My Problem with Attachment Parenting

I try not to rant about things on the internet, but I think some parents need to hear this.

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I mustache you a question: Is it okay if I have a little rant?

Let me preface this by telling you a little about our parenting choices. Within the first month of the first child of ours, some friends recommended we read Baby Wise. (Oh no! right?) We ran out and bought our copy post haste! And you know what? It gave us exactly the advice we needed.

As we read through the book, we realized something about ourselves. We were not very structured people. We didn’t go to bed the same time every night. We didn’t wake up the same time every morning. We didn’t do the same kinds of things every day. We still liked to go out with our friends. In order for our life to keep working the way we needed and wanted it to, our children wouldn’t necessarily always have access to perfect quiet or be able to nurse at any and every moment.

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On a hike in NH with Nikki.

So Baby Wise gave us the tools we needed to teach our kids to soothe themselves regardless of their surroundings or surprise changes to the routine. If you’re not already familiar, Baby Wise uses a flexible schedule, but the primary principle you put in place to make that happen is that you get your baby’s routine away from a Eat-Sleep-Play routine and develop a Sleep-Eat-Play routine. That way, you remove the “crutch” of feeding them to sleep. As the book notes, if you wait until the child is tired to feed them, they’ll fall asleep before getting in a full feeding, causing shorter sleep cycles, etc. So instead, you feed them right after they wake and then they can play until they are tired. Then you put them down and they learn to soothe themselves to sleep.

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All of this was very true to our experience and using Baby Wise literally saved my mental health. We went from 45 minutes between feedings to 3 hours between feedings. We went from 20 minute naps to 1-1.5 hour naps! I could rest! I could clean! I could take a shower!

But more than that, Nikki learned to self-soothe so well that we could be in a restaurant and she would begin to fuss. We knew she had already eaten and her diaper was dry, so we pulled down her shade on her car-seat carrier (yeah, not a Moby wrap! Ha ha!) and she almost immediately fell asleep. Like magic! This made it easy for us to continue doing the things we loved without having to stay home because “that’s usually when baby naps.”

So we loved our Baby Wise (although our execution of it became lazier with each child), and had a happy existence with it for many years.

But one day, I posted an article on-line about NFP & how tough it can be. And my post was immediately met with an acquaintance’s comment, “It’s not hard if you’re doing it RIGHT.” And with further discussion, he explained that “right” meant attachment parenting. “Right” meant ecological breast-feeding. Well, it may be that the sympto-thermal method of NFP will only work if you’re also practicing ecological breast feeding. He was the NFP teacher, after all. And how dare we ever say it out loud that it’s hard!

When I told him that attachment parenting/ecological breast-feeding (bed-sharing, breast-feeding on demand, baby wearing, etc.) was not really our style and didn’t work for us, he went further to suggest that it was the only right way to parent your child as a Catholic. That to do otherwise will do permanent spiritual (not to mention psychological) damage to your child. That if you let your child “cry it out” you are telling them that God is not really there.

That was just the first of many encounters where people were ready and willing to pronounce some kind of heresy on our style of parenting. Some have been quite ready to shame others for even considering letting their children cry it out. “They’ll be traumatized!” I’m sure these people would have some choice words for moms who have to work, moms who have trouble nursing, or even single parents too.

The thing is, in our experience of letting babies “cry it out,” they have one or maybe two nights where we work on it. After that they have acquired the ability to soothe themselves. And during those two nights, you let them fuss for 10-15 minutes then go in and either reassure them or pick them up and calm them before putting them back down for another 10 minutes. Until they sleep.

The last time I checked, there were no dogmatic statements on this matter. “Thou shalt not make thy baby to cry it out. Thou shalt nurse whenever thy baby shall demand. Any parent that doth make a baby cry it out shall be anathema!”

My problem with attachment parenting is that it is not my style. And my problem with attachment parenting is that for some reason it has a problem with me. Or at least some of the proponents do.

I am sure that your Attachment child notices that his every need is met almost before he even knows he has a need, and that at that moment when he begins to whimper and you pop your nipple in his mouth he thinks, “There is a God and He cares for me!” (those are some pretty bright infants!).

Well, then my kids are learning that actually right now it’s sleep time and that his own desires to be awake and play right now are not the only ones that matter. He realizes, “It’s not all about me! There are other people too!” Or maybe as his patience grows, he’s realizing, “Oh! God doesn’t always give people what they want when they want it. Sometimes they have to wait. Or sometimes He wants something better for them. But He always gives people what they need.”

