How I came to hate attachment parenting

When Little Boy was an infant, I spent a lot of time online.  Trying to keep myself awake, mostly.  Somewhere amid the long dark nights, I found myself Googling “I hate attachment parenting.”  I needed affirmation for the black fire of anger that had arisen during pregnancy and spilled out everywhere during those newborn days.  I needed someone to tell me it was OK to parent in a way that really, truly worked for me and my baby.

This post is about where that black anger came from, and why I’ve had so much trouble letting it go.

Before I go any further, let me be very clear on one thing:  If you practice attachment parenting or any of its components because it is what works for your family, then this post is not about you.  All the core components of AP fall onto the spectrum of perfectly acceptable parenting behavior.  We did several of them ourselves: I breastfed Little Boy for 17 months; we frequently “wore” him around the house and neighborhood; we room-shared for the first few months.  Heck, most of those things are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

No, when I say I hate attachment parenting, I mean that I hate Attachment Parenting™, the worldview that believes that it is the only acceptable way to parent.  I hate the naturalistic fallacy that has infected the white, liberal, middle-class approach to parenting, and I hate the misinterpretations and misappropriations of science that are used to back it up.

It started when I was pregnant.  As those of you who’ve read Little Boy’s birth story know, I was interested in “natural” birth—that is, giving birth without pain medication—until Little Boy flipped breech in the third trimester and it became clear that a C-section was likely.  I am the kind of person who likes to learn as much as I can in advance, so I did a lot of reading about “natural” childbirth.  Only… it turns out that there aren’t a ton of resources for women like me, women who want to skip the epidural but stay in the hospital.  It was always sort of assumed that if I was going that route, then of course I didn’t trust doctors and of course I’d probably really want to give birth at home.

Here’s the thing: I’m a trained scientist.  I may not be a medical expert, but I have enough background to read medical papers, and my university affiliation gives me access to the full text of most major journals.  I can tell when people are spewing bullshit, and my bullshit meter was blaring like a siren.  It was so easy for me to check that all the woo about homebirth was wrong.  And all this scary stuff that people were telling me about hospitals?  It hasn’t been true since before I was born.

Unfortunately, while it was easy to dismiss the stuff that was obviously fringe, it was much harder to ignore that which had crept into the mainstream.  One of my friends, a smart, educated woman, was reading Ina May Gaskin and planning to deliver at a local birth center.  So that couldn’t be that weird, right?  The local hospital’s birth classes were taught by doulas and lactation consultants; the hospital itself boasted that babies were expected to room-in full-time after birth.  So that was good, right?

Except… My OB was a wonderful, caring woman, and the lactation consultant who visited our hospital room was a jerk.  Full-time rooming-in was terrifying and exhausting.  All of the naturalistic stuff I’d been hearing just didn’t jive with my experiences.

The second step came with the breastfeeding.  The funny thing is, breastfeeding went really well for us.  No problems with supply, no issues with weight gain, nothing to feel guilty about.  So why does the über-pro-breastfeeding culture make me so angry?

Well, there was the way the lactation consultants in my breastfeeding class spent the first 10 minutes telling us how inferior formula was.  We’re here at this class—we’ve already decided that we want to breastfeed!  Plus they seemed to be going way beyond what the science actually says, twisting and stretching the facts to suit a certain narrative about good motherhood.  Like I’ve said, I hate it when people get the science wrong.

Yet again, I found that there was no place for me in mothering culture, no place for a mother who wanted to breastfeed but didn’t want the answer to everything to be “more boob.”  It has always been extremely important to my husband that he be an active parent, and so it was very important to us that both parents be able to soothe Little Boy.  I didn’t want to nurse every five minutes.  I can’t nurse every five minutes and keep my sanity.  And you know what?  Little Boy didn’t need to nurse every five minutes.

It turns out, though, that when you search for the answer to breastfeeding questions, the answer is always “more boob, more often.”  Even when that doesn’t make sense.  Even when it’s clear that baby isn’t hungry.  The top-listed resources, Dr. Sears and KellyMom and La Leche League, they all assume that of course mom is going to be with baby constantly, probably co-sleeping, and dad’s just there to help out.

