Attachment Parenting: More Discussion On Its Pros And Cons

There’s an interesting discussion that’s taking place on several sites simultaneously, and rather than responding to comments down below one of my more recent Attachment Parenting posts, I thought I’d highlight the discussion here, since lots of us are interested.

Many of us are confused when we read parenting advice by “gurus” like Dr. Sears (who coined the term “Attachment Parenting”), because it makes us wonder whether we’re doing a terrible disservice to our children if we use some form of “Cry It Out”, DON’T co-sleep, engage in “babywearing”, or do “extended breastfeeding”. Poor Susanna came over to BabyShrink, after feeling scolded by AP proponents when she tried the “Cry It Out” (CIO) approach in a desperate attempt to get her son to sleep. We’ve continued to discuss the issues, with Annie at PhDinParenting bravely supporting her beliefs here, and elsewhere.

Annie left a link on a fascinating, very thorough anthropological review article looking at aspects of “natural parenting” worldwide. If you’ve got the time to read through the 82 page document — go for it. Seriously, it’s extremely interesting. I certainly find very little to quarrel with in the report. Perhaps Annie doesn’t realize it, but here at BabyShrink we agree that responsive, “tuned-in” parenting is crucial in child development, and that physical — and emotional — contact, and very involved care, is an essential component in the ultimate well-being of a child. And that the lessons learned from in-depth study of attachment — via well-accepted research — informs our approach and intentions.

But the research review that Annie showed us mainly focuses on the young infants we ALL agree need to have close, physical contact and deeply involved parenting. It doesn’t extend much to a discussion of toddlers and preschoolers, which is the group most often asked about at BabyShrink. It also doesn’t tell us that the “Attachment Parenting” approach is somehow BETTER than the “Good Enough” parenting we strive for.

My beef is with those who take excellent research, and make unwarranted generalizations about it. The research shows us that excessive crying and non-responsive parenting is bad for the development of babies. –Well, duh. The research does NOT say, for instance, that a certain amount of crying, in the service of getting an older baby or toddler to sleep through the night, in their crib — is a bad thing.

The bottom line here is that I’m against any sort of “holier than thou” parenting approach that doesn’t respect individual differences in babies’ temperaments and family circumstances. Good Enough is GOOD ENOUGH — and there’s research to support THAT. You don’t have to be a perfect parent, and in fact in trying, you can make everyone nuts. There are far too many parents out there on “information overload”, worried that they are daily making bad decisions for their kids, and in the process, not learning to trust their own best instincts as parents. You know your child best. I’ve always said to take what I say, or what any “expert” advises, with a grain of salt. Take what makes sense, leave the rest, and improvise from there.

Do I think Attachment Parenting can be applied with excellent results? Of course. Are there AP parents who are doing a fantastic job? Absolutely. But there is a vocal AP minority who insist on spreading the “gospel” to those of us who don’t appreciate the prosteletyzing — and whose children are turning out pretty great, thank you very much.

FOR MORE OF DR. HEATHER’S THOUGHTS ON ATTACHMENT PARENTING, SEE THIS POST, AND THIS ONE TOO. IT’S BECOME A HEATED TOPIC!

Dr. Heather
The BabyShrink

Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Welcome to BabyShrink.com, where parents turn for open, honest and direct answers to questions regarding their babies, toddlers and children up to age seven. Dr. Heather, the author of BabyShrink, is a licensed psychologist specializing in child development. She's also the mother of four young children, which gives her the unique ability to respond to parents' inquiries about the social, emotional and behavioral development of your children from both clinical and practical points of view.

Posted in Attachment Parenting, Baby Behavior Problems, Popular: Baby Solutions Tagged with: , , ,
6 comments on “Attachment Parenting: More Discussion On Its Pros And Cons
  1. Marsha says:

    I just stumbled on this site because of your post regarding “Outliers”. Didn’t know there was a term “attachment parenting”, but did read Dr. Sears years ago so I am familiar with his concepts.

    From my perspective, there is a basic disconnect whenever people dogmatically adhere to a particular approach in child rearing or probably anything else. My take-home from the reading I did when my children were little is that paying attention to the way children are responding will give you important information about what they need and how you can best support them in their growth process. The comment that I agree with that Dr. Heather makes, is recognizing the context of the family. I am very cautious when I share with young parents who happen to know my grown children, how we parented, because I know that our family model won’t work for lots of people. Being fairly unstructured and flexible comes naturally to me, but many, many families do best with structure. One size, as you point out, does not fit all.

    I suspect the contention between the two groups mentioned in this blog, may derive in part due to a misunderstanding or misapplication of some of the principles involved. I can’t speak for the APs mentioned here, but it never occurred to me that wearing my child meant he/she could not choose to get down.

    One of the most instructive quotes I heard as a young mother, was that “it is best for children to walk away from parents not the other way around.” It followed also that taking cues from the child will guide parenting fairly successfully. I found both to be very true.

    By paying attention, then, you allow the wiggly child who doesn’t want to be held, to not be held, or the child who does need that reassurance, to stay closer at hand. I noticed through time that my childrens’ needs in this regard varied both as they matured and on whatever activities they happened to be doing.

    My daughter, the risk taker, needed far more times of touching base with me to “recharge” her courage, then launched out again to conquer the next physical or emotional challenge. My son, less adventurous, needed me when he needed me, but less intensely.

