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Sunday
Nov162008

What is attachment parenting?

I decided to get back to basics with my post today. I've faced a lot of misunderstanding recently about what Attachment Parenting is, so I wanted to clarify what it is to me and how it is different from other styles of parenting.

Attachment Parenting Philosophy


Attachment parenting is not a list of rules. It is a philosophy with which to approach parenting. Attachment Parenting International talks about the importance of proximity, protection, and predictability as a base for the attachment parenting philosophy. A number of different writers have explained the attachment parenting philosophy in different ways, all of which are helpful.

Diana West, IBCLC in There is No Doctrine for Attachment Parenting: Being AP is a Frame of Mind says:
An AP parent is defined by how she interacts with her child. Does she make a long-term commitment to spending as much time with her children as she possibly can? Does she include her children in every appropriate aspect of her life? Are her children an integral part of her life, rather than an inconvenience that must be quickly taught to comply? Does she respect the individuality, feelings, and thoughts of her children? Is she in tune with her children's needs and does she seek to meet those needs as a primary priority? Does she interact with her children in such a way that an ever-deepening bond is developed, rather than polarizing the respective positions of power between her and the children? Does she seek to be an emotional coach or is she a policeman?

An AP parent is one who wholeheartedly believes that children are inherently good and that by fostering an atmosphere of complete trust and intimacy, a bond is created that provides those children with the foundation and security to become their best selves.

According to Jan Hunt's article What is Attachment Parenting? on the Natural Child Project, "Attachment parenting, to put it most simply, is believing what we know in our heart to be true. And if we do that, we find that we trust the child". She goes on to explain the ways that we trust that child and later says:
Through attachment parenting, children learn to trust themselves, understand themselves, and eventually will be able to use their time as adults in a meaningful and creative way, rather than spending it in an attempt to deal with past childhood hurts, in a way that hurts themselves or others. If an adult has no need to deal with the past, he can live fully in the present.

As the Golden Rule suggests, attachment parenting is parenting the child the way we wish we had been treated in childhood, the way we wish we were treated by everyone now, and the way we want our grandchildren to be treated. With attachment parenting, we are giving an example of love and trust.

Our children deserve to learn what compassion is, and they learn that most of all by our example. If our children do not learn compassion from us, when will they learn it? The bottom line is that all children behave as well as they are treated - by their parents and by everyone else in their life.

These are but a few of the wonderful articles that attempt to define the philosophy behind attachment parenting. I really believe that it is parenting the way we would do it if we were free of societal influences.

Attachment Parenting Principles


Attachment Parenting International has 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting. I've provided a summary of them below and provided a link to the more detailed page on API's Web site for each one:

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting: Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible.

  2. Feed with Love and Respect: Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant's nutritional and emotional needs. "Bottle Nursing" adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.

  3. Respond with Sensitivity: Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.

  4. Use Nurturing Touch: Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.

  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care: Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.

  7. Practice Positive Disipline: Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.

  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life: It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself. (See also my post on achieving balance as a working mom).


Attachment Parenting Tools


When people think of Attachment Parenting, they often think of Dr. William Sears. He coined the term and came up with the 7 Baby B's of Attachment Parenting. This list is essentially seven tools that can help parents to foster attachment with their babies. You do not have to do all seven of these to be an attached parent and you can do all seven of them and not be an attached parent. The seven B's are a toolbox that can make attachment parenting easier. It is easier to use a drill than a screwdriver in many instances, but it doesn't mean that it isn't possible to do the same job with a screwdriver or that it isn't preferable in some circumstances, but it probably will require more effort and more time.

Here are the 7 tools:

  1. Birth bonding

  2. Breastfeeding

  3. Babywearing

  4. Bedding Close to Baby

  5. Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry

  6. Beware of Baby Trainers

  7. Balance


I hear so many people say, I don't babywear so I'm not an attached parent or breastfeeding didn't work out, so I'm not an attached parent. That is not the way that it works. As explained above, it is the frame of mind and philosophy that you have that is important, not the specific tools that you choose or don't choose along the way. Diana West, IBCLC has a great article explaining why these are not rules: AP is a Frame of Mind.