Attachment Parents like to tell you that their parenting beliefs are all about “following your instincts.”  They’re just doing what they feel they should do!  But here’s the thing: my instincts about parenting were always on the side of “he’s fine, give him a minute.”  I never had an “instinct” to run to the baby the second he started crying.  I love snuggling with him, but my “instinct” is always to put him down so that I can do things for myself once in a while.

I made the mistake, during pregnancy, of joining my “birth month group” on BabyCenter.com.  Oh hell no—do not do that.  BabyCenter purports to be a mainstream resource, but in its fora I saw women excoriated for letting their babies cry for THREE whole minutes.  Horrors!  Apparently my instinct—that is was OK to let Little Boy fidget a bit while I set up my environment to be comfortable for nursing—made me a terrible mother.

I’ve never felt the need to stare into Little Boy’s eyes constantly while I nurse, or to be down on the floor with him every second of his playtime.  Quite the opposite, in fact: I need time to myself in order to literally stay sane enough to function.

What do you do, when the culture is telling you your “instincts” are wrong?

I was already pretty viciously anti-attachment-parenting by the time we sleep trained Little Boy, but that was the last straw.  Our baby, at the age of three months, was not interested in being nursed to sleep, nor in being rocked gently off to dreamland.  We know.  We tried those things.  As long as something worked, we were willing to do it—but nothing worked.  Little Boy resisted sleep, and woke from his naps cranky and tired.

Sleep training (we used the Ferber method) was a miracle.  It took only a few nights and surprisingly little crying.  Little Boy, it seems, wanted the space to be left alone to sleep, without rocking or singing or nipples in his face.  He was happier, we were happier, and I have never had any doubt that we did the right thing.

Sleeping training, though—from an attachment parenting perspective, that is the worst thing we could do.  Some commenters have implied that we should have waited until six months.  One woman online told me that I was lazy and clearly didn’t know how to soothe my baby!  (I do know how to soothe my baby.  It involves giving him peace and quiet.)  I have seen mothers adopt severe martyr complexes about what they endured to avoid “crying it out,” even more than the martyr complexes they take on about breastfeeding.

My baby needed to learned to sleep on his own.  Anyone who thinks otherwise can fuck off.

Much later, I checked out Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, that bible of attachment parenting, from the library and read it, wondering if perhaps my impression of him had been wrong.  Nope.  The Baby Book is every bit what I thought it was, filled with dire warning about the “bad start” of an un-“natural” birth and a general snide message of “don’t you want to know that you did the best for your baby?”  The “best,” of course, being Dr. Sears’ tenants of attachment parenting.

I’ve noticed that Attachment Parents like to present an aura of being rebels, of going against the mainstream.  It’s one of the things that seems to appeal to them.  But are you kidding me?  I’m sure there are places where it’s some of this stuff is still unusual, but on the whole?  In the media?  Give it up, you guys, you already won!  The AAP is staunchly pro-breastfeeding.  Babywearing has been common for a quarter-century.  Bed-sharing remains controversial, but the AAP itself recommends room-sharing.  The classic baby-care guide What to Expect the First Year won’t even answer the question of how to put a three-month-old on a regular schedule.  Among the white, liberal, educated middle-class, the attachment parenting approach is already the norm.

In fact, that’s why it’s so hard to reject: because there are bits and pieces of it that are smart and good and true, or at least reasonable under some circumstances.  If it didn’t pretend to be based on science, I would laugh it off just as I laugh at the anti-vaccine crowd.  But it pretends to be The Right Answer, and it drives the guilt that underlies my approach to motherhood.

So there it is: the anger.  Little Boy is one year old, going on two; you’d think I could let all this go by this point.  But I still remember the deep black darkness of his early days, and I remember how much the feeling that I was doing something wrong contributed to that pain.  I felt alone and judged and hopeless, and the attachment parenting ethos is one reason why.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to be a DEtached parent.

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37 thoughts on “How I came to hate attachment parenting

  1. I love the “give him a minute” mentality. Same as the French parenting method of “the pause” described in Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Among the white, liberal, educated middle-class, the attachment parenting approach is already the norm.”

