Are you an "Attachment Parent"?
Some of you would answer that question with an emphatic "Yes!" But some of you might repeat the question to yourself and say, "I don't know - I think so - am I?" or, "I don't think so. I don't practice all of the AP principles".
I am often contacted by confused parents like a mother who recently asked, "I no longer breastfeed my baby, I try to babywear, I like the idea of having an attached relationship and using positive discipline...is it OK to practice some of the principles and not others? Am I still welcome among your group of attachment parents?" After talking with people like her I find myself struck by the possibility that many more parents could be disillusioned about what it fundamentally means to be an attachment parent and where they fall into the parenting philosophy spectrum. How many parents are out there wondering - "Where do I fit in"?
As far as I'm concerned you can practice most of the principles of attachment parenting - babywearing, breastfeeding, cosleeping, limiting separations, etc. and still not be an attachment parent if you don't let yourself get emotionally attached to your baby or child. Or you can choose to practice almost none of these principles and still be an attachment parent if you do form a genuine emotional connection.
I'm not talking about whether you love your children or how much. If you're even reading this, I'm sure you love your children. What I'm talking about is a deep mutual understanding and knowledge...about empathy. Attachment forms when we take the time to really get to know our children, from their favorite games, to their persistent fears, to their most cherished expressions of our love for them. It happens when we allow ourselves to cross over into their world, into their shoes, to feel what they feel and to respect those feelings as being every bit as important as our own. Attachment parenting isn't about how often we take our children on outings, or how many minutes a day we spend reading to them, or even whether we use a stroller or a sling, cosleeper or crib. It's about being in tune with who they are and what they need. About placing a priority not just on their physical health, but their emotional health, and recognizing the importance that parenting has in reaching that goal.
Attachment parenting in today's western society takes something else too, faith in our ability to parent our own children and a reliance on our inner knowledge of our children to guide us in raising them. Mainstream thinking in our corner of the world has not yet evolved to embrace the importance of a solid foundation of peaceful attachment for optimal child development or to understand the damage caused to children whose emotional needs are trivialized. Parenting resources still abound with one-size-fits-all child-raising rules and fix-it-all solutions that neither respect the child nor the parent-child relationship. Who knows your child best? You do, right? This is true especially if you have a strong attached relationship. And who knows how to parent your child best? You do, of course. Not your mother-in-law, not your best friend, not your pediatrician, Dr. Phil, or the latest advice-giving expert. Every person on this planet is unique, physically and emotionally, and every child has unique needs that change as they grow. Listen to your child and to what your relationship and deep knowledge of your child tell you to do, and politely shrug off any well-meaning advice to the contrary.
De-feather all of the talk about attachment parenting and you'll find that it's really about just one thing - connection. A true connection fosters mutual sensitivity, understanding and trust, essential ingredients for a strong positive relationship. With the connection like this, the ride that is parenting, with all of its sunshine and its storms, is a more enjoyable and more successful journey for both the child and the parent. Our attached relationship with our children guides us as we escort them from their days as needy infants, along the twists, bumps, calms, chills and thrills of their childhood, adolescence and young adulthood to the great plateau of their adulthood. With their hearts and minds full from a lifetime of basking in our support, our children can carry with them the tools they need to form their own true connections with the rest of the world.
And it's pretty hard not to form a strong connection and get to know your child really well when you do breastfeed, spend lots of time with them, wear or carry them everywhere you go, are available to them all night, use positive discipline and practice the other principles of attachment parenting. These are the tools that enhance the quintessential principle of attachment parenting, Emotional Responsiveness.
If you are a parent who trusts your instincts to nurture, who gets behind your children's eyes and into their heads, tries to understand what it is like to live from their perspective and really gets to know them...if you ask yourself, "how would I feel if I were in my child's place and how would I want to be treated?" If you strive to have the kind of connection between you and your child that brings out the best in both of you, and work to understand your child's needs and to help her feel her best, you are an attachment parent. And as an attachment parent, you not only love your children, you love being with them, learning with them, and building on that attached relationship for a lifetime.
Jennifer Scoby is the mother of Sierra ('98) and Genevieve ('02) and is married to Eric, a professional firefighter. Jennifer juggles family life, leading an active chapter of Attachment Parenting International in Peoria, Illinois and working outside of the home full-time. The Scoby 's are outdoor enthusiasts and include hiking, camping, kayaking and mountain biking in their long list of favorite things to do. Jennifer's goal is to provide parents, including herself, with parenting tools for happier children and happier families.