There is just too much to rebut in the recent controversial blog post asking “Is Attachment Parenting a Plot to Force Women Back Into the Home”? – but what annoys me the most is the discussion around the motives of those who promote attachment parenting, as well as the inaccurate description of what attachment parenting is, so I will focus there.
“The accusation that attachment parenting is something celebrities and non-profits are pushing to get women out of the workforce –is laughable, considering that most of the parents I know who subscribe to attachment parenting, are educated, working parents, myself included.”
My personal agenda in the work that I do, is to emphasize the importance of the parent’s role so that they may find comfort and peace from their intuition being validated and from their own wounds being healed. Whether or not mothers work in or outside of the home has never been a concern to me –I hope all human beings live authentic and mindful lives, in whichever way is most meaningful for them. Attachment parenting proponents (there are too many to list here, but the article points to API, La Leche League, Jamie-Lynn Grumet and Dr. Sears) are interested in promoting this philosophy, not for some misogynistic conspiracy, but:
…To provide support and validation in parents natural instincts.
The Toronto chapter of Attachment Parenting International were surveyed regarding what had influenced their parenting philosophy. A whopping 78% (108 out of 140 surveyed), responded that they were just following their instincts. Zero responded that it was due to any celebrity endorsement or religious reasons (the article says that devout Catholics are responsible for promoting breastfeeding just to get more moms to stay in the home and out of the workforce).
The Kool-Aid everyone is drinking is NOT the natural parenting movement.
We are inundated with cultural myths around parenting, everywhere you look, from popular TV shows, many doctors, and the majority of parents around. We are “should” on by these myths. That babies “should” sleep through the night by 6 months, that you “should” instill independence in your child as soon as possible, and that you “should” discipline by way of imposed consequences, you “should not” be your kids friend, etc. etc.
Parenting practises that are popularly promoted are very Us vs. Them. These myths contribute to much of the postpartum mental health issues we see today. Mothers are made to believe that they have failed when they aren’t tough enough to sleep train at 6 weeks, or that something is just innately wrong with their sweet baby. From personal experience, that is certainly how I felt when my first was born. Everything I read, and (almost) everyone I spoke to perpetuated these myths, and I started to drink the Kool-Aid too.
My husband (who did not pick up one parenting book) said the books I was reading and reporting back to him just didn’t sit right with him. It wasn’t until a male friend (thanks Erik!) who first introduced me to Dr. Sears, and finally everything fell into place. I later became a Dr. Sears certified Wellness Coach over the years have become friends with the Sears family. They have even generously volunteered their time to give free lectures in my Toronto home to my parenting support groups. When I asked how I could pay Dr. Sears, I was told the best payment would be oatmeal cookies! Does this sound like a conspiring maniac trying to keep women in the house, or a generous man who loves what he does so much, he helps others pay it forward any way he can?
It is so easy to make assumptions when you cherry pick information off the internet and haven’t met the people you slander.
…To provide up-to-date information on infant and child psychology
The article drops the line “good enough mother” in the context of stating attachment theorist John Bowlby would not have actually approved of the principles of attachment parenting as we see today. The way it is phrased, it implies that Bowlby’s “good enough mother” would decide when to respond to her baby based on the time on the clock, as opposed to co-sleeping. So let me correct the authors assertion as to what the “good enough mother” means, and what the main goal of attachment is in the grand scheme.
“Good enough mother” refers to how a baby or child experiences moments where their parent is out-of-sync or misunderstanding cues. To aid an infant to develop an appropriate, healthy and stable view of themselves and others, a primary caregiver will be able to repair the rupture through being “attuned” to emotional states of being (Ammaniti & Trentini 2009, p. 547-550).
Further, if a person is there in mind and spirit as well as body, they can read the others’ signals and adjust their response accordingly. In the mother/infant dyad this could look like the cues a baby would give to communicate his need to be picked up, fed, interacted with or changed. The good enough mother, as it was coined, would see these communication dances as neither positive nor negative, simply valuable insight, and not something personal or an indication of her failing him in any way (Kaplan, 1978, p. 136-137). Human nature and fallibility will be revealed, and parents would need to work with them.