Mainstream Parenting and the Pushing Away Trend


In a comment on my anti-CIO post, a reader asked what I meant when I said I was glad I didn't need to justify being a mainstream parent and that I was glad to be an attached parent instead and felt that comment was offensive to the millions of mainstream parents that are attached to their kids.  So let me explain what I meant.

In general, I would see mainstream parenting as doing what other people are doing or what society expects without questioning it, putting the parents' needs ahead of the child's needs, and assuming that we need to push our children to be independent at as early an age as possible and that if we do not do that, we are spoiling them (to see a great article refuting that position, read: Am I Spoiling?). Mainstream parenting often involves using schedules and punishment, cribs and strollers, weaning and sleep training, etc. It is about the parents doing something to the child rather than with the child.

The author of the Attachment Parenting Blog does a great job explaining the pushing away trend that is typical of what I would call mainstream parenting:
Pushing children to become independent from the earliest possible age is a definite trend in our society and has been for decades. Attachment parents don't aspire to have our children become so independent so quickly.

Pushing independence from such a young age also tends to sever the deep attachment a child needs to feel with his or her parents, a connection that forms the foundation of trust and attachment for the rest of his or her life.

I can remember about six years ago a pal of mine telling me proudly how he and his wife had traveled to France for two weeks and that their five and eight year old children didn't even miss them. He was proud of how independent they were. Me? I was horrified: while I want my kids to be independent and able to live their own young lives, I certainly also want them to miss me, to want to see me and show me what's important to them every single day, to know that I'm there to protect and love them.

But it's what we see as this "pushing away" trend that us attachment parenting folk are fighting. Name any element of parenting and I can show you how there's an element of separation involved. From the shorter and shorter times that women breastfeed to the use of strollers instead of carrying babies, to cribs and separate nurseries at earlier and earlier ages.

The Other Extreme: Insecure Attachments or Attachment Disorders


All types of parents fall into mainstream parenting. Some do it because they don't know any better. Some do it because everyone else is. Some do it because that is how they were raised. These parents generally love their kids and do want to be attached to them, but just don't necessarily realize that some of the things they are doing may make it more difficult to create a secure attachment or may be damaging to their relationship with their child.

But there is another extreme that is a whole lot worse for the child than that. That is the type of parenting that leads to insecure attachment. This sometimes comes about as a result of maternal depression or drug and alcohol abuse, but can also be the result of taking the "pushing away" trend to an extreme and essentially doing the opposite of what is suggested by the attachment parenting principles described above. The most extreme type of attachment problem would be reactive attachment disorder, which is extremely rare and almost always the result of severe abuse or neglect or multiple traumatic losses or changes in their primary caregiver.

I mention this only because some people incorrectly suggest that not following attachment parenting results in attachment disorders. That is not the case. I believe that people following mainstream parenting trends may have a more difficult time bonding with their children than those following attachment parenting, but it doesn't mean that it is not possible to bond with your child as a mainstream parent and it certainly doesn't mean that mainstream parenting leads to attachment disorders.

Concluding Thoughts


Attachment parenting for me means that my child's needs and my relationship with my child are the first considerations in any parenting decision I make. It isn't easy to put my child's needs and my relationship with my child first all of the time. However, I see it as an investment in the future. It is an investment in my child's future and in the future of our relationship. It is an investment of time right now in childhood that will hopefully save us time, trouble and heartbreak later in life by allowing us to enjoy life and enjoy each other's company rather than dealing with the results of delinquency or depression. Ultimately, I agree with Attachment Parenting International that the long-range vision of Attachment Parenting is to "raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection."

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Reader Comments (73)

Thanks for this awesome post! I was very uninformed with my first daughter and followed mainstream practices. Then, when my second child was born I knew better, so I did better. And I am a little sad every day when I see how different they are. The first child, who I had CIO, roll in strollers, sleep in a crib, be in childcare etc. is very anxious and sad. The second child, who was (and still is) a co-sleeping, breastfeeding, sling-riding, at-home-with-mommy kiddo is very happy and secure. I wish I would have known better with the first one, but have settled my soul a bit by trying to spread the word of AP to help mamas and children of the future.

