Why Are We Afraid to Admit the Difficulty of Attachment Parenting?


Last week I shared a short post here on Mothering Magazine about how attachment parenting can make you crazy.   I have actually posted many times on my personal blog about my difficulties, frustrations, and yes, love of attachment parenting.  How hard this type of parenting (or really ANY type of parenting) is for me is no secret.  I am a mom and sometimes I struggle.


When I share these thoughts on my frustrations with AP the response is overwhelmingly positive.  There are many, many other mothers who struggle as I do.  There are other women who are sleep deprived despite others saying it just “doesn’t last very long”.  It feels like a long time when it has been 5 years of broken sleep people!!  There are other mothers whose backs sometimes hurt from babywearing.  There are other marriages who don’t thrive with babies in their beds.  And there are simply other moms who have bad days, get overwhelmed, and need a place to vent and somebody to actually HEAR them.


So when I dare to admit that attachment parenting isn’t just roses and rainbows other women respond in droves.  They understand what I am talking about.  It isn’t that they don’t also love attachment parenting, it is just that even though you know something is right and is working, doesn’t mean it is easy all the time.  It doesn’t mean you don’t have to adapt to your situation.


But there are always the critics.


“You just aren’t doing AP right.”


“You don’t understand the fundamentals of attachment parenting.  It requires balance which you don’t get.”


“I don’t know how anybody couldn’t just love co-sleeping.”


“I actually enjoy holding my baby.”




I have a response for that.


I am actually quite sure that I am in fact NOT doing attachment parenting “right”.  Of all the things in life I do wrong PARENTING is on the top of my list of things I worry about and fail at.  There is a possibility I don’t understand true AP either.  I DO try to balance my needs with those of my children.  But any caring mother will admit that achieving balance (and doing it with out guilt) is DIFFICULT.  Possibly it is the most difficult part of mothering.  I know from other mothers that I am not the only one who struggles with giving so much from our cups that you have nothing leftover for yourself.  There was even a time when I DIDN’T understand why everybody didn’t just adore co-sleeping.  But I have been co-sleeping with at least one (and often more) children for the last eight years and eventually, it does lose some of it’s charm.  And of course, I too enjoy holding and comforting my children.


The problem with the critics who say we shouldn’t even DARE admit the difficulties of attachment parenting is that they HURT MOTHERS.


Yes.  They do.


When we act like parenting is easy, breezy, and always intuitive and natural and full of rewards we discount the experience of many (if not all) mothers.  Not only that but we further isolate women from one another.  Too many of us are scared to death to admit that we freaking use disposable diapers!  I have seen women APOLOGIZE because they stopped nursing at 18 months or had a hospital birth or used a pacifier.  REALLY?  Do we really have to justify our choices about life and parenting to every stranger we meet?  Do we really need to silently endure the challenges of parenting just to appear perfect?  Just to preserve a facade of perfection for ourselves and our chosen parenting style?


Frankly, I think this is ridiculous and I think it hurts women and I think it makes them feel more lonely, more frustrated, and more insecure.


But I am not afraid.  I will admit that despite the fact that I could be considered a very “attachment parenting” parent, I STRUGGLE.  I don’t love every moment.  I get tired.  I get angry.  I respond badly.  Sometimes I don’t want to be touched.  Sometimes I want to do something selfish.  Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t sound like something I want to do just now.


I will admit the difficulty of attachment parenting.  I will tell other mothers that they are NOT ALONE in their struggles.  I won’t pretend that everything is perfect when it isn’t.


Why?  Why would I do this?  Why should you?


Because when we are honest about our struggles with parenting and attachment parenting we build a community that is open, accepting, and much more likely to actually TEACH and HELP other people.  We open our arms to women who are stressed and overwhelmed rather than frowning and mentioning something that we are perfect at that they aren’t.  When we have the courage to admit our imperfections we help each other more than when we pretend.


This doesn’t mean we hate attachment parenting.  It doesn’t mean we let our babies cry all the time or that we circumcise like crazy.  It just means that we are honest that attachment parenting (like all kinds of parenting) has moments of difficulty within the beauty.  We embrace ALL of what it means (yes, sometimes sleepless nights) and not just the stuff that looks shiny and sells.


I can guarantee that our children will also prefer a parent who isn’t afraid to love something despite it’s difficulties.


Speak up.  Be honest.  Admit your struggles.  Somebody else needs to hear your voice.




About Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is a mother of four children 7 and under.  She writes about motherhood and natural birth at her blog Mama Birth.  She is also a natural birth teacher and is on the board of directors for Birth Boot Camp, a natural birth education company.



30 thoughts on “Why Are We Afraid to Admit the Difficulty of Attachment Parenting?”

  1. Beautifully and honestly written. The balance in all things includes both the dark and light sides, the easy and difficult, the beautiful and ugly. Parenting is all of this and more. Thank you for sharing that.

  2. I’ll admit it, I’m not always a fan of co-sleeping. I love not having to get up to breastfeed, and the extra snuggles a working mom can get in at night are priceless. But, I also like to roll over sometimes. And, I don’t think my head makes a great pillow, but my toddler does :)

  3. This couldn’t have come at a better time. As a mother of a two and four year old who still sleep in my bed (and drive me crazy sometimes), the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and well, wondering if I’m doing it right sometimes linger. But then a great read like this comes along that shows me that I’m not alone, and this is all the encouragement I need to keep doing what feels right. Thanks

  4. This is a beautifully written article.Thank you! I too had a hard time with attachment parenting. I did the home birth, and after the second one I wasn’t so judgmental and smug to those who chose to have a c-section or hospital birth. I breast fed but was happy to say “you are done” at one year old. I even home schooled my children for a time then sent them back to a school so that I could refocus on my art career. There are many many ideals I had for the punk rock/hippy/progressive/attached loving mom I thought I wanted to be. But the reality is that to be sane, I need large chunks of personal and psychic space away from my children. I have been dealing with this through a series of art work I call “invisible Mother’s Milk”. To see more please visit my website: http://artbyellengreene.com

    I believe we are all better for speaking our truths and acknowledging the truths of others around us. Thank you for speaking yours Sarah!

  5. Yes! I completely agree with this article. I posted on your previous post as well, but I agree that it’s a good life lesson for our kids to see that perfection isn’t our goal. I think that’s healthy.:)

    I love most AP things SOME of the time, but I love the closeness of it most of all…and even that is sketchy at 3am after being woken for feedings every hour on the hour by my year old baby girl.:)

  6. Bravo Sarah for sharing your words. I am exhausted by all of the judges out in the world of parenting. We need to start supporting each other and I mean really supporting each other. No more smiling and nodding and pretending to sympathize when another momma spills her heart out.

    As an AP family I agree it’s tough. I’m tired of my 22 month old taking up the entire bed while my husband and I end up sleeping on the edges waking up exhausted and sore.

  7. Great article, couldn’t agree more. Attachment parenting is a long-haul committment, and challenging, demanding work. For AP moms employed outside the home, there is an extra helping of AP needed on days off. For AP moms at home, there can be isolation, and no one to share parenting with while their partners are at work, or to hand off the baby to for a few minutes, as in other more family-centered cultures.

    Our daughter and I talk about motherhood all the time, and how hard it is. We talk about how easy life appears for some women, who seem to have kids with no allergies, who are hardly ever ill, who are not high-need,and intense. They seem to have husbands who are calm , and their own personalities aren’t so sensitive either. I’m not saying that they don’t connect with their children, just that they have personalities that can tolerate noise better, emotional upheaval better, sleep deprivation better, being around people all the time better. They don’t come from families with a tendency to anxiety or mood disorders, or have any inconvenient chronic illnesses. Their lives are just easier.

    Just recently, our DD discovered that feeding her ten year old anything with tartrazine in it was like giving him uppers, and making him feel ill and unfocused, all at once. In fact, it probably was bothering the whole family. She has changed the whole family’s diet, so they are ALL, from youngest to oldest, feeling better, and more easier going. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if she had known about this years ago? Sadly, she didn’t. Still, even on the very best days.attachment parenting is a lot of work, even with healthy, easy going family members. Raise your hands, all of you who were not always blessed with those!

  8. Amen sister! AP is hard. Parenting is hard. And admitting the struggles makes it a more honest and rewarding path.

  9. I practice AP with my almost 4 year old and 8 month old, and 3 months ago I moved from the US to a country where affordable full time household help is the norm and community is emphasized. I cannot believe how much it has affected me as a mother just to be around other people more. When I lived in the US, I spent a large amount of time at home with my kids alone – now, there is almost always at least one other adult present. It makes such a huge difference to have community and help with the day to day household tasks and mothering.

    I am very convinced that AP is the most natural and healthy way to raise children, but I really don’t think we were meant to do it alone and it IS a struggle sometimes as you point out to respond effectively to the needs of young children and enjoy it, especially when we don’t have support as mothers.

