Attachment parenting is killing the parents

Attachment parenting has gone from the fringes of a few parenting pioneers to almost being mainstream but somewhere along the way attachment parenting lost its way and has morphed into something that frankly is hazardous to families. See, certain tenets of attachment parenting have always been practiced among indigenous and minority families before it ever saw the light of day among predominantly white, predominantly middle class and above folks.

I had my firstborn in 1992 and while I would never have used the words attachment parenting to describe my parenting style with him, I actually practiced some of the principles of attachment parenting as described by API. We did co-sleep, not when he was an infant but actually in his toddler and preschool years when my finances as a then single Mama meant we could only have one bedroom. While I did spank a few times because that’s what my parents did to me, I quickly honored my sense that it didn’t feel right and stopped early on. Despite the fact that I shared custody with my ex-spouse and at times we lived 1100 miles away from each other and that there were significant periods of time when my son was with his Dad in Maine before I moved here, I always did what I could to ensure connection. Now at almost 20, my son will call me from college for heart to heart talks and when he is home, we will often stay up late talking and sharing. I admit I have a lot of regrets but in the end, he is a young man who is comfortable in his truth. As a parent, that is the end goal to raise kids who become adults who are well adjusted and comfortable being themselves and living their truth.

That said, by the time 2004 rolled around and I found myself pregnant again, thanks to a pesky midwife, I discovered the formal attachment parenting practice and well in a strange state, no mother, sister or aunts to guide me and no close friends nearby I fell in love with attachment parenting. The problem is at that point in time the attachment parenting that was being peddled in most books, parenting groups and forums no longer resembled the true principles of attachment parenting. Gone was the principle of balance, instead it was and remains common to hear stories of moms so steeped in attachment parenting that even taking a 15 minute shower is too much. Somehow to be an attachment parent means to  never honor one’s self as an adult.

Attachment parenting as currently practiced by many is about breastfeeding (never mind that even the API acknowledges and supports attached bottled feeding, in other words hold the baby while feeding him! I bottled fed my firstborn and always held him), family bed and basically denying yourself as a woman and your partner. Too many times a frazzled Mom will ask advice of other AP moms around sex, since let’s face it if the kiddos are in your bed, gone are the long luxurious lovemaking sessions. Yet too many times that same Mama is told the baby is a baby and that you can have sex in other places, bathroom, and laundry room, wherever. It’s true you can have quickies wherever you grab them but the reality is if you spend the first 2-5 years of your kid’s life only focused on your child, it’s hard to step back into being a couple.

Shit…life happens and in order for any relationship to thrive and truly be stable it needs attention. The API page actually states “Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.” The sad truth though is that most practitioners of attachment parenting don’t do this and frankly attachment parenting is hurting families, let’s be honest it’s just killing the couple. I know because I speak from experience, my husband and I stopped sleeping in the bed together for three years following the birth of the girl child. Oh, it started so innocently but it turned out three in the bed was a crowd, then after the first 18 months my mental state was trashed from barely sleeping. It worked well for the girl child and for our nursing relationship but she was three years old before she would sleep alone without one of us with her. At 18 months, the man took over so I could sleep but because she was still nursing and nursed until I decided to wean her at three and a half; it still meant waking up at least 2x a night for nursing.

Damn near 4 years of no sleep, no true lovemaking and no time sans child unless we were working which while there was a period of time we used day care by and large our method of childcare was the tag team method. Great for saving money but bad for allowing us time for true connection as a couple.

Until recently I thought maybe we were just screwed up and had done something wrong, but in the past couple of years I have noticed that most of my friends who are divorcing and separating were also practitioners of attachment parenting. Now maybe they too just had fucked up relationships that had reached the end of their natural cycle, after all sometimes relationships end. Thing is almost every couple I know that has split up lived exactly as we did, little alone time, kid pretty much became the focus of their lives outside of maybe their paying jobs. By the time the kid hits that 4-6 mark and starts needing the parents a little less, the parents emerge from the AP cloud, looking at each other going dude, who the fuck are you.

