Thursday, 10 May 2012

Attacks on attachment parenting

Recently, in the media, I have noticed an uncomfortable trend. Attachment parenting comes up again and again as some sort of "extreme" or "unrealistic" parenting style. Parents who practice attachment parenting apparently do it because they are making up for their own poor childhood experiences, or have a martyr complex, or are taking this "exhausting" style of parenting because they have poor judgement.

In this video Times writer Kate Pickert defines "attachment parenting" as having three basic tenets:

1. Breastfeeding, and often extended breastfeeding.

2. Co-sleeping

3. Babywearing.

However, she discusses the use of these three tools in the attachment parenting toolkit as being unrealistic for most working parents. That babywearing and cosleeping are too hard. On point 1. I actually agree - if she is talking about American life - that extended breastfeeding is very hard, as there is very little maternity leave and few protections for mothers who choose to remain home. Typical Maternity leave in the US is a paltry 12 weeks, and much of that is without pay - compared to our North of the border 50 weeks... Under those circumstances breastfeeding is nigh impossible for many moms. I don't know that this is an issue with attachment parenting, this is an issue with a system that lags seriously behind every other first world nation...

Moreover, if a mother is not breastfeeding, it is actually not safe to cosleep (there is a much higher rate of cribdeath - I use this term because the medical terminology is unfair here, labelling many cosleeping deaths as SUDI instead of SIDS and not actually looking further into whether it was true SIDS, or suffocation), though no one really knows why. There is speculation. Perhaps it is that with cosleeping babies, the position of the baby is at the breastline below pillows and below mom's exhaled air, instead of at the faceline - where there is higher risk of contact with pillows or rebreathing. Perhaps it is that in order to be breastfed easily babies likely do not have respiratory problems or heart trouble, and that babies who bottlefeed may have underlying unrecognized issues. Breastfeeding requires skills from babies, too, and if baby is not breastfed, we cannot tell whether those skills are present or not...

That aside, however, if a mother is already breastfeeding, cosleeping actually makes breastfeeding EASIER, not harder. A cosleeping mother can turn over, stick a breast in her baby's mouth, and drift back to sleep while baby slurps. Or, like I often do, cosleeping mothers can simply wake enough to mutter a sleepy shhhhhhh and baby drifts back, rather than waking even fully enough to nurse. None of this listening to the moniter in the babies room to a baby wail and hope that baby goes back to sleep before I have to trudge down the hall to nurse or prepare a bottle or whatever. Just groggy boob in mouth and roll over. Also, a common misconception is that people who cosleep necessarily do it without the father in the bed. Certainly not a requirement. You can sleep with a man AND a baby in a queen sized bed.

For details on safe bedsharing check out kellymom or This pamphlet from New Zealand, linked from Dr. James McKenna's page.

Now, on to babywearing.

Babywearing is a tool like any other parenting tool. Instead of baby in a swing or stroller, baby is strapped to the body. Instead of baby in a playpen, baby is worn. Wearing a baby in something like a baby bjorn (aka a crotch dangler) is very uncomfortable, and certainly not realistic long term for mom OR baby. However, using a wrap, a long piece of fabric holding baby in place is quite comfortable, and, if it is in a non stretchy material, it can be very comfortable for long usage. A wrap really is like a swing/stroller combo for many mothers - I know that my sister in law used a swing in order to keep her infant calm or sleeping while she did the things that she needed to do around the house, and used the stroller for the same when out of the house. I used my wrap in the same way. My baby would be on my back or on my belly and I would be putzing around the house, picking the older kids up from kindergarten or generally going out with my groceries. My husband got in on the game too... wearing the baby while shovelling the walk and giving me a much needed break...
I don't find attachment parenting particularly cumbersome. I find it is honestly what works best for me and my family, no martyrdom here.

As for the real rub.

I am honestly tired of what seems to be a new thing (which also occurs at the end of that article) - making sure to comment on how many interviewed parents are practicing attachment parenting because of how rotten their childhood was. This argument is a "poisoning the well" logical fallacy. Talk to a few mothers, get them complaining about their childhood, then get them to explain their choices on how they parent. I could easily do the same for any style of parents... it is an attempt to discredit their choices. MANY, MANY people wish to change the way they were raised, and do things differently than their parents - this is why parenting has changed since the 1900s, because this change is NORMAL. Notably, in our particular scenario, my husband was the big proponent of cosleeping, and I decided to prioritize breastfeeding because of his medical condition. He has Crohn's and there is some evidence that being breastfed can minimize the risk of a child from developing this condition which has some genetic basis. I was the one with the less than ideal childhood, and his was pretty darned close to ideal - yet he was the original attachment parenting advocate in our little family. Mayim Bialik is an advocate of attachment parenting, and well, she certainly doesn't seem to have mother issues - choosing specifically to live close to her parents. Another friend of mine cosleeps because that is normal in her culture, being from the Phillippines. I wish that the various media outlets would stop branding Attachment parents as weirdos with mother issues.

Finally, I would like to say that attachment parenting is much more broad than the three "tenets" provided by Kate Pickert.

Attachment parenting for a baby is about reducing stress to the infant. The goal of attachment parenting of an infant is to reduce crying and infant (dis)stress. That sounds good to me - when my baby is happy, so am I. However, attachment parenting goes beyond infancy. I personally love one bloggers "relationship based" parenting style. She journeys through homeschooling (another common thing in attachment parenting) up to sending her daughter off to Thailand and a top university in Canada.

Does attachment parenting mean that my children are perfect? Gosh no. But, the very fact that I made a choice about what style of parent I am choosing to be probably makes a massive difference period. I am not reactionary parenting. I am proactive - trying to look to the next stage of development and modifying my parenting style to accomodate. I do think that this can be done under different parenting philosophies - but I really wish that mainstream media would quit portraying people like me like some freakshow parent who has a martyr complex and wears her issues on her sleeve.

Maybe, just maybe, attachment parents are like most parents. Looking at their situation, figuring out what works, and doing that.

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