By Jennifer Scoby, API Leader, Peoria, Illinois
Republished with permission from Attachment Parenting International. Explore their site for many more helpful articles and resources.
Attachment Parenting International is often contacted by confused parents like a mother who recently asked, “I no longer breastfeed my baby, but I try to babywear and I like the idea of having a securely attached relationship and using positive discipline. Is it OK to do some of Attachment Parenting but not all of it?”
Many parents could be disillusioned about what it fundamentally means to practice Attachment Parenting and where they fall into the parenting philosophy spectrum. How many parents out there wonder where they fit in?
As far as we’re concerned, you can babywear, breastfeed, cosleep, be a stay-at-home parent and more but still not be practicing Attachment Parenting if you don’t let yourself get emotionally attached to your baby or child. Or you can choose to do almost none of the above parenting techniques and still practicing Attachment Parenting as long as you form a genuine emotional connection with your child.
We’re not talking about whether you love your children or how much. What we’re talking about is a deep mutual understanding and knowledge about empathy. Secure attachment forms when we take the time to really get to know our children, from their favorite games to their persistent fears to their most cherished expressions of our love for them. It happens when we allow ourselves to cross over into their world, into their shoes, to feel what they feel and to respect those feelings as being every bit as important as our own.
Attachment Parenting isn’t about how often we take our children on outings, or how many minutes a day we spend reading to them, or even whether we use a stroller or a sling, crib or the family bed. It’s about being in tune with who your child is and what he or she needs. It’s about placing a priority not just on their physical health, but their emotional health, and recognizing the importance that parenting has in reaching that goal.
Attachment Parenting in today’s industrialized society takes something else, too: faith in our ability to parent our own children and a reliance on our inner knowledge of our children to guide us in raising them. Mainstream thinking in our corner of the world has not yet evolved to embrace the importance of a solid foundation of peaceful, secure attachment for optimal child development or to understand the damage caused to children whose emotional needs are trivialized. Parenting resources still abound with one-size-fits-all child-raising rules and fix-it-all solutions that neither respect the child nor the parent-child relationship.
Who knows your child best? You do, right? This is true, especially if you have a strong, securely attached relationship. And who knows how to parent your child best? You do, of course. Not your mother-in-law, not your best friend, not your pediatrician, Dr. Phil or the latest advice-giving expert. Every person on this planet is unique, physically and emotionally, and every child has unique needs that change as they grow. Listen to your child and to what your relationship and deep knowledge of your child tells you to do, and politely shrug off any well-meaning advice to the contrary.
De-feather all of the talk about Attachment Parenting, and you’ll find that it’s really about just one thing: connection. A true connection fosters mutual sensitivity, understanding and trust — essential ingredients for a strong, positive relationship. With a connection like this, the ride that is parenting, with all of its sunshine and its storms, is a more enjoyable and more successful journey for both the child and the parent. Our securely attached relationship with our children guides us as we escort them from their days as needy infants, along the twists, bumps, calms, chills and thrills of their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood to the great plateau of their adulthood. With their hearts and minds full from a lifetime of basking in our support, our children can carry with them the tools they need to form their own true connections with the rest of the world.
And it’s pretty hard not to form a strong connection and get to know your child really well when you do breastfeed, spend lots of time with them, wear or carry them everywhere you go, are available to them all night, use positive discipline and do the other parenting techniques that are often associated with Attachment Parenting. These are the tools that enhance the quintessential of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Respond with Sensitivity.
If you are a parent who trusts your instincts to nurture, who gets behind your children’s eyes and into their heads, tries to understand what it is like to live from their perspective and really gets to know them…
If you ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were in my child’s place and how would I want to be treated?”
If you strive to have the kind of connection between you and your child that brings out the best in both of you, and work to understand your child’s needs and to help her feel her best…
…You are an Attachment Parent. And as an Attachment Parent, you not only love your children, you love being with them, learning with them and building on that securely attached relationship for a lifetime.