I Tried Attachment Parenting For A Week, & This Is What I Learned

by Sarah Bunton

Gone are the days of wondering whether you’re a Samantha or a Carrie. Now, the only questions on our minds is whether you’re a co-sleeper or a Ferberizer. Your parenting style says a lot about you — and a lot about stereotypes. The Attachment Parenting (AP) method, for instance, has garnered a lot of attention recently for some of its more interesting practices. People freaked out when Kim Kardashian said she would be eating her placenta in pill form. While not all “crunchy mamas,” as they often call themselves, eat their placentas, the parenting style as a whole (and its advocates) still left me interested.

Like most of my fellow moms, I don’t really fit neatly into one, specific parenting style. In a lot of ways, parenting can look a lot like Instagram: a mish-mash of what we like, presented in a way that highlights all the positives. I love my son to death, but you don’t see me tweeting about all the times I’m covered in pee, held hostage by a tyrannical toddler. So, much like my social media habits, I collect bits and pieces of parenting tips and try to focus on the good times (hashtag blessed). But I wondered if there really was something to this whole AP thing. What if I devoted myself wholly to this parenting style instead of my usual hodge-podge method?

The Experiment

So I decided that for seven days (in a row, no skipping, no breaks) I’d try my best to embody the core principles of Attachment Parenting. Each day I’d chronicle the pros, cons, and effects I saw in both my son and myself by following the methods of AP. At the end of the seven days, I’d reflect on the impact this parenting style had on our lives. I was hopeful that by using one, consistent parenting style, which focuses on sensitivity and closeness, I’d see a less chaotic environment in our house and forge an even deeper bond with my child.

First thing I needed to do before I launched my experiment was to figure out exactly what AP was and what it wasn’t. I was surprised to learn AP shouldn’t be confused with the hovering aspect of “Helicopter Moms” or the permissive, hands-off style of “Free-Range Parenting.” Instead, AP focuses on the emotional well-being of the child by fostering sensitivity and encouraging a quick response to any issues which might cause undue stress. Some of the trademarks of this style include sleeping with or near the child, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and lots of emphasis on bonding.

Would it work? Would I fail? We were ready to find out.

Day 1: Roadblocks Already?

One of the first challenges I encountered was that I couldn’t fulfill part of this experiment. Due in part to a connective tissue disorder I have, I am unable to breastfeed. AP is very big on solidifying the bond between mother and child with an emphasis on breastfeeding. Not only does it let mom and baby get in some quality cuddles, but it signals to the baby that he or she can go to mom for important things like sustenance, comfort, and other basic needs.

This isn’t to say that your child can’t get those same things if you formula feed. Whether bottle or breast, focusing on your baby’s needs is really the key element of AP. Even knowing this, it was a psychological battle I fought (and sometimes still fight) where I felt my inability to breastfeed somehow made me less of a “real” mother.

So putting my best foot forward on the start of this week-long endeavor, I tweaked the feeding aspect by choosing to be present for all my son’s meals. I don’t just mean physically present, either. I allowed myself to slow down.

Since I work both at home as a writer and out of the house as a cognitive skills trainer, I’m constantly multi-tasking. One hand is on the laptop, one arm is holding the baby, one eye is on the boiling over pasta, and one foot is about to be out the door. So it actually required a conscious choice to just sit with him, listen to his “stories,” and watch him sort his berries.

When I pressed pause and sat down next to my son, I was quiet, allowing him to either notice or ignore me. To my delight, he was extremely “talkative” (though not entirely understandable) and very excited to involve me in snack time by feeding me blueberries and strawberries. It may seem like a little thing, but by making meals or snacks an event where we were both equally involved, it really felt like meaningful quality time together.

Day 2: Tackling Playtime

Being more mindful on day one really made an impression on me. Continuing the AP theme of being more thoughtful and aware, I decided to let my son take the lead during our outside play time. I usually keep things very structured — if I don’t, things devolve into dirt-covered chaos very quickly. But I bit the bullet and prepared myself for the fact the day could very well end in a huge mess — and that would be OK.

When we first went outside, I didn’t start my normal routine of setting out mom-approved toys (nothing too dangerous or messy) and my son just kind of stared at me. He’s only a toddler, so I’m sure he didn’t really get what was going on, but he did know that this wasn’t how we usually spent outside time. Sure enough, though, with a little prompting from me, he started entertaining himself.

I made sure to sit near him in a way that wasn’t hovering, but to let him know that I was there if he needed me. He would look back over his shoulder every so often, but he was neither clinging to, nor irritated by, me being there. He also seemed a lot quieter than he typically is when we’re outside. Maybe there wasn’t a need for him to call out since I made my presence known, allowing him to be as independent as he wanted without fear of abandonment. He was perfectly content making a mini Zen garden amidst the rocks and dirt.

Day 3: Is This Really Working?

One of the main principles of AP is to be available for your child, able to respond with a solution or a hug, all without smothering or stifling. So when my son took a tumble while playing, I didn’t immediately freak out, and what happened next surprised me.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting in the habit of taking a second before reacting. I’m not saying I never flew off the handle before, but even an instant reaction like swooping in to coddle after a fall can deprive your child of learning how to process situations, no matter how unpleasant.

When my son fell, he looked to me, saw I was calm, then dusted himself off and kept playing. Clearly my kid is a badass and a future stuntman. But maybe he got his badassery in part from learning not every bump and boo-boo is going to land him in the ER. He ended up coming over for some “paci” and cuddle time later, but it felt good that he was able to recover on his own from a minor spill.

