The Attachment Parenting Turncoat

Like every other first-time-pregnant, obsessive-middle-class-white-woman-with-a-blog, I spent my pregnancy reading all the birth and parenting books, watching all the birth and parenting docos and bookmarking all the birth and parenting blogs. What quickly became clear to me was that there were two types of parents: Attachment Parents, and lazy, selfish parents. So I signed up. I had found my ‘tribe.’ Attachment parenting or AP had all the things I like – it was natural-leaning, sounded like a place where science met instinct, was enough hard work to feel guilt-free about stopping paid work for awhile and would allow for all kinds of smugness.

I am now 9 months postpartum and I am ready to call BS on this AP thing. I am exhausted and I no longer believe that being this tired is simply part of being a caring parent. Ultimately, my instincts no longer match up with what attachment parenting advocates have told me. So I’m out.

I’m starting my own parenting tribe.. it’s called Semi-Detached Parenting – everyone gets sleep and space, there is both the soft kind of kindness and the firm kind of kindness.

Plenty has been said about what type of children and adults attachment parenting raises but honestly who the fuck knows what conditions create the ‘right’ type of humans? What I would like to discuss is the impact of AP on the whole family unit and specifically the mother.

Based on my experience, I would proffer that attachment parenting is only possible if you:

A.) Live in a commune/village/extended family home.

B.) Never leave the house.

C.) Don’t drive.

D.) Your baby has zero issues with, or aversions to breastfeeding, sleeping or being worn.

So basically for 99% of modern western parents, it’s not possible. Nor, I would argue, is it even beneficial, at least not when practiced dogmatically. Here’s an actual, real stat: 23% of mothers who believe in intensive motherhood (or AP) suffer from signs of depression; among average mothers, this applies only to 6.7%. *

So AP is not only exhausting and unrealistic for one primary caregiver to maintain, it is potentially even dangerous, creating the perfect conditions for PND and anxiety.

And here’s the thing about attachment – it happens regardless of babywearing/ cosleeping/ lack of tears. Plus there are real benefits and important lessons to be learned through fostering autonomy and independence.

I’d like to rave a little about each of the tenets of AP now so get comfy.

Natural birth: I’ve already blogged about how my homebirth ended up in a nightmarish hospital scenario. Having been convinced that a natural home birth was the only kind of childbirth experience to be proud of and cherish, I am left with an immense sense of failure and disappointment about how mine turned out. The tone of natural birthing discussion is that anything else is a failure.. a failure to properly relax or a failure to have the right environment/ birth team/ meditation/ type of scented candle. There is little to no discussion about the uncontrollable aspects and various alternative outcomes and how one should feel when things go awry.

Breastfeeding:  Wonderful for some, awful for others. For some, it’s difficult to the point of depression, anxiety and/or being in constant pain. If you enjoy breastfeeding or you simply found it tricky until you got the hang of it, please consider yourself lucky. And then shut up. Because you have no idea what it’s like to deal with a tongue-tie or low milk supply or D-MER (abnormal hormonal response to let down) or ongoing pain or whatever other issues you were lucky enough not to experience. And at some point there has to be a point where breast is not actually best for everyone involved. Breastfeeding is a relationship so it needs to work for both parties.. not just the baby at any cost to the mother. And deciding when it’s simply not worth continuing has to be a personal decision. For myriad reasons, I do not enjoy breastfeeding. But as an organic vegan and a control freak, my other options are non-existent, therefore I continue to feed and simply wait for the day my baby turns her nose up at the boob and I drink a few bottles of champagne to celebrate.

Of course I need to explain all that to you all because that’s what we respect right? Mothers suffering for their babies? No matter how difficult or painful breastfeeding is, we should all do it, right? Push on through. Or as my baby’s integrated health doctor put it when I expressed how hard I was finding breastfeeding and how depressed it was making me, “toughen up.” But my continued discomfort and exhaustion don’t make me a better mum than if I had stopped breastfeeding and given my baby formula. In fact it could even make me a worse mum. It definitely hindered rather than helped my bonding experience at the start, making my baby appear to me as a life-sucking vampire at times. And while I get to enjoy the smugness of an exclusive breastfeeder, I still feel like a failure.

Here’s my advice to new mums: Do whatever the fuck you want! Seriously. I’m not even putting conditions on that. It’s your body, your baby and holy shit parenthood already comes with enough built-in guilt.. when did we as a society decide it was OK to pile it on?!  Women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies. That right extends to breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding till your baby is ten years old, or not breastfeeding at all. If you are feeding your baby something and your baby is therefore not starving to death and you also give it cuddles, well done – you’re parenting perfectly.

Babywearing:
A great way to get shit done until your baby is old enough to sit and play alone. And an absolute lifesaver for those with colic-y/clingy/sleepless babes. It’s handy and smart. So why is the cult of babywearing full of such dicks?! It’s handy AF, that’s enough of a reason for me to wear my baby. It’s a happy bonus if it’s also good for her immune system/heart rate/breathing/blood pressure. It’s also a no-brainer and surely one of the most basic and common ways of transporting a baby in every culture since the beginning of time. So why all the fuss? Just wear your baby. Wear them as much as you and they like. No need for #wearallthebabies hashtags and scoffing at strollers. I personally believe in the idea of keeping a baby close for the first 3 months. I also believe in everyone’s right and need for personal space and solitude. Even a baby’s. Some people are more physical than others, some babies actually hate being worn.

Advice for new parents: Try before you buy – there are carrier libraries so don’t waste heaps of cash on 3 types of carrier while pregnant only to discover your baby can’t stand any of them. Also, if and when your baby is so heavy that it hurts you, I promise you that if you stop carrying them, it won’t affect your attachment. Also, try not to become a dick.

