What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment Parenting International (API) is a worldwide educational association that states-

Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment bond between parents and their children. Attachment is a scientific term for the emotional bond in a relationship. The attachment quality that forms between parents and children, learned from the relational patterns with caregivers from birth on, correlates with how a child perceives – and ultimately is able to experience – relationships. Attachment quality is correlated with lifelong effects and often much more profound an impact than people understand. A person with a secure attachment is generally able to respond to stress in healthy ways and establish more meaningful and close relationships more often; a person with an insecure attachment style may be more susceptible to stress and less healthy relationships. A greater number of insecurely attached individuals are at risk for more serious mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.
How parents develop a secure attachment with their child lies in the parent’s ability to fulfill that child’s need for trust, empathy, and affection by providing consistent, loving, and responsive care. By demonstrating healthy and positive relationship skills, the parent Provides critical emotional scaffolding for the child to learn essential self-regulatory skills.
Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting are designed to give parents the science-backed “tools” – valuable, practical insights for everyday parenting – that they can use to apply the concept behind Attachment Parenting. These tools guide parents as they incorporate attachment into their individual parenting styles:
  • Prepare for Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting — The overarching message within this principle is the importance of parents to research their decisions regarding pregnancy care, childbirth choices, and parenting styles; childbirth without the use of interventions shows the best start to the parent-infant bond. However, there are ways to modify the initial bonding experience for mothers who do encounter complications.
  • Feed with Love and Respect — Research shows unequivocal evidence for breastfeeding for infants along with gentle weaning into nutritious food choices. Breastfeeding is the healthiest infant-feeding choice. The physiology of breastfeeding promotes a high degree of maternal responsiveness and is associated with several other positive outcomes. In the case breastfeeding is not possible, bottle-nursing — attentive bottle-feeding — should emulate the closeness of breastfeeding.
  • Respond with Sensitivity — This Principle is a central element in all of the Principles; it is viewed by many parents as the cornerstone to Attachment Parenting. It encompasses a timely response by a nurturing caregiver. Baby-training systems, such as the commonly referred-to “cry it out,” are inconsistent with this Principle. The foundation of responding with sensitivity in the early years prepares parents for all their years of parenting, by modeling respect and caring.
  • Provide Nurturing Touch — Parents who “wear” their babies in a sling or wrap are applying this Principle. Infants who are opposed to babywearing enjoy being held in-arms. Touch remains important throughout childhood and can be done through massage, hugs, hand-holding, and cuddling.
  • Ensure Safe Sleep — This principle is the basis for one of the more controversial subjects in parenting. Many attachment parents share a room with their young children; those who exclusively breastfeed and who take necessary safety precautions may prefer to share their bed. However, this principle can be just as easily applied to crib-sleeping situations. The point is not the sleeping surface but that parents remain responsive to their children during sleep.
  • Use Consistent and Loving Care — Secure attachment depends on continuity of care by a single, primary caregiver. Ideally, this is the parent. However, if both parents must work outside the home, this principle can be applied by ensuring that the child is being cared for by one childcare provider who embodies a responsive, empathic caregiver over the long-term; for example, an in-home nanny versus a large daycare center with rotating staff.
  • Practice Positive Discipline — There is a strong push against physical punishment in recent years, but research shows that all forms of punishment, including punitive timeouts, can not only be ineffective in teaching children boundaries in their behavior but also harmful to psychological and emotional development. Parents are encouraged to teach by example and to use non-punitive discipline techniques such as substitution, distraction, problem solving, and playful parenting. Parents do not set rules so that their child obeys for the sake of structure, but rather to be the teacher, the coach, the cheerleader, and the guidepost as the child develops his or her own sense of moral responsibility within the construct of the family value system.
  • Strive for Personal and Family Balance — Attachment Parenting is a family-centered approach in that all members of the family have equal value. The parent is not a tyrant, yet also not a martyr. Parents need balance between their parenting role and their personal life in order to continue having the energy and motivation to maintain a healthy relationship and to model healthy lifestyles for their children.
Attachment Parenting is not exclusive. Every parent – every socioeconomic class, every ethnicity, every culture – can incorporate attachment-minded techniques into their childrearing philosophy. Moreover, while the basis of Attachment Theory is rooted in studies involving infants and toddlers, research in adult relationships is increasingly showing that attachment quality is an important feature of development and the effects persist over the lifetime, beyond these early years. Children of all ages and developmental stages can benefit from parenting that takes attachment into account. For example, school-age children and teenagers benefit from sit-down meals of nutritious foods over which family members discuss the happenings of the day or play a game. Frequent hugs or shoulder massages or even a light touch on the shoulder can provide moments of sensitive responsiveness that only deepen as children mature and parents’ connection with their children remains critical for providing them guidance.

