Attachment parenting and good mental health

I read about Peaches Geldoff’s death on Facebook and my heart felt like it had cracked a little. I knew of Peaches primarily through her defence of Attachment Parenting on morning TV and I was struck by a grief for her two children. I have admired her staunch support of quite alternative parenting practices and I was compelled by her explanation of motherhood being a “rebirth” – healing the wounds of childhood trauma.

I am not going to speculate on her death, the hows or whys. But seeing as people have used her passing as a springboard to question the healthiness of Attachment Parenting, I am going to springboard off their springboarding to stick up for the healthiness of Attachment Parenting.

(Also, I am just tapping out my thoughts while Juno sleeps in the sling, slugging back a coffee, so expect a BLOG POST here, not a thesis… Just imagine you are sitting here scoffing biscuits with me, hearing this wee collection of thoughts. Would love to hear your own thoughts on attachment parenting and mental health in the comments.)

Attachment Parenting isn’t a rigid barometer with which to judge mothers by
Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy based on the theory that children thrive when they establish a close connection to their caregiver. There are principles that have been fleshed out that support this connection such as babywearing and breastfeeding, but they are ideas, aids to nurture a strong attachment. It is entirely possible to be a fully attached parent without adhering to all of these principles.
Sometimes I wonder if people within this natural parenting world sound aggressive / judgemental of other parents as a result of being constantly harangued in the media. Being on the defensive all the time can make people pretty strident. *raises hand*
Attachment parenting isn’t a curriculum that you can pass or fail. And it shouldn’t be used to judge people. We should be wary of any journalists or experts or bloggers that trade in the currency of guilt. Guilt is not a helpful or valid currency in the parenting world.

Attachment Parenting isn’t Martyrdom Parenting
I have written in the past about how I believe a child’s happiness if knitted together with  parent’s happiness. We simply can’t expect the sure well being of our children if we are neglecting our own. If you know attachment parents who do not accept and attend to their own needs then you need to realise that this isn’t because of the attachment parent philosophy, this is because they don’t love themselves enough and they would neglect their own needs whatever parenting style they went for. Got it?

Really, you must understand that. I do know a few attachment parents who are martyrs. I also know many more attachment parents who practice radical self-love and understand that a child’s needs must fit within the whole family’s needs. For any attachment parents struggling with getting the balance of needs right please read Marshall Rosenberg on Non Violent Communication.

Attachment Parenting Recognises the Importance of Full Cups
(Hehe, I don’t mean *those* cups, although that is handy for breastfeeding parents…) You won’t find the message of  “Sacrifice your needs for the sake of your child!” in any of the Attachment Parenting textbooks. (You might come across it in blogs, but I maintain that self-neglect comes out in whatever parenting philosophy people opt for.)  Something I HAVE read a lot in those books is the sentiment of filling your own cup in order to ensure our children’s cups are full. Most attachment parents I know work really flipping hard at co-parenting- ensuring a fair split between two parents- and all of them recognise the importance of support networks which is why their are lots of forums and groups for people who are practicing it.

ALL parenting is depleting and barely any parent gets the support that we really need to do a really bloody good job of it. But attachment parents at least recognise the importance of full emotional cups.

Attachment Parenting builds resilience in a parent
This is a little hard to explain, but let me know what you think of this. The more connected I am to my child the more I am able to let frustrations roll over me. When I have a disconnect- as a result of me not meeting a need or some tension- I struggle to find empathy with my children which in turn makes me stressed, upset and angry.

If I am quick to recognise we have had a disconnection and attempt to restore it, mostly through play, than I find I am restored myself and far less likely to get annoyed and cross.

I feel that attachment parenting, by valuing CONNECTION over anything, makes us resilient – a sturdy ship that can float amongst all the volatile waves of emotion that toddlerdom can bring.

Attachment Parenting can be a Liberated Parenting
Attachment parenting and gentle or respectful parenting are intricately linked. Most attachment parents will move into gentle parenting as a label (labels are rubbish etc) once their baby becomes a toddler.

