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.