What does attachment parenting look like for us? Why do you connect with this particular form of parenting?

During my pregnancy, I prepared for our baby and the birth through reading everything I could get my hands on. I seemed drawn to a certain style of parenting and certain ideas about labor and delivery. I didn’t make conscious choice to follow attachment parenting or not to, I just seemed drawn to that approach and the information I found in books. Many people have big ideas about what attachment parenting is and parenting debates have played out in the news, social media, and online. I guess people who naturally are drawn to attachment parenting might strive to meet most of the eight principles listed above by API, meeting your own child’s needs is going to look different in every family. I think the most important aspect for us is trying to meet our child’s needs while also finding personal and family balance. This is not always easy to do, for any parent, but it’s also very important to everyone’s wellbeing.

General Myths about Attachment Parenting

  • You can’t bottle feed. You must breastfeed, until the child is ready to self wean, on demand.
  • You must bed share with your baby until he/she is ready to sleep alone.
  • You must always hold your baby or wear your baby using a sling or baby carrier and never put them down.
  • Babies should never cry, not even for a moment.
  • Parents never get a break, never have sex, and never get any sleep.
  • One parent must always be home with the child.
  • A parent never says “no” to their child.

 

What attachment parenting looks like in our home…

Responding to Needs with Sensitivity 

Since Boba was born we have always tried to respond to her needs with respect and sensitivity. When she was under a year I always tried to respond as quickly as possible. As she’s gotten older and has developed more patience and is capable of waiting for longer periods, I respond when I can but I don’t disrupt a task if the need is not an emergency. I still always respond when she’s calling my name and I always verbally respond to her with sensitivity and compassion. I explain when I will be able to meet the need and we always follow through, as best we can, in order to create trust and build her tolerance for waiting.

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*One of the few times Boba tolerated the baby carrier. She liked the Ergo better than any other we tried. No matter what the parent plans, the child has his/her own needs and preferences. Go figure! 

Sleep

Boba (our daughter) has always slept in our room, despite the fact that we painted and decorated a beautiful nursery as part of my “nesting” during pregnancy. When she was born we attempted to co-sleep, which is different than bed sharing. We had a co-sleeper attached to the side of the bed primarily to make nursing and diaper changes in the night easier. We always planned to move her to the crib eventually but it never happened. The co-sleep never even happened. Every time she fell asleep, as soon as we would try to transfer her to her sleep surface she would wake up screaming. After several nights of attempting to soothe her, swaddle her, feed her, burp her, and relieve gas and/or anything else we could think of, we were sleep deprived and losing our minds. We tried bed sharing out of pure exhaustion and it has worked beautifully ever since. It’s important to mention that this arrangement has always been comfortable and worked well for everyone in our family. We probably wouldn’t have continued if someone was uncomfortable (i.e., my husband, etc.). Bed sharing is not essential to attachment parenting though– nighttime parenting is! I just found responding to my child’s needs in the night was much easier on everyone when she was in our bed.

