Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Attachment Parenting: A Critical View

Attachment Parenting, according to a few experts it is the best way of parenting and results in happy children and devoted parents. I haven't seen it. Having known too many children raised with "Attachment Parenting" and seeing their resentful parents who are dealing with hostile, insecure children, it is easy to see where the errors in attachment parenting lie.

It is a difficult topic to discuss because if you are against AP, you are a "detached", uncaring, selfish parent. If your child is expected to sleep alone in their own bed and God forbid in their own room, they are said to be in a state of "learned helplessness". The propaganda is powerful and appeal to the emotions. AP is all about "feelings". Feeling good about yourself as a parent and making your baby or child feel good. Anything difficult or hard is to be avoided. You could call it the novus ordization of parenting.

But what is Attachment Parenting?:

1. "Baby wearing" or carrying your child in a sling for most of their waking moments.
2. Extended breastfeeding until the child self weans. This can means years. Some children are breastfed until the age of 6 or 7. If a new baby comes along both children are breastfed called tandem nursing.
3. Co-sleeping, the family bed. The children who want to (and who wouldn't?) sleep in bed with Mom and Dad for as long as they want to - oops I mean need to.
4. No spanking, for any reason and at any time.

The biggest promoters of this method of parenting are Dr. William Sears, and Catholic author and social worker, Gregory Popcak. Mr. Popcak on his blog, Heart, Mind, Strength asked for comments about AP. He has declared that empirically AP is the best method of parenting. As we corresponded, Mr. Popcak expressed astonishment that anyone could oppose or argue with AP and questioned if deep down I was not as happy as I said I was and was protesting too much. He attempted that old trick, if you disagree with me you must be crazy. Maybe a child raised through AP would have fallen for that but unlike most people Mr. Popcak deals with I have a little more confidence than that.

What happens with Attachment Parenting?:

Physically, Mom and Dad are exhausted and soon become resentful and frustrated. They never get enough sleep because the children are sleeping with them. The children never get enough sleep because everyone is tossing and turning all night. The day begins with everyone cranky and overtired, and goes downhill from there. The parents never spend any time alone because the "needs" of the children come first. Mom is breastfeeding one or more children for years. The constant exposure to breast milk can cause dental caries in children. Two of my friends who practiced extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping had to have their toddler's front teeth pulled because they had rotted. Wearing a child (what a dehumanizing concept as if a child were an accessory!) causes physical delays. One mother became concerned when her 22 month old did not walk or speak. He required occupational therapy and speech therapy. Being carried in a sling, in a zombie like state, reduced his opportunities for tactile experiences and physical exertion. Though he never cried (why would he?) he was being neglected, though quite unintentionally.

The parents resort to NFP to delay or forgo any further parenting. How can they possibly be open to life when they are completely overwhelmed? And besides if it is all about "feeling good", having another baby just doesn't meet that criteria. The result is smaller families, fewer children and selfishness is reinforced.

Emotionally, the child learns that the whole world revolves around him. He never learns self control, self denial, coping mechanisms or independence. Implicitly he is being told that he is incapable. Naturally he feels his parents' resentment. Emotionally the marriage suffers because Mom is totally wrapped up in her children. They occupy the master bedroom while Dad is left to fend for himself. Sometimes even resulting in the Dad in the basement syndrome that this author discusses.

What you have is the appeasement and indulgence of children as a parenting method. Though it sounds so compassionate, much like liberalism, its results are extremely hostile, selfish and insecure children. I don't know about you but I have never met an hostile, selfish and insecure person who managed to be happy. The "experts" mistake contentment or physical satisfaction for joy. AP parents teach their children to avoid all pain, inconvenience and discontent. Christianity is the antidote for this though that would require thinking rather than just feeling.

If we are raising saints, missionaries and martyrs, children must learn sacrifice, austerity, self control, self denial and responsibility. Are we raising saints or consumers? Catholics or pagans? A child has needs but those needs must be distinguished from wants. AP tells us that any "want" a child expresses is really a need and the parents have to respond accordingly. Does this sound like a role reversal? The wisdom of the innocents must be listened to by the adults? So we repudiate what parents know is correct in favor of what a 2 year old thinks he needs. And we repudiate generations of parenting.

