What Attachment Parenting is Not

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A few years ago, when my now 7-year-old was a toddler, I was interviewed for a local magazine about Attachment Parenting [AP]. I described the basic principles of AP, explained how it helped me when I was a single parent, and discussed the science behind Attachment Theory. I thought I had effectively represented what AP is to me, and how it can help parents feel more capable, more patient, and more at peace with their parenting.

The article, however, ended with a counter-point from someone who did not appear to be familiar with Attachment Parenting, as they concluded that AP will spoil a child, because you’re giving them everything they want. And, as is the case it so often seems today in social media world, if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. Too often we get that ‘keyboard courage’ fueling us, without even really knowing about that which we talk, and we spout off something completely untrue with a wide following.

Related: A Mother’s Instinct Is Biologically Real And Creates Attachment With Baby

I was frustrated upon reading the conclusion, knowing that this is a common misconception about AP. The general assumption seems to be that meeting a child’s needs by, for example, not letting them cry themselves to sleep is the equivalent of giving a child everything they want. This could not be further from the truth, and is an inaccurate assessment of what Attachment Parenting truly is.

With that in mind, here is a list of what AP is NOT:

Attachment Parenting is not giving your child whatever they want. My main frustration with the conclusion of the article I was interviewed for was that it implied AP was about giving your kid whatever they want, rather than meeting their biological needs. I was a single, low-income mother at the time of the interview, and I most certainly could not afford to give my child whatever he wanted. Even if I could afford it, I appreciate a minimalist approach to life, and have no desire to give my kids everything they want. An example of meeting needs vs. giving into wants is the classic scenario of a child having a tantrum over not getting a toy at the store. There are a few options for parents to handle this. One would be to shame the child’s feelings, threatening to punish them if they don’t stop crying. Another would be to buy the toy for the child so that they stop crying. And the AP way would be to recognize the child’s feelings (“I see you are sad you cannot get the toy”), maintain a firm boundary (“We cannot get the toy”), and empathize, (“I’m sorry you are sad”). In fact, I’d venture to say that more AP parents would lean toward the opposite of giving their child whatever they wanted as we are seeing way too many kids with way too much ‘stuff’ and focus on ‘stuff.’ An AP parent knows some ‘stuff’ is important, and we want to see the joy in our children’s faces over a new trinket they hold dear to their heart just as much as any other parent. The difference is that we’re selective in those choices and ensure that our children know at what cost each decision we make comes. AP parents want children who make independent decisions based on good human characteristics–like taking care of our fellow human and the earth. We’re not about giving our child whatever they want–we’re about helping our child learn what they want, why they want it, and how to share THEIR gifts with the world. 

Attachment Parenting is not a list of strict rules. The “Bs of AP” are simple: Birth bonding, being responsive to baby’s cry, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, balance and boundaries, and beware of baby-trainers. This list is a helpful guideline, not an uncompromising regulation. For instance, if you weren’t able to see your baby immediately after birth, that doesn’t mean your chances of bonding are ruined. If you can’t breastfeed, that doesn’t mean you can’t AP. If you prefer strollers to babywearing, you can still espouse the other principles of AP. The principles are there to help us as parents, not confine and limit us. It’s almost laughable that AP parenting is thought to be stringent rules because the truth is, it’s those who follow stringent parenting rules we worry about. Each child is unique. Each parent is unique. Each parent-child dynamic is unique and when you parent with AP practices, you spend time learning about what works best for your baby and for you. While there are some givens we all tend to lean toward when it comes to the Bs of Attachment Parenting, there is no one set definition of an attachment parent save a parent who wants to foster secure bonding and attachment in their children.

Attachment Parenting is not permissive parenting. AP consists of meeting a child’s biological needs for responsive parenting. When a baby cries, it is understood that this is a baby’s language. This is their form of communication, and secure attachment is formed through responding to this communication, rather than buying into the outdated notion that crying is good for a baby. As baby grows, AP is generally associated with gentle discipline, and gentle discipline is commonly mistaken for no discipline. This is erroneous. Gentle discipline consists of firm boundaries, enforced with compassion. Gentle discipline includes understanding child development, i.e. knowing that toddlers have tantrums because they’re having a hard time, not because they’re giving you a hard time, and responding with compassion. Gentle discipline is active parenting and takes the kind of self-control and emotional intelligence we hope to see in our children. And sometimes, we wonder if it’s because it does take self-control on the part of us as parents that many will jeer and point fingers, calling it permissive parenting. Sure, we bet it IS much easier to fly off the handle and react with yelling when our children do something they shouldn’t. That’s almost human instinct, we guess. But, it’s purposed parenting when we choose to go against human instinct for what’s good for our children and the relationships we form with our children and there’s a big difference between permissive parenting and purposed parenting.