One of the central tenets of Gentle Parenting is TRUST. Trusting that a child is an individual with an existing personhood – we are not here to shape them and teach them. We are here simply to allow them to grow and develop in freedom.

This is LIBERATING.

We do not have to hover as (the normally wonderful) Deberoh Orr suggests attachment parents do. We let our children explore and trial without feeling the pressure to dictate their actions.

We sit back at the park and let them climb, we don’t helicopter about urging them on to different ladders and slides in order to expand their horizons.

We accept their ability to self-regulate. Meal times are about providing good food and then letting them eat it or not. We don’t have to ruin our own dinner by coercing our kids to eat theirs.

We trust that children already have their character, we don’t have to shape it through reward charts and the stressful process of Time Outs.

While our babies are small there perhaps *is* a little more effort put in- we rock them when they cry- but as they grow I think attachment parents find their role much less stressful and far, far less hands on.

When I am kicking back on the grass at the playground, watching other parents chasing their kids around with coats, or urging them not to climb too high, or persuading them to say Good Bye politely to Aunty, I think GOSH my parenting style is easy. (Not in a smug way, of course, as my children in their odd socks, felt-tip pen on their faces, and knotty hair counter any of that!)

I think there is enormous potential for Attachment Parenting to promote good mental healthiness in parents (how it promotes good mental health in children is a whole other wonderful post, eh?!) and have found it to be a perfect for for my own life and well being.

As ever, would love to hear from you about your experiences!

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31 Responses to Attachment parenting and good mental health

  1. Lucy Woodman says:

    Hi Lucy! I’ll admit I haven’t visited your blog for a while, but this post (timed with being early on a Sunday & the family still being asleep(!)) has drawn me back to read more. I love the way you explain attachment parenting. One thing I’d like to know more on is your co-parenting. Do you have any further posts on that? Is it something you schedule or just go with the flow? How do you decide?
    I also have great trouble looking after myself. I always seem to be “busy”. My husband works full time so I feel guilty asking him to have our son for the day, and if I ever ask my mum to look after him, I have to have a really good reason. Just having a bath and breathing for a couple of hours is not good enough!
    Anyway, hope you and the family are well in kiwiland! Love Lucy x
    (Do you ever accidentally type your name as Licy? Lol!)

    • Katy Beale says:

      You work full time too looking after your son! Remember that and ask your husband, don’t feel guilty, please.

      This part of the post really struck true with me. I’ve seen parents burn out.

      “We simply can’t expect the sure well being of our children if we are neglecting our own. If you know attachment parents who do not accept and attend to their own needs then you need to realise that this isn’t because of the attachment parent philosophy, this is because they don’t love themselves enough and they would neglect their own needs whatever parenting style they went for. Got it?”

  2. ThaliaKR says:

    Wonderful, thanks, Lucy.

    I particularly appreciate your insight that all kinds of parents can be martyrs. Very good point.

    Look after yourselves, peeps!
    ThaliaKR recently posted…Co-sleeping Converts: Series Round-UpMy Profile

  3. Janine says:

    From what I’ve read, her death was ruled a heroin overdose. I would love to hear your thoughts on that + attachment parenting. My husband was quick to judge her harshly for drug use while caring for her children – and breastfeeding, I imagine – but I feel it’s so much more complicated than that. It is definitely unthinkably sad all around — But if she had been a ‘conventional’ (cribs, bottles, the “norm” *massive eye roll*) parent instead, would that even come up in conversations about her death?

  4. Caroline Wade says:

    Thanks for this Lucy, it’s an interesting & insightful introduction & point of view. My husband & I are just starting the adoption process & will be learning more about attachment parenting so it’s good to know it’s wide-spread & there is some support out there ! :-)

