5 Attachment Parenting Realities I Learned the Hard Way

Here are 10 things I learned about attachment parenting the hard way

Attachment parenting often gets a bad rap in today’s culture, but we believe that education and science work together to show why it’s a parenting style that fits children (and families) well.

But, we also understand that in that ‘bad rap,’ a lot of it comes from attachment parenting as a parenting style simply being misunderstood. In fact, often in our Mothering forums, we’ll hear misinformation about how attachment parenting is about letting our children do whatever they want, whenever they want and for whatever reason they want.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, and here, our mama author shares some attachment parenting realities she learned the hard way. We share them with you in the hope you find encouragement and don’t feel alone when you’re doing the very best you can in your gentle parenting.

In my years of raising babies, I naturally gravitated towards an attachment parenting model. But, I can’t say that I loved every moment of it. In fact, there were times when I wanted to burn a giant pile of Dr. Sears books because I so wanted to blame him for my lack of sleep.

All in all, I think there are many ways that attachment parenting can make life easier, especially if done with common sense and community. Sometimes I just lacked the common sense and the community. But I have learned a few things that I hope will help others make attachment parenting work for them.

1) It’s Very Important to Incorporate Others.

I do not believe for a moment that attachment parenting was meant to be done alone with one mom and one baby hanging out all day long together within four walls nursing, snuggling, and trying to keep the floor clean. 

While there is a time and place for the above and it can be great for healing, staying at home forever with just you and the baby isn’t a sustainable model for a variety of reasons. 

Related: What Attachment Parenting is Not

Yet, that is most often exactly what we see attachment parents doing – mom spends countless hours alone with baby. She often lacks community, she lacks sleep, she can become touched out, overwhelmed, and even depressed by the constant and total demands on her body, spirit, and mind. (Or it feels like there are no intellectual demands!)

You cannot do attachment parenting alone for an extended period of time. I repeat – this is not to be done alone.

Incorporate others! Really! Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, dad (of course), a consistent care provider if you need or desire outside care – these are all healthy, wonderful and ATTACHED relationships that are good for you and your child to have.

Seriously- don’t feel guilty about having your child be attached to people besides you.

This is healthy and normal. Attachment parenting doesn’t mean “attached just to mom,” parenting.

2) Dad/Partner Can Be Attached Too.

Dad is also an important player in the scheme of things, and yet, since he lacks breasts, sometimes attachment parenting families fail to see ways that dad can be involved. He can be involved!

In all honestly, I didn’t leave my first child alone with his dad until he was at least six months old, and the trip was very gut-wrenching even though it only lasted a few hours! This didn’t happen with my three subsequent children because I learned to trust both of them (dad and the child) that they could do this without me!

Sometimes this means that mom “lets” him figure out how to hold the baby.

Yes, your partner will do things differently than you.

This isn’t a bad thing. Yes, there is a learning curve for anyone, male or female, who is not used to being around babies. Never fear, learning about babies takes time! It can be done.

Changing diapers, feeding solids when introduced, rocking, bouncing, carrying, babywearing, holding, singing, cuddling, sleeping – truly, the options are endless. Don’t leave out or exclude your partner.

3) Being Realistic is Vital.

I think one of my problems when I first attempted attachment parenting was a lack of realistic goals and lack of understanding. It seemed natural to nurse my baby. Obviously he needed my presence all the time for many reasons. I have a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, so I knew that holding, wearing, and being with your baby was a normal practice for cultures around the world.

What I wasn’t realistic about was my life.

I didn’t live in a tribal society surrounded by others. I didn’t have other children to play with, entertain, hold, and love on my baby. In fact, my closest family was over 1000 miles away. I was utterly alone in the world and yet I was expecting myself, one lone recovering woman, to provide an entire village of love for this baby.

Realistically, I couldn’t do it. So then I felt guilty, overwhelmed, and worn out.

I was a lot more gentle with myself with my other children.

If I needed a moment, I took it. If I needed others, I found them. If I had to walk away from a crying baby for my own sanity, I did it.

4) Nobody Does Attachment Parenting Perfectly.

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Bill and Martha Sears. And, by a strange twist of fate, I ended up on a stage conducting an interview with the incredible Martha Sears. She and her husband, Dr. Bill, are basically the parents of modern attachment parenting.