    My children went to public school, private school and homeschooled. Again, same principle applies. No dogma can decide what is best for a child. When one of my kids needed something different, we simply changed gears.

    The last comment I would make is that by seeing my role as a parent to be facilitator, it allowed me to support what ever goals my children showed up with. They felt fully in control of their decisions and reached for goals far bigger than I would ever have imagined for them. They had no need to rebel during their teenage years and never were subject to peer pressure to drink or do drugs. As adults, they now achieve in their respective fields with originality and passion.

    I wish you all the best in the wonderful adventure of parenting!

  2. Dr. Heather says:

    ANNIE:

    “Good Enough” is a term that comes from the late, great Donald Winnicott — my hero. He wanted to reassure nervous parents that of COURSE we sometimes will get it wrong — but our kids will turn out just fine, in spite of our missteps. And that in fact, striving to be “perfect” can send a damaging message to kids; that somehow there is some standard of “perfection” in human relationships, and babies actually need some measure of “imperfection” in their relationships with their parents in order to grow and develop as healthy individuals. (If you’re interested in more on Winnicott, you can start with Wikipedia).

    I’m all for doing the best we can. And I assume that my readers are doing the basics; providing loving, caring, safe and well-structured homes and relationships to nurture the optimal growth of their children. But there are questions beyond that, and we mull those over here. And most of those questions simply do NOT have a “perfect” answer, in every case — and my readers and I are sick and tired of mainstream (or otherwise) parenting media that tells us otherwise.

    Our children are unique and complicated, and so are we. We want a parenting approach that appreciates that fact, and that helps parents be the best “experts” about their own kids.

    Another tip: advice that comes off as critical is usually a turn-off to those you wish to influence. That’s also been my personal experience with uninvited criticism from AP parents; it left a permanently bad taste in my mouth about the whole approach. Which is unfortunate, because there are certainly some aspects that I agree with and find helpful in certain families.

  3. Dr. Heather says:

    HI ESTHER:

    I’m so glad to “meet” you!

    I’m also glad that an MD is supporting my thoughts about AP; I sometimes feel strange criticizing Dr. Sears and other MDs, as they’re out of my professional scope of practice.

    But I certainly can comment on the literature, and I love it; I am a huge fan of Jerome Kagan and many others, and it seems to me that researchers in this area tend to support, rather than conflict with, each other in their findings. Attachment theory also sort of started the current batch of contemporary research, so of course the original thinkers didn’t answer all the questions, but they get huge credit in my book for opening up the area of inquiry.

    Believe it or not, I actually credit early psychoanalytic thinkers with starting this whole fabulous area of infant development research. After all, the Freuds and their followers (and the reactionaries against the Freuds, including Melanie Klein, Winnicott, etc.) were the first to make it even remotely acceptable to wonder about the powerful nature of the mother/infant bond, and the miracle of infant development. Today, psychoanalytic thinking is more accepted in Early Intervention/infant development programs than just about anywhere else. And that’s a good thing. (Maybe one day I’ll explain that further.)

    So; I love it all. But the AP stuff has always been on the fringe, to me, in terms of research support. As I have always said, I know and love several families out there who are friends and raising great kids, using the AP approach. But the application of the ideas is what bothers me; I LOVE the word “sanctimommies” that I ran across on your site — that scolding, prostelytizing attitude really bugs me, and unfortunately I get a lot of that from the AP direction.

  4. WonderingWilla says:

    I think that you misunderstand the concept of ‘good enough’. It suggests that, of course, you’re going to make mistakes and the child actually benefits from that on his or her road to independence and confidence.

    As for the striving for an A thing, there’s not necessarily a lot of value in that at the end of the day. As a doctor friend said to me once, ‘You know what they call the person who graduated last in his medical school class … Doctor.’

  5. Thank you for your post.

    I just wanted to clarify that I’m not suggesting people try to be perfect parents or trying to suggest that I am a perfect parent.

    That said, I’ve never been good at accepting “good enough”. I never understood people that said they would only study hard enough to get a B. I didn’t know how to do that. I had to at least try to get an A, even if it meant that I got Bs sometimes. I’d rather try to be the best and can be and end up being “good enough” than trying to be “good enough” and failing.

    You said yourself in another post “That’s what BabyShrink is all about….striving for the best, but being satisfied with “Good Enough”” But we cannot strive to be the best unless we have good information on what “the best” is and why it is “the best”.

    I am trying to discover what the best is for myself (with no guarantees that I’m always on the mark, since research and science are continually evolving) and if it helps others along the way, then great.

  6. Estherar says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Dr. Sears and the AP zealots are what inspired me to take up blogging in the first place. I’ve written quite a bit about the research used (or rather, misused) in the name of AP. I don’t think there’s a blog or a board which mentions the subject that Annie doesn’t pounce on with her gospel.

    I’ve critiqued the anti-CIO and pro-AP ‘science’ in various blogposts as well, and am glad a bona fide psychologist is weighing in on the subject as well (alas, all I have is an MD. Like Dr. Sears.).

    I was also wondering what you thought, as a psychologist, of the validity of attachment theory in general vs. other psychological theories, e.g., Jerome Kagan. My feeling is that the ‘truth’ is somewhere in the middle, but I’d love to hear your take on it.

    Esther ( http://mainstreamparenting.wordpress.com )

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