What We Can Learn From Attachment Parenting

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Parenting can be a sensitive, divisive and even explosive topic (have you noticed?). The latest wasp’s nest of controversy is Attachment Parenting, the popular method espoused by pediatrician William Sears for bonding with babies, fostering loving relationships and raising happy, well-adjusted kids. Dr. Sears’ advice focuses on keeping babies physically close at all times and encourages bonding at birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, “babywearing” and responsive care.

The rumpus began when Time Magazine published a cover story on Attachment Parenting with a title challenging: “Are You Mom Enough?” Pictured is a 3-year old standing on a chair suckling at his attractive mom’s breast while she ignores him, fixing a bemused gaze at the camera. The mom appears to see the humor in being depicted as a human drinking fountain, but many readers did not.

Whatever one believes about breastfeeding through the toddler years (which Sears recommends), this is obviously not how it’s done. Impersonal and awkward rather than cozy and intimate, nursing in this indifferent manner would undermine the nurturing, bonding intent.

The editors at Time can’t really be faulted for doing what journalists do (although I wish they hadn’t exploited the child). They sought out the most uncommon aspect of a story and sensationalized it in order to sell magazines. It worked, but it also managed to make parents with beliefs on every side of the issue feel judged, threatened, defensive.

So, why do we parents have such hair triggers when it comes to parenting practices and feel obliged to defend and debate?

Probably because parenting is such a very personal and critical part of our lives. It’s demanding, confusing, and we only get one shot. We work really hard to get it right, so we’re understandably sensitive.

The surest way to stop feeling reactive about our parenting is to get the education we need to make informed choices and feel confident enough to accept everyone else’s. After all, we expect to study and train for every other job or career, so why not for one as monumentally important as raising our children?

When we gain knowledge, self-assurance comes with it. Feeling good about our parenting fortifies us to stand alone in our choices (if we have to). We don’t feel threatened or invalidated when others disagree. We can lighten up — and if there’s a parenting “must,” laughing at ourselves is it. If there really are “mommy wars,” they will end when no one is up for a battle. We can lay down our arms, or better yet, open them and learn from each other.

Here are some valuable things to learn from Attachment Parenting, whether we choose this approach or not:

We need a plan

Parenthood, especially “new parenthood,” can be an even more vulnerable stage of life than infancy. It runs neck-and-neck with adolescence as the most confusing, overwhelming and humbling. Some parents fly well on instinct alone but most need some kind of map or a set of tools to help them navigate confidently. Attachment Parenting provides solid tools that are simple to understand and implement. Although Dr. Sears’ basics might feel too simplistic and one-dimensional for some parents, they bring relief and clarity to others. Find what works for you.

We need ideas that resonate, inspire, excite

Attachment Parenting resonates with a growing number of parents. Parents refer to it as “natural,” “instinctual,” “gentle” — all wonderful child-rearing words. But what feels natural and instinctual to one might not feel that way to another, and Sears’ practices certainly aren’t the only way to be a natural, gentle parent.

Infant specialist Magda Gerber’s suggestion to trust the innate wisdom of babies and perceive them as capable, whole people has resonated deeply with me and many others (which is why I teach her approach). Montessori and Waldorf practices also inspire. At the heart of these and other philosophies, there are far more commonalities than differences.

Choose an approach or specific practices from several that make parenting easier, more interesting and enjoyable for you and (most importantly) help you tune in to the greatest, most inspiring parent educator of all… your baby.

We need to stay flexible and evolve

Like most popular parenting experts, Dr. Sears never intended his guidelines to be rigidly adhered to, and most of the Attachment parents I know incorporate the advice of other experts into their parenting.

Children and parents are unique individuals, always growing and changing.  We send an empowering, positive message to our children when we are confident enough to be open-minded and accepting of other viewpoints. So rather than argue, let’s do the research necessary to feel good about what we’re doing. And keep listening.

Photo credits: Getty Images

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