Feeding

I always knew I wanted to do everything in my power to breastfeed my child no matter how many obstacles we had to face. We faced MANY obstacles too. Boba was born with a lip tie and tongue tie, when they handed me my baby girl in the hospital I noticed her tongue right away. It looked like a little heart because the tip was attached to the bottom of her mouth. Right away we struggled with breastfeeding but she was tenacious and so was I. She was getting milk but it only took a few days before my nipples were cracked and bleeding from the ties in her mouth. Eventually, with MUCH support and an amazing lactation consultant, Kate Cropp, we got through laser revising her lip and tongue ties and found our groove. I do credit her revisions (at 6 weeks), the support we got, and our bed sharing in keeping up my supply and helping us to make our breastfeeding journey a long term reality. Until she was 2 years old, I breastfed her completely on demand. Did I ever feel touched out at times, yes. Did I ever doubt what I was doing, no. It just felt right for my daughter, for me, and for our family. I am still breastfeeding Boba day and night but I no longer breastfeed her on demand. Sometimes she asks me in public and I remind her that she can have milk when we get home. Sometimes I’m cooking dinner and I ask her to wait until after dinner. Or I will tell her that we’re saving the milk for bedtime. It has never stunted her and has only created a wonderful attachment and bond that I treasure. *

Childcare

I have always been home since Boba was born. This was a conscious decision we made as a couple. It wasn’t a light decision but one we felt I needed to do and we were fortunate to be able to cut back and still make it on one income. Staying home has nothing to do with attachment parenting as long as the child’s caregiver is screened to be at tentative to your child’s needs as you would be. We did try a Mother’s Day Out Program when Boba was about 15 or 16 months and it did not go well. I think for a couple reasons, she was just entering a significant stranger anxiety phase and we had just moved. Also, the site that had an opening was not my first choice and although they were sweet, retired grandmas, they had a child rearing philosophy that was not in line with our values. She went for about 1.5 months and I pulled her when I overheard them telling my crying 16 month old to “shush up” and “Stop crying, you don’t see your friends crying. Why are you being such a baby.” So…yep, that was the end of that! I decided to hold off until she was older and she was better able to communicate with me how she felt about the site and her teachers and peers. This subject will come up repeatedly because it’s one I struggle with most as a parent, mostly because of my own baggage and not because of attachment parenting or anything with Boba! Parenting has a way of bringing up all our sh*t!

Discipline/Parenting with Peace

Obviously this blog and community is about parenting with peace and I feel that really fits nicely with the attachment parenting philosophy. Before I had Boba and before we moved from California, I was a preschool special education teacher. I felt I just understood behavior and treated many students differently than I would today. I was never abusive in any way and followed much of the behavioral norms at the time but I felt yucky inside when I obsessively used time outs or felt I wasn’t meeting a child’s needs by ignoring a crying child who had been acting out. I have since changed my whole perspective on discipline. I don’t use timeouts with Boba because I know it would never work. I’ve also never seen it be very productive with other children either. Yes, they were removed from the activity but they usually were misbehaving as a way of communicating with me to begin with and I never really got the message when I responded in that way. They also wanted to leave the activity because it was usually not something they enjoyed or it was difficult for them and timeout became a valuable way for them to avoid the task. With Boba, it seems she acts out when she’s tired, hungry, overstimulated, or when she needs my direct attention. Putting her in timeout because of any of those reasons seems unreasonable and risky because I basically teach her that she can get my attention through unwanted behaviors. Instead we tend to stop what we’re doing and respond with sensitivity and understanding. We also try to make sure her “attention cup” is filled throughout the day so it never runs empty and comes out as “acting out”. It doesn’t mean that she never hears “no” or isn’t made to wait from time to time but I also try to keep realistic expectations that are age appropriate. She is only 2.5 years old and she has big feeling she doesn’t really understand yet and feels her needs with great urgency. I’m trying to stretch her ability to wait when I’m busy taking care of other needs or meeting my own needs (i.e., going to the bathroom, eating my lunch, etc.) but I try to put most of her needs first still because she’s a young child who still needs me.

*I am completely aware that many mothers fight tooth and nail to breastfeed and for whatever reasons it doesn’t work out. My heart goes out to you all because I heard many of your stories in La Leche League and other breastfeeding support groups and I know it can be very difficult. I will be posting much more about the struggles in my breastfeeding journey and I appreciate any comments, questions, or shares from your own experience. Together we can support one another.

 

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