by Holly Keich
As the leader of a the Harrisburg Attachment Parenting Group, I’m often approached with requests to join the group followed by a list of reasons the applicant considers themselves to be an attachment parent. Often I’m left wondering how it is that each person has come to identify specific attributes to this particular parenting style. Breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, home schooling stay-at-home moms who slather their babies in coconut oil, make all their own baby food, choose to leave their baby boys intact, are vaccine hesitant and buy amber necklaces in bulk…This has become the attachment parenting stereotype.
Let’s take a step back and look with fresh eyes to see where it all started. Attachment Parenting; a phrase coined by Dr. William Sears in and his wife Martha, a registered nurse, in 1982; was discovered by Dr. Sears when reading Jean Liedloff’s book The Continuum Concept. (1) This ground breaking book published in 1975 took a look at the Ye’kuana people of Venzuela. Through her research, Liedloff proposes that the modern Western ways of giving birth and raising children, with bottle feeding, cribs and baby carriages, does not meet the evolutionary needs of children and therefore they develop a sense of wrongness and shame about themselves and their desires. (2)
Attachment Parenting owes it’s roots to many philosophic predecessors beyond just Liedloff. The first of which is the father of attachment theory, John Bowlby and subsequently his research assistant, Mary Ainsworth who is most notably known for the “Strange Situation” which investigated how attachments might vary between children. With Attachment Theory burgeoning in the world of research after World War II, many responsive parenting styles began to become more mainstream. Most notably Dr. Spock’s best selling book “Baby and Child Care” was published in 1946 where he advised mothers to raise their infants according to common sense and plenty of physical contact. (3) In the 1990’s T. Berry Brazelton also contributed to this discussion with new research about the capacity of newborn infants to express themselves and their emotions and for parents to become sensitized to their babies needs and to follow their own judgment. (4) And there are countless others in between the two as research began to hone in on how babies attach and what that looks like in varying family situations.
In 1993, the Sears’ published the first edition of “The Baby Book”, the first publication that guided parents in the tenants of “attachment parenting”. (5) This is where the 5 Baby B’s where introduced, which later became the 7 Baby B’s in 2001 with the introduction of “The Attachment Parenting Book”. (6)
- Birth bonding
- Baby wearing
- Bedding close to baby
- Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry
- Beware of baby trainers
As we look at the 7 Baby B’s we begin to see where some of these stereotypes surrounding attachment parenting might have originated. And even though the Sears’ discuss that attachment parenting is a responsive approach to parenting that it doesn’t have a strict set of rules, many choose to dig in and identify with the above concepts as guideposts to being the perfect parent, myself included in the early days of parenting. Have you found yourself using the guideposts as a checklist rather than a potential strategy that could be weighed in determining what works best for your family?
In 1994, with the blessing of Dr. Sears, Attachment Parenting International was founded by two educators and mothers, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in Nashville, Tennessee. (7) Both were teachers who noticed a growing need among their students for, greater family security and caregiver availability. (8) API has expanded on the 7 Baby B’s and Dr. Sears’ work and now promotes the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting. (9)
- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
- Feed with Love and Respect
- Respond with Sensitivity
- Use Nurturing Touch
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care
- Practice Positive Discipline
- Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
While the intent is the same, the principles expand on the Sears’ premise by including Positive Discipline and allowing a broader definition for each category, further defining and refining the core concepts of attachment. While the Sears’ 7 Baby B’s are geared primarily for children 5 and under, the 8 principles are expansive enough to guide you through the ages and stages of parenting up until the teen years (and beyond).
Although it’s been around for nearly 35 years, with roots dating back to World War II, Attachment Parenting is viewed as a fad. Even though the tenants of parenting that are proposed are as old as time and secure attachment remains as basic and beneficial as it ever was to human development, there are critics of Attachment Parenting. Often, this criticism is muddled, confusing attachment parenting with permissive parenting, helicopter parenting, and natural parenting. But if we go back to the principles, you won’t find these attributes on the list. Positive Discipline utilizes strategies that are empathetic, loving, and respectful while strengthening the connection between parent and child. The strategies are kind yet firm. The ultimate goal of discipline is to help children develop self-control and self-discipline. (10) And even though many of the tenants are instinctual, responsive and therefore may come “naturally”, the use of coconut oil, cloth diapers, and natural remedies as espoused by natural parenting is nowhere on the list.
Despite the broader definitions, Attachment Parenting is still mistakenly viewed by many as an intensive parenting style that requires you give up yourself completely to care for your child. Visions of babywearing until they are in middle school are conjured up in people’s minds and written about in articles. And this stereotype may made even more true by those adhering to what they believe are the attachment parenting principles, forgetting that one of those principles is to Strive for Balance. Taking time for yourself is one of the key elements of being an attached parent. If you run yourself ragged meeting your baby’s needs and everyone else comes before you, you’ll soon find yourself struggling to hold on without realizing that you’re the one leading the circus. You’re the one spinning more and more plates striving for perfection and applause. That is, until they come crashing down to the ground and the tent falls in.
Before you loose yourself, take a step back, take a deep breath and realign yourself with the principles that speak to you and work in your life. Use them as tools rather than steps that help you achieve the broader over-arching goal of raising a compassionate, loving and responsible human being. Look at the principles as objectives in reaching that goal. Realize that babywearing is a tool, one of many that can help you meet the objective of using Nurturing Touch, as are infant massage, bathing, hugs, and snuggles. Move through each principle and reassess. There is no one right way to be an attachment parent, but there are a million ways to attach with your child. As is embedded in the philosophy itself, listen to your intuition and let it guide you. You are the best parent for your baby. You know what is best for you and your family. If you are able to quiet your mind enough to listen, to stop the plates from spinning, you can hear that inner voice guiding you. Sit with that voice. Learn to trust that voice.
Celebrate Attachment Parenting Month with a deep connection to peace, love and trust in your own heart so that inner light can shine out brightly for others.
Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill. She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant learner in the school of life.