Image by Virginia Zuluaga via Flickr
Here is a cute little article about not self-flagellating with AP rules, about following the spirit rather than the letter of Attachment Parenting ‘law’: kellymom.com :: There is No Doctrine for Attachment Parenting: Being AP is a Frame of Mind!.
I agree with Diana West from KellyMom’s sentiment but I still find myself arguing with her in my head – about tiny little details, mind you. I totally share the feeling that many moms can’t or don’t feel the pull to follow every AP practice but that does not stop them from being natural-minded moms who put their kids first and for whom the aim is to create a strong, solid base and a secure attachment with their children. We all do the best we can and none of us is perfect – I sure am not! It is the intention and the overall approach that matter in whether somebody can feel part of this movement, generally. In fact, I would go so far to say that it should be a totally self-nominating group, if you feel like an Natural mom, you probably are… but here I want to make a slight distinction. My bug is with mums who are doing none of the AP style behaviours (as described by Jean Leidloff or Dr Sears) and still want to claim to be AP, somehow. I have come across some mums like this. They will tell me they are very attached to their kids and think that means they are ‘attachment parents’. Through my co-sleeping, breastfeeding blurry eyes I squint at them, too tired from all that baby-carrying to really argue (lol).
And yes, they may, as I think is Diana’s main point, still foster a very strong and secure attachment with their kids. We should not lose sight of this: it is this goal of achieving what psychologists call ‘secure attachment’ that unites us, really, rather than the means we chose to achieve it. So, yes, we all make the choices we make and that doesn’t make us bad parents, neither does it mean your child will not be securely attached to you (as is vital for their social and emotional wellbeing later in life)… but… but that isn’t enough to say you practice AP. Attachment Parenting as it is generally defined now does refer to the means. What we have in common, as a group, is not just that we put relationship at the center of our parenting, it is also about how we chose to foster that closeness, especially in the early days. It does refer to these crazy sacrifices some of us chose to make, these difficult, unpopular, sometimes socially marginalising parenting choices some of us make (like co-sleeping, baby-wearing, extended breastfeeding, etc.) and our clamoring under the label of Attachment Parenting (as unflattering as these words may be) helps us find a safe-haven, a community of other ‘crazies and hippies’ that have made these same choices, too.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I readily accept under the Natural Parenting label any parent that makes any attempt to parent from the Heart, who practices gentle, compassionate discipline (from the original greek meaning ‘education’), who considers the environment in their choices and who often puts their kid first, honouring their needs and wants as a whole, complete little human of equal value in the family (not one who should just fit in with the parents’ schedules and dreams). Still, I wanted to add this short little caveat and perhaps reserve the AP title specifically for those who are committed to those practices (yes, even when we can’t do all of them, all of the time – agreed).
So, I agree with Diana and I want to take a second to remember that labels (as reviled and vilified as they are) serve a purpose, too, sometimes a unifying, comforting, even healing one, that makes us feel part of a family, not ‘freaks’ (as I overheard somebody calling people who breastfeed toddlers, the other day). We are not alone and while KellyMom’s Diana is right that we absolutely should not punish ourselves if we can’t tick every box on Dr Sear’s list, it is also not ideal, in my view, for the title to become so loose as to become meaningless. Not every giving, caring parent is an AP parent. If you tick none of the ‘main’ boxes, if you do not co-sleep, breastfeed on cue or babywear most of the time then you probably aren’t an AP parent… that doesn’t mean you are not a great, responsive, gentle and natural parent, it just may mean those things aren’t for you. Or, as Diana points out they may not have worked for this baby specifically.
But even as I write this I find myself faltering. I do want this label to have some meaning, for it to refer to a specific set of practices to which that some parents commit (not because they read it in a book, but because it felt right). However, I also want this label to be inclusive. I want it to describe a broad approach of being responsive to a child’s needs and feelings knowing that how we respond to these needs will vary from child to child. I want to go to gatherings of attachment parents and find a spectrum of practices represented under this banner, not a tight group of rule-based parenting zealots. I want to welcome in those who tried to breastfeed but whose kid was losing weight so they switched to formula or those who believe co-sleeping is best for newborns but found it just didn’t work with their child. I guess what I want ultimately is not an exclusive little club of APers that I can find refuge in, what I want is broad acceptance of these practices within the wider society. This stuff is normal; it is alright to make these choices… just as many other practices are great, too.
So, what is in a label? Does it matter if we include everybody who puts relationship and ‘attachment’ first or if we include, from among them, only those who specifically adopt this set of practices? Yes and no. Ultimately it doesn’t matter and we can all get along no matter what our mothering, parenting choices, surely… but a name is used to simplify communication, to help us know – in this case – what parents we have most in common with. I say keep ’em both. We have words that describe parents committed to parenting from the heart and putting the child at the center of the relationship: positive parenting, gentle parenting, natural parenting describe this kind of parenting all of us here recognise and adhere to one extent or another. And among these positive parents you will find us, the attachment parents who all share some specific ways of putting these general principles to practice. Is that not worthy of its own label?