  5. Molly says:

    I am a staunch believer in people choosing a style of raising their kids that suits themselves, their personalities and their own way of life. For example, I imagine you’d go crazy at having to go down the Gina Ford route (as would I!) but there are other mums I know who are happier with that style of parenting and, therefore, better parents in the long run. I think as long as we do what makes us happy and follow our own instincts (whether that be to go down the reward chart path or take a more laid back approach) then we are doing OK. For what it’s worth, I thought that Deborah Orr piece was brilliant and is the most balanced article I’ve read on the whole Peaches tragedy out of all of them. I read it not as blaming Attachment Parenting for what happened, but as recognising that motherhood these days can be an idealistic state (when my grandmother raised her kids the whole notion of “parenting” as a verb didn’t even exist – at least not in her world) and that, for some, putting their whole being and identity onto being “mother” can have damaging effects. It’s also the only piece I’ve read that recognised the hugely complicated and possibly all-consuming effects of Peaches’ past – as well as her upbringing and genetic predispositions. And with that, here endeth my essay!
    Molly recently posted…Preparing for the birth. Kind of.My Profile

    • Lucy says:

      Hmmm, I feel worried about the concept of people raising their babies in a way that suits themselves – I think that the baby will bear the cost of that, when the style is based around disconnection rather than connection. In my opinion Gina Ford’s style of parenting isn’t a valid form to choose from as it doesn’t prioritise the all important connection. I guess I am not as open as my post sounds, initially.

      • Molly says:

        I suppose what I was trying to say is that there are lots of different ways of raising kids and people have to choose the way that feels instinctively right for them. For example, I remember being told to leave F to cry when she wouldn’t sleep through the night and it felt instinctively WRONG to me and made me miserable. But I know others whose instincts were to go down the controlled crying (or whatever it’s called) route and were happier – and more balanced, mentally healthy, good parents – in the long run. Does that make sense? Sorry, I have rambled again!
        Molly recently posted…A week of healthy livingMy Profile

  6. Jessicardigan says:

    Wonderful post -as ever- Lucy!
    Only this morning I felt the need to ‘unfollow’ a friend on Facebook due to her constant judgemental and pushy posts which glorify her concept of Attachment Parenting as being THE only acceptable way to do things. It makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable as I know for a fact that she has contacts who have not been in as fortunate position as her to be able to breastfeed/spend money on the latest babywearing aids/spend as much time with their children; for them it must be heartbreaking to constantly be bombarded with posts from someone who is appears to be gloating about their ‘achievements’ in this area.
    Though not yet a Mummy myself, I’m currently researching aspects of gentle/attachment parenting as I’m planning to open a nursery which encompasses these values (How can a NURSERY promote attachment parenting, I hear you cry? Well I just want to do my best to provide an environment for those who don’t have the choice to stay at home with their babies, but who still recognise the importance of gentle caring and strong family bonds- thank you for being my initial inspiration for this!)

    Unfortunately I completely agree with your sentiments about SOME groups/individuals making others feel guilty. This is such a shame, as I feel it goes against the overarching principles of peace and love (maaaan) that these methods of parenting stem from. With this in mind, I think you’re absolutely fab for clearly being so passionate about your views but not ever coming across as pushy, judgemental or guilt-mongering. Thank you for this, for being a true inspiration and for sharing your experiences so openly. Three cheers for Lulastic… xxx

    • Lucy says:

      I think there is an ENORMOUS need for nurseries that encompass the theory and some of the principles of AP. GOod on you!

  7. we3three says:

    this is a brilliant post. i found myself nodding along to lots of what you said. i don’t define my parenting style but i agree with what i see as the fundamental principles of attachment parenting. i think a really strong bond between parent and child seems to be so lacking in the modern world. i really enjoyed reading this, thank for sharing.

  8. Everything about Peaches’ death breaks my heart. Her pain, her children’s pain, her family’s pain. Just SO much suffering.

    I think as a general concept, finding and accepting the parenting style that feels right to you fosters good mental health. I speak from experience that trying to parent in a way that feels un-natural is not a good place to be. For us (and Peaches) that was AP, for other people it may take a different shape.

    Looking specifically at whether AP had the power to cause Peaches’ death is a HUGE oversimplification of depression and addiction. My personal experience has been that when a family member is gripped by that level of mental health issue, there is almost nothing that can touch them. It’s an inherently egocentric and apathetic place to be and that combination makes it hard for any ideology to make much of a difference.