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Co-sleeping: We bedshared until 2 months old and coslept until 6 months. What felt cosy and natural with a brand new out-of-womb Being felt increasingly like encroaching on each other’s personal space as Anaïs grew. The close proximity to our babe certainly added to my new mum anxiety, making me jump (and feed) at the slightest noise or movement, which of course led to her having a hard time linking sleep cycles. When she left our bed, her sleep improved. Again when she left our room. Although walking to another room at night to feed is a major drag, once I’m back in my bed I’m far more relaxed and sleep better.

The key here is to know what you’re getting yourself into. Yes it’s potentially good for a newborn’s health but it’s also good for a baby’s health (and mum’s sanity) for a baby to learn to sleep! Not to mention the benefits to the family unit when the parents are gettin’ some.

The reality is, plenty of children do well with longterm bedsharing and are great sleepers, but take a look at any natural parenting community forum and you’ll see that it’s not uncommon for bedsharing babies to turn into bad sleepers for years to come. And you thought sleeping while pregnant was uncomfortable? Wait till you’re wrapped around a human who’s big enough to bruise you when they punch and kick.

In my not-at-all-expert opinion, you have 4 options when it comes to sleep:

1. Have a baby who magically sleeps really well and convince yourself it was because you did all the right things.

2. Apparently if you let 0-4 month olds grizzle and wriggle for bit rather than being uber-responsive velcro-mum, they learn to link sleep cycles early on. I can’t attest to this but it sounds reasonable.

3. Sleep training of some kind.

4. Coping with a wakeful baby for as long as is takes (which sounds like a viable option to the well-slept).

When I got on board bedsharing and ultra-responsiveness, I had no idea I was potentially signing up for years of sleep deprivation and 9 months in, I can confidently say I am NOT on board with that. I’ve been doing a kind of fading technique for 3 months now. It’s been effective and kind but SLOW and of course I’m smug AF about not crying-it-out but as the night waking continues (albeit, with less frequency) and as my daughter’s cries now vary between ‘I’m in distress’ and simply ‘I’m not getting everything I want in this second,’ my CIO friends are starting to look like the smug ones – with fewer bags and perfectly happy babies.

Elimination Communication: This, I actually think is brilliant. But only because I’ve found a lazy-arsed way of doing it. Anaïs has used a potty a few times a day since she was 2 weeks old, she also happily uses a nappy.  Basically it reduces the amount of nappies I have to wash and most of her ‘serious’ toileting happens on a potty, which is a hell of lot less messy and disgusting to clean than a soiled backside. To do 100% nappyfree and also have a life/ leave the house would be a crap load more work. Even at home, fulltime nappyfree would require watching your child every minute of the day and frankly I have other shit to do. Plus following her around to watch her face and interrupting her play to use a potty is the very definition of helicopter parenting. I’m happy my baby has become increasingly independent and I truly believe that alone time and solo play is just as important as interaction and affection, and that learning through uninterrupted play is more important than religiously learning practical skills.

No Crying: By far the most fucked up idea in AP is that babies shouldn’t cry. I’m tempted to simply write LOL at this but the extent to which this idea alone is damaging, stressful and just downright wrong leads me to elaborate. Again and again while researching AP I was told that babies needn’t cry. That they cry to communicate discomfort but if you take care of all their needs and keep them close, they will be happy, contented and quiet. *clears throat… UM… Bullshit. Babies cry. A lot. Some cry more than others but they all cry, it’s normal and IT’S OK. It’s already stressful and emotionally exhausting when your baby is crying but if you’re also thinking they shouldn’t cry, that you’re doing something wrong, your anxiety levels are bound to go through the roof. Babies cry in the ‘witching hour’, in the car, even in the baby carrier.

Advice to new parents: buy earplugs and DO NOT read any articles that talk about how African babies never cry. Here’s the thing about crying – it comes in many, many forms. The best way to be a responsive parent is not to try to avoid crying, it is to LISTEN to the cries. Work out the different ones, pay attention. Learn which cries require which response.

Here’s what attachment parenting doesn’t acknowledge:

  • Any parent that cares for and about their child will form secure attachments. Children who form no secure attachments are either seriously neglected or psychopaths… and as far as I know, AP is not a cure for psychopathy.
  • ‘Natural’ parenting is sometimes kindness and sometimes firmness.
  • It is natural and healthy for babies and mothers to gradually have more space from each other over the first year of a child’s life.
  • A baby needs autonomy and downtime as much as it needs stimulation and closeness. Newborns are SO easily overstimulated… even carrying, holding, smiling at or feeding can be stimulating. Keeping my newborn close sometimes meant keeping her constantly stimulated.
  • Children need to learn that they live as part of a family and wider society, that their needs are not more important than anyone else’s and that compromise is required on everyone’s part for the continued happiness and comfort of the group.

One of the ideas of attachment parenting is that it’s the most instinctual form of parenting, but as I have slowly moved away from this type of parenting, my anxiety levels have dropped and my instincts are far more clear to me. I find it much easier now to tell my instincts apart from my hormones or my anxiety. I know now when my baby is truly distressed and when she is not. My instincts told me that my baby would sleep better in her own room at a certain point and she did. My instincts tell me she can and should learn to wait. Instinct is what tells us how to parent our own children in a manner that fits us and them specifically – it’s far from instinctual to take a regime or set of rules and apply them to every parent, child or situation.

So here I am, a converted AP parent. A ‘lazy, selfish’ mum according to my judgey earlier-self. Because that is what I believe my family needs. I need physical space, timeout and sleep. So do the other humans in my house. And the more we as parents take care of our needs, the more we enjoy parenting and the happier The Baby is.

 

Click here for my thoughts on BLW and starting solids early.

*From a 2014  University of Mary Washington study

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The Attachment Parenting Turncoat

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