What I Thought Attachment Parenting Would Be Like Vs. What It's Actually Like
I can honestly say that if someone had asked me five years ago what type of parenting style I would adopt once I had children, it would most definitely not have been attachment parenting. Granted, I knew very little about what was involved, but I thought I had enough of an idea of what attachment parenting is really like to guess that I wouldn't fit the mold.
I remember running into a colleague I had lost touch with, finding out she shared a bed with her two young boys while her husband slept in another bed, and silently judging. I was absolutely mortified that any woman would choose sleeping with her children over her husband. Now? I would kick my husband out in a heartbeat if it meant getting an extra two feet of my bed width back, what with two kids sleeping between us in a queen bed. What the hell happened?
Well, they were born. And all the judgment I held in my kid-free heart instantly got ripped away and replaced by a stark awareness that I had never had a clue what kind of parenting choices I would end up making.
Call me a sucker, or soft-hearted, but there were certain things I just found myself instinctively doing. I couldn’t imagine putting my baby girl in a stroller, so far away from me, when I could wear her nestled next to my chest and have my hands free. Crying generally didn’t last very long, partly because she would work herself up to the point where she’d throw up from crying so hard, and she was at the bottom of the growth charts and couldn’t afford to throw up a bunch of breast milk. When we tried to transition her from bassinet to crib, she cried so much (again, to the point of throwing up) that somehow, she ended up sleeping between us on our bed. And while my original goal of breastfeeding for one year (at least) had seemed unattainable in the first six weeks of her life, the end result was almost two years of breastfeeding. I'll take it! And sure, maybe not all of that is because I ended up practicing attachment parenting, I know a lot of it was.
So,while I wouldn’t say I went into parenting with the goal of practicing attachment style, it happened anyway. And I can certainly say that it’s not how it looks in the pictures.
Listen, when I first brought baby #1 into our bed, she was so tiny and sweet and didn’t really move around that much. I cuddled with her as she fell asleep and nuzzled into her back if she turned over. It was truly lovely, and I kind of assumed it would just continue along those lines.
Somewhere around a year old, babies develop muscles that allow them to toss and turn. If they're sleeping near you, they're going to use those legs to push off your chest and turn around, or whack you in the face. The rest of your time sleeping with your adorable child will be spent grumbling and trying to avoid being seriously injured. When my daughter was two, she turned over in her sleep and somehow, her fingernail scraped my cornea. Her dirty, daycare germy fingernail scraped so deeply into my eyeball that I needed drops, antibiotics and a contact lens to act as a Band-Aid for a week. Thanks, sweetie.
It just made sense: Wouldn’t it be way easier to walk around and do stuff with your hands free? And talk about an easier way to nap your child! Obviously you aren’t burdened by strollers or having to stay at home, if your child falls asleep when you’re wearing her. Perfect!
Having a baby that will fall asleep when you’re wearing her is super convenient...except for all the times you actually want to relax while your baby is sleeping! If she wakes up when you stop moving, then her nap will last as long as you’re willing to walk around for. That, for me, often meant walking for way longer than I wanted to; If I sat down, she’d wake up. And when my son was born two pounds heavier than my daughter, and was the same weight at 3 months that she was at close to a year, babywearing became far less convenient, and downright painful at times.
I admit, I was a bit trepidatious about breastfeeding, my first time around. My mother had problems breastfeeding me when I was a baby, and lacked the support and resources to figure out why, so I ended up on formula. While I was afraid this might happen, I was willing to work extremely hard for that beautiful bonding experience. And it was going to be beautiful and sweet and natural all the time, right?
Well, I did have problems with breastfeeding. Lots. Like, every problem in the book, between my two children. So between latching problems, nipple blisters, mastitis, oversupply, undersupply, and more, the first 8 months of breastfeeding both children were painful and filled with tears. For some reason I persevered and I think everyone benefitted, but I’m not going to say it was easy at all.
Responding To Your Baby's Cries
This seemed like such a no-brainer to me. My baby is obviously crying for a reason, and it is up to me, as her mother, to figure out why and tend to her needs. I will figure it out, because we are connected. Easy.
We never did find out why my daughter, starting at 3 months old, would have 45-minute screaming fits every few days. It lasted for about four months and was not colic. They would begin without any apparent reason, and ended with her passing out from exhaustion. Nothing worked. We took her to the hospital, they ran tests, I cut out a million different foods — none of it seemed to affect her. She was perfectly happy, alert, and responsive at every other time, but those four months were hellish. And then they were over, just like that. Thanks for nothing, ~mythical attachment parenting super connection~.
OK, so cloth diapers aren't really a part of attachment parenting, but since I was wearing my baby all the time, let's just say that the efficacy of diapers...mattered. A lot. So I'm adding it. Anyway, my thinking was that diapers create so much waste, and I was absolutely sure that I was singlehandedly going to make a difference by using cloth diapers! All that waste would be diverted, and I would make such an impression on all my mom friends that they would soon switch over too. Cloth diapers for everyone! You're welcome, earth! And of course, they would work just as well and be just as effortless as disposable diapers.
NOPE. Even if the laundry associated with cloth diapering wasn't enough to end my will to carry on (and it was), my daughter turned out to be one of those babies that can't STAND feeling the least bit wet. That meant that I was changing her diapers every 15 minutes, at times. By the time she was 5 months, I had embraced disposable diapers wholeheartedly. Shrug.
How Easy It Is
Clearly, this is the natural way to do parenting. So it'll be easy, right? Well, maybe it'll be hard sometimes, but the reality is that my child will be happy and that makes it all worthwhile, because that's what's important, and that will make me happy in the end (OK, I'll admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, in the beginning).
There are days when doing what I originally thought was the "right" thing (spoiler: there's no "right" way to parent, aside from loving and respecting your kids and teaching them to respect others) is really, really hard. And sometimes I question whether I've made the the best decisions along the way for my kids.
I want to be clear: I am not knocking attachment parenting, because I still basically practice it. But sometimes it’s not as simple as I thought it would be. The truth is that no book or parenting method can predict what will be best for you and your child, and you shouldn’t feel guilty if your expectations aren’t met when trying any part of attachment parenting (or parenting in general, or life in general).