Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why Attachment Parenting Didn't Work For Us

Attachment parenting, the philosophy most often associated with Dr. William Sears, has been around for more than a decade. Sears and his wife Martha, the parents of eight children, have been writing books for children and then adults since the early 1990s. The couple believes strongly in creating bonds to show children that they are loved.

The idea of the Sears philosophy is wonderful and one that most parents would agree is important. In practice, however, attachment parenting can be more complicated than Dr. Sears assumes. For starters, under their plan, the vast majority of the childcare responsibility in any family belongs to the mother. She is expected to breastfeed on demand without ever expressing milk so that the baby can have the bonding experience of breastfeeding. While that works for some moms, some mothers find that breastfeeding is not the wonderful option they may have considered. In my situation, I found that a five-pound baby and well-endowed mom do not make for a good breastfeeding combination. We moved to formula for our son to be able to move him out of the hospital after birth. While I felt horrendous guilt about that decision for a long time, I now know that it was the best choice for us. Further, some women who opt to return to work, a scenario that is not part of attachment parenting, need rest as much as their partners. Stay-at-home moms, too, need solid nights of rest to be the best for themselves and their babies.

The other issue that we encountered with attachment parenting is that it largely limits parental movement during the day. While I adored my son and enjoyed holding him, continuing my career also is important to me. That meant that even when he was a newborn, I wrote articles for websites and magazines throughout the day. I needed time to conduct interviews, write drafts, and search for new jobs. Carrying my son in a sling constantly simply did not work with those demands on my time. While I scaled back my work considerably, it still was not feasible to hold my son continually. Further, I noticed distinct differences between my son and the children we know whose parents are full attachment parenting converts. Those children often are farther behind than my son in mechanical development and coordination, a fact that I believe I directly attributable to being held and swaddled constantly.

These children are indeed kept away from playing on the floor and experiencing life outside the cocoon their parents have created. My son has a natural intensity and curiosity that we cannot squelch, and I do not believe that spending more time in a sling would have been beneficial to him. We did carry him in a sling, and in many situation, it is a blessing. When you are in a crowded area, it works much better than a stroller. It also helps for times when he needs to be close, such as on an airplane, because he is accustomed to being held closely. On the other hand, when he wanted out of it, he wanted out right then and had little patience for us trying to keep him in the sling. In fact, by six weeks, he much preferred a front carrier to a sling because the sling kept him so tightly bound to us that he did not enjoy it.

Parenting for me should be about how to raise your child to be a great adult. That is our responsibility; we are here to prepare the kids for a time when they are on their own. Our job is to help make sure they will be prepared for that time and will be able to make excellent decisions. Part of that, then, is making what we do in the best interests of our children. With the baby we are now expecting, an attachment parenting style may work. With our son, it did not. He came out of the womb wanting more independence than attachment parenting allows for babies. Our best choice was to pick the best of AP for our own lives and then pass on the other parts that are not applicable to us. That is what I learned as a new parent, and I am hoping to make the best of that idea on the next go-round.

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