When many people hear the term “attachment parenting*,” they often have a certain type of parent in mind. It may be a parent who wraps his or her child, a mother breastfeeding her toddler or preschooler, or children allowed to run the household. There is often a perception that attachment parenting is for hippies and that it’s just another parenting fad. In fact, attachment parenting is really traditional parenting, and has been around for far longer than Dr. Sears, the pediatrician who named it and promoted it. Today, we’re going to examine some of the myths around attachment parenting and explore what attachment parenting really means.
Myth #1: Attachment Parenting is a parenting style invented by Dr. Sears.
Attachment theory, the scientific theory behind attachment parenting, was studied by a psychologist named John Bowlby in the 1950s and named in 1969. That’s not even the beginning. Some of the practices encouraged in attachment parenting occur naturally across cultures around the world. Bed sharing or co-sleeping is a common practice in many countries today and throughout history. Breastfeeding is the original way to feed babies, and extended breastfeeding (past one year) remains a commonplace practice throughout the world. A quick search on Pinterest will show a dazzling array of traditional baby carriers used on every (habitable) continent. Attachment parenting is often in-line with parental instinct to keep babies close as they are in their early development. However, Dr. Sears did come up with the term "attachment parenting."
Myth #2: Attachment parenting is for helicopter parents.
Attachment parenting is for parents who realize that their own instincts and brain science both support practices that form close bonds from an early age. Early attachment allows primate infants (including humans) to turn to their caregiver for protection when scared or otherwise emotionally upset. When children feel this security, they are able to be more independent within a safe environment. The caregiver remains available but allows the child to explore within his or her own comfort zone.
Myth #3: Attachment parenting means never leaving my child. Only mothers can be “attachment parents.”
Not true. Dads are important too! Infants and small children can form attachment with multiple caregivers, as long as these caregivers are meeting their physical and emotional needs. In addition to parents, children can bond with grandparents, extended family, family friends, or a trusted daycare provider. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child. We weren't meant to raise our children in isolation.
Myth #4: Attachment parenting means the parent must breastfeed/bedshare/babywear. If someone breastfeeds/bedshares/babywears, they are attachment parents.
These practices can all promote attachment. However, these types of parenting decisions can benefit parents whether or not they know anything about attachment parenting. Many parents do one or more of these things, without calling themselves attachment parents. On the flip side, you can still be a warm caregiver who forms deep attachment with your child even without doing all of these things. Parents who feed their babies from a bottle can still feed their babies with love and respect. For those not comfortable with bed-sharing, or for whom bed-sharing is higher risk, baby can still room in for the first six months (recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics as SIDS prevention) and have a safe and comfortable sleep space. I personally think everyone can benefit from babywearing, but the important thing is to make baby feel safe and comfortable. Dr. Sears does specifically promote babywearing, breastfeeding, and bedsharing. However, I think if you take it back to attachment theory, you can form a strong attachment without meeting those criteria.
Myth #5: In attachment parenting, babies can’t ever be allowed to cry.
Newborn babies generally cry for a reason, although we can’t always tell why. The attachment parent works to meet the infant’s emotional and physical needs. Babies need food, clean diapers, sleep, and closeness. It may not always be easy to figure out which if these needs to be met, but the attachment parent will try. If baby continues to cry, it may indicate a problem. But the attachment parent can also care for their own needs: baby can cry in someone else’s arms while the primary parent takes a shower or a nap. Even after caregivers meet basic needs, babies may cry over non-negotiable situations, such as riding in a car-seat. Older babies may cry when a potentially dangerous object is moved out of reach. It’s ok for babies to cry sometimes.
Some of Attachment Parenting International's principles align with Our Baby Class's guiding principles, and others go beyond OBC's scope. Our Baby Class does not promote any particular parenting philosophy and instead urges parents to trust their instincts and do what works for themselves and their families. If you'd like to learn more about Attachment Parenting, visit Attachment Parenting International.
I've also focused on babies in this post, as attachment theory initially pertained to children under the age of two. Positive parenting (not permissive parenting) begins as soon as babies become mobile and continues throughout the parenting journey. More on positive parenting in a later post!