See how easy it is to imagine that this one parenting choice can make or break your child?

Your child is learning to depend on God. Mine is learning patience and how to think of others. Yes. When they are 2 months old. Right?

It doesn’t bother me if someone chooses to practice Attachment parenting. Or Baby Wise. Or Marcy’s Middle-of-the-Way Method. (Or if they vax or don’t vax for that matter!) We all have different parenting styles. Just like we all have different strengths, different schedules, different work requirements, different struggles, different gifts. We are different. And there is no one right way to do this!

My problem is when someone looks at another parent who is meeting his child’s needs for safety, nourishment, interaction, etc. and tells them that they are failing their child. Or that God would not approve of one or the other method. Or that you should have to have a method at all.

I’m sorry. Did you receive some private revelation the rest of us missed?

I’m fully aware (and chose to ignore) the parts of Baby Wise that insisted that if you didn’t follow their method, you’d spoil the child by turning them into a selfish, demanding monster baby. In the same way, I reject the assertion that if you don’t use attachment parenting, you’re doomed to have atheist babies.

Does this baby look like he’s an atheist?

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Beyond the Attachment/Baby Wise/whatever method drama, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to screw up your kids. But I’m pretty sure the number one way to ruin them is to pretend like you already have all the answers and have nothing to learn. If you can’t recognize mistakes, call ’em as you see ’em, and course correct as you go, then you’ll probably screw them up. Or maybe not. Because kids are pretty smart & they’ll know when you’re wrong even if you don’t.

So listen up, parents: Do what works for you! Do what jives with your style. Try that thing in that book, or that suggestion on Pinterest if it makes sense to you. But I suggest you take just one principle away. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. Okay? Just love those kids and figure out how to survive.

If you have found something that worked for you, that is awesome. Keep doing it! If you’re someone who isn’t really sure and is still figuring it out as you go, well, welcome to the club!

I let my babies cry it out and lived to tell the tale. Nikki is often reminding me, when I get upset about something, that “It’s not all about you, Mom. It’s about Jesus.” And how right she is! (And she even believes God loves her. For the sake of this piece I asked her if God loved her, and she looked at me like I was crazy for even asking and said, “Yes!)

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4 comments

  1. Lacey Michael · · Reply

    Hahaha I loved this! I’m more of an attachment parent AND I’m not even Catholic and I STILL agree 100%. BTW it ecological breast-feeding does NOT work in every case. *ahem* Case in point- myself and my three days shy of having Irish twins. With my crazy hormones I got irate whenever someone mentioned how nursing the right way was a good birth-control method. omw. I shouldn’t go on….lol.

    Thanks for the post. πŸ™‚

  2. Well, after 9, I have created my own parenting style. It would probably be called Survival Parenting. πŸ˜‰ I lean towards attachment parenting, but I am petite with big, chunky babies and don’t have my babies strapped to me all day. However, the Moby wrap is a Godsend with a newborn and 8 other kids who need me! I absolute cannot stand to hear a small baby cry. Everyone knows the little babies come first. Once they are older and can play and interact with the kids, they are very entertained by all the commotion in our house. So, little by little, the older babies learn they have to just wait a little bit sometimes.

    I have never CIO because I am comfortable with bedsharing and breastfeeding at night. It does space out pregnancies longer for me, although I do have a couple sets of kids 15 months apart!

    So, Survival Parenting is my style. The most important rules to follow are: Plenty of chocolate and just do whatever it takes to get the most sleep and not have screaming kids. πŸ˜‰

    People absolutely drive me nuts who insist there is only one way to parent. All kids are different, all parents are different, all family situations are different. Love them. That’s the most important thing!

  3. Ladies, I so agree. And to be really honest, I do survival parenting too. The writers of Baby Wise would be horrified at my bastardized version. Lol. I don’t honestly have a problem with any method as long as the method isn’t dogmatic. What I did with my boys was a lot more like attachment for the first several months (No baby wearing because my kids have this unnatural hate of being swaddled or contained in any way. Maybe the attachment thing is why my boys have no patience when it comes to food. I think it’s because they are boys and food is very emotional for them. πŸ™‚

  4. […] some point after my “tirade” against Attachment Parenting (which you know was not really a “tirade” but more of a, “yo! why you be […]

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