I’ve been practicing attachment parenting for 16 years, which is easy to calculate because my oldest is, well, 16 years old. Why AP? We chose to raise our children using an AP approach because we felt it was the parenting philosophy most in sync with our own beliefs, most in alignment with our values and most consistent with our approach to our lives.
Like most things in the behavioral realm, though, there’s no “official AP guidelines” so each of us has a slightly different take on it, a slightly different approach that makes the core concepts uniquely our own, tailored to fit our lives and our children.
Nonetheless there were certain core things we felt were important, fundamental ideas that pervaded every decision we made — and AP is a lot more tricky to apply when they’re tweens or teens, in case you’re wondering — ideas that even survived my wife and I going our separate ways while still striving to be consistent in our approaches to parenting in our separate houses.
The greatest of those was to teach the children to be happy and successful adults.
This is not the same thing as trying to maximize their happiness, for example. That one’s easy, just let ’em eat ice cream for breakfast and skip school in favor of games and TV. (well, not all children, but you know what I mean. little ones don’t have the cognitive skills to make smart long-term decisions, and guiding them into a place of wisdom is part of our job as parents).
I am also consciously teaching my children economic cause and effect, so that they understand that the old proverb about money growing on trees is just that and if they want to acquire something, they need to earn the money to pay for it. Again, a critical life skill in our modern world.
Which is why I was bowled over when a Facebook pal and fellow Dad pointed me to this article: The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair.
The author, “Jane”, is apparently unwilling to actually identify herself, and perhaps with good cause. In her article she equates brushing your child’s hair with sexual abuse, explaining that if you are taking care of their grooming, you’re teaching them that other people have control over their bodies, and that’s a bad thing.
I’ve read the article multiple times and I just don’t get her point, not to mention her claim that it’s somehow tied to attachment parenting in any way, shape or form. Perhaps her point is that if you force that hair brushing on your child that it can have a negative message, but in the decades of parenting I’ve enjoyed with my three kids (as I write about frequently) I have never once forced grooming onto my child. Not once.
I have encouraged them to clean up and brush their hair, I have made haircuts a must — with them having a big vote in how long it’ll end up — and on occasion I have regretfully explained that if they don’t brush their hair and get neater I won’t be able to bring them with me on some thrilling adventure or journey.
But that’s not child abuse (which physically forcing anything on your child arguably is at some level, though when it’s medical treatment or the dentist, sometimes they do have to endure experiences that are unpleasant and might end up being an absolute requirement), brushing their hair is not teaching them that someone else is in control of their bodies, it’s just fighting the Lord of the Flies temptation for children without any rules or structure to turn rather a bit feral.
I’m not the arbiter of what is and isn’t “attachment parenting” any more than you are, dear reader. We all take the core philosophies of balance, sensitivity, positive discipline, love and respect and pour them over the world we create with our children, tiny or otherwise. It’s wrong for me to judge “Jane” on whether avoiding hair brushing is beneficial for her children or not. I’ll simply say that in my AP inspired world, my children have good personal hygiene and always look presentable. That we’ve never forced grooming on them. And that really, no kidding, insisting on something happening is not what child abuse or sexual abuse is all about.
But that’s just my voice. What do you think? Do you brush your children’s hair? Clean their teeth when they’re little? Help them get dressed and eat?
There are days I don’t brush my daughters hair because the fight isn’t worth it (she is almost 3). I tell her she can’t go to whatever fun thing we have planned that day and she makes the decision. After a few times of this she decides to let me brush her hair. Brushing teeth is never optional, although that is almost always a struggle as well. At a certain point we need to show them to be functional members of society, and take their health into account. As much as I subscribe to many of the AP principles, we can’t just not change a diaper, brush teeth, or other important personal hygiene matters.
That isn’t AP, that’s lazy. Brushing ones hair is basic care. Just like brushing teeth. If/when her child goes out into public looking unkempt, she will be reported for neglect and be arrested for child abuse. Maybe then she’ll get it. Probably not.
Does she not brush her child’s teeth? Or give them a bath? Or allow doctors and dentists to touch her child?
Can you imagine setting up a doctor appointment, and then once the doctor walks in walking out because the child does not feel like getting a check up or having a doctor set a broken bone? I don’t think so.
Many a toddler will not want to stop playing and brush teeth, take a bath, or be examined by a doctor when they are sick or in pain. By her logic, it would be child/sexual abuse to brush their teeth, keep them clean, and have them cared for by a doctor.
I think that we’r attachment parents as well, and while I don’t FORCE my five year old to brush his teeth (or other necessary personal care items, including taking a shower, going pee before a long trip, or yes, combing/brushing his hair), I do cajole, wheedle, lure, explain, exclaim, allow, and many other verbs to get him to do it. Sometimes I threaten to take away privileges.
It’s a little bit about teaching him to live in a society, and it’s a little about leading him to make excellent health care choices when he’s old enough to make those choices. Mostly it’s about that.
I let him know clearly that I will love him even when he doesn’t brush his teeth.
Sometimes parenting is making choices for your kids that they would prefer (or are not yet prepared to make) Committing to teeth-brushing is one of them.