Scores of parents subscribe to attachment parenting (first created by Dr. William Sears) because they believe it works for them and their family, but I’m going to be totally honest with you: I actually really kind of hate attachment parenting. I find that it puts a lot of unnecessary and unfair pressure on parents — especially mothers — to constantly put children’s needs above their own, and it was created by a conservative in part to put women back in their place. But if you took a look at my life from the outside, you wouldn’t know that. Nothing in my lifestyle looks like that of a parent who wholly rejects Dr. Sears, in fact, I look very much like an attachment parent.
Dr. Sears advocates for a model of parenting where young children, especially babies, are in near constant physical contact with a caregiver. This is supposed to be good for a child’s emotional development, and in many ways it’s a response to earlier models of parenting pushed by other experts, many of which included very little touch. In practice, the requirement that a baby never be away from a parent usually requires that one parent not work. It also encourages that a baby be exclusively breastfed, and that usually requires that one parent be the mother (that is, in heterosexual families). You could call it a coincidence of biology, but it isn’t. Dr. Sears is very clear in his books about his suggestions on how to mother. That a wide range of family structures exists requiring a wide range of care strategies seems not to have occurred to him. He also seems to assume that all parents are part of two-parent, heterosexual, nuclear, families. And I’m gay.
The pillars of attachment parenting, according to Attachment Parenting International, attachment parenting promotes a bond between kids and their parents. And according to WebMD, attachment parenting has eight basic principles: breastfeed, and listen and respond to baby's cues; eliminate any negative thoughts surrounding pregnancy, birth, and parenting; respond with sensitivity even when your kid tantrums; practice co-sleeping; provide constant care; practice positive discipline; follow skin-to-skin; and strive for balance in work and life. In looking for a particular article on Dr. Sears’ teachings, I stumbled upon this little gem on his website:
How people view their gender reflects their self-esteem and contributes to it. Low self-esteem is likely to carry over into unhealthy sexuality; problems with sexuality are likely to weaken self-esteem. A girl needs to be glad she’s a girl; a boy needs to enjoy being a boy. Convey to your children that you are happy about their gender. Children are more likely to become adults with unhealthy sexual identities if they are confused and dissatisfied with their gender as a child.
As an openly gay person, I find that attitude absolutely appalling. As a feminist, I find the way he talks down to women incredibly frustrating. And as a skeptic, I find his teachings on vaccines to be downright dangerous. But as a parent, I'm very much an attachment parent, and I'm still struggling to understand how that's possible.
I no longer work outside of the home, and I spend huge chunks of my day helping my kid turn the pages of his board books, breastfeeding on demand, cuddling, and singing songs. If I need to go out with the baby, I strap him to me with one of our two baby carriers. When I go out on my own, it’s never for more than a couple of hours, and he’s always with either my wife (his other mom) or one of his grandmothers. So why do I parent this way even though I don’t agree with the attachment parenting model? I do it because I can.
In my particular family, circumstances aligned to make working part-time as a freelance writer the most viable option for me right now. It's given me a luxury that many parents do not have. I can easily spend my days at home with my child while my partner is at work. Before baby, I had a relatively low-paying service industry job that required regular heavy lifting. I was too sick during most of my pregnancy to work such a job, and I had a c-section followed by a truly horrific postpartum period that left me completely unable to work during a recovery that took way longer than expected. Leaving the house, let alone working, was impossible for much of that time. So I did what I had to by finding work that I could do from home, and my family created a new normal.
Now, my working-class earning potential puts us in a situation where the “choice” to be a stay-at-home parent is a matter of financial survival. Any income I make outside of the home would almost certainly be totally eclipsed by the ridiculous price of childcare in this country. So instead of letting my family fall into utter and complete ruin, I take care of the baby during the day, and write during his naps and after he goes to bed at night.
All families are different, all kids are different, and the way we deal with the challenges life throws at us reflects that. For my wife and I, baby-wearing is (usually) an easier option than hauling the stroller down the stairs and walking a block, only to have to take the baby out again and haul the damn thing onto a (possibly overcrowded) city bus. He loves riding in his carriers and that makes getting out of the house much easier.
I don’t need to be the best mother in the world for my son, I just need to be the mother that I am. Right now, that is a mother who has no problem spending 45 minutes breastfeeding to help him get to sleep when that’s a struggle for him. I probably won’t feel that way forever, and that has to be OK.
Similarly, breastfeeding has worked out very well for me. I know that it doesn’t for everyone, but for me, not having to do extra dishes or add formula to the grocery list is wonderful. Also, our child has always been big for his age, and his fast rate of growth could make trying to figure out how much is “enough” difficult. Instead he eats as much as he wants, whenever he wants, and I always know my kid is getting his nutritional needs met. Additionally, we started co-sleeping because our circumstances made it the best option for our family at the time.
When I was younger I wanted to have a house full of kids. Now, I’m 30 years old, and in all likelihood I’m only going to have this one baby. I absolutely adore being with him, and I want to savor every moment of it. I have nothing but sympathy for overtired women who just need to get away from their children, but I don’t (often) feel that way myself. I’ll take a short break here and there, but I usually end up missing him pretty quickly. In many ways, I’m happier being a full-time mom than I ever have been before. And I do it because I know that a switch to a more moderate approach would not be a failure.
Because we do what looks like attachment parenting without necessarily subscribing to its core ideology, I feel free to change course as needed without all the guilt. I don’t need to be the best mother in the world for my son, I just need to be the mother that I am. Right now, that is a mother who has no problem spending 45 minutes breastfeeding to help him get to sleep when that’s a struggle for him. I probably won’t feel that way forever, and that has to be OK. Not feeling hemmed in by what some book tells me I “should” do leaves me free to embrace the aspects of attachment parenting that currently work well in my life. But I understand that things change over time, and that I am a person with needs and wants and hopes and fears, just as much as my son is.
That is a freedom that I desperately need, and one that I think every parent deserves.