Attachment Parenting is not a fad. Breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping– these are not trends; these are historical tenets of childrearing throughout the world. Bottles, strollers, and cribs are all new trends. Social media has helped spread the evidence-based knowledge of AP, thereby creating a new influx of AP parents, but its philosophies are not new. In fact, AP principles are more a return to the parenting of old, in many ways, if you think about it. When we practice AP, we’re practicing a parenting style that focuses on basics of childrearing that happened before we thought first-world childraising ought to look one way or the other. We tune into our hearts and the hearts of our children, while employing evidence-based parenting practices with them.

Attachment Parenting is not a marriage-killer. Another popular misunderstanding of AP is that it must destroy relationships, because cosleeping ruins sex, full-term breastfeeding ruins intimacy, and baby’s attachment to mom must be stifling. While every relationship is different, and I cannot speak for others, I can say for my family that this assumption is false. I have written previously about cosleeping and how it does not affect my sex life. In fact, I would say cosleeping improves our time as a couple, since there are no bedtime battles, our kids fall asleep peacefully, and that leaves us with more time together in the evening. While my baby does need my attention frequently, this is true of all babies, not just AP’d ones; attachment to a primary caregiver is a survival mechanism. The difference is in responding consistently to their needs. Strong attachment builds trust and independence, meaning our confident kiddos are fine playing independently while my husband and I have time to reconnect. Our peaceful interaction with our children leads to pleasant family time that increases the bond of our marriage. For anyone who is struggling with the impact of parenting on their relationship, great advice can be found here.

Related: How Attachment Parenting Helps Raise Resilient Children

Attachment Parenting is not just for mom. While mom is the one who will be breastfeeding and birthing her baby, cosleeping, babywearing, responding to baby’s cries, and encouraging AP rather than baby-training can easily be embraced by an AP partner. A partner can support breastfeeding and birth bonding too. Attachment Parenting does not mean baby will be permanently attached to mom. AP is not the martyring of motherhood. AP’d babies and children can be left with babysitters once they are old enough, possibly even more comfortably than conventionally parented children, as AP is known for fostering independence. Grandparents, friends, and other caregivers can practice AP while caring for your child as well. Again, it’s about creating securely attached children who grow into secure and functioning adults, not just enslaving mom as the primary person who does all the parenting.

Attachment Parenting is not more challenging. In fact, I’d say it’s easier. I was a new single mom for about a week before I tried babywearing. That first week without babywearing, I attempted to do dishes and laundry while my baby screamed on the floor, and I was near tears in utter hopelessness. Then I tried the sling my doula lent me. It was a miracle. I was able to do my laundry, dishes, and other housework while my baby slept or nursed contently. Cosleeping has helped me avoid any nighttime drama and nurse my babies peacefully to sleep. Being responsive to my children’s cries has made me feel in tune with them, as though I can read their body language and needs. I could go on for an eternity praising the gentle discipline facets of Attachment Parenting, and how it has created secure, cooperative, loving relationships in my family. In short, AP makes me feel like a capable, competent mother, with the right tools to face the many challenges parenting throws at us. Let’s be honest–if you ask any mother who doesn’t practice AP or gentle parenting about guilt she may feel, she’d most likely tell you it’s when she ‘yells at her children,’ or ‘doesn’t let them be kids.’ Again, purposed attachment parenting makes peaceful intervention and letting kids be kids a primary focus of your parenting.

Attachment Parenting is not an exclusive club. AP is not judging you. AP is not an elitist group of moms who do everything right. AP parents make mistakes, lose our cool, get frustrated, and doubt our abilities, just like everyone else. For me, the AP guidelines helped me feel like I knew what I was doing as a new mom. Attachment Parenting does not set out to separate “good moms” from “bad moms,” or make certain choices seem like the only options. AP is a gift with many options to choose from, with its roots in science and tenderness towards children.

Do you practice some or all elements of Attachment Parenting? What is AP to you, and what is it not? What myths about AP have you encountered?