    I try not to give too much energy to the vitriol of people who choose to attack the way I parent. The old saying “honey catches more flies than vinegar” is as true about parenting as it is any other subject :-)

    Jeez, you can tell I’m tired, check out how sanguine I am today ;-)
    Tasha Batsford recently posted…Using a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS)My Profile

  9. Clarissa says:

    Great post, Lucy…there is room for many philosophies in this world, in parenting and elsewhere…live and let live I say…best of luck on your journey!

  10. Jude says:

    Great post, munching biscuits and nodding along. Will be sharing. x
    Jude recently posted…Kids Party SOSMy Profile

  11. Sarah says:

    Hi Lucy,
    Great post thanks, gentle parenting is what we are aiming at. It just makes sense, I have
    to say for lots of reason. In the first few months I beat myself up for not being able to breastfeed exclusively but we still have an amazing connection as you say it’s not all about that…anyhow I have a question for you. My husband struggles with letting our 2.5 year old play in the playground without hovering, can you explain that a bit more to him for me? I understand that by letting her climb about we are showing that we trust her and trust her to know her ability. But he just keeps saying he’s managing the risk (he’s a ski teacher it’s all about risk management) HELP please?

    • Sarah says:

      Sorry just one more thing I should say. I have a family history of alcoholism and depression which is what I see took Peaches life (not the use of attachment parenting). She did the best she could with some pretty hard
      genes.

  12. Ross W says:

    Really interesting! (This was the post my wife originally pointed me at before I read the other one that I just commented on)

    Can you say more about…or point me to some stuff about…co-parenting? I ask because my experience of attachment parenting has been that, despite my enormous efforts, the attachment has very much been to the mother.

    I’ve had to let go of more and more particular bits of time with my (now 2.5 year old) son because he wants his mummy at those times and not me.

    I feel like my attempts at combining “co-parenting” with “attachment parenting” have actually lead to me being quite stressed out and depressed (I use that term loosely, not medically).

    I WANT to help my wife. My wife WANTS me to help. I WANT to help my boy. But he just won’t let me and it’s made our relationship very difficult and it drives me crazy.

    So…just wondered if you had any more on it? Of course, I’ll go and Google, but you probably have GOOD resources to hand. Thanks!

    • Hi Ross

      It must be a really frustrating place for you to be. I know Lucy will have some awesome resources for you but I just wanted to say that in our household, I’m the working mama and the old man is the stay at home dad so happy to chat with you about things that have worked for us if you think it would be helpful.

      Just give me a shout.
      Cheers
      Tash
      Tasha Batsford recently posted…Fostering Empathy, Respecting Emotion and The Evils of VacuumingMy Profile

      • Ross W says:

        Thanks Tash. There’s definitely a great community here.

        I’m all up for hearing tips on how to convert “want mummy”/”do it with mummy”/”daddy go away” into something more positive.

        I’m a working dad, but I work from home and so see my son a LOT, plus I look after him half a day a week too. So we have lots of time together.

        But it feels like that time is shrinking at the moment. Bedtimes and first-thing-in-the-morning were becoming more and more of a challenge, and I recently gave up trying as the stand offs were getting stressful for both Isaac and me: those are now mummy times. Which feels unfair because mummy’s up several times in the night too.

        I’ve found that attachment parenting had created this very strong bond between child and mum to the point where I’m excluded from a lot of parenting. How, then, can I play a bigger role in parenting when we’ve adopted this style?

        Of course, I’ve found some ways. But the persistent, daily rejection of my care and love has been emotional and draining.

        Would appreciate your wisdom.

        • Gill says:

          Ross, I don’t know how old your boy is but it could well be just a phase. My son was very much like this and, while he is still a bit of a mummy’s boy, he’s increasingly just as happy with his Dad. I think we’re reaching the age where boys do relate more to their male parent (he’s almost 5 now) and we’re starting to see signs of this.

          My daughter is 3 years younger, she loves her daddy SO much, and was equally happy with either of us as a baby. But even she has times when only mummy will do at the moment.

          I really admire my husband for the way he just takes it on the chin and gets on with it all regardless! It’s true though that this means I get the nighttime shift.