    Omg yes! I’m so sick of hearing about “how soceity is against them” when there are entire industries based on this whole attachment parenting philosophy. And I agree about The Baby Book. I was given a copy when my daughter was born, and even in my vulnerable, sleep deprived state, I could see how ridiculous it was. The language henuses is pure emotional manipulation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The overselling of science that doesn’t even say what people are saying it does drives me up the wall! And some people don’t have enough milk/ can’t BF/ can’t pump enough/ whatever. And… yeah I use a baby carrier but it’s because I wanted two hands free or to go hiking or whatever

    My oldest is now 7 and it is abundantly clear that despite me working FT when he was a baby, sleep training because SLEEP, and my personal loathing of bedsharing, he’s fine. (If other people want to bed share, good for them! It was NOT good for me!)

    And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. We did CIO with our oldest son at six months on the dot (I would have liked to try sooner but his Ped recommended waiting until 6 months). Before we sleep trained our little gem was up 5+ times a night (often just to reinsert binky) and my husband and I were miserable. We snapped at each other, I had horrible thoughts about my baby, and getting through each sleep deprived day was a struggle. We tried all of the tricks and let him sleep with us quite often, but nothing helped him sleep for more than 2 hours at a time. CIO was a process with him but it saved our sanity. He is 2 now and sleeps great, no major bedtime struggles. If we hadn’t have let him cry I’m convinced we would be paying for it in a major way now, because toddlers that don’t sleep are worse than babies that don’t sleep. Anyone who cares to judge my choices can fuck off, because ensuring endless sleep deprivation is pure torture.

    As for attachment parenting, I just don’t get it. My older son was much needier so I wore him from time to time, but my younger son is happy to lay on a blanket and explore his surroundings (he gets plenty of cuddles too, he’s sleeping in my lap right now). Babies will tell us when they need something, we don’t have to wear them constantly! I read an attachment parenting article in which the author purported that the mother should not leave the baby’s sight for THREE years. Like not leave, ever. Such utter crap! Thank you for this article, I can completely relate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Three years!?!?! That just can’t possibly be good for anyone. To me it’s such a healthy developmental step for kids to learn that there are other loving adults in their life.

      Your kids show another really important point: babies are different! Some like to be worn, some don’t. Some need to be totally left alone to sleep, others do better with something else. We should be able to adapt “good parenting” to fit our kids.

      Like

  5. I’m all for folk doing what works for them and not pissing off everyone else. I hate that we have to give names to parenting “styles” rather than just being like “you cosleep? Cool. Mine was in his/her own room dead on six months” and we all laugh and drink coffee together…
    Some women hold things like “attachment parenting” as some kind of trophy to Lord over everyone else when really it’s no superior. Babies are all different, so what works for one won’t always work for another.
    Great post 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Also, titles for parenting styles mean people feel constrained into boxes. I far prefer the lazy “use what works for you.”

      We room-shared for the first 6 months. We coslept for the next 6 months. We sleep trained at 12 months. Every time, I confused some subset of my friends who didn’t understand why I “switched philosophies.” I didn’t switch philosophies. I was worried about crushing my newborn. My 6 month old was sick and needed snuggles, and I was too stressed/busy with work and a wrist injury to deal with moving her out of my bed (cosleeping worked then). By 12 months, she didn’t want to snuggle, and I wanted my bed back, because my husband had moved into the guest room to get better sleep. So we sleep trained.

      Do what works for you and your kid, when it works for you. I wouldn’t advocate letting your kid scream for hours or feeding mountain dew. But, outside of that, there’s a pretty wide range of ways to parent that work.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I have to chime i on this as I mothered the “attachment” style without ever reading a book or hearing this label.

    Here is why: why in God’s namr would you let a tiny newborn scream and scream????

    AP or no AP, I could NEVER leave a baby screaming!

    That is horrifying to that baby! There is something.wrong with an adult that isnt very upset by that. PERIOD!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My son wasn’t a newborn. And here was the clincher for me letting him cry- he wasn’t getting enough sleep. He had dark circles under his eyes, he was cranky all the time. He wasn’t sleeping deeply enough to enter REM cycles. Sleep deprivation is awful for adults, even worse for babies who are developing very quickly. He was a new baby once he started getting adequate sleep. Was it easy to hear my baby cry? Absolutely not. But it was worth it when I had a happy, well rested baby. I was a better mom with adequate sleep also.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Same experience here—Little Boy was waking up after one 45-minute sleep cycle, and he was grumpy and tired. Once he had the chance to learn to fall asleep alone, even if he woke up after 45 minutes, he’d turn over and go back to sleep. He cried a lot less overall.

