By Jove attachment parents get a hard rap don’t they? Between the “you only breastfeed for your own pleasure” and “you are a judgmental masochist” there is barely room to move!
I am impelled to respond to Hadley Freeman’s Weekend article – Attachment Parenting; the best way to parent or maternal masochism. Attachment parenting was so utterly misrepresented and the piece was so obviously written in a blur of scathing hatred that by writing this I feel like I am standing up to the class bully.
I have spent five years practicing attachment parenting and being amongst groups of attachment parenting mothers and have firmed up some stuff that I want to share.
Attachment parenting is intellectual
Attachment parenting arose from attachment theory, these days an established tenet in the field of psychology. But since the middle of last century there has sprung a wealth of research in the fields of biology, neurology, psychiatry, and genetics that back up these findings in psychology. It cannot be plucked out and studied in a vacuum; “look at these strange mothers letting their toddler sup from their breasts – this is so visceral it must be anti-intellectual!” It is the only parenting philosophy I am aware of that works so hard to incorporate the latest cross-discipline scientific findings. Every year there seems to be more evidence suggesting that secure attachments made in childhood make for healthier well being later.
The people who have deliberately chosen attachment parenting are so often the people who have set out to find the most solid information on best parenting practice. I have sat in a room at an attachment parenting meet up with pHd students, doctors, lawyers. They did not eschew their brains and wobble into it – they chose it because of the wealth of research around it.
Attachment parenting is egalitarian
At the same time attachment parenting has a physical simplicity to it that makes it an economically accessible choice for anyone. It requires almost no financial outlay. No buggies, or cribs, or bottles. Having a baby for most people is one of the most expensive events of your life. Not so with AP. There’s no buggy shame going on the bus. When we lived in a poor corner of South London babywearing was common, a parenting practice that arrived in the waves of immigration and had stayed.
There is certainly some space within attachment parenting discourse to discuss privilege and the increasingly narrow parenting choices available to women. For some people straying from the mainstream/ NHS advice would feel like or even be a perilous route.
A good example would be here in NZ where there is a great fear of cosleeping, a traditionally Maori parenting practice, because infant mortality statistics are so impacted by poverty, a place where Maori are overrepresented. Here in NZ cosleeping is popular but largely done by stealth and never admitted to – particularly by those who need to keep their heads down. In response to these figures a cosleeping device has been developed and funding sourced to provide poor families with a way of cosleeping immensely safely (it eradicates problems arising from alcohol/drug use or overtiredness.) And just last week the government cut the funding for it. There are important conversations we need to be having about parenting practice and privilege. And the way certain parenting practice becomes associated, or not, with wealth, or the lack of. However the finger needs to be pointed somewhere other than at the middle class mothers resilient enough to turn up for tea and cakes at a hotel with a journo.
Attachment parenting is pro-women
Attachment parenting says that parenthood is an incredibly valuable form of employment, and considering the vast numbers of women that continue to stay home with their babies, I’d say that makes AP pretty pro-women.
Personally, I returned to work part time both times when my children were 15 months old, and I loved it, and I felt really good about it. And everyday that I work I. LOVE. IT. And I am about as hardcore AP as it gets. I am to AP what Donald Trump is to evil.
Attachment parenting says children need secure attachments, and prescribes nothing after that. Many of the things associated with AP – babywearing and cosleeping- are tools that can actually assist fathers or other mothers/caregivers in providing that secure attachment to children when mothers return to work.
I am honestly totally sick to my eyeballs of people blaming attachment parenting for holding women back.
How about we get some goddamn laws in place that make it possible for men and women to work half time so they can figure out shared childcare? How about we up the salaries in the industries where women work so that when families have to make a choice about who goes back to work and who stays at home there is an actual choice that isn’t completely economically ridiculous?
You can’t blame attachment parenting for being unfeminist simply because we don’t yet have the progressive enough infrastructure to allow either gendered parent to do stay at home.