Relationships need attention, kids need attention and love and respect but so do parents. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this book and plowed through it over the past few days that it started to dawn on me that this seemingly great way to parent may be having serious repercussions. The author in the first half of the book describes couples who often after the kids arrival are basically cordial comrades, low conflict-low stress somewhat melancholy arrangements where on the surface things seem fine but below the couple is not really a couple. In many cases the kids arrival especially in families where there was intense focused parenting turned couples from being couples to two people with a shared goal of raising a kid. Not that there is anything even wrong with that but for most of us that is not what we signed up for.

However we have let a parenting style be taken out of context and reduced it down to a few trendy sound bites that frankly suck. Being an attachment parent does not and should not mean you as a parent forgo your own needs…remember on the plane when the flight attendant instructs that in the case of an emergency you put on your own mask before you assist anyone else. We need to bring that piece about balance back into attachment parenting and quickly. Showers and sex are needs that should be met if they are desired; otherwise the way things are going now, attachment parenting is no longer good because it does not benefit the family as a whole. Families are made of parts and babies and kids are an important part but they are a part and all parts deserved to be looked after.

13 thoughts on “Attachment parenting is killing the parents

  1. Wow!! I have 2 in the bed and 2 on the breast and while it was the only way I could actually get enough sleep to make it through nursing school I wake up everyday wondering how to get rid of them and get back to us. I often remind him (and really myself) that we came before them and somehow we have to remain focused in the interim. Excellent piece!!

    1. True you can get back to you two, but if too much times passes, it grow harder to do so. There are some things about the so-called AP journey I have loved but others I feel no one ever speaks about. That frankly can be hard to deal with.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. We moved closer to family, ostenibly to have more help with the kiddos. That hasn’t worked out well and I don’t have much of a support system here (compared to our previous home/state). My husband and I are actively trying to rearrange our lives in a way that will allow us more couple time. We need, want, and deserve it. I’m currently reading Mating in Captivity which touches on similar issues though not just related to parenting.

  3. I am pro-AP though I disconnected from online AP communities when Kidlet was still learning to walk. Just like with anything else, people involved in AP can unconsciously hide behind the philosophy or try to make it into an ideology. It can also become very, very easy to start tuning out and shoving aside either ones own needs or the needs of ones partner in an attempt to do right by one’s children. My feeling about that is: My husband and I are a unit first. Then we had a child. The best thing we can do for her is be kind to each other and nurture our relationship with each other. As you’ve done here, it’s important to be honest about what common practices do/don’t work for you, and periodically ask oneself: Is my WHOLE FAMILY being taken care of or am I trying to fulfill my interpretation of a philosophy?

    Another problem with AP that has also nothing to do with it being AP specifically: Online communities can become an echo chamber and slanted in a particular direction. I’ve seen already isolated moms become even more isolated and defensive over time, unable to cope with people who parent differently or question their parenting style. I honestly think that for some people, AP is seen as a refuge from and answer to a very scary world OUT THERE. Instead of gaining confidence as a mother, they become more and more fearful, second guessing everything, criticizing themselves. I certainly wouldn’t say that’s true of everyone who does AP, but it was a strong (and very distressing) current in the communities I was a part of. Maybe it’s just a phase some people go through during the process of parenting, but as a person who used to suffer from major anxiety, and had to undergo therapy to slay my own pathological critic, I can’t think like that and be healthy, so I stepped away. It was a good choice for me. I practice the principles of AP as best I can with my family but I don’t need to surround myself with people who have labeled themselves AP. Some of the most AP minded folks I’ve met are the ones who have never even heard the term.

    1. I love this piece and this comment. I especially worry about isolation I see some AP parents employ. They are so convinced in the rightness of their method that they work harder and harder to preserve its purity. They avoid people who use different methods, they don’t allow free play with children of different families, and they start homeschooling in order to keep their children away from other influences. I worry so much about these [for the most part] women, who, in seeking to build strong family ties, end up severing community ties.