 

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19 thoughts on “What Attachment Parenting is Not”

  1. People lack compassion and don’t know how to show compassion. So, when you do show compassion, it is mistaken for something else. I like how you gave illustrations and the AP approach. Meeting your child’s physical and emotional needs is NOT spoiling them. Good for you and keep up the good work!

  2. Yes! The biggest thing misconception I encounter is people assume since we are attachment style parents we don’t discipline our children. We *do* discipline our children and they do have to deal with consequences of their actions. It just looks differently than spending time alone in their rooms or hitting them.

  3. All this is good we did all these things but I also have to make a point.As a dad I am absolute authority and at some point just lay down the law. What this does , is make your kid feel safe as they are not tasked with having to decide everything. and they intuitively know they get to be children. When you negotiate with your child you are forcing them to be in charge of their own little life. Sure in small ways this is how we allow a child to grow, but there are lines not to be crossed when you have to be the absolute ruler. You have to have your daughter hate your guts (For the right reasons). You have to not be your child’s BFF as any one who is a parent can not also be BFF, this is a selfish whinny immature need from weak willed parents that cling on to their role VS fulfilling it. It should not be called AP but AC as yes the child is gifted attachment but parents have to rise above attachment as we are here as guides and the proof of our stewardship is one day said child will blast away from us, possibly to never look back and our duty will be done. I carry my baby in my arms would never use some weird form of baby carrier (unless of course having to work at same time) as these are only used by weak /lazy folks and denies the actual sense of daddy’s arms make me feel safe baby wants. TAOISM speaks to ebb and flow and that how total closeness now will bring about total separation later so be aware that this bond will end and if you did what you did OUT of attachment you will suffer greatly. However if it was true love the love that begets independence then you both will rise to freedom together!!!

    1. On behalf of myself and all the previously-ignorant readers of this article, thanks for setting us straight, John. You’re obviously a seasoned father of many, a grandfather probably, who has way more experience than any of us in what children and parents need, and a keen insight into human nature to boot. In particular, I’m glad you mentioned baby carriers – I know I’m going to stop standing around with my 6mo baby in a carrier, not feeling the strength of his mama’s arms around his sleeping 23lb body, because I do that all the time with several other children to care for and a house to run. Good point, carrying a baby while you have other work to do is definitely an exceptional circumstance. What’s your PayPal address? I’m sure there are plenty of people here who would like to tip you for taking the time to write out this wise and instructive comment out of your vast knowledge and experience.

  4. I feel like every parent disciplines the child the wrong way if they want to do it in the way of AP do it that way if you want to disappoint your trial and bond with your child another way to do it that way no one has a right to judge another way or the way apparent bonds or disciplines the child my personal opinion is sometimes the AP way is correctly right sometimes I feel like a child needs a stronger boundaries but again that’s my opinion and opinions are like assholes everybody’s got one that’s it

  5. The biggest misconception I’ve encountered is that AP means no boundaries and out of control kids. If you read Dr. Sear’s books you can clearly see AP does indeed involve boundaries and consistency.

    In my opinion, it is the gentle enforcement that makes AP so successful. Many parents who use harsh methods, such as spanking, consistently and their kids act out more because they know they usually can. It is easy to consistently address behavior, even in public, when you feel comfortable consistently using AP style discipline. As a teacher and mother I truly believe consistency is the most impoetant element in any discipline style.

  6. The biggest misconception I’ve encountered about AP is that AP parents do not Vaccinate their children.

    Since when does bonding with your child mean that.
    Lol

    I had to laugh at that one.

    AP has been great for our family.

  7. Nice! It’s good to know that without knowing what I was doing I’m an AP parent. We honestly have been criticized over and over for how we did and still do things… I married my best friend 16 yrs ago, we have 2 young teens that are two of my favorite people in the world. I breast fed them 12+ mo, we co slept with them till they were ready. We answered their hardest questions with very real truths! No lies, No secrets… everything was and is a family dicusion. My boys periodically get into trouble at school oddly enough it is because they have spoken their minds and the truth is provided. My boys are not sheep though the school would like them to be…We deal with it they are responsible for their actions acept the consiqunses and move forward. I’m proud of the men they are becoming. Their father & I love them unconditionally, our basis for why we have raised them so honestly and given the truth without sugar coating. Extra tight hugs and kisses even from dad…Is because our parents, their grandarents, died when we were very young and we don’t want to miss a thing! Yes we punish! Grounding, privlagies revoked! but we also reward and give trust and responsibilities to grow on. Our way works for us. Forever and always they are what we created, proud of them we are

  8. Whilst I wholeheartedly embraced AP principles with my own five children, I did find it hard to negotiate the age 3+ and the area of boundaries/discipline. In hindsight we were too permissive with our first child, giving him too much decision making power at an age where he was not quite ready for that. We were also afraid to say ‘no’ – instead we would take the time to explain every little decision. Taking the time to do that certainly has a place, but with more than one child, and in certain circumstances, it is completely appropriate to sometimes say NO! Now I run a Playgroup and often see parents who practice AP but who also struggle with boundaries and discipline.