To be a good parent- listen to your parents, your grandparents and learn what works. Learn what actually produces happy, well adjusted, confident and unselfish children. You can see the results. You know the children as adults. That is success. When we adopt AP we think back on all the "mistakes" our parents made. We become self pitying, ungrateful little wretches. The world doesn't need any more of those. There are enough liberal democrats.

"Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying too zealously, to make it too easy for them." Goethe


Madeline said...

Great Article!! It's too bad that Mr. Popcak doesn't understand the "happiness" that comes from success after exertion.

The application of this principle begins when a child first scoots himself over to the object he sees on the floor, or takes the spoon from your hand so he can feed himself. As any well-adjusted person knows, the self-esteem and confidence of someone who achieves for himself, is so much greater than that of someone to whom everything is given; even though the resultant material situation may be equal.

Instinctively, we admire individuals who struggle for success (even when they fail - who doesn't love the underdog?), more than those in whom a feeling of entitlement has been fostered.

The struggle necessarily begins small (learning to walk, conquering fear of the dark, going to school). It is the cumalative effect of these successes that molds the man, and what type of character he will have. When the child's natural development is stifled by his cotton cage, how will he ever develope the confidence necessary to fight the good fight?

Dymphna said...

I've read Mr. Popcak's blog and it really annoys me the way he attacks anybody who's against attachment parenting. If a grown man actually prefers sleeping in his own bed alone with his wife Mr. Popcak calls him selfish and inconsiderate.

I think attachment parenting will lead to a lot strained marriages before the fad finally burns itself out. If dad is forced out of his own bed so mom can sleep with the kids unless he's a saint he will not be happy for very long.

Jamie Carin said...

Wow! I am glad you wrote this!

JayG said...

Everything I needed to know about Attached Parenting - thanks for the brief, to-the-point, and well written post. The comparison to liberalism is striking, good call Mary.

It seems like if you overemphasize the parenting, you de-emphasize the family.

Thomas Shawn said...

AP - Sounds like some upper middle class, white overreaction to DP (detachment parenting.) The confusion is also intensified by contracepting families where the couple has their first baby at 35.

They are so unfamiliar with babies (as they each have only 1-2 siblings each tightly constrained within 3-4 years of age of themselves) that they need to resort to the stupid, untried theories of some internet marriage swami.

My mother had five, so I know where I'm going for advice.

Mr. Popchack also posted this, "Life's Harsh Lessons 'Make You More Gullible.'People who have suffered life's hard knocks while growing up tend to be more gullible than those who have been more sheltered, startling new findings from the University of Leicester reveal."

I have a little more faith in common sense than the University of Leicester.

Mr. Popchak's blog seem specifically designed to cause damge to the Church and her flock.

Sumara said...

What a load of useless, judgemental, generalising, ignorant garbage.
The huge, real community of very happy, very well-adjusted, well-rested, thriving attachment parents and children must just be a figment of someone's imaginations I suppose.
Honestly - you have no idea what you are talking about. I could go on correcting your ridiculous assertions, but I'm sure you won't listen (after all, if I disagree with YOU, I must be crazy - well done living out the exact trait you hate so much in others.).

Sumara said...

Oh, and if you're worried about Attachment Parenting being "heretical", you should know that there are plenty of Christian (including Catholic) APers out here in the real world. Christ himself treated small children with more respect than you seem to think they deserve - and isn't our role to aspire to be as much like Christ as possible?

Sif said...

Jayg, this is about as "everything you need to know about AP" as "addition is everything you need to know about maths"...

Even the four point description of AP didn't cover the EIGHT points of AP as decribed by Attachment Parenting International, including attaining family balance (that is, for parents as well as children, but without emotionally harming children).

My children have firm boundaries on their behaviour, they learn respect for other's needs as well as gaining respect for their own needs. They are physically, emotionally, and psychologically well developed, and I'm a Childhood Development Specialist (Master Degree level) - so I ought to know...

This reads like religious clap-trap to me, and besides reeking of ignorance for the subject, it doesn't seem to identify AP at all, as AP parenting, in their quest to meet their children's needs, would not handicap their children in society, therefore if the child is handicapped by the parenting, it cannot be AP parenting...

Ignorance is Bliss, isn't it, because it allows you to assume the position that if only people listened to you, the world would not be in the state it's in today...

Think about this though (you like to think, right?)... The parenting you're against, is the parenting that was widely abandoned in Western society some 60 or so years ago, in preference of a more "scientific" approach, So, our older Baby Boomers are the result of modern parenting, people like George Bush Jr, who thinks war is the only way to solve anything...

