Dear Attachment Parents: I See You
Maybe you decided to attachment parent (AP) when you were pregnant, as I did. Maybe you fell into it accidentally, because you had a fussy baby who wanted to be held constantly. However you discovered attachment parenting, you’re doing it now, keeping baby in close proximity by co-sleeping, babywearing, and/or breastfeeding. You don’t have to do all of these things, of course — but because you're an attachment parent, you're committed to the idea of keeping your baby close and responding to his needs as quickly as possible.
I want you to know that I see you. I’ve been there. I’m there now. Attachment parenting can be incredibly rewarding. But it can also be incredibly lonely and frustrating.
When I was pregnant, I told my mother I was never going to put my son down. She laughed at me. But when he was born, I got a Moby wrap, and I didn’t put him down, other than for diaper changes, especially once I figured out how to nurse in the wrap. I adored constantly holding him. I kept him in a sling on my front, and I cuddled him all day long. But for some people, that type of constant contact can get annoying. You sometimes might feel like you want your own damn space, like you want to take just one clear breath without some warm creature sweating all over you.
Your bed now contains a sleeping baby, who might as well be wearing a onesie that reads “Human C*ck Block.”
You are always in close proximity to a small person, and if you co-sleep, that's the case while you're asleep, too. I nursed my sons to sleep, then returned to our family bed to co-sleep for the rest of the night, during which they would worm their way closer and wake up whimpering for milk. The dance went like this: latch them on, fall asleep, wake up when they whimper again, flip them to the other boob, and fall back asleep. Repeat until dawn.
It’s cuddly, but it also can be suffocating. It’s like having a living teddy bear. It’s also frustrating: your bed now contains a sleeping baby, who might as well be wearing a onesie that reads “Human C*ck Block.” You're always looking for places to be intimate with your partner — the bathroom floor, the couch, the spare bedroom. It's a constant struggle.
You probably breastfeed, which comes with both advantages and drawbacks. Your boob is always readily available, but baby might have trouble latching. If you’re working, you likely have to pump. You can do it anywhere, but people may glare at you. If you bottle-feed, you do the bottle nursing thing: baby held at breast, eye contact maintained, talking and cooing and singing all the while. This can be wonderful. This can also be a pain in the ass.
Stay close to your child, respond to his cries — and take care of yourself. The rest is just icing on the cake.
AP can also make you contemptuous of people who don’t AP. If you believe you’ve found the magic bullet to raising a perfect child, you might look down on parents who make other choices. Every attachment parent goes through that phase. (Trust me — I’ve snarked on other parents for things as stupid as using strollers.) You proselytize about babywearing and flat heads, about how damaging CIO is (though some studies say it’s not damaging at all), or about how breast is best. This does not change people’s minds. It just makes you feel superior. That feeling of superiority can be intoxicating, especially when you’re covered in someone else’s puke and you’ve been doing the boob dance all night. But it's also dangerous, and it's tough not to fall into that trap.
I know about the constant pressure you’re under to make the "right" AP choices. People assume that because you AP, you’re open to natural parenting in all forms. People assume that because you babywear, you also cloth diaper, which means you'll probably be forced to explain yourself when you’re caught red-handed with some Pampers. Average parents steer clear of you — they assume you don't vaccinate, so your baby is an infant Typhoid Mary. And there’s the amber teething necklaces. The essential oils. The chiropractors. I can’t tell you how many times I've been encouraged to take my kids to a chiropractor, even when one of them had gas.
But really, you’re just a parent doing the best you know how. You found out about this philosophy, and you probably pick and choose based on what works and what doesn't. But at the end of the day, you’re all attachment parents. You’re all good parents. There’s a wide spectrum of attachment parenting, and we should embrace it all. Stay close to your child, respond to his cries — and take care of yourself. The rest is just icing on the cake.