        Like

    • Most who sleep train don’t do so with newborns. In terms of screaming, when I got around to sleep training (at 12 months), my kid was spending two hours screaming and trying to fall asleep at night. She screamed *less* the first night we sleep trained. After a week, she “magically” became a better sleeper. She’s been happier and better rested every since.

      I will sleep train my next kid even earlier.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I serious thought that you snuck into my head as I read this post. Excellent, excellent thoughts. When my first was born, I had a friend who fed me non-stop “Attachment parenting is the only acceptable type of parenting” mantra. It didn’t jive with my own instincts, and left me continuously feeling like a failure.

    Fast-forward three years. I’m now mom to two, Attachment Parent mom is no longer in my life, I’ve stopped paying attention to parenting philosophies, and I’m on a SSRI for postpartum depression/anxiety. I’m also a million times happier and more confident this time around…and I am pretty sure my boys are as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. THIS times a million!!! I can’t emphasize enough. I combo feed, so I had a hard time finding support from both sides — the BF moms were all teeth-sucking about the formula use, and the formula moms were all “why would you still be nursing?” I finally found some fora in Britain that were helpful.

    Most of my friends are infected by big A Attachment Parenting and not afraid of advocating. Other friends I’ve made locally are more “standard” (what AP fights against). I felt so torn being in the middle, and I felt like I couldn’t go to anyone for support. My instincts weren’t being supported anywhere. I definitely had a lot of martyr complex. I still do sometimes. I really appreciate your post (and others like it) that remind me that I’m doing just fine.

    I completely plan on letting it go with my next kid, because my kid is fabulous and wonderful and amazingness and got EVEN BETTER once I sleep trained. Every step I took for myself (not pumping, sleep training, using ibuprofen liberally for teething, letting her watch Netflix on a limited basis) has resulted in a happier kid and a happier mom (and a happier dad too!).

    Is it strange that I think all of this parenting stuff is the patriarchy rearing it’s head? Hard for a mom to work if she needs to Attachment Parent. Hard for mom to pursue other things (government, social change, etc) if a large chunk of years is taking up by caring for small children.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad this spoke to you! You’re definitely not the only one who sees the patriarchy in this. I’ve read several analyses that interpret the cultural swing toward intensive mothering as a backlash (conscious or not) against women’s increasing participation in the workforce. Dr. Sears himself is a conservative-mindset Christian, for all he is so popular among the liberal crowd.

      Like

      • I see some of it as a backlash against the patriarchal model of yore, where mothers were shamed for breastfeeding- my grandma did because she was poor!- and given drugs during childbirth without their consent, and strapped down, and so on.

        LLL was founded by conservative Catholics who thought women shouldn’t work!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, when you go back two or three generations, the context is very different. But like I said, we won those battles! We now have effective pain relief for labor that doesn’t put you to sleep. Pretty much the entire medical community encourages breastfeeding. Maintaining an us vs. them attitude against doctors feels almost willfully ignorant at his point.

        Liked by 1 person

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  10. I know this post really resonated with me. Thanks so much for writing it. I resisted Ferber method for MONTHS because of the toxic culture saying that if you used it you were a bad mother. Meanwhile, my darling is up 3-5 times a night, and I’m getting no sleep. I finally broke down, bought the actual book by Ferber, and it was not at all the torture fest that I thought it would be. Then, in less than a week we had a full night’s sleep. I don’t even understand why I resisted this for so long, other than the toxicity of the attachment parenting blogs I found myself consuming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so easy to get sucked into the toxicity of it all, especially online, and so hard to get out. I’m glad you found what worked for you in the end.

      Ferber’s book is great, and so misrepresented! I think a lot of people don’t realize that the newer edition is even cosleeping-friendly. There’s so much good stuff about sleep disturbances in older kids, too. I originally checked out a copy from the library, but then I bought one to have on hand as a reference.

      Like

    • Yes, I found the book much more reasonable too! I also resisted due to the toxic influence from some of my friends (some of whom are no longer my friends). Our pediatrician finally convinced me to just check it out from the library and read it. We needed 5 days, and our kid transformed into a much happier, well-adjusted one, and I was actually sleeping too!

      In a semi-related note, I totally relied on some reminders from it last night. My little one woke up at 5 am. She nursed (sometimes that helps her calm back to sleep). But daddy wasn’t at home last night, and she was somehow keyed up about her toes (??) and no daddy because I nursed her in our bed. I tried to get her back to sleep, and she ended up screaming and slapping me.