A friend posted this entry on FB and I will have to follow your blog! Love it!

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

[...] What is attachment parenting? www.phdinparenting.com I decided to get back to basics with my post today. I’ve faced a lot of misunderstanding recently about what Attachment Parenting is, so I wanted to clarify… [...]

[...] Blog post What is attachment parenting? www.phdinparenting.com I decided to get back to basics with my [...]

[...] Julian was born, I knew nothing about Attachment Parenting. We had a crib, in a separate room. We had a swing. We had some sort of baby carrying contraption, [...]

Sarah V.: I appreciate your statements here. Although my parenting style reflects many AP values, I, too, feel as though these debates often turn on oversimplification based on sweeping assumptions about why people do what they do, with overall negative results. And I think anyone who is a parent and is being honest will say that it's rarely either/or; parenting is constant improvisation, constant trial and error. Labels and boxes are rarely helpful when it comes to something as incredibly challenging as parenting; empathy, a sense of humour and willingness to embrace complexity and messiness do a lot more good when it comes to offering support and promoting family and individual health. And yeah, the idea that putting your child in a stroller some of the time is about "pushing away" makes me laugh--sometimes it's just easier to use a stroller than a carrier, no politics, no ideology involved (i.e. when carrying many packages, toting multiple young children, if mom or dad is feeling tired, etc.). They sent that up pretty well in the movie "Away We Go," as I recall. Anyway, I think rather than spend so much time defending a named theory, it might be more beneficial to focus on the actual parents who struggle to meet their children's neesd while also caring for themselves, to nurse in an anti-breastfeeding culture, to have time with their children in a society that does not value domestic labour, etc. etc.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlisa

i completely agree. i identify with the principles but bristle against the AP label. maggie gyllenhaal's character was painfully funny example of why.

the label does set up and Us vs Them mentality that i find unhelpful.

I've been reading your blog for yonks and often use them as a starting point for conversations. This post is one of those! Thank you

May 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJolene

I have been wanting to write about what AP means to me and I seeyYou have written so much of how I feel. It is an amazing feeling when you see trust and love in your child's eyes and know what you are doing for them is pure.

For almost nine years and three children I have been a dedicated Attached Parent. With each one comes a deeper commitment and stronger bond.

Thank you for putting out a well written post on the subject. I will be linking back to you on this one.

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJill V. / TerraSavvy

Hi.. This is good. Thank for posting this information here for all of us. I agree that this is a great info. I love to read this and will suggest more people to see this.

http://www.heart-diet.org/" rel="nofollow">www.Heart-Diet.org

[...] Attachment parenting advocates for feeding a baby on demand.  For a newborn, feeding on demand might look like feeding at every whimper because newborns have tiny, tiny bellies that digest breastmilk quickly and need to be refilled frequently.  However, older babies have refined their hunger cues and also have larger stomachs, which means that they can and do go longer between feeds.  Babies cry for a myriad of different reasons, but parents will quickly find that even if you try to feed a baby who is crying because she has a dirty diaper, she’s not going to actually feed very well at all.  She might pop on and off, squirm, scrunch up her face and continue to wail in frustration.  It is surprisingly difficult to breastfeed a baby who isn’t hungry and doesn’t want to be fed. If baby is demanding something other than food, she will keep demanding it until that need is met. [...]

[...] who reads my blog regularly knows that I’m a huge proponent of attachment parenting. I believe that the bond between a child and her parents is essential. But I also believe that [...]

October 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMothers shouldn’t have o

[...] with it. My conclusions (not assumptions) from all of my reading, and thinking and writing, is that attachment parenting is the right parenting style for our family. It is right because I see it as the easiest way to develop the type of relationship I want to have [...]