  9. Thanks for sharing. This was really helpful for me to really understand the true definition of AP. I am not a AP parent per say, but I did/do practice elements of it, like bonding after birth, breastfeeding, and babywearing (lifesaver!). Co-sleeping was not an option because my hubby is a major sleepwalker and has rolled on to me at night, and we were too worried he would do that with the baby. But I honestly believe every mom has to figure out what works for them and their family. Also, I admire you being a single parent for a while. Raising a baby is hard, let alone, without a partner to help you. You have a beautiful family!

  10. I used AP way back in 1987. My Mom and I had a tough time with her understanding what I was doing. The babies I had, all 3 of them, had a better outcome from being diagnosed with autism. Other children I met with less interaction, like being left in swings and carriers seemed to engage slightly less. All 3 didn’t speak until after 4 years old. All 3 caught up with their classmates reading and doing math at grade level by 3rd grade. The oldest 2 graduated and passed their proficiency exams. My 17 year old just passed hers the 1st try. I think that without AP, I might not have bonded as well with my babies. When you spend that much time with your child, you can recognize when they are engaged with you, especially if it is only subtle. I celebrated it! I had no diagnosis for my children for sure until they were 15, 12, and 6. I feel that it made significant changes in their outcomes. My 2 oldest drive. My youngest is learning. They can communicate their needs. They can be very loving! Awesome!

    1. Why is John commenting on this article? I semi attachment parent and I hope that my children have more compassion and tolerance for other people.

  11. My first baby was born in 1982 in a hospital where I made them leave her in my room with me. I carried her in a ‘snuggly’ for the first year and then one day in a park in Toronto, I saw a woman with a baby wrapped in simple fabric on her side. I began a conversation with her and she showed me how they wrapped their babies back home in , Kenya I think she was from. My next three babies co-slept and were worn in my simple fabric wrap from birth on.
    Flash forward and my oldest has an assortment of fancy wraps and is the ‘expert’ that shows me the ‘proper way’ to wrap babies. She co-wrapped her twins and would often be seen with one on the front and one on the back about town doing her errands. Now with a ‘baby sister’ wrapped to her she can be seen with two little gentlemen doing her errands. Second generation, wrapping and co-sleeping. Does my heart good.

  12. Why do we have to have a “name” for things that are just natural? Take what you need and works for you .. Take it all, leave it all or use whatever works. The need to label it “AP” is just another form of creating group that include or exclude individuals further dividing moms and dad amongst what we are all trying to do…. Raise healthy independent thoughtful children. Stop the labeling and just be normal!!!!

  13. Prior to reading this I never really studied too much on parenting tactics. When I was pregnant I read up on stuff but made sure not to read too much so I didn’t get a “hypochondriac” feeling.
    I have an almost 3 year old now and I’ve only read articles that I’ve seen while scrolling and some on co sleeping…I’ve always gone with the mentality that I will figure it out as we go with help of a quick Google search or what not…so far it’s pretty much worked….the more I read I find that my “parenting style” is very much similar to AP. I would never have thought that, ever. I co-sleep with my son and husband and my family doesn’t get it, they always say that he is going to grow up different, he is too old, why does he have his own room?. My son still uses a paci while sleeping, I nursed him but only the first 4 months, he loved his stroller and loved being on my hip or in a sling…he was with me while I worked at a small gift shop from 4-10 months old or next door at another shop being baby sat. I always went to check on my child when he cried bc that (to me) obviously meant that something was wrong or he wasn’t content and maybe I had the ability to help a little without giving him whatever he wanted.
    I think it is a core element in a human to feel. try to understand and acknowledge someone’s feelings and explain why you are or aren’t doing something. Just being courteous to one another, it’s common sense and common courtesy. If that makes me an AP parent that is fine with me, if it doesn’t I’m fine with that too. I enjoyed this article.
    Thanks for the knowledge!

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