          • I totally agree with what Gill says, mine have gone through phases where only one or other of us will do. It is really hurtful when you’re not the chosen parent, but it’s not personal.

            In terms of rebalancing the “always wanting mama” thing, it really helped us when we realised that some activities had greater currency for the children and that balancing which of us did what helped balance how enthusiastic the children were about us. It’s a hard sell to be the go-to guy if you only ever oversee the things they’re not keen on doing.

            Just a thought :)
            Tasha Batsford recently posted…I’m Raising All The Fierce, And Some Of The FunnyMy Profile

  13. And PS, I have no wisdom; just a little bit of experience, a few ideas and a big steaming mug of empathy to share.
    Tasha Batsford recently posted…Five Unscientific Reasons to BabywearMy Profile

  14. Ross W says:

    Thanks Gill and Tasha. I totally get this is a “phase”, albeit one that’s lasted 2.5 years, and I know that he will grow out of it, and that one day he’ll probably want to be with me all the time and that that will present a totally different set of challenges for us as parents.

    I think my original comment was about something a bit bigger than just the issues that I, personally, face though: does attachment parenting cause young children to be more attached to their mother, and how does this impact a wanting-to-be-involved father? How do attachment parenting and co-parenting fit together?

    It just seems to me that, biologically, my son has a whole stack of perfectly good reasons to prefer his mummy to me. And over time I’ve had to give up more and more of certain routines and times of day because he insists on doing them with mummy, and trying to convince him otherwise has caused stress for all of us.

    I’ve found trying to be an involved daddy under these circumstances pretty stressful and bad for my emotional state and improvements in everyones happiness have come about when I’ve said “OK, well, I’ll just step out and mummy can do that thing from now on.”

    I know…every parent and child combination is unique. But I wonder if other dads in my situation have found trying to be involved difficult? And what does this mean for how we present the concepts of attachment parenting to fathers?

  15. Ross W says:

    That would be amazing. Thank you. The only references I’ve found to “co-parenting” refer to something quite different to what you’re referring to, so I’m keen to hear a bit more about it.

    Thank you all for the replies and encouragement. And thank you Lucy for your amazing blog full of wisdom and insight. Your social justice and childhood initiative looks interesting. Shame you’re in NZ!

    Ross

    • ThaliaKR says:

      Hey! It’s GREAT (for some of us) that she’s in New Zealand :)

      Ross, my husband has been a very hands-on dad in perhaps a similar way to you. We definitely have ‘No! Mama do it!’ moments – a lot of them right now (he’s nearly 2.5). My current interpretation is that it’s a phase, as people have suggested, and that attachment parenting isn’t what’s caused it – if anything, it mitigates it.

      We co-sleep with him in various combinations – in fact at the moment, my husband sleeps with my toddler most of the time so I can get some better sleep for a bit – and I have back trouble so I almost never wore him but my husband did, A LOT when he was a baby.

      I think my husband’s relationship with him is immeasurably enhanced because of our attachmenty stuff.

      So in the ‘Mama do it!’ moments, I tend to frame them as attempts to assert control on an uncontrollable universe (poor toddlers, even with gentle parenting, they really control so little in their lives!) rather than even being about me, really. That, combined with developmental stage, is what’s causing the Mama preference at the moment for us, I think.

      I hope things mellow in your household. It’s a very hard thing to have a small person turn away from you, for any reason at all. Go well.

  16. Oceana says:

    You had me at Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I started out as with ap and found NVC about 6 years ago. Now 9 workshops and 1 book study later. I have started my own book study for NVC or Compassionate Communication Parenting using Inbal Kashtan’s book Parenting from your heart. It is short but dense with info. I’m learning so much from learning to explain it to others. I also am amazed with Mikik Kashtan another NVC teacher and writer and her new book Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness, which I am hoping to do a book study with next year.

    Thank you for such an informative and open-hearted post.

  17. Jenny says:

    Hi,

    I was wondering if you have any recommendations for books on attachment parenting? I’d really like to read more on it.

    Thanks

    Jenny
    Jenny recently posted…Giveaway: Win a free ticket to the Women in Travel Summit in ChicagoMy Profile

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