    I wish we had more avenues in the US for living in community and supporting young mothers, and if we as mothers had more support I think it would be so much easier to find more joy and less struggle in practicing AP.

  10. Thank you for this, it comes very timely. I find it very hard at present too, I love holding my kids but one doesn’t let go at all at the moment and there are times when it is difficult.

  11. Too right! I had a hospital birth, that doesn’t make me a bad person! I think a lot of that stuff is becoming a fashion statement rather than a choice that actually benefits parents and children.

  12. I agree. This sits within a wider context as well though and that is that ALL life is hard at times. We seem to have been sold the idea that if only be buy a,b,c or believe x,y,z life will be easy and that our lives are only hard if we fail to achieve these ideals. From school to work to society at large, difficulty is seen as failure and to be avoided at all costs.

    If we consider life as an ebb and flow of energy rather than a consistent upward trajectory we might all be a bit less unwilling to talk about the hard times when we need help and support.

  13. i truely enjoyed every word! I completely agree with helping other mothers rather than look down upon them. Also wanted to say that its wonderful to hear “im not the only one” who has gotten tired. Your encouragment to other mothers is a blessing! Thank you for your precious time and honesty to write such a beautiful article

  14. It’s funny because I’ve never been drawn to AP parenting- at all… Did i homebirth, co-sleep, let them nurse till they weaned, wear them and not vaccinate? yup. But AP, not so much. I tried a few groups, but they didn’t fit for me. I’m not Christian so it wasn’t that the AP peeps were ‘too out there for me.’ I’m as ‘out there’ as they get. But it just was never a fit. I homebirthed because i don’t like hospitals, co-slept because i lived in asia and that’s what most of the world does and it just felt better to me, didn’t vaccinate because the science. we’ve unschooled, homeschooled and waldorf schooled- so the AP crowd is always around me, yet i have never been drawn to the label – at all! Since i really want to raise independent children, not attached children. maybe that was my whole aversion. But what i find most in the community is parenting as a dogma and that never sits well with me. and more importantly, i found the majority were really practicing permissive parenting- and there’s a good 50 yrs of research on the outcomes of permissive and indulgent parenting and they are not at all favorable. and i also found a lot of frustrated, whiney children and overwhelmed mums with a very diminished set of personal boundaries in those groups, which again, was not such a great fit for me. Just because I allow my child to nurse when she is ready, doesn’t mean I allow her to hit, grope or ‘demand’ it by screaming at me. So, perhaps it’s just dropping the label of what AP is and going with your own gut on each individual subject and that way there is not expectation to live up to. Whenever asked, I always respond, ‘No, I’m not AP’ Once they know i’m NOT AP it seems we can have a fresh conversation. They make all sorts of assumptions about me at first, like I must let my children cry and yell at them or hit them all the time, etc. But as the conversation continues, if they’re really interested they will find out that I ‘do’ many of the AP parenting things, but since i’m not AP, there is no ‘perfect AP standard’ i am or am not living up to. I guess it comes down to really not liking labels or feeling locked into a dogma of any sort… at all.

  15. I so agree Angela. On paper I am very AP- home birth, non-vax, unassisted birth, etc, etc, etc. ButI hate the label, have said that I am “not” ap, too. And I HATE that some people seem to take AP as never saying no, being very permissive, and sacrificing themselves and their marriage for the child’s needs. I don’t know what the deal is with parenting labels. Nobody really fits any of them 100%.

  16. I have just discovered this website. I know nothing about attachment parenting but it sounds like i raised my boy with this method. He is now 12 years old.

    He slept with me in the hospital, i held him most of the time because he would literally scream and not sleep if i did not. If he was not sleeping in his battery operated swing on “high” he slept on my chest. He slept with us almost every night until he was at least 6. He still sleeps in our bed on occasion. My mother told me i would spoil him and that i would regret what i was doing. My mom in law told me all of their 5 boys slept in their bed “until the next one came along”. I have never regretted how we are raising our boy.

    Parenting is not easy no matter what “method” we choose. We all learn as we grow. There were days when i wanted to give my baby away i was so overwhelmed.

    PERFECT means making mistakes and being true to you and yours.

    The strength of the bond you are forming with last forever. Children raised this way have self confidence, self worth, a strong sense of self. These traits allow them to become truly independent in the long run.

    This style of parenting, i would imagine, is observed in primates. If our cousins do it instinctively, it must be right for we who choose this method.