I was just a vehicle during the interview – the audience asked Martha questions about the reality of attachment parenting in action.

5 ways to make attachment parenting work with martha sears
In case you didn’t believe me, that is me talking with Martha Sears! What?!

I had put Martha and her family and all of those others who claim to be attachment parents, on a pedestal. You know what? I was wrong.

Martha herself, mother of eight, writer of books, partial creator of the attachment parent movement, admitted to moments of anger, of losing it, of not being perfect.

You know what else she talked about? Asking for forgiveness. Spending time with friends. Communicating with your spouse. Having valuable relationships with other people. Forgiving yourself.

Not even SHE did this stuff perfectly.

And neither will you.

That isn’t really the point. The point is to be thoughtful and do your best and not go crazy in the process.

Related: Attachment Parenting Marriages Can Be Hard: 4 Signs of Distress and Some Straightforward Help

5) You Should Always Trust Yourself.

To make attachment parenting work, you also have to trust yourself. It doesn’t work if you just read a book about it or follow the advice of some online community. That isn’t how you tune in to your baby or tune into your own intuition.

For me, sometimes I was so busy being attached and meeting all my baby’s needs, that I never noticed that they had turned into a toddler and were better served by a firm ‘no’ than a breast. Sometimes I was so worried about doing things right, that I failed to realize that I couldn’t run on empty with four hours of sleep a night for years on end.

Eventually, I realized that this kind of parenting – the kind I thought I was “supposed” to do – was going to ruin me.

I had limits. I also realized that sometimes what I thought was attachment parenting, wasn’t the best thing for myself or my children or the sanity of my entire family.

If it doesn’t feel right, even if it says you should do it in the books, then find another way. That is what attachment parenting is really about.

You can make attachment parenting work in real life.

You just need some good people, a reality check, and some forgiveness. But trust me, you’ve got this.

In a day and age where how to and why should you and this is what happens if you don’t run rampant in our lives via social media and the age of the Internet, the biggest takeaway about attachment parenting is that it will look different for each parent. Yes, there are generalities about attachment parenting that we all agree fit the science behind the parenting style.

Yes, there are distinctions between an attachment parent and one who doesn’t claim to attachment parent in their day-to-day behaviors. Things like baby-led weaning and babywearing and co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding may be parenting approaches that fit in the ‘attachment parenting,’ style, but as the science behind those methodologies shows benefit, they’ve become (thankfully!) more a norm.

But it’s important to remember that attachment parenting places specific emphasis on responding to your baby’s and children’s needs sensitively and recognizing their behaviors for what they are: manifestations of needs. Because that’s the core concept of attachment parenting, that will look different in different children, and if you’re not doing it like your attachment parenting mama-friend? It’s most likely because you have different children who have different needs. Your intentional and sensitive responses to them will look different because we as humans are different, and that’s okay. In fact, we think that’s something to be celebrated!

Be gentle with yourself, mama. Realize that attachment parenting doesn’t mean you’re going to have rainbow and unicorn days all the time. You may even find yourself (gasp) muttering words you NEVER dreamed you would before you had children.

It’s okay. We get it because we’ve been there. And it’s because we’re all in this together that we work hard to encourage, support and lift each other up for the good of ALL our children!


One thought on “5 Attachment Parenting Realities I Learned the Hard Way”

  1. Great article! I found myself staunchly against Attachment Parenting before I had children because of the unreasonable expectations of AP parents I knew. They would say things like “my child has never had a bottle because bottles are against AP” (Do they ever go anywhere without their child? This makes working mothers feel like automatic failures.) or lash out against people for leaving a baby in a playpen for 20 minutes while they cook dinner. A few people I knew who proposed to practice AP were actually sheltering their children from others to the point the children (4-8 years old) would not talk to others. It sounded horribly smothering to me.

    When I became a parent later, I was dead set on parenting my way: It was natural to be a gentle parent and I found out later that I was following the AP principles! Not a single AP-er that I knew took the time to explain what they actually were- they just promoted their own beliefs and judgments on others. I could not be an AP if it weren’t for an AP husband, Mother-in-law and Sister.

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