      A lot to think about here.

  4. I always appreciate your posts and the wisdom you share. We are in the thick of AP life, and while I really love how well it’s working, in general, I miss sleeping without a foot in my back and long love-making sessions. Now, with another on the way (my own mother said she was shocked we managed to make another baby with one still in the bed- lol), we’re reconsidering our current arrangement. Not that we won’t co-sleep again, but maybe a side-car crib & a transition out around a year. Like pretty much anything, extremism is bad, moderation is good. :)

  5. Wow! Your experience so much mirrors my own! Our little girl (who is just three) slept with both of us to start but had to move to her own bed as she got bigger as our bed wasn’t big enough and we couldn’t afford a new one.
    I now start the night in our bed and then when she wakes I go into her and as I’m breast feeding I end up staying for the night. I keep thinking about trying to wean but at the moment as I’m so tired from the twice, sometimes more nightly wakings, it seems easier to let her feed to get back to sleep.
    we’re off on holiday soon and she won’t be falling asleep at the breast so I’m hoping this will change things a bit! I also used to read AP posts but sometimes the mothers on there were so heavy about it all I stopped reading as I would often come away thinking was I being selfish for wanting a shower! I agree wholeheartedly with what you’re saying.

  6. This post is right on: we are now looking ahead to having another little one (Now that the twins are just getting to that slightly-less-needy stage!), and I’ve been frankly terrified about what it will mean to my sleep habits and mental well-being. To say nothing of our marriage. Because we are told often and everywhere that AP means putting all our own needs on the backburner and taking care of the little ones 24/7. For YEARS. It’s good to see a piece about balance and keep that in mind going into having another baby. We invested in a sidecar crib this time around, and I know ONE baby at a time will be much easier than two, but still…. balance. An unhealthy mama can’t raise healthy kids.

    And trust me, with little kids and a partner in medical school, the balance is not really in my favor….. :)

  7. This is the theme of my week!

    I believe it is vital to live in a way that supports the family (which includes the first members of the family who came together to start it all: the couple) It isn’t healthy to let any philosophy, whether AP/NP or “standard American parenting,” become the extreme requirements for living a “right” way to the detriment of those involved. I feel it lowers the quality of life for you or your family in the long run. (Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been caught up in it myself and am recovering from the imbalance “trap” I got myself caught into.)

    It was my interpretation and ideals that set me on that course and wasn’t helped at all by some of the forums and online idealism that set a standard that was unhealthy.

    Here though, I respectfully disagree with your statement that “attachment parenting is hurting families, let’s be honest it’s just killing the couple.” I believe it is people’s interpretation of “attachment parenting ideals” and the lack of real life support for families who are attachment parenting in a realistic and healthy way for the family/couple that is hurting families and killing the couple – not attachment parenting as a philosophy.

    Have you read the Holistic Moms Network blog this week? Same theme — slightly different angle: Perfection, Quitting and the Sanctimonious http://holisticmomsnational.blogspot.com/2012/01/perfection-quitting-and-sanctimonious.html

  8. This post speaks so much truth, and so do the comments. I’ve slow started to distance myself from our local AP community. I’ve spoken to many people in real life and online that have started to feel isolated.
    It’s starting to look like a cult. Isn’t one of the principles of AP balance? We enjoy parenting the way we do, but not because it’s called attachment parenting. We were using a lot of the philosophies before we even knew there was a name for it.

    I also don’t like how Natural Family Living has crept into the definition of AP. If you don’t breastfeed, co-sleep, babywear for a certain amount of time, have your own garden, or eat organic then you aren’t AP enough. I have my own issues/insecurities to deal with w/out being made to feel like I’m not enough of something because of the standards that the AP community at large has set.