With crime and violence having blown out in the past half century, with suicide at an all time high, and with parenting being soooo scientific now (all those feeding and sleeping schedules), you'd think the world would be a more respectful, selfless place, wouldn't you...

Yeah, the way our parents and grandparents parented is REALLY working, isn't it...

caz said...

Oh wow! I haven't read such an angry and bitter piece of unresearched and unrepresentative writing for ages!

I imagine there is little point in undertaking a full critique of your article to indicate the numerous fallacies and assumptions that undermine your obvious passion for your subject.

However, I would like to point out your most obvious error, the one that does the most disservice to your readers and to your credibility.

The "straw man" fallacy is evident in your misrepresentation of Attachment Parenting. There are two common reasons for a writer to do this. Possibly, the position being argued for has little merit and would not stand up against a true representation of Attachment Parenting. Alternatively, your error could merely be an indication of failure to thoroughly research the subject.

For someone making such categorical statements, you seem very light on evidence.

On a more personal note, I hope you find whatever it is you are looking for, Mary. Your harsh judgement of other parents seeking to raise their children as best they can in difficult times seems very out of step with Christ's teachings.

Your anger against these people seems to indicate a deepseated need unmet. Were you raised by detached parents?

caz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
caz said...

Oh wow! I haven't read such an angry and bitter piece of unresearched and unrepresentative writing for ages!

I imagine there is little point in undertaking a full critique of your article to indicate the numerous fallacies and assumptions that undermine your obvious passion for your subject.

However, I would like to point out your most obvious error, the one that does the most disservice to your readers and to your credibility.

The "straw man" fallacy is evident in your misrepresentation of Attachment Parenting. There are two common reasons for a writer to do this. Possibly, the position being argued for has little merit and would not stand up against a true representation of Attachment Parenting. Alternatively, your error could merely be an indication of failure to thoroughly research the subject.

For someone making such categorical statements, you seem very light on evidence.

On a more personal note, I hope you find whatever it is you are looking for, Mary. Your harsh judgement of other parents seeking to raise their children as best they can in difficult times seems very out of step with Christ's teachings.

Your anger against these people seems to indicate a deepseated need unmet. Were you raised by detached parents?

M. Alexander said...

My dear Caz, Sumara and Sif,

Thank you for your comments. I would be very happy to consider anything you have to say. I make my case based on what I have observed with families who employ or resort to "Attachment Parenting".

Strange I do not know where in the Bible Christ advocated attachment parenting or any of its accoutrements. Please enlighten me.

Have no fears about how I was parented. I've turned out just fine- I'm surprised you don't immediately come to that conclusion just reading my blog. Astonishing.

In both cases some of you say that it would be useless to correct my statements. I believe this is a bit of the AP attitude creeping in. Everything, is just too much trouble! Because you are too overtired to really make any effort at anything worthwhile.

I wish you and your families the very best.

Guadalupe said...


I haven't met anyone who meets your criteria for AP. I consider myself a practitioner of AP; I hardly used a sling because I couldn't quite get the hang of it, the longest I breastfed was 19 months, my husband and I didn't get any sleep UNTIL we pulled the first one into our bed, and I completely resisted any spanking until I was desperate with the third (it didn't work, by the way.)

My children are extremely well-adjusted in my opinion, and I have received many compliments on their behavior.


I do not see how AP prohibits "success after exertion". I simply have not seen anyone holding their child hostage in a sling.

I have, however, commonly seen parents bring their baby to Mass in a car seat, and proceed to leave the baby there, even when the child needed attention. Or do you think it's a "mistake" to pick up a crying baby?

Sumara said...

Mary, the reason we say that it would be useless to critique your errors is because in your style of writing you are very dismissive of any point of view other than your own. Your critical sentences project an air of "I know best, no-one else does." Would you like us to argue some points with you or not? I'm sure I and these other ladies that have replied would be happy to.