Day 4: Let's Take This Show On The Road

After the success of day two’s outdoor adventure, I wanted to take the experiment to the beach and see if it was all just a fluke. My only stipulation was that I wasn’t going to let him do anything dangerous, like running out into shark-infested waters. With this as my sole rule for the day, I let him have at it.

The hesitant kid from day two was gone. For the first 10 minutes, he was stoked to just run in a giant circle with reckless abandon. “This doesn’t seem so bad,” I thought, “He’s just enjoying the simple pleasures in life, like running.” Then the Jinx Fairy sprinkled her magic dust and my son decided a scorching, craggy mound of sand needed climbing.

My instinct was to jump in and rescue him from certain death. But I stopped myself, remembering another principle of AP: positive discipline. Obviously I wasn’t going to let my son hurt himself, yet I didn’t want to stifle his innate desire to explore. After all, things only become more interesting when we’re told “no,” right? So I decided I’d work with him when problems came up and be there for him if (and when) things went south.

Thankfully, after his third or fourth attempt, he abandoned Project Scare Mommy and Daddy to Death. He knew we were there, ready to offer a stabilizing hand on his daring climb; and he knew we were there when the Dune of Doom proved insurmountable. Feeling betrayed by his stubby legs and short stature, he came to me for a hug. It was brief, but it was a voluntary hug – which is rare for my very un-snuggly boy.

The day ended with him digging in the sand with his daddy; a positive choice he made on his own. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Day 5: To Co-Sleep, Or Not To Co-Sleep?

Although we had occasionally co-slept with our son when he was an infant, he now sleeps in his own crib. Not wanting to disrupt his routine and sleep cycle too much, I elected to do the co-sleeping during nap time and not at bedtime. Call me crazy, but I was excited to see what effects co-sleeping would have on my son. Would he become more affectionate? Would he fall asleep more quickly and without interruption?

At first my son seemed to think having mommy in the room during nap time meant it was actually playtime. But since he was already sleepy, it only took a few times of me putting him back in bed with reassuring hugs for him to get the memo.

The best moment came when he stirred during his nap – eyes still closed, letting out little whimpers – and all I did was put my hand on his back and say, “It’s okay, sweet boy,” and he fell right back asleep. Normally, during both bedtime and naps, he’ll wake up crying and I’ll go comfort him in an attempt to get him to go back to bed. It usually ends up being a whole thing. Perhaps the fact I was already there kept him from fully waking and having trouble trying to fall back asleep.

Day 6: Why Did I Think Baby-Wearing Would Be Easy?

You gotta believe me when I say I really tried on this one, because boy, did I try! Another one of the trademarks of AP is baby-wearing. You’ve probably already seen it even if you didn’t know the name for it: A parent at the park munching on snacks from Whole Foods all while their child is strapped to their chest or back.

I’ll admit it, I was a bit biased when it came to this since I failed at baby-wearing the first time around. I had done what every “good” new mom is supposed to do and gave a valiant effort to please all the advice-givers. A lot of my mom friends swore by baby-wearing. They said it made life easier because your hands are free, you’re mobile, and you get the added bonus of skin-to-skin time with your baby. Yet from day one, my feisty son did not like being confined or constricted. Maybe that’s why he also dislocated my ribs while in the womb?

But I broke out the ol’ baby carrier (making sure it was appropriate for his size and weight) and gave it a go. It was like that episode of Broad City where Abbi gets her teeth pulled. My son was in a world all his own, insisting on going exactly where he wanted to go, and that meant not being strapped to me. So maybe this works for some people – and if so, kudos to you, my friend – but this one left both mom and baby frustrated.

Day 7: Some Unexpected Results

At the start of this experiment, I specifically didn’t have anything planned for day seven. I had made sure to cover all the big topics (co-sleeping, positive discipline, etc.) throughout the week so that today could be all about my son. Essentially, I was his shadow for the day. I initially thought I might be setting myself up for disaster by letting my toddler be in charge of the day’s activities, but it turned out to be quite the opposite! He brought me lots of books to read, would go to his bedroom to play with and show me his toys, explored the backyard for a bit, then relaxed on the couch while watching the rain outside. I loved the chill end to our week together. It was pretty much exactly what we both needed.

Was AP Parenting The "Better" Parenting Style?

As we neared the end of this explorative adventure, I thought back to my expectations at the beginning. To be totally honest, I wasn’t sure one week would be enough time to see any real results in my son. I mean, kids aren’t really known for their lengthy attention spans. Yet, to my surprise, I did notice some changes in my little dude: he seemed calmer and more content with just chilling, and that’s a big deal for most toddlers.

Whether he was channeling his inner Bob Marley or secretly practicing baby yoga, I’ll never know. But I’d like to think by implementing some of the foundational techniques of AP, I had some influence. By day seven, I was more mindful and keener to quietly observe. I tried to really nurture our bond through co-sleeping and baby-wearing, but I was sensitive enough to his needs to know when he was over it.

And at the end, I think that’s what the AP style is all about. It’s easy to poke fun at the cliché amber necklace-wearing parents, but it takes an intentional effort to look past the superficial. I found that AP, at its core, encourages a healthy emotional environment in which your child can develop. While I don’t think I’ve quite made the leap to becoming the next Mayim Bialik, I’ll definitely add some of these practices to my bag of mom tricks.

Images Courtesy of Sarah Bunton (7)