s sitting on the sidelines hoping for a few minutes of your attention. You don’t mention that, but be aware that it is a common attachment parenting cost, particularly in a situation such as your own.
My opinion is that you should listen to your heart, though, and raise your baby the way you believe is best. Also listen to the advice of other people who have been good parents: even if you don’t agree with them, it should help you consider the long-term ramifications of your decisions.
And otherwise, I invite other parents to add their proverbial two cents here too: what would you, dear reader, advise to this young mother?

15 comments on “Does Attachment Parenting “Break” a Child?

  1. Anita:
    Continue to follow your instincts!!! People will tell you how to raise your child for the next 18 years and you can thank them for their advice and then …
    Continue to follow your instincts!!!
    You will instinctually KNOW whether their advice is right or wrong for you and your son. Don’t bother arguing with them, it doesn’t matter whether you change their mind. The only thing that matters is that you …
    Continue to follow your instincts!!!
    In other words – what Dave said.

  2. I have a 16 month old daughter and raised her much the same way that you are raising Adam. I didn’t necessarily know about “attachment parenting”, but I held her, nursed her, let her fall asleep in my arms, never let her cry it out. I took some grief for my parenting style, which did make me question my methods a time or two. In the end, my daughter started becoming independent when she and I were both ready – not when outsiders were ready. I think you should do what feels right. If you and Adam are both healthy and happy with your relationship, that is the only thing that matters – period. You have to do what is right for you and your baby.

  3. I agree with you, Dave. Trust your inner instincts! If you are feeling strongly that your child needs you, you can be assured that he or she does. One of the things that we question inside ourselves is trusting ourselves to know what is best. If we are coming from a loving place that is supportive with clear boundaries for ourselves and those around us including our children, then we need not question whether we are doing the right thing. When yes means yes and no means no, we and the child can feel safe and secure knowing that we are doing the best we can do. Do you think it is ever possible to love, in a healthy way, too much????

  4. Although I would never claim to practice “Attachment Parenting”, I certainly came close enough to it. I breastfed my sons until they were 18 – 20 months and they slept in my bed until they were ready for their own beds, even after I got divorced. One of my favorite things was to breastfeed them to sleep, it was easy, and I got a nap too!
    Some people didn’t like it, but I wasn’t going to stop doing what I knew to be best for my child just because someone else was unhappy with it.
    Although I don’t think that letting a baby cry once in a while is a bad thing, I don’t see any reason to do that for bed time when it can be easy and natural with nursing. Now, if you’re busy with housework and the baby is crying, well, I think it’s ok to let him cry while you finish up quickly. I have a bad back, so carrying my babies around all the time was not very healthy for me. But you do what you feel is the best for you and your baby, no matter what anyone else says.
    And just try to keep in mind that there are plenty of people in the world that agree with you, even if it’s not your friends and relatives!

  5. You definitely have to follow your instincts. There are a lot of expectations put upon us as new parents to follow “conventional” practices, but you must only use the techniques that you’re comfortable with. I also think that people are reluctant to divulge that they are not following these practices – like they need to feel guilty for doing what works for them.
    I’m not sure why your fiend would think that leaving a baby after they’re already asleep would be more stressful than crying themselves to sleep. Babies are very good communicators. Crying means that they need something. If they are not crying they are happy. It’s pretty clear-cut.
    I have found the best way to deal with those that don’t agree is to smile & nod and just have confidence that you are doing what you know is right for you & your baby.

  6. This is tough for every parent. I am a father of 4 and never really understood attachment parenting, but this is not a problem associated specifically to being an attachment parent.
    Children are creatures of habit, and when you change that they have a difficult time communicating how change makes them feel and they tend to do the only thing they know how–cry. They seem to be real good at doing that. We as adults don;t communicate that way any more and it can drive us over the edge. This change is creating havoc in the child’s mind now, but also know that it will be only a short time to allow the child to make the change. Once that change is made, it will be on to the next thing in their lives that is crazy.
    I agree with Dave, children are far more resilient than we give give them credit for and I think that what you may need is to be a little more steadfast and things will get better. Perhaps getting your boyfriend involved with this problem also is a big help. We sometimes as parents think that we must shoulder the burdens of doing it all, and we have many people that will lend a hand but are not sure how to help. You can reach out and ask when things seem difficult. Good luck.

