by Mary Jessica Hammes
June 21, 2012
A child has a need and a parent responds. It’s a fundamental component of parenting. One way to ensure prompt recognition and response is Attachment Parenting (AP)—the controversial parenting method that was featured in TIME magazine’s (in)famous cover story; kerfuffle, actress/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik’s new book; and singer Alanis Morissette’s public conversation.
Real-life moms and dads who practice AP view extended breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping as normal everyday activities. A common thread in news stories about AP always end with an indignant response from individuals who feel AP parents are ruining their children’s lives, followed by a claim from AP parents that the stories are inaccurate.
Who’s right? What is Attachment Parenting, exactly? Do AP parents never let their children cry? Never leave their children with a child care provider? Breastfeed and co-sleep for years except on rare occasions? Is AP a rigid protocol that often makes already stressed-out moms feel inadequate and kids feel entitled?
What follows is a discussion of AP. What it is and isn’t, according to parents who have been there, done that. Despite their different backgrounds, these parents voice similar reasons for choosing AP, including their appreciation of scientific research bolstering the AP philosophy, and the fact that being close to your children is the opposite of smothering them. On the contrary, it’s because of that consistent nurturing, they believe, that children grow up to be independent and responsible adults.
What is Attachment Parenting (AP)?
Attachment Parenting is often misunderstood. Simply stated, Attachment Parenting is a strategy for raising strong and secure children by responding to their needs, nurturing parent-child connections, and modeling appropriate behavior.
“AP is not a list of rules to follow,” says Deanna Spangler, an Attachment Parenting International leader, La Leche League leader, and mother of three girls ages 7, 5, and 2. “It’s not a program. It’s a state of being with your family and children.”
“I have found many parents use aspects of Attachment Parenting without even knowing that it’s Attachment Parenting. Or they use it under the name of another type of similar parenting, such as ‘gentle parenting’ or ‘respectful parenting,’” says Jenni Ascher, medical transcriptionist and a mother of two, ages 5 and 15 months.
Looking back to how I cared for my newborn (now 5 years old), I see clearly that my husband and I were influenced by AP. Even though we’d never done a scrap of research on it, our instinctual parenting style aligned well with AP principles.
The term “attachment parenting” was coined by pediatrician William Sears. Although critics often call it a fad (one Wall Street Journal reporter called it a “two-decade old concept”), this parenting philosophy is not new. Breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping date back to antiquity, and have been practiced continuously in many parts of the world that have never heard of the term “Attachment Parenting.” Child development researchers have been studying attachment theory for the last 60 years and it is their research that has largely formed the modern version of AP as espoused by Attachment Parenting International (API).
API identifies Eight Principles of Parenting:
So, what do these principals look like in real life?
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