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLet’s throw the assumpti

[...] a baby for any length of time is never easy – but leaving an attachment-parented, breastfed baby is the [...]

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeaving is the hardest part

[...] What is attachment parenting? is a great post describing attachment parenting from the blog PhD in Parenting, plus comparison to mainstream parenting and comments on attachment disorders. [...]

February 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAttachment Parenting « M

This is a great article. It's a shame that there is a large handful of "attached" parents out there that are judgemental and critical of others, to an extreme that pushes some people away from this philosophy of parenting. I am very attached in many aspects of my parenting, and somewhat mainstream in others- my parenting is different with each of my children, because each child is different and has different needs- the underlying principles are the same. I have too many self-proclaimed "ultra-attached" parents that I have cut out of my life for being nicey nice to my face, and uber condescending and nasty behind my back. For no good reason.

I know that I am not the only person to have experienced that from other people that haven't grasped the "more flies with honey" approach to their disdain for mainstream parenting.

I thank you for this article- I felt it was very approchable for all parents, coming from all directions. It's too bad I can't say the same about the person who's wall I snagged it off of- she could take some pointers from you, on how to promote attached parenting in a positive, open, and well-meaning way.

My main issue with many of these people is the breastfeeding attacks I have endured. It's sad that women attack other women for bottle-feeding, when they don't know how hard the road has been for the person or people they have attacked, and will never begin to understand because everything "came naturally", or was "easy-peasy" for THEM. Not everyone is blessed with magic boobs. Some of us have more magical areas than this, and it sucks to be told that we must be doing something wrong, or that we are abusing our children by having to feed them "unnaturally".

I hope other mothers reading my comment take notice on whether they are judging others too harshly, and try a little more tenderness and understanding. It goes a LONG way.

Thank you for having your focus with regards to feeding, be correctly on the "with love and respect" and "breastfeeding whenever possible". As someone who did it all "right" but didn't have the proper end result, this is nice to see.

I stand up for ALL mothers. I hope that more people will start trying to do that as well. We may just find more women running to more natural ways of parenting, rather than away from the "crazy judgey ladies"(I've heard this description many times- as many as I've used it) throwing daggers at them, as they make their way through motherhood.

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterk

[...] ever-increasing expectations that come with it, are undermining the status of women. As a feminist, attachment parenting style mother and career-oriented white collar professional, I don't deny the importance of the [...]

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBadinter's "The Conf

[...] of the problem with articles like the one from TIME is the complete misinterpretation of what attachment parenting is. It isn’t about creating perfect children (as some have said). It also isn’t as simple [...]

[...] this way. You could easily be doing it and not even know it has a name. Here is a great post on what attachment parenting is by one of my favorite bloggers. She writes, “Mainstream parenting often involves using [...]

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlternative Housewife

[...] parenting is a frame of mind that focuses on creating a bond of trust and intimacy with your child through proximit.... The principles of attachment parenting focus on preparation, love and respect, responding with [...]

[...] thinking about it the following morning while she was still asleep, feeling badly. I read about attachment parenting and “discipline that is empathetic, loving, respectful, and strengthens the connection [...]

November 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthis icing is bitter

What about parents of multiples? More than half of the "Seven Baby B's of Attachment Parenting" are almost impossible with twins or more, such as
-"birth bonding" (some due to prematurity or other factors)
- "breastfeeding" (lactation issues, not producing enough milk and needing to use formula are common issues with multiples, etc.)
-"baby wearing" (impossible/extremely painful to wear two - or more! Especially after c-section and for diastasis recti folks it's agony)
-"belief in the language value of your baby's cry" (one twin has to wait while tending to the other and there is no other choice, if all other soothing tactics have failed, than to let one cry while you're soothing the other crying baby - one only has two hands)
-"beware of baby trainers" (if one is not on a schedule with multiples ones life becomes chaotic and unmanageable - multiples parents don't have the luxury of going with the baby's flow, since there are 2 or more flows, they don't normally coincide and life would become unmanageable for the parents and, by extension, the children if these parents tried to follow several flows at once).

