Attachment Parenting? Everything in Moderation

Attachment or Detachment: Perpetually Perplexing Parents

We are expecting our first baby soon and feel bombarded by different approaches to parenting.  With the Time Magazine cover (2012) “Are You Mom Enough?” versus the buzz around the detached adult-centered French parenting of Bringing up Bébé(we do know we are not signing up for the “Tiger Mother” approach!), we are in a tailspin.  Is there a middle road?

                                                                         --Expecting in Oakland

 

Let’s begin with the Time magazine cover - indeed a very provocative photograph.  A very mature looking three year old boy (wearing – to add to the mix- army-fatigue style pants to underscore his masculinity) stands on a stool to reach the breast of his lithe, overly skinny (another issue…) mom in skintight pants and top (http://lightbox.time.com/2012/05/10/parenting/#1).  He nurses, looking at the camera with an ambiguous expression.  Is it saying “In your face!” or “Hope this doesn’t get on my Facebook page in five years”?  And I find the shameless exploitation of mother’s natural anxiety about being “good enough” with the title “Are You Mom Enough,” appalling.

Unfortunately, the cover belies the sensible, balanced story that also does justice to the ideas that predate the current buzz by over 20 years (“The Continuum Concept,” the Family Bed, etc.) There has been an avalanche of responses in the media.  For your sanity, I hope you don’t read them all.  So- this seems like the common situation when “Everything as been said, but not everyone has said it.” At the risk of pouring a teaspoon into the ocean, I share my views.

Surely much good comes for baby and parents (esp. mother) from Attachment Parenting’s “Trinity” (Are you surprised to learn that its “prophets,” Dr. William and Martha Sears are devout Catholics?): total, long duration breast-feeding, co-sleeping and carrying (“baby-wearing”).  But the extremes advocated by some practitioners worry me for the parents’ sanity and the child’s development.  What’s extreme? Here are examples:

  1. Nursing so often your baby is essentially latched onto the breast day and night
  2. Never letting a baby cry beyond barely audible whimper
  3. Getting no uninterrupted sleep for 3 years
  4. Never leaving your baby with anyone else (not even grandparents)
  5. Never going out without your children
  6. Not putting your child down for long enough that she can experiment with and learn how to entertain herself
  7. Nursing a four year old in public (cover of Time Magazine included).

The intensity of mother-child bond advocated by some Attachment Parenting adherents comes uncomfortably close to stereotypes of the Jewish mother. Not recommended!

You can, indeed, find valuable guidance is the Jewish (not unique) view of the golden mean and respecting the wisdom of those who came before.  Let me illustrate what I consider the “middle road” with a few recommendations.

  1. I do support breastfeeding nearly exclusively in the first months of life, but advise new parents to start acquainting their infant with a bottle around 4 weeks so the nursing mother can get some breaks.  The most valuable times from the mother to substitute a bottle for breast-feeding are the first nighttime feeding or an afternoon for a nap or short outing.

 

  1. I encourage parents to introduce 1-2 trusted caretakers by 3-4 months so they can have a few “dates” each month for exclusive couple time.  Accustoming a baby to a sitter then is usually fairly easy.  Around 8 months, when many babies go through developmentally appropriate “stranger anxiety,” or when they are even older, it is much harder.

 

  1. Co-sleeping works well for some families (though I am obliged to note the Academy of Pediatrics’ continued opposition because of risk of suffocation). But, most parents I have talked to – hundreds of them- can’t get the sleep they need to function sanely and competently the next day with a baby or toddler squirming in their bed (true for many a stay-at-home parent too).  New parents manage without much sleep for the first few months, but sleep deprivation takes its toll. Most will give almost anything for 7 hours of sleep. I know - I have counseled many of them.  But, teaching your baby to sleep on their own can be hard, so I promise to write more about it soon.

 

So do attach but don’t become super-glued. Keep a balance between devoted parenting and continuing your adult life.  Trust your instincts and, on occasion, even listen to your mom.

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Rachel Biale - Parenting Counseling