Of course Christ didn't specifically advocate AP - it had no name in those days and Christ wasn't here to teach parenting. He did say, however to let all the children come to him, interrupting his own work and his adult disciple's desires to attend to the needs of the children around him. He also said, of course,"whatever you do to the least of these, you are doing to me." To me, and many other Biblical scholars, that says "treat ALL people, especially the weakest and smallest, with utmost respect and love. And don't do anything to anyone that you wouldn't do to Christ himself". I personally wouldn't feel right about leaving my Saviour, the Son of God locked in a room by himself, ignoring his cries for help, would you?
Forgive me if I come across as harsh, I am honestly just trying to explain to you that you may need to examine why you believe what you believe. Why do you believe that God advocates detached, authoritarian parenting? Nowhere in the Bible does God teach that children should be forced to be independent, or not carried, or spanked. Christ said of his people in Jerusalem that he wanted to gather them to his breast as a mother hen - that's not detached or authoritarian, it's closely attached and nurturing.

I really do encourage you to learn more about Attachment Parenting. It is not permissive, exhausting or stifling. It is firm, loving, delightful even. Please make an effort to find and get to know some of the many successful, happy AP parents out there and you may be surprised.

Madeline - it is ignorant and generalistic to say that AP - babywearing in particular - stifles a child's development. Yes, I know some AP'ed children who crawled or walked later than usual, I also know plenty of mainstream-parented children who did the same. Many AP'ed children I know personally have crawled and walked much earlier than normal also... same with other children - obviously the level of attachment or frequency of sling-wearing has nothing to do with it. My daughter was almost constantly in-arms for her first 6 months, and yet she crawled just before 6 months and walked at 10 months. Your argument just doesn't hold water I'm afraid.

Sif said...

Mary, do you want to know why Jesus didn't tell his people to co-sleep, carry their babies, breastfeed, natural birth? Because he didn't have to, they were already doing all these things. The one thing he DID tell them to do was to include their children in society, to allow them to come forward and speak to him. To uphold them as important and equal members in society. That
is what Attachment Parenting is about. It isn't about putting children above parents or other
society, it is about treating them equally.

For children to recieve EQUAL treatment in our society, we first must acknowledge that they have
GREATER needs at the beginning of life that adults (who are capable of taking themselves off to others and asking for a shoulder to cry on, or a hug, or the respect to be heard when they are upset by a situation) have already developed beyond (and are yet to go BACK to having - would you leave your parents to cry themselves to sleep, locked in a room on their own? Would you ignore
their expressed needs? Would you lose the respect for them that they taught you as a child, that you are saying we must all teach our children. When you're old and incompetant, will you be happy for your children to treat you the way you are currently advocating for parents to treat their children. Will you be happy for them to smack you when you do things that annoy them, and believe me YOU WILL do things that anger your children, when you are old and not as able bodied as now).

You see, Jesus knew about true respect. He knew that true respect comes through love, not fear. Children will listen and abide when in fear of being physically or emotionally hurt, but they will not love. Fear destroys love. Fear distroys true respect.

Your repeated point about AP parents being tired is very amusing. I say this because I am yet to find a single, solitary parent who ISN'T tired, no matter what parenting style they practice. In fact, the most ferorious advocates of scheduled parenting methods are also, on anecdotal evidence, the ones most afraid of losing sleep. So afraid, in fact, they say it is fully worth it to listen to their children screaming for extended periods of time, repeatedly, and they always seem to be wanting to remind people that if the children gets sick, or their routine is otherwise interrupted it is extrememly important to repeat the process to ensure it sticks and doesn't falter... In other words, the child isn't actually learning anything from the schedule because each time it is interrupted by illness or travel it must be revised - as a teacher, I can tell you, that is the definition of a lesson NOT learned.

Yes, I'm a parent of three children, who is tired at times. I'm not overwhelmed though because I know and understand that any lost sleep now will be regained once my youngest is 3-5 years, and after that I'll have DECADES of peaceful sleep, especially because I will know that I haven't done anything to my child that will adversely affect their ability to cope with life later on.

Science is behind Attachment Parenting these days, and a new book has just been release in Britain by one of Britains leading researchers - I believe the book is called, "Science of Parenting" and the author is Prof. Margot Sutherland, and in the books she argues that her review of over 800 studies into child development shows that children need emotional responsiveness for their brains to develop properly. Children who are ignored or put down, left to soothe themselves as infants and fed on strict schedules, not held and hugged a lot and basically all those things you're so against, have underdeveloped brains, learning disabilities, and heighten cortisol levels. Their ability to cope with stress in adult life is reduced (they're NOT toughened up at all), leading to depression, anxiety disorders, heart disease and many other maladies. So, if you won't listen to Jesus, you won't listen to your heart (which you've had to harden to be a strong parent willing to listen to your child scream for hours), will you listen to science? Somehow I doubt it, and that is what I meant by it probably being pointless to argue with you - not because I was tired, but because I've got better things to do with my time while my resources are limited and my children are still young enough to need much from me. If you like I can come back to this when my children have less need of me (in a couple of years), as I won't be needing to support them and their depressive or anxious illnesses into adulthood like so many other parents of children who were strictly scheduled...