    Instead of women working together to support each other, they’re tearing each other down. It’s like highschool all over again. Some of my best friends are the total opposite of AP.
    For the past few years we’ve been re-evaluating what’s working for us and what isn’t. Like others have said, our kids need to see us loving each other, united, and strong, that’s the best we can give them.

  9. Great post!!

    I identify with your post and the comments in a few ways. My husband and I are a couple of those parents who were employing some AP methods in our parenting without even knowing it. For example, though I rarely wore my babies (mainly because I could only find/afford the crap carriers at Target/Walmart that aren’t really good for babywearing), I had them on my hip almost constantly. Some of that was because I worked so when I got home, I needed those babies ON ME because I missed them so much. The older 2 are 22 months apart so at times I had both on me – one piggyback style, one on the hip, or both on my hips. It wasn’t something I thought about, and they were put down and picked up countless times during those evenings and weekends.

    We also did some co-sleeping but that was about us getting some sleep, cuddling. They slept (swaddled as newborns), right next to me because . . . they were my babies and I wanted them close to me! I wanted to feel them stir & get up to feed them or change them before they went into full-blown screamo, you know? Kids got put in their own beds when it was time for sex. Our 4 year old still comes in and sleeps with us sometimes. It makes us all happy, and when it’s time for him to get in his own bed – off he goes. I’m not going to say much about the fact that in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work, he’ll come lay in my spot in the bed and then shrug me off when I try to snuggle. OH, HOW THEY FORGET?! You want dinner tonight, kid? Then cuddle with mama. I digress . . .

    When I was pregnant with the 4 year old, I was very active in LiveJournal and part of a due-date community – all the moms in there were due in July 2007. Hands down, most of them were first-time parents. We definitely had some hardcore AP moms in the com and in the beginning, they were really harsh with the rest of us who were all across the spectrum (including AP moms who weren’t as hardcore). Pretty early on we had a big community Come To Jesus session where people who felt unwelcome or attacked, spoke up. The hardcore AP moms defended themselves (I have a right to tell you you’re going to damage your child beyond repair!) but we were clear as a com that everyone should feel ok there. Thankfully, everyone chilled out. I was LJ friends with a few of the more hardcore ones, including the MOST HARDCORE OF ALL HARDCORE AP MOMS (I’m pretty sure). The MHOAHAM would say the worst things in her personal friends-only journal about other moms in the com who they looked down on. After a bit of that I un-friended, no drama.

    I now have a lot of friends who use AP methods (partially or completely) in their parenting, thankfully they’re nice people and not out to eat the heads of other parents. When I find out a friend is pregnant for the first time, I always give a couple tips: sip lots of water, read ___ book, and be really careful what online communities you hang out in so you won’t get your heart trampled on.

  10. I think I feel into AP by default. When we had our 1st, we lived in a 1 bedroom condo in downtown DC. WIth no nursery, we put the crib in our room and since I was already breastfeeding, co-sleeping followed naturally. While on my 8 month maternity leave, I did connect with some AP mothers who really helped to shape who I am as a mother today, something I am actually very proud of. As a first time AA mother, I had not seen this type of parenting modeled. It all felt right, and natural. I can only think of two times that I allowed myself to feel insecure. One of my closest friends would always say that she would not let her child spend the night away from home until he was 4. I had let my daughter stay with my mom for the weekend when she was 2 and it made me second guess myself. The other time was when another close mom friend called me and she was so exhausted but she didn’t want to pump, it was like that would be breaking the AP ‘rules’. I never pumped because I was tired, but I would pump so that I could go to the gym, as early as 2 weeks postpartum. In the early months, that’s the extent to my separation, and even then, they are with Daddy. AP works well for our family because my husband is quick to say we will not go somewhere if we can’t bring the baby (before about 6 months) so we both don’t want the baby away from us. We take them on dinner dates and to the movies, when they can’t talk and are breastfed, they are the perfect 3rd wheel :). We co-sleep until they are about 2 years old, and with 4 children, it hasn’t stopped any action from happening, lol!

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