While the baby continues to mature and experience more complex emotions such as elation, rage and sadness, an effective parent will mostly practise an empathetic stance, to time and time again communicate safety and unconditional acceptance, appreciating the need to discharge emotion. Comfort and security is deepened when one can venture forth with courage gained from the knowledge that ruptures will be repaired, and all is not lost.
According to attachment theorists (Ammaniti and Trentini, 2009, p. 540; Kaplan, 1978, p.30), from the context of an attachment bond, over time peoples’ core beliefs are organized through continuous unconditional regard, being fully present and understanding of their perspectives. So the original attachment theorists, Bowlby et al, don’t talk about co-sleeping. But does it sound like they would have advocated for a baby to cry-it-out alone?
…To provide important safety information and to save lives.
Since our culture does such an effective job of telling us what NOT to do, parents are dangerously ill-equipped for how to handle the demands of parenthood. We are told that sleeping beside your baby is as dangerous as putting a butcher knife in the bed, but we aren’t readily explained how to deal with a baby that screams to be picked up, every 15 minutes to an hour through the whole night. We are hard-wired to react with anxiety at our baby’s cries, but told to ignore these instincts – a recipe for poor mental health for the whole family. Attachment parenting support groups work to fill this gap, and teach parents how to respect the fragility of an infant, while providing a sleep environment that is safe , both physically and psychologically. We are also learning the damaging effects of shame-based and corporal punishment, but parents need a tremendous amount of support and education on what safe and effective discipline looks like. Because when you are in the trenches, the stakes are so high, attachment parenting proponents are concerned about putting an end to normative abuse, and arming families with some evidence-based, developmentally appropriate tools.
…To support nurturing children for a more compassionate world
Co-founder of Attachment Parenting International, Lysa Parker, does a brilliant Ted Talks about this, titled First three years, next three generations . Original attachment theorists felt that affording infants and children an experience of themselves as neither all-good or all-bad can lend way to “constancy” – an anchor within a person to experience a continuum of circumstances without compromising our view of ourselves and others (Kaplan, 1978, p. 25-58). It seems constancy is not only something we continue to work at our entire lives, but a state we must possess well in order to provide it for others in our care. Any relationship we enter has the potential to evoke big emotions. Kaplan (1978, p. 42-43) describes the flip-side to constancy, being “splitting” – seeing a person as one or the other, “all-good” or “all-bad”.
If a mother has weak constancy, which is tested in us all during times of great stress (Kaplan, 1978, p. 116-117) she would be greatly challenged in providing that for her children. She might sometimes view her child as a monster, and other times view him an angelic, which he could then integrate into his own image-of-self through narcissistic tendencies (Kaplan, 1978, p. 42-43). Narcissism degenerates the ability for fulfilling, meaningful relationships, and is depicted as replacing partners for new ones as soon as we are let down, or catastrophizing our view of ourselves and those we are involved with (Kaplan, 1978, p. 42-43). This epidemic of narcissism can be seen in how we treat eachother and our planet, and quite simply, we need to break the cycle.
One of the 8 principles of AP is BALANCE, and parents are supported and encouraged to build a village, as parenting is not meant to land solely on one person’s shoulders. We live in a time where we need to ‘parent the parent’ so he and she can benefit from examples of attunement and empathy, and be better equipped for parenthood. This is the intention behind attachment parenting support groups, like the ones I volunteer in. Why does it have to be so divisive? It doesn’t need to be. You can absolutely still be an “attachment parent” and work – or not, it is your choice and none of my business!
Most are linked in the article and I additionally cited the following:
Ammaniti, M. & Trentini, C. (2009). “How new knowledge about parenting reveals the neurobiological implications of intersubjectivity: A conceptual synthesis of recent research” in Psychoanalytic Dialogues. 19: 537-555.
Kaplan, L. J. (1978). Oneness and separateness: From infant to individual. New York: Touchstone.
Brandie Hadfield is mom to two boys, president of Attachment Parenting Canada, Bebo Mia’s resident Sleep Expert and an admitted work-a-holic. She loves to play video games with her boys as much as she loves to play outside.
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