M. Alexander said...

Dear Sumara,
Thank you for your response. It didn't seem harsh only misguided. I find it surprising that you want to use the Bible as an example of Christian parenting. You are aware of such Bible verses as :
"He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him." Proverbs 13:24 And in Deuteronomy 21:18 an incorrigible son is to be stoned?

Now I don't advocate the use of a rod or stoning but this is what the Bible teaches. God's nature has not changed. A spanking administered with rarity and for serious misdeeds for things like running out into the street are important and lifesaving.

So your reference to the Bible as supportive of AP is not accurate.

You find my points of view dismissive. I think you mistake confidence and experience for dismissal. I am very open to any thoughts you may have. Sadly I have never seen AP work.

Having a child sleep in their own crib is not cruelty. I slept in a crib quite happily and my baby sleeps in her crib quite happily. We both wake up rested and refreshed in the morning and overjoyed to see one another.

I am not a "detached" parent- that term is propaganda. I am very attached to my children. I would give my life for them without hesitation but I want to them to learn self confidence. Another example I have is a family who believed that their children must "ask" to learn to read and until they asked they didn't need to learn. This theory progressed until the 4th grade when the parents realized he wasn't going to ask. He had great difficulty in learning to read because his self confidence had been undermined. He believed that b/c his parents didn't teach him earlier he was incapable. That is what I see of AP.

Of course babies need to be held and nursed. But they also need time to play on the floor and explore and experience their physical abilities.

Parents do not ignore their children's cries for help. But they may let them cry for a minute or two before they fall asleep. That isn't harmful. Keeping them awake, holding them, etc can keep them so overstimulated that it is more difficult for them to fall asleep. They learn a valuable life skill. To rest quietly in their cribs until they drift off to sleep. They aren't subjected to be joggled around until they have no choice but the fall asleep.

Any other examples from the Bible you want to propose?

M. Alexander said...

Dear Sif,
Where did you get the idea that I would let a child cry for hours? I've never done that and never would. If they cry for longer than a few minutes they aren't tired.

You say you are tired with 3 kids. Well, guess what I'm not tired and I have 8. My oldest is 16 and the youngest is 9 months old.

My children are loved, hugged, played with and adored by me and my husband. They are happy. They are not miserable little wretches because they sleep in their own beds. That is just nonsense and has no bearing to reality. And I would never smack a child because they annoy me. That is child abuse. But that is the problem w/ AP- anything other than total indulgence is child abuse. It diminshes the very serious problem of abuse.

You APers are very self congratulatory and smug. If you are so confident why do you even bother arguing with someone like me? You aren't going to change my mind. My kids are doing great and I'm happy to be a mother. It's the AP parents I see that are miserable and sadly so are their little children. A little structure, a little discipline creates a happy, confident child.

If you never want to find that out that is your perogative. I'm writing to appeal to the new parents who are trying the "scientific" AP and finding it creates emotional and physical turmoil in their family. Before you invest your child's present and future in an untested, fad that throws out generations of parenting you may want to think about what your parents and grandparents managed to achieve. That is respect. Good luck,

Hayley said...

I been following but not posting till now. We could forever post bible verses at each other (for example Psalms 34:17 ‘The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles’ and ‘As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you’ Isaiah 66:13), but the reality is that they are all from the old testament and are simply reflections of their time. In that time, as well as now, there were many different parenting styles and basically you can read what you like out of them. So comparing bible verses like this is neverending.

Personally, I feel that God advocates, above all alse, unconditional love. I give my son unconditional love and choose to be there for him whenever he needs me. Whether that be to hold him, comfort him, play with him, read with him, encourage his learning or help him to sleep.

Yes we parent him in a style that reflects AP very strongly, and I do feel sad that you have had such negative experiences with AP parents. I only hope that you can realise that parents, as are children, all individuals. You simply cannot discriminate according to a particular style of parenting. The ideals of AP are admirable, unfortunately you have had experience with some parents who may not have achieved these ideals. Please do not judge the parenting style on your limited experiences.