  7. Oh, Anita,
    You can never love a baby too much or too often. Little Adam is blessed to have a mama that let’s him soak in as much love as he needs.
    First, ask yourself….”Whose problem is this?” If your parenting style is a problem for YOU, then it is time to take a look at it and decide what you need to change. Since I don’t get that this is the case, I would assume the problem is for the other people in your life. NOT YOUR PROBLEM. Also not your job to explain why you raise Adam the way you do. If it is a problem for other people, smile and graciously accept any input they want to offer, thank them for caring so much about you AND Adam that they take the time to share their experiences and beliefs…AND go right on doing what you’re doing.
    I never let any of my three children cry it out…although I tried once with DD…and never again. My kids are now aged 8-14…and each one of them can fall asleep on their own.
    Start with the Heart…it never steers you in the wrong direction when it comes to your kids. There will be lots of opportunities to set loving limits in the future…for now, enjoy that little bundle…it doesn’t last long…you will not regret the time you spent snuggling…some of my BEST memories…and my kids LOVE hearing about how much they were held and loved into the wee hours, even! One of my youngest’s first sentences was, “…Poose, mama, poose!” I always called him my little Papoose, because I wore him so much…and he came to know “..poose” as being snuggly and close and warm. Even his older brother sometimes carried him in his sling, and we have the cutest pictures of that!
    Best wishes to you and your LUCKY little boy!
    Wendy…mom o’ three

  8. I don’t subscribe to “attachment parenting” as The One Parenting Solution anymore than I subscribe to “cry it out” – dogma is no good for any parent.
    HOWEVER: Instinctive parenting? Definitely. Attached parents? You bet. And if you follow your instincts, biological imperative dictates that you’re far more likely to do at least some of the things that attachment parenting advocates (lots of physical contact, inc. slinging, co-sleeping, breeastfeeding etc). But it has to feel right for your child and it has to feel right for you.
    If that’s the way it is, then you are not – repeat are not – doing anything wrong with Adam – you’re doing everything you can to be as wonderfully responsive as possible – this is far more than most parents (who automatically listen to the supposed “expert”, whether that’s Gina Ford, the prehistoric doctor or your mother-in-law) can ever hope to achieve.
    I look at my little girl 14 months on, and know that it was worth pursuing our own parenting path, and avoiding the “you’ll make a rod for your own back” people. Secure baby = happy, independent toddler – in his or her own time. Insecure baby = whiny, clingy toddler with very confused expectations. Only you know how to make your baby feel secure – sounds like you’re doing a great job. These wobbly months pass so quickly, but it seems like forever at the time. Find other people who can see that and support you, it really helps.

  9. Follow your instinct. I have 3 kids and they all co-sleep with me until my eldest is 6 yrs old and I am still co-sleeping with my 15 months old baby. I have never let them cry it out. Perhaps it’s our Asian culture, once the baby started crying, we (the parents, the grans) start to picks the baby up to sooth the baby. We just can’t stand the child to be distress. We always believe they cry for a reason.
    Does that make my children less independent? No. It doesn’t. They are happy children.

  10. Follow your instincts and your heart. I’ve found them never to steer me wrong. No baby can loved too much.
    People have given us grief over our first and already people are saying our second is spoiled at two months. Nonsense, I say. These kids know what they need from us.
    The older child is a healthy, independent and feisty three year old. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  11. I agree with the advice to follow you insticts. I also think you must evaluate your situation beyond the immediate. If you can be there to soothe your child personally all the time for the long term, and that works for everyone in your situation, then continue. An alternative we used, to include my husband more and prepare my sons in case I couldn’t be there due to some unforseen circumstance, was for me to nurse my sons but my husband soothe and settle them for sleep. Any instance in which they were crying that wasn’t due to hunger could be met generally by my husband. This promoted their bond and allowed him to feel as confident in meeting their needs as I did. We learned this by trial and error for our first and made an agreement to follow it early with our second. I feel this increased our sons’ confidence that they would be cared for unconditionally and expanded their awareness of the circle of love and caring hands they had available to them. We expanded this circle to grandparents and our siblings eventually so they could spend time away from us and still feel safe.
    There is nothing that compares to a mother’s love and intuition but that doesn’t mean that we have to, or should necessarily be, on call and on duty constantly. While we may want to, it might be in the best interest of our children that we don’t.

