When I first found out I was going to become a mother, I went into full research mode.
I read every parenting book I could get my hands on, I peppered friends with questions, and I dove into learning about all the varied parenting theories out there, from Love and Logic to anything ever written by Dr. Sears (the supposed creator of attachment parenting).
I was trying desperately to find the one that was “right” so that I could follow it exactly and be the perfect mother. I wanted an instruction manual to parenting.
Then my daughter was born, and I realized that there was no such thing as perfect. And that all of these parenting philosophies suffered from one fatal flaw: They assumed they had the answers for each and every parent, child, and situation.
The reality of parenting is that nothing is ever that simple. Every day is different from the next, and every family has different needs and expectations.
The conclusion I finally came to was that trying to subscribe wholeheartedly to any of these theories probably wasn’t the greatest idea ever. Few of them allowed room for individual personalities and circumstances. Still, at the end of the day, I probably subscribe most to attachment parenting.
There are aspects of each of the theories that I have personally borrowed from, but attachment parenting matches my personality the best.
So what does it entail? And is it healthy?
The Cornerstones of Attachment Parenting
You could read about attachment parenting for weeks and still not feel fully educated in all that goes into this parenting philosophy, but Psychology Today does a good job of breaking down the main aspects of attachment parenting, which they define as:
- feeding on demand
- holding or touching
- responsiveness to crying
While my daughter did sleep in a bassinet in my room for the first few months of her life, she was in her crib in a nursery by 4 months, and she never once slept in my bed. I am far too light a sleeper to have ever been comfortable with that, so I obviously didn’t adhere to attachment parenting there.
I also didn’t feed her on demand. I’m a creature of habit myself, and my little girl was bottle-fed, mostly because she was adopted and I never produced breast milk. So sticking to a schedule of wake, eat, play, sleep worked for us. There was never a point where she seemed to want anything different.
But holding and touching? That was where I was all-in on attachment parenting. I wore my daughter in a wrap everywhere for the first year of her life, and still pretty frequently up to the age of 2. If I was cooking, doing the dishes, or even just working on my computer, she was on me. I never carried her car seat around. Instead, I kept a wrap on me, and she was forever transferred from the car seat to the wrap as we reached new destinations.
I also stuck to attachment parenting philosophies when it came to crying. We never did cry it out, and I was always responsive to her tears. As it turned out, she started putting herself to sleep around 4 1/2 months, so there was never a point when I felt a need to question this methodology. For us, it worked.
But Is It Healthy?
Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of attachment parenting, at least in terms of safety, is co-sleeping.
In 1999, a report titled “Hazards Associated with Children Placed in Adult Beds” was circulated. The report detailed research that seemed to indicate an increase in infant deaths when co-sleeping was practiced. As a result, a nationwide campaign began to keep children under 2 out of adult beds.
More recent research shows that bed sharing is still associated with a higher risk of SIDs, but that the key is to implement safe co-sleeping practices. If you like the idea of co-sleeping, but want to ensure that your child is safe and healthy, try room sharing instead. You can keep the crib or bassinet within arm’s reach so you’re still able to provide all the same love and contact.
For some families, co-sleeping or room sharing can feel like a necessity and the one way to get the sleep you all so desperately need. For others, mine included, it just seems like a recipe for restless nights.
If you are going to practice co-sleeping, the number one most important thing to remember is to follow safe co-sleeping recommendations.
What about the rest of it, though? Is it healthy to be so attached to your child?
Well, perhaps the first question should be: healthy for whom? Proponents argue that nurturing a strong attachment is crucial for a child’s emotional development, and surely no parent would argue the truth in that. The debate comes down to whether or not attachment parenting is the only way to nurture that attachment.
Which is when one has to ask if attachment parenting is healthy for the parents? So much of this parenting philosophy calls on parents to be all-in, giving themselves over wholly to the journey of parenting.
There isn’t a lot of research on whether or not doing so is “healthy” for parents, but I would argue that a lot of it comes down to individual personalities and needs. For some parents, being so wholly involved will simply come naturally. Others may need more in the way of individual pursuits and “me time” in order to feel at their best as people, which in turn allows them to be at their best as parents.
The answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If attachment parenting feels right to you and fits your basic parenting philosophies, by all means, do the research, employ safe methods of implementation, and follow your gut when it comes to making those parenting decisions. If the cornerstones of attachment parenting seem stifling to you, then no, it probably wouldn’t be a healthy philosophy for you to take on.
And that’s okay.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in parenthood is that what works today may not work tomorrow. Keeping an open mind and remaining flexible in your ideas and parenting philosophies is sometimes key to survival.
Don’t make the mistake of holding yourself stringently to the ideology of any parenting philosophy, because you’re sure to burn out quickly if you do. Instead, learn what you can, educate yourself on what’s out there, and embrace the methods that seem to fit both your and your child’s needs best.
There is no one right answer, but there are a hundreds of different combinations of answers that may wind up being the right fit for you.