An Unscientific Reason to Attachment Parent
Posted February 28, 2010
If you attachment parent (AP), then you believe in the principals laid out by Attachment Parenting International. This type of parenting has been popularized, in large part, by Dr. William Sears, who has his own list of "Baby B's." AP emphasizes on bonding with your newborn, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and responding to your baby's cries. In essence, it means following your natural instincts as a parent - to snuggle and love and soothe your baby.
Baby training (BT) methods, which often go hand-in-hand with letting babies "cry it out" (CIO), follow a very different style of of parenting. Made popular in books like Babywise, these methods encourage parents to resist the "temptation" to "give in" to the desire to feed, hold, or soothe their crying babies. Attention is dispensed according to a disciplined schedule designed to teach babies when it's okay to need food, diapering, or human contact.
You Can't Actually Train a Newborn
BT promotes the idea that a baby's needs can be managed and controlled. This can be a welcome idea for overwhelmed, tired new parents. Unfortunately, it's not true. The needs of a baby, especially a new baby, are very high and cannot be "managed" away. New babies are also biologically incapable of being trained to sleep or eat on a schedule, so training a baby is simply not a realistic goal.
You Can Train A Parent
Parents, unlike new babies, can be trained. If a new mom is instructed not to "give in" to her baby's cries, and this type of "disciplined" parenting is encouraged by everyone around her, she can be conditioned to repress her natural urge to hold and soothe her baby. Her baby won't actually learn to need less human contact - he will still cry. He'll just be ignored. A continually ignored baby may finally become detached after enough isolation - giving up on the parents who won't "give in" to him, but many babies will just keep crying - hoping for those moments when the BT schedule decides their cries will be answered.
Will Your Early Parenting Style Decide Your Child's Fate?
Does BT, CIO style parenting turn children into cold, psychotic delinquents? No. Does AP guarantee happy, successful, loving children? No. So many parents who argue the relative merits of these parenting styles (and the continuum between them) focus on whether or not a kid can "turn out just fine" one way or the other.*
Your choice of early parenting style will certainly affect how your baby relates to you and likely reflects how you feel about your child or having children in general. Your choice of parenting style will have some impact on your child's personality, too, but it will get mixed in with hundreds of other factors in determining how he "turns out," including general health, genetics, education, peer group, siblings, environment, cultural influences, talents, preferences, and many other things.
Why Bother Attachment Parenting, or Even Breastfeeding?
So why bother attachment parenting? Why even bother breastfeeding for that matter? Breastfeeding, of course, has a more direct, objective impact on health and intelligence (some studies debate aspects of the IQ claim, but most research supports it). There are, however, plenty of formula-fed children who "turn out just fine" by adulthood. For the sake of argument, let's even pretend that baby-trained, formula-fed kids "turn out" no different that breastfed, attachment-parented ones.
More Effort, More Commitment, and More Awesome
Guess what? Attachment parenting is still a much nicer way to live. Yes, it's more work. It takes more time, and more commitment to being a mom or dad. Breastfeeding alone is a huge undertaking, especially if you have to go back to work while your kids are still little. The thing is, you had a baby. Don't fight the situation - enjoy it! Snuggle him, comfort him, hold him, love him, play with him. Forget your hairdo and miss the call. Let him take up your time and invade your life, you'll be glad you did.
I'm not talking to the parents who are just trying to survive and cannot AP or breastfeed for reasons beyond their control (working two jobs to pay rent, medical problems, etc...). They probably don't have time to read parenting and breastfeeding blogs. I'm talking to people who spend so much time and energy trying to manage their children and protect some highly marketed idea of "my precious child-free time" that parenting becomes a miserable chore.
Babies Are Not Evil
We all have times we just want to take a long, quiet bath or finish writing a blog post or have a uninterrupted conversation with our spouse. We all want to put on nice clothes and go out for a glass of wine with friends on occasion. What I don't understand is the fearful, defiant reaction some people have to attachment parenting and the sadly common attitude that babies are selfish manipulators trying to horn in on the lives of their parents.
You're expected to hope and pray for a beautiful baby, but the second that baby comes out you'd better "watch out" for that kid.** It's like your baby is some menacing stalker. With a deadly serious look, someone will warn you, "Too much coddling and before you know it, they'll want to be held all the time!" Quick - file a restraining order! Or just leave them alone in a crib sobbing their little heart out, that'll teach 'em. I don't get it.
Throw All the Science Out the Window and AP and BF Still Win
Yes, there are lots of scientific (psychological and medical) reasons to attachment parent and breastfeed. But the argument for attachment parenting practices - like breastfeeding, cosleeping, and lavishing your child with love - doesn't hinge on those studies. That's why articles like Hanna Rosin's "The Case Against Breastfeeding" and "gotcha" press releases like this one (describing one study that indicates increased intelligence in breastfed babies may be due to genetics) have little impact on my views of parenting. Attachment parenting and breastfeeding aren't about winning a medal or creating a perfect child, they're about giving yourself permission to love your children and enjoy the awesome experience of being a parent.
*I have noticed that "turn out just fine" is a phrase used a lot by people defending a parenting practice they don't feel good about.
** common parental advice, but do we really need to "watch out" and protect ourselves from helpless infants?