  17. I understand completely. I started out at some level of AP when my son was born and ended up very different. I couldn’t nurse, so I pumped and had to supplement as the result of PPD equating to low supply. My son had reflux, so he got the binky because it soothed him. I tried to babywear him early on, he wouldn’t have it (although I did start babywearing more when he was about 3 months old). I vaccinated because I had almost died of meningitis as a toddler. There is no black and white. There are many many greys in parenting and people need to stop judging and start supporting.

  18. Thank you for this… I’ve just been thinking a lot this past week about how I am so sick of BFing on demand… and my LO is 8 weeks old. And no, I haven’t stopped, I haven’t given him formula… but I did *gasp* try to give him a bottle of expressed milk yesterday. Making me a complete parenting failure. (Despite the fact that he was pretty much entirely unsuccessful in *using* said bottle.) I don’t really understand when people talk about loving every minute of BFing, and being sad when their 5-year-old weans. I’m thinking this guy is going to be lucky to make it past a year. I am persevering purely because I believe it’s best for my baby. Thank you for validating the fact that I don’t have to love every second of it. And you know what… even if I quit breastfeeding cold-turkey today… he’s had 8 weeks of exclusive breastfeeding. Way more than so many babies in the US get. After years of reading about AP/NFL stuff, actually living it has been so eye-opening. I know now why so many women give up and move to formula feeding. I absolutely understand (after a natural birth center waterbirth) why women would choose an epidural. And after sleep deprivation and having an inconsolable baby, I scarily even understand why people would shake a baby. (To be very, very clear – I did not/would not shake my baby, nor do I see that as ‘just another parenting choice’ – but I understand the state of mind that could take you over the edge.) But thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

  19. It IS hard. Would it be easier to shut my kid in her room and let her cry it out? Of course, but I love her, and I’m not lazy, I have spent many many hours rocking her to sleep her whole life, because that is what I would want done for me. I don’t like the label, but it seems to have been given to me anyway.. I have hospital birthed, home birthed, formula fed, breast fed, co-slept, not co-slept, ERF…you get the point. The first go around I did everything cookie cutter (hospital birth, formula, etc) and none of it felt right. When I let go and did what came naturally to me, AP is just what “happened.” But it IS hard work.

  20. THANK YOU! I am typing this right now with my sleeping son in my arms and I do love him dearly. That being said I’m a sing;e parent and there are times (esp. when I was active duty) when you have to let them cry so you can get things done (ie: shower, dishes, laundry). And to have parents tell me I’m wrong or bad because of that hurts. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to get him to nap without NEEDING to be in someone’s arms. So thank you for being real and helping those of us that are on our last nerve know we are not alone.

  21. I agree with the general sentiment of the article. But i wanted to say that i am someone who finds co sleeping easy and cant really imagine doing it differently. maybe some kids just move around more, or some adults are just more sensitive sleepers, so they might find co sleeping harder. I found breastfeeding and babywearing steep learning curves at first, but im grateful to have mastered those skills to some degree because they make life so much easier now with my 3 children. my biggest issue with being heard is my childrens public behavior.How much easier it would be to just use rewards and punishments to control them, but i know in the long term that isnt ideal, im also against it in principle since i aspire to consensual living with them. My problem with them, and it isnt really a problem, is that they are so independent, and so sure of themselves, BECAUSE they were attachment parented. (to the PP, an attached child is more independent not less all conditions being equal )
    i loved using a pacifier with my first. sadly, my other 2 never took it. that was something i didnt share with my attchment parenting friends, and it kind of annoyed me when they stared disapprovingly and my blissfully sleeping child with a pacifier in his mouth.
    I agree that all round honesty is best. And there is nothing better than commiseration!

  22. ps. i would love holding my dear baby so much more if she didnt keep trying to swipe at the computer everytime she sits on my lap.

  23. very well said…although ill admit im not “mother of the year”
    i try my best and thats all i can do!
    my kids are cclean (as clean as i can get a 7 year old, 3 month old) fed, happy kids!
    the problem lately with alot of us is we judge so quickly and without even considering someone elses situation.
    everyone has their own devmons that being bills to pay, kids that drive them bsc, etc…we all have our own lives…we get sick of it at times. Fed up. tired and flat out overwhelmed.
    we ask for advice becuase we NEED to hear its ok from someone else, not to be criticized or bashed and thats a huge issue. AP is not for everyone, but congrats to those who try their best…mothering is a JOB in itself and it never ends…give someone credit before you jusdge….u never know their situation. help them!!

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