When I decided to become a mom, I knew I had certain values and goals for my kids, but wasn't especially invested in labeling it a certain way. If I had to label it, though, “attachment parenting,” or AP, seems the most fitting. Stereotypically AP practices like co-sleeping, nursing on demand, and babywearing all feel very intuitive and right for us. Though most people I’m close to know better than to talk sh*t to me about my parenting, I’ve definitely heard a few of the things people feel fine saying to attachment parents. When it’s a stranger, I just shoot them a quick side-eye and keep going about my business, but the few times I’ve heard stuff from people I actually know, I’ve taken the time to respond.
Though habits like co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand and babywearing are often associated with attachment parenting, attachment parenting is about more than that (and definitely doesn't need to revolve around certain feeding choices over others, as dads and non-nursing moms can definitely be attachment parents, too.) Attachment parenting is rooted in attachment theory, a robust body of psychological research that finds babies and young children who develop secure attachments with their primary caregivers reap many cognitive and social benefits throughout childhood, and have an easier time forming and maintaining fulfilling relationships throughout their lives.
Now, when it comes to what other people say, I don't believe anyone should feel like they need to justify or defend their parenting choices to anyone. It’s really nobody’s business how anyone chooses to parent, as long as their children are safe, healthy, and loved. However, if you’re hearing some flack from people who are close to you and whom you want to keep in your life, it can be helpful to have some quick responses to shut down annoying or disrespectful questioning. With that in mind, here are some common things people say to attachment parents, and some examples of what you might say if you’re tired of hearing it.
“You’re Spoiling Your Kids”
Being equally responsive to kids’ physical and emotional needs is important, no matter how you choose to do it. It's not "spoiling" to take a child’s emotional needs seriously.
How to respond: “Food spoils, kids don’t. Giving my kids my attention when they need it is good parenting, and helps me prevent them from acting out negatively to get the attention they need.”
“That’s Not Feminist”
Some people have taken the gendered language used by some prominent attachment parenting supporters like Dr. Sears to mean that attachment parenting is about prescribing specific roles and behaviors for mothers, rather than a broader framework for all caregivers to use to guide their interactions with their kids. (In doing so, they're also erasing the work of the woman, Mary Ainsworth, whose research spawned this whole field of study, but whatever #SipsTea.) But people have used unnecessarily gendered language for plenty of things — including most professions and public domains — and that has never held feminists back from claiming our rightful places in those roles and domains, and which shouldn't stop anyone from taking the positive aspects of a given set of ideas and molding them to fit their families and lives.
How to respond: “The limitations of certain proponents’ language doesn’t necessarily erase the overall value of the approach. Plus, there’s nothing inherently pro- or anti-feminist about any approach to parenting unless it’s about forcing a woman to become a parent, or trying to take away her right to choose how to parent — like telling her that she shouldn’t get to freely choose a style of parenting you disagree with.”
“You’re Trying To Be Your Kid’s Friend”
This line is commonly tossed at folks who choose this or any other kind of gentle parenting approach. Old school parents who think parenting should be about adults calling the shots and demanding kids’ total compliance really struggle with non-authoritarian parenting styles.
How to respond: “I'm not trying to be their friend. I'm trying to show them the same basic respect them I’d show any other people.”
“Your Child Will Never Learn To Be Independent”
This one bugs me because no one is fully independent. We're all interdependent, so the idea that babies and very young children should be expected to be “independent” so early on seems especially odd to me. At any rate, to the extent that adults become autonomous, that's an achievement they have their whole childhoods to accomplish. They'll do that in their own time as long as they're well-cared for.
How to respond: “Kids need to feel secure in their relationships in order to become ‘independent,’ which is what attachment parenting is about. Besides, childhood is so short as it is, so we're not rushing them to grow up and be 'independent' before they're ready.”
“Parents These Days Are So Soft”
This is an odd attack because it attachment parenting isn't actually new, and because it assumes that people who choose attachment parenting aren't as emotionally tough or resilient as people who don't. Toughness and resilience manifest in lots of ways, and they don't all have a harsh face or tone of voice.
How to respond: “That's not necessarily true, but even if it was, why would it be better to be 'hard,' whatever that means? The world is a hard enough place for kids. There's nothing wrong with making home a refuge from that.”
“Ugh, I Don't Get This Hippie Parenting Stuff”
There are lots of misunderstandings and stereotypes about “hippie” parents. But aside from the fact that being a so-called hippie parent isn't necessarily a bad thing, many parents who don't have much else in common with “hippie” parents are attachment parents.
How to respond: “There's nothing necessarily wrong with being a hippie. But regardless of if I am or am not, you don't have to understand my parenting choices to respect them.”
“That's So Lazy”
There's nothing lazy about making a conscious effort to be hands-on in raising a child and being responsive to their needs. Parenting requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice no matter how you do it, so automatically writing off an entire parenting style as “lazy” because it doesn't look like a certain other parenting style really doesn't make sense.
How to respond: “What's lazy about meeting my child’s needs in a way that makes sense to both of us?”