When I first heard about attachment parenting, I thought it sounded amazing. I liked the idea of bonding closely with my baby, then treating them with respect, love, and kindness as they grew to adulthood. I imagined days full of snuggles, breastfeeding, wearing my baby everywhere, and raising independent, loving kids. Then I became a parent and realized that being a mom was not at all like I'd imagined. Now that I've been a parent for a while, I truly think people need to stop romanticizing attachment parenting. Of course and always, there's more than one way to be a good parent, and attachment parenting doesn't work for all (or probably even most) families.
The basics of attachment parenting are pretty straight forward. According to guru Dr. William Sears, if you want to bond with your babies you need to practice the following Baby B's: birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bed-sharing, belief in your baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance. If you do, you will enjoy what is called the Childhood C's: caring kids, compassionate kids, connected kids, careful kids, confident kids, and confident parents. If this all sounds pretty good to you, I don't blame you. I totally bought into this lifestyle hook, line, and sinker. I was going to be an attachment parent, even if it meant sacrificing myself in the process. So, I tried so hard to do all of these things and the results were pretty catastrophic — postpartum depression and anxiety, sleep deprivation, guilt, shame, and feeling like I failed.
I quickly realized that I didn't have the physical ability, time, money, energy, or honest desire to do all of these things all of the time. It was so exhausting. Unfortunately, by then, I was so indoctrinated into the lifestyle that I thought that stopping meant I was going to seriously screw up my kids. It took me a long time, some soul-searching, finding like-minded parent friends, and watching my babies grow into caring kids to discover that raising awesome humans is not dependent on a rigid set of guidelines (that are actually pretty sexist, ableist, and classist when you think about it). All you need is love to bond with your kids, and I love them way more now that I'm not trying too hard to be someone I'm not. For these, and a few other reasons, I think we have got to stop romanticizing attachment parenting.
Because It's Not Always Possible
The idea of equating a so-called "ideal" parenting strategy with another set of strategies, that is literally not possible for lots of parents, is really unfair and elitist. I needed to deliver my youngest two babies by inducing labor, and they needed to spend time in the NICU. I have insufficient glandular tissue and can't produce enough breast milk to feed my babies that way, so it was crucial I supplemented with and/or used formula. Bed-sharing is hell and seriously scary. And I, like many parents, have to work and can't afford to stay home with my babies full-time.
Attachment parenting sets the bar too high for many parents, so when they're doing the best they can they usually feel as though they're failing.
Because It Can Be Exhausting
Trying to live up to the impossible ideal of attachment parenting was seriously exhausting. I need sleep, people. Choosing to have your child sleep in their own crib, bed, or room and not literally be attached to you all night long is sometimes necessary to get some damn sleep.
Hating co-sleeping didn't make me a bad mom, but I seriously thought it did.
Because Science Doesn't Back It Up
The attachment parenting movement has created a set of parenting strategies that are supposed to help you create a stronger bond with your children. The problem is, the science really doesn't back up the idea that breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, and staying home are the only ways to bond with your baby, or automatically result in more "attached" children later on.
In fact, one study from the University of Utah showed that the amount of time you spend with your child as a baby really doesn't impact their bond with you, and that fathers are able to form just as strong bonds with babies as their mothers.
Because It Can Really Hurt Your Mental Health
The pressure to be the so-called perfect mom — to breastfeed, co-sleep, and hold my baby all day long — seriously made me depressed, anxious, and feel like I was failing. When I couldn't live up to the unfair expectations of attachment parenting, I felt so guilty and ashamed.
Because It Doesn't Work For All Families
Every child is different. I have three children and two stepchildren, and each one is different and has different needs. My middle son could only sleep while touching me. He still needs me (at age 4) most nights to fall asleep. So much for co-sleeping creating more "independent children." My youngest son falls asleep in his bassinet on his own, and he's only 4 months old. I wish I had known that I didn't have to bed-share to bond with my babies.
Because It Minimizes Your Needs
How did we get to a point in our culture when martyrdom is associated with ideal motherhood? You can be a good mother if you get an epidural, bottle feed from day one, send your baby to day care, work outside the home, and let your kids eat cereal for dinner in front of the TV,while you text with a friend and have a glass of wine.
Life is too short too be saturated by mom guilt. Plus, you need to take care of yourself if you want to be a good mom.
Because It Can Be Dangerous
In my opinion, attachment parenting encourages parents to do some pretty dangerous things. The Attachment Parenting International website suggests parents question their doctor's advice about things like antibiotic eye drops at birth, birth interventions, and supplementing with formula. The movement also promotes bed-sharing, which according to the American Academy of Pediatrics can increase risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths.
Because It's Pretty Anti-Feminist
One of the reasons attachment parenting lured me in, was it's focus on respecting your children and listening to their needs. However, I later realized that it also reinforces some seriously regressive beliefs about gender roles and parenting, namely, that there's only one right way to give birth (without pain management), feed your baby (breast is best), and co-parent with your partner (women must stay home if they want to bond with their babies). Nope.
Because It's More Than A Little Privileged
When you promote a way to parent that is only possible for parents with a certain set of physical abilities (to give birth vaginally without interventions, breastfeed, and babywear), and financial capacity (to have one parent, preferably mom, stay home, purchase healthy food, and have all of the "right" toys and baby gear), that's privilege.
Because There's More Than One Way To Be A Good Parent
The fact is, and it's always worth remembering, there's more than one way to be a good parent and different children and parents have different needs, priorities, and abilities. What works for one family may not work for yours. The key to raising the tiny humans in your care is to love them. Plain and simple. Everything else depends on what works for you (which honestly may change tomorrow and may be different with your next child). All you need is love. Seriously. You can figure the rest out as you go.