I have seen so many myths and misrepresentations of what Attachment Parenting is recently, I felt the need to write about it. Put something out there that maybe will help some parent somewhere struggling to get their partner involved, finding childcare, struggling with discipline or boundaries, etc. I sat down to write and absolutely scrapped everything at least once. Ok, so why am I scrapping what I have written about something so important? Why did I hate everything I wrote?
Well before I start about Attachment Parenting, I need to say this because I realized it is why I hated everything. What I am about to say is my understanding of Attachment Parenting. It is not a judgement about anyone's parenting style or choices. We all execute Attachment Parenting differently, so it looks a little different for each family. Also, some families may not be "strict" attachment parents, while others may be almost fanatical. We each make decisions about what is best for our family, so absolutely no judgement.
Firstly, I want to address the purpose of Attachment Parenting. To foster positive and strong attachments in children. The most current research is showing that children do not develop one overarching attachment style like we previously thought, bur rather they develop individual attachments with each individual care taker. So, our goal as parents is to foster secure attachments between us and our children so they can have the skills to develop secure attachments with others. So how do we go about fostering those secure attachments? We are there when they cry, we keep them close, and we show them we love them in a whole variety of ways. Seems simple right? So why are there so many myths, misconceptions, and problems? So I want to address some of those misconceptions and myths. Hopefully, this will help those of you who are struggling with yourselves, your partners, or others in your life.
One myth which I have repeatedly heard is that the nurturing quality of Attachment Parenting will cause children to latch on to their parents and never develop independence. So, this is just baseless. Developing secure attachments actually will make children more independent, as they will be confident that their caretaker will be there when they return. There isn't really a myth that goes along with my next statement, but it is extremely important that I put it somewhere. Securely attached children will learn to self-soothe and to assess situations in which they need assistance. Now, this is just my opinion but . . . Cry It Out and its variants (sleep training, Ferberizing, etc) are antithetical to Attachment Parenting. I totally get that there are times when you can't handle the crying and you need a break, I have had those days. Like they say in the hospitals, put your baby down and walk away before you shake the baby. And honestly, I can't think of a single parent I know who hasn't had a moment where the thought of smothering their screaming kid seemed totally reasonable. THAT IS NOT WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!!! I'm talking about letting your kid cry so they learn to calm themselves or so they learn to sleep through the night. Crying it out serves one purpose, it overloads the brain with cortisol, the stress hormone. So, I am going to go super intellectual for a second, so forgive me. Have you ever heard the expression, "the stress is killing me"? Well, that statement actually has a basis in neurobiological fact. Too much cortisol is a neurotoxin, so flooding your child's brain with it to the point they shut down (a.k.a. falling asleep) is literally killing the kid. The second thing is that allowing the kid to cry it out is teaching them that their caretaker may or may not show up when they are needed. Too much of that will lead to the development of an insecure attachment style. If you're wondering what an insecure attachment style looks like, that is the one where the kids are attached to their caretakers at the hip. They are too afraid to venture away from the caretaker because they aren't sure if they will be there when they get back.
Ok, I kind of went on a rant there, but if I didn't say it then I wouldn't be much of an attachment parent.
Back to the myths and misconceptions. I see a lot of Attachment Parents posting about letting their kids run the show, and not having any boundaries. WHAT? Ok, you can be nurturing and attached, but if you forget that YOU'RE THE PARENT then you might as well just give up. Attachment parenting is not laissez faire parenting. Just because you want to be attached doesn't mean you're hands off. Boundaries are super important. If you want to give your kid some control over what they eat, offer them a choice between two options you're willing to do. Don't give a 2 year old free access to the entire pantry and let them only eat ice cream, candy, and pretzels. If you want to give them control, give them choices. You can have ice cream OR candy; pizza OR spaghetti; apple OR banana. You get the picture. If you don't want your kids to color on the walls, then say so! Make sure to explain the rules and check for understanding. When I first started out on this parenting journey, I would check for understanding by simply saying "do you understand?" There is two problems with that. 1) the kid will tell you yes just to make you happy and 2) what if they don't understand the concept of understanding? A better way to check is "We only color on the paper. Where is it ok to color?" It is OK for you to say no to your kids. If you don't want to watch Thomas the Train for the billionth time, say no or offer another option. If your child doesn't want another option, then it becomes we can watch something else or We (the parents) are going to watch something we like.