I think there needs to be a different lens applied to what attachment parenting looks like for those of us who are parents of multiples, which render the requisite "7 Baby B's" physically or logistically impossible - we don't desire attachment parenting any less!

February 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTwin Mom

Wow, this post makes me glad that I'm the type of person that reads and does my own research rather than rely on whatever the next fad doctor comes up with. It's a good business really, I should get into it.

Attachment parenting/ mainstream parenting, what a load of hogwash, extremist nonsense. I'll con my own term...instinctive parenting, yep, I'll copyright that term. As in Use your heads people! Stop looking for handbooks on how to raise your children! You know what's crazy, you already know how to! It's ingrained in your brain, even the most primitive animal knows how to instinctively care for its young. And nature is a great teacher, she lets us know what to do if only we were paying attention. Baby cries? Feed it, or burp it or clean it, night time? Sleep! Sunrise....wake up! Baby grows teeth, time to wean, baby can walk, talk run, time to teach it( Gasp!) independence! Oh my bloody goodness what a concept!
Human beings, like all other animals are adapted to survive our environment. Like it or not attachment or mainstream whatever the heck you label yourself your children will grow up and actually do NOT need you to coddle them all the way to adulthood. All the protecting in the world won't keep them from their nature....all the ' training' in the world won't make them any more independent that they are meant to be at any given point.

But they will adapt...to any and every situation they are in and will compensate and make adjustments lots of times subconsciously based on their environments. If you think that a child will somehow be harmed because of using a stroller or crib you are very misguided. Birds build nests to hold their babies. I guess that makes kangaroo's better parents because they carry their Joey everywhere.

I come from an eastern third world culture the kind doctor sears likes to point to in his research and I can tell you that the reason women wear their babies where I'm originally from is because they have no choice. They have to wake up at dawn to work their farms, fetch their water from rivers, cook and clean,while their husbands go off to do manual work and look to sell or kill something miles away in some market. They have no strollers as they can't afford them, they don't have cribs because those are luxuries they can't fathom. They can't put their kids down because they have no choice, not because they are "attachment parenting", their share beds because they have one bed for the family and baby isn't old enough to sleep on the floor, they best feed for at least a year because food is scarce, breast milk is cheap and grains are hard on the young baby's stomach.....cause that's mostly all they have to eat...grains...... The women tend to their babies 24/7 because in these parts that is their job. Their whole reason for life. It's women's work, men don't tend to babies.

But that said even in these cultures that would seem like a utopia for some misguided folks here children are taught independence as soon as they are old enough to be independent. Not for the parents convenience ( laughable concept in those parts btw.... That word doesn't even exist in our language) but because it is ESSENTIAL for their survival.
These kids grow up just fine, well adjusted, happy and completely oblivious that somewhere in pleasant ills America some young woman views his mother's lack of options and consequent adaptations as some kind of ....I dunno, superior way to parent.

I hate to break it to you all kangaroos but you aren't doing anything special. Your kids won't be special or better for it. They will adapt to what your doing and go on to be the people they were going to be anyway.
Stop spending all this time pointing at the birdies.... They actually know what they are doing.

Sorry if I sound upset, this westernized way of romanticizing things annoys the crap out of me. And this need to put things in boxes and categorize things that don't need categorizing. Everybody use your heads. You all know how to parent, it's encoded in you, stop drinking the kook aid already, get of the internet, read some books....old ones... Preferably about evolution and natural selection. Watch a documentary and turn off Dr, Oz or sears or Ferber or whatever other male "experts" on parenting.

Annoying. If I spelled wrong sue me. I speak a few languages...

September 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChez moi

I've always thought it was funny that we are encouraged to have our babies be independent. My baby is learning how to hold his head up and you want him to be independent? Sure, someday he will, but how do you teach a baby who is completely helpless and can do nothing without me, to be independent? There is a reason babies like us to be near them, because when they are alone they are incapable of controlling anything in their environment and spending too much time alone can be dangerous.

September 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEarthea

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