Attachment parenting is pro-women, it would be more so if it didn’t exist within this f*&king patriarchy we all live in.
(Actually struggle to say The Patriarchy without getting a f*&king in there. Sorry Aunty Heather.)
(Also, how about referencing some recent, female authors on attachment parenting, Hadley Freeman, rather than an old white male? Try Massaro and Katz, of The Other Baby Book, or Sarah Ockwell Smith, Babycalm. Pfft. Just a little bit of the internalised misogyny evidenced in your article.)
Attachment parenting is the antidote to societal sadism
Lastly, and possibly most importantly as it is central to the reason why so many people choose attachment parenting, and it was treated so poorly by Freeman in her article; attachment parenting is part of the solution to the problem of injustice, cruelty, and oppression we have in society.
It sounds naïve- “the way we parent can change the world” – but some of history’s more tenacious world changers understood it. Mother Teresa famously implored one person who was asking about the best way to help change things “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.'”
And what is the love that matters? The one the child feels. The love that is tangible, that leads to floods of endorphins, that limits cortisol. The love that says a caregiver is present and not absent. The love that nurtures the empathy epicentre we all have within our brains, breaking societal violence in the process.
In the Science of Parenting Margot Sunderland says “Society reaps what it sows in the way it nurtures its children, because stress sculpts the brain to exhibit several antisocial behaviors. Stress can set off a ripple of hormonal changes that permanently wire a child’s brain to cope with a malevolent world. Through this chain of events, violence and abuse pass from generation to generation as well as from one society to the next.”
Historical studies find correlation between gentle parenting practice and less societal violence. (If there is one thing you do as a result of reading this it should be to go and buy Robin Grille’s book, Parenting for a Peaceful World.)
We need attachment parenting more than ever. 2016 has sucked. There have been hate crimes perpetrated by civilian and State, and a seemingly global rise of politicians peddling racism like it’s 1940. There seems to be a ruthless sadism marching across communities all over the world. We need solutions to this, they are long term, they are ordinary, quiet, some of solutions are in our homes, on our laps.
The Guardian was remiss to print something so clearly subjective, born of triggers, when it could have had a well-researched piece on the huge body of work linking attachment parenting to personal well being – and therefore, potentially, if practiced on a wide scale, societal well being.
“World peace is not only an entirely attainable goal, it is a modest one. The conditions that would bring it about require but a small fraction of the effort and expense we devote to fighting wars and fighting crime. A continued social evolution is quite possible, but it depends entirely on our collected efforts to keep improving the emotional lives of children. Our commitment to children’s emotional health will ensure our rapid evolution toward a peaceful, just, sustainable and enjoyable existence for all of humanity.” Robin Grille
Read Sophie Christophy’s brilliant analysis of how attachment parenting is a social justice movement.
Read Milk Meg’s Debunking the Shit out of Attachment Parenting Myths – brilliant historical context for AP.
Read more on the science of attachment theory- the biological roots of love.
There must be space for an honest analysis of attachment parenting, particularly if it is failing mothers. There are definitely times that advocates of attachment parenting can come across as judgmental, but that is a flaw of human nature, not the parenting philosophy. And there is often guilt within it – this is the burden of all parenting, I believe, and something we need to deal with internally, no matter what parenting model we subscribe to. As advocates of attachment parenting we need to call out any judginess – our work is empathy and kindness, not smuggery- and we need to call out any martyrdom; that’s not what we are about.
But the bones of attachment parenting are good – more so, they are world changing. If we could build more of an understanding about what nurturing attachment between child and adult IS I think we’d find more people were doing it, and more people would want to do it, than we think.
A parenting philosophy that can create a kind, nonviolent world? I am so in. With bells on. And no masochism.
Attachment Parenting Isn’t Martyrdom Parenting (on the death of Peaches Geldoff)
Attachment Parenting – beyond breastfeeding and babywearing
It takes a village – to be the parent you want to be