Another big one going around is that Attachment Parenting means no discipline, Nope! Wrong! Discipline is absolutely part of Attachment Parenting. Remember those boundaries I just talked about, you need to enforce them. Here's the challenge, attachment parenting discipline is very different than conventional parenting discipline. The word discipline has a bad reputation, but it's not a bad thing. Time outs don't really work, especially for young kids. Instead, make sure that the child understands that their actions have consequences and don't make threats that you don't intend to follow through on. So for example, my son went through a period of time where he was putting his car toys into the dog's water. After telling him multiple times, we told him that if he did it again we would take the cars away. Well guess what, that car when right into the dog water. So, I took his cars away for a few days. He was not happy. After I gave them back, a bit of time went by without the cars taking a bath. When he was about put his car in the water again, I told him what would happen if he did it and made sure he understood. He walked away about 50% of the time. When he decided that it was better to have the cars go for a swim, and after multiple times of taking the cars away for a few days at a time, I had enough. I told him that if he did it again, they would be gone forever. I checked for understanding, and the cars went into the dog's water. Well, I have a big box of toy cars that is now living on the top of a storage shelf in my garage, and they have been gone for probably 3-4 months at this point. But. . . his toys don't go into the dog's water anymore. Discipline. Is my kid perfectly behaved? Absolutely not! But we still discipline him. If that means taking away toys, leaving the playground early, not taking him to Chuck E Cheese we still discipline. Now with older kids (like 5+), I don't really mind the time out concept. Sometimes kids need to slow their roll, and a time out is a good way to do that. But make it productive. I plan on making time outs a few minutes for them to slow down and a few minutes to talk about it. Talking is key to effective discipline, it doesn't have to be yelling, hitting, crazy long time outs, etc. And if you can't hold it together and you yell or worse, you know what that is OK. This is a good opportunity to model apologizing. You won't sacrifice your power if you apologize to your kids if you do something wrong. No matter what our traditions teach us, respect is earned not given. Apologizing when you do something wrong and not having double standards will go a long way to earning your child's respect.
Here is the really hard part about discipline: deciding if it is an actual behavior or not AND if that behavior is worth addressing. We all know that kids, toddlers especially, explode at the drop of a hat. So the first thing when deciding to discipline is to decide if it is an actual behavior or not. Recently, my son started pre-school and because he has already developed a secure attachment with us, it went fairly well. There was some separation anxiety at the beginning, but he got over it really quickly and he really loves school now. But, he has picked up some bad behaviors. Many of his peers are not as verbal as he is, nor do they have the emotional understanding which we have worked really hard on building. So now he is hitting. I count myself lucky that he only hits his caretakers and not other children, but either way hitting is not on the list of approved behaviors. So what do we do? Well, he isn't going around maliciously beating us. . .no, his hitting is a physical manifestation of overwhelming anger or sadness. Do we want to discipline emotion? No Way! Instead, we block the hitting the best we can and explain that we don't like it when he hits. We tell him that it makes us sad when he hits us, and we encourage him to use his words to describe how he is feeling. The second part of this equation is deciding which behaviors to actually discipline. This might seem silly, but it isn't. If you discipline every little thing, you could turn your kid into a nervous wreck. Imagine being at work and living under the constant pressure of getting written up if you do one little thing wrong. You need to make the conscious choice if disciplining something that isn't that big of a deal is worth the fall out.
Another just absurd misconception about Attachment Parenting is about car seats. I was once told that if we really were Attachment Parents we wouldn't let our kids sit in car seats. Ok, this is ludicrous. We live in the real world. But here is where this one comes from. Kids freak out in the car sometimes, and in the ideal attachment world we would be able to hold and comfort our kids while we are driving. I shouldn't have to say this but DON'T DO THIS! UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! But when our kids are little and freaking out there are somethings you can do to foster that attachment. Hold their hand, reassure them that you're still there, tell them that they are safe, and worst case you pull the car over and get them out of the seat.
Hope this was informative and helpful
I'm Matt a.k.a. The Attached Abba (Abba = Hebrew for Dad). This blog is detailing my journey in parenthood, and will hopefully provide a space for other dads to find support and insight.