  12. As a parent and psychotherapist specializing in early attachment theory, you can never go wrong with loving “too much”. Following your instinct as a parent is always a good step, since bottom line is that you as the mother have to be comfortable with your parenting strategy.
    However, I’ve also seen too many parents use attachment theory to fulfill their own needs of love and connection. We all need to be loved, especially babies. But part of appropriate development is to be disappointed, cry and be soothed again. An infant starts off without a self, and the attached parent is the self-object who regulated his needs. In healthy development, the baby moves towards realizing that the mother (or father) is not an extension of him but someone who will be there when he’s in distress. Secure attachment is one that allows for exploration and appropriate stress, yet timely and appropriate soothing.
    But if we as parents are too afraid of watching our babies cry, then we can raise a child who is either too afraid to explore and take risks, or becomes rebellious just to differentiate from his caretaker.
    So I believe that the key is balance. More importantly as parents, dealing with our own inadequacies and accepting that we’ll make mistakes and our kids will cry, get disappointed and eventually get their hearts broken. At the end of the day, what counts is whether we’ll be there to wipe the tears.

  13. Keep doing what you were doing.. that’s my 2 cents..
    We (yes the Dad can be involved) raised out 2 kids like that.. we still have a family bed. My 6yo has his own room.. but if he wants, he can come sleep with us without a big guilt trip.
    Our 3yo girl is still in our bed.
    Do others understand it? Many don’t.. Do we care? I suppose a bit.. I can’t figure out how people that say they care about kids continue to ignore how good attachment parenting is.. and … we too didn’t know there was a word for it.. we just did what we felt was right.
    After people started to tell us we were doing it wrong (as they are telling you) we started to research things.. surely someone here has a link to help you have some ammo to throw back at the nay-sayers.
    Our 6yo can go to bed by himself.. sometimes he asks for someone to sing to him.. but sheesh.. I was 3rd kid out of 3.. and technically.. I never had to go to bed alone.. I had a brother there to talk with..
    We are social animals.. if a zookeeper took a baby from the momma gorilla and forced it to sleep alone.. animal rights activists would have fits… why then does our society do it to our kids?? who knows.. but don’t let them pressure you into doing it to yours.
    Hang in there.

  14. I don’t see the problem. You say that he’s a very happy baby and that you’re happy as well. Is his dad happy with the situation too? If so, then that’s the people who count all accounted for.
    Letting him fall asleep nursing/in your arms may not be something you want to keep doing indefinitely, and may well be something you want to change at some point. However, you don’t have to change something that suits you *now* just because it may not suit you in a few months’ time! Enjoy doing things the way you’re doing them. If and when you feel that either he or you needs a change, *then* is the time to change. It’s nothing to do with your friend or your aunt. Smile and tell them that they’re welcome to raise their children however they see fit.
    When I was pregnant with my first, my mother told me that the two most important pieces of childrearing advice were “Don’t solve the problem until it happens”, and “The most important thing you can do for your children is to enjoy them.” I’ve come to appreciate, deeply, the wisdom of both of those.

  15. It’s ultimately up to you and your boyfriend how you raise him. If you are happy with how things are going, then don’t worry about them. I do agree though with previous posts in reference to thinking about how things will be later on down the road. I don’t personally agree with what some parents do, but it’s none of my business. They may not agree with me either. Hang in there and love him while you can, he’ll be out of the house before you know it!

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