by Sean Sands
Staff Writer, The Gazette
Sep. 1, 2004
Group promotes 'attachment' philosophy
Karen Krueger decided a few years ago to take a different approach to raising her child: She would do it the way people have been doing it "for thousands and thousands of years."
The Takoma Park mother embraced a philosophy known as attachment parenting, employing methods like baby wearing, positive discipline, breastfeeding and co-sleeping, where the parents share their bed with the child. It's an approach that shuns the traditional crib-and-bottle to develop strong emotional and physical bonds between parent and child.
Attachment parenting has created "an amazing, close bond" between Krueger and her 3-year-old daughter Alya, she said. "The typical American way of raising their children is, on this planet, a relatively new phenomenon. It might not be the right answer, with science backing up the benefits of the physical connections that come with attachment parenting."
Some attachment parenting practices, like baby wearing and maintaining balance in family life, are starting to become mainstream, she said. However, some parents take a much different approach on other attachment parenting aspects, such as letting a child decide when it's time to give up breastfeeding and get his or her own bed.
The heart of attachment parenting lies in fulfilling a child's basic needs for trust, affection and empathy through a set of eight ideals* promoted by Attachment Parenting International, a Nashville, Tenn.,-based organization. The ideals cover the fundamentals of attachment parenting, ranging from emotional responsiveness to avoiding prolonged periods of separation.
Krueger and other area parents get an opportunity to discuss the ideals monthly at meetings of Takoma Attachment Parenting, a support group started about 18 months ago. Krueger and her husband are one of five couples who co-lead the group, which meets the second Sunday of each month at the Heffner Community Center on Oswego Avenue.
The meetings are open to anyone who wants to learn about attachment parenting or connect with other parents who follow the ideals, she said. "We've had people who are pregnant who are just kind of seeing what it's all about, or people who are having problems with discipline."
Discipline is a universal issue for parents, no matter how they decide to raise their children, Krueger said, and attachment parenting focuses on using positive discipline to help kids learn the difference between right and wrong.
"I can yell at my child for doing something wrong, but what is that teaching her?" she asked. "It's going to teach her that when somebody does something she doesn't like, she can yell at them."
Positive discipline means getting beyond a child's bad act and figuring out why the child acted the way he or she did, said Adam Frank, a Takoma Park resident and co-leader of Takoma Attachment Parenting.
"It's about being able to understand and look beyond what they are doing," Frank said. "To see what they want and what they are trying to express when they can't always express it can be difficult. Your gut reaction is to say, 'Don't do that,' but you have to step back and problem-solve with them."
Attachment parenting is a philosophy that "just makes a lot of sense" for Frank, who said he has raised his 2-year-old daughter Zahava according to the eight ideals. "I really think the key of it is the emotional responsiveness -- it's listening to your child and treating your child like a person, and honoring what they're trying to ask for."
There are some drawbacks, however, especially when it comes to sharing a bed with a baby or toddler. Rob Antonucci of Takoma Park said he and his wife have allowed their 3-year-old son Curtis to sleep with them since he was an infant.
"I totally see why people sleep-train their kids," Antonucci said. "I would say I am feeling sleep-deprived and hit over the head with a lead brick the majority of mornings. It's tough to go on a baby's schedule."
But Krueger said the benefits outweigh any changes in the adults' sleeping pattern. "Babies will breathe in rhythm with their mothers if they sleep with them, plus the skin-to-skin touch boosts the immune system."
Co-sleeping is probably the most controversial aspect of attachment parenting, according to Virginia Shiller, a licensed clinical psychologist and lecturer at the Yale (University) Child Study Center. She said both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics warn that co-sleeping could put young children at risk for suffocation or strangulation.
"While there certainly might be some nice, positive aspects to it, it has a potentially physical danger," she said. "Also, we know that many healthy kids are raised having a room of their own -- having responsive parents -- and that they don't need to have their parents available throughout the night."
Shiller said the attachment parenting movement reinforces some basic areas of child rearing, most importantly that children need consistent, positive and responsive parenting. "Kids that have a healthy bond with their parents have been shown in studies to be more self-reliant and have better peer relations, but can you take it to an extreme where it isn't true?
"My concern is that there could be more than just a good bond with parents, where [the children] are 'tied' to their parents."
Even though Shiller said she was concerned in general about parents who could become "overly dogmatic" in their approach to parenting, members of the Takoma Park group all stressed that the eight ideals are just that: ideals, and not regulations.
"Some families are just not able to practice all eight ideals, and that's OK," Krueger said. "The goal is to practice as many as you can -- to be as attached a parent and as close a family as you can."
For more information about Takoma Attachment Parenting, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-920-2696.
copyright 2004 The Gazette-ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
* Prior to May of 2007, API's Eight Principles of Parenting were known as the Eight Ideals.