Why I am not an attachment parent
Time Magazine deliberately started an uproar with its cover photo of a woman confrontationally breastfeeding (seriously, if you can breastfeed confrontationally, she’s doing it) a preschooler. And so the backlash against attachment parenting begins. The article is behind a pay wall, and I really don’t want to reinforce this kind of cover, so I haven’t read it.
I don’t especially welcome this backlash. If someone wants to breastfeed her kid until he’s four, that’s seriously none of my business. It certainly doesn’t constitute abuse. Some version of attachment parenting is definitely the norm among my mom friends, and I’m pretty sure all their kids will mostly turn out fine. I don’t practice attachment parenting, and I’m pretty sure my kids will turn out basically fine, too.
Here is why I’m not an attachment parent. We don’t know that much yet about child development. We don’t even fully understand how children learn the meaning of words or what other people’s mental states are. I read a lot of developmental psychology for my work, and go to a lot of talks by researchers. Really exciting and interesting stuff is happening in understanding infant minds. But we seriously don’t know anywhere near enough yet to engineer an environment that will make drastically different long term outcomes for our children. The touted long term benefits of attachment parenting are simply not well supported by data. I remember Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist who puts more emphasis on the importance of environmental stimuli to development than many others, saying that parents sweat small stuff. Putting a toddler in a playpen (gasp, baby jails!), as long as there’s something to explore, is actually not the sort of thing that is likely to make a difference one way or another. (I’ve expressed my skepticism about taking significant steps and buying products to boost your child’s cognition here.)
I, like so many kids of my generation (born in 1973), was subjected to an endless stream of cigarette smoke in the womb and in our house, was bottle-fed, watched as much TV as I wanted and whatever I wanted (often 4 hours a day), was regularly kicked outside of the house and told to go play on my own. My parents would not dream of intervening in fights between my brother and me, or my friends and me. They pretty much never sat on the floor and played with us. They took next to no interest in my developmental progress, and later my schoolwork. They certainly had books around the house, but pretty much never read to me once I left the picture book phase. This isn’t what I do with my kids, but I don’t think I turned out that bad in the end.
Given that we don’t know whether attachment parenting techniques will work in terms of making a happier higher-functioning adult, I vote for the easiest, most enjoyable method. If for someone else, that is attachment parenting, great! Not me. I am extremely fond of sleep. Seriously. I do a hell of a lot for my kids, but I will not give up sleep. Non-negotiable. We managed to get the kids sleeping through the night and out of our room by 3 months old (happily, there was no serious crying it out). I could not bear being woken up several times a night for years as many of my friends are. I would have breastfed, but due to reasons too complicated to go into here, I bottle fed. And enjoyed much of it – the fact that my husband could do his share, that I was freer to leave the baby for longer periods of time, that I could drink, etc. I only put my baby in a bjorn if we’re going out somewhere and I will need my hands. I don’t like wearing a baby most of the time. I will usually pick up my baby if he cries, but once in a while, he’s got to wait a couple of minutes while I finish what I’m doing. If he’s fussing but not crying, I leave him alone to see if he can sort it out himself. He often can. I need boundaries. I need alone time sometimes, or I will start crying. I need to let my kids play by themselves. I don’t see how I could balance the needs of all my children, my job, and pursue any interests outside of job and family while doing serious attachment parenting. I definitely get on the floor and play with my kids and talk to them more and am more interested in their schooling than my parents were. I am more vigilant about TV and more encouraging of books and interests. I encourage my kids to express negative feelings in healthy ways. But not attachment parenting.
Most of this is from ease rather than conviction, but a little bit is from conviction. I value self-reliance. I’m glad my kids are self-soothers. One thing that sort of bugs me is that on playdates with attachment parent kids, the parents are always intervening and playing with the kids, and are always insanely loaded with snacks and drinks. If I don’t bring snacks and drinks, my kid will go begging to the other parents like Oliver Twist, which is embarrassing. It’s also socially awkward to ignore when my kid does some infraction, like steal a toy, from another kid. My strong inclination is to let them work it out (with the obvious exception of if my kid hit another kid, or got physical in some other way). But if the other parent is intervening whenever her kids steals a toy, it becomes awkward for me to ignore it when my kid does it.
So now my oldest of three is a formerly bottle-fed, rarely-worn 4 year old who has been in his own room since he was two weeks old. Here’s my n of 1 observation. He’s pretty much like all the other kids he plays with who are raised by attachment parents. He is quite bright and verbal and reasonably well-behaved. His most serious health problem has been strep throat one time. He sleeps 11 hours a night unfailingly. He is less cuddly than other children. He is also less inclined to cry or have a temper tantrum than others. Who knows whether that is temperamental or not?
If I got a kick out of attachment parenting, I would do it. I don’t, so I don’t. And I’m pretty sure if we all, attachment parents and non-attachment parents, love our kids and have a reasonably stable environment, they’ll all mostly turn out all right.