      I finally just plopped her in her crib and walked away to take a breather. Three minutes later, and she was out. A great reminder that sometimes I need to get out of the way to let her fall asleep.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 🙂 And that makes complete sense to me, based on my own sleeping habits. I need it to be QUIET and STILL or I just get worked up and can’t fall asleep. (Which was why we had to move away from the loud neighbors…)

        Like

  11. “I found that there was no place for me in mothering culture.” — I wrote nearly these same words in my book, “Becoming Mother.” (I think you’d love it–it’s a narrative interspersed with reflections and a touch of academic research. Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Mother-A-Journey-Identity-ebook/dp/B011IVDZL0)

    I gave birth without medication, but then was thrown into this huge identity crisis when I couldn’t produce enough milk for my baby (because of postpartum thyroiditis–although I didn’t know it until 6 months postpartum). I didn’t feel like there were any mothers out there like me.

    In some respects, I feel fortunate at this point to have experienced this “no place in mothering culture” early in my transition into motherhood–because it forced me to acknowledge the truth that there truly was no way that I could follow one brand of motherhood 100% of the time. It’s an unrealistic standard that no one should strive to achieve.

    I don’t know why it was so hard for me to reach this conclusion. I’m a teacher. I come from a strong tradition of “particular needs of the students, particular needs of this class, particular needs of this context.” But for some reason, I felt like all the “scientific evidence” was pointing me in the direction of this choice or that choice. And that was exhausting. I will always appreciate data, but motherhood has taught me the tough lesson of learning to put my own personal intuition and experience before data.

    Like

    • I would love to read that—thank you for the recommendation. I know what you mean about the scientific evidence, especially when it comes to how it’s portrayed in books and media. I’ve reached the point where I don’t want to read *any* more parenting advice, which is probably a swing too far in the opposite direction.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahahaha!!! I love that though. It shows that you’ve found your confidence to make decisions based on your own intuition and good sense. I didn’t feel like I had any intuition about being a mom when I first came home with a newborn. I was really afraid to be alone with the baby, with no one to help me if I didn’t know what to do. I knew that was a common feeling to have as a new mom, but you know, I really felt like “I’m not common. I’m exceptional. I’ve prepared for this, so I’m going to do better than average.” But thank goodness I got over that. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I tried my pediatrician’s suggestion for CIO when my daughter was one year and it was an utter disaster. She screamed for two straight hours and her brother who shares a room with her (out of necessity- house size) was distraught and weeping, etc. But six months later I feel like I need to try again. She wakes and wants to nurse and I think I may be to the point of being tired enough to not realize how tired I am. Have any of you read the No Cry Sleep Solution and is it different from/better than Ferber? I’d be doing well to skim one but don’t have the mental energy to read much more.

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    • I haven’t read that one, but I’ve heard good things about the Sleep Lady, which I think incorporates similar principles. The big difference, I think, is that Ferber says to leave your kid alone, while the gentler options have you sit in the room and gradually get further away. Which one works better depends on your kid: some kids are more relaxed with a parent present, while others just get more worked up.

      I hope you can find something that works! I can totally appreciate that it’s a lot more complicated with siblings sharing a room.

      Like

    • It would be worth seeing if your other child could sleep in another room for a few nights as you try this. I don’t know what your bedtimes are like otherwise; I went to CIO when I was spending an hour+ (sometimes 2-3) trying to rock/sing/shuush/nurse my baby to sleep and both not being successful AND getting lots of tears and anger. My kid, even now, gets very angry when tired and will slap me hard. We’ve discovered that she really needs to be alone to fall asleep unless completely exhausted. The gentle methods with parents easing out of the room just didn’t work for us. The Ferber took 5 nights but worked great and continues to work well for us most nights. Typically, our little one falls asleep with no/minimal fuss (like, 30 seconds). Some nights, she cries for 1-3 minutes. If she cries for more than 5, I go back and check on her and do the Ferber time interval thing. Very rarely do I have to do more.

      I hope you are able to find a solution that works for you. I don’t think any one solution works best for all babies. Be willing to try lots of things, and also pay careful attention to how your kid responds. That’s how you’ll find what she needs.

      Liked by 1 person

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