Attachment Parenting, Ideology, and the Mommy Wars

It doesn’t matter how I feed her, how I transport her, where she sleeps…we are attached.

The Atlantic recently published an article online titled What Everyone’s Missing In The Attachment Parenting Debate. It made many excellent points, including mocking that abhorrent, desperate bid for attention of a recent Time Magazine cover that tried to throw fuel on the fire of the “mommy-wars.” From a personal standpoint, however, I found it helped me crystallize my thinking about attachment parenting (in the sense that the term is used these days).

Before I was pregnant with W, I had absolutely zero experience with babies, and had essentially no parenting philosophy whatsoever. During my pregnancy, I began to develop some feelings about how I wanted to mother. These notions arose from my burgeoning maternal intuition, and initially weren’t influenced whatsoever by the myriad books, magazines, and websites that attempt to mold our mothering (or, more accurately, shame us into doing things their way). For instance, I liked the idea of carrying my baby around in one of those Baby Bjorn things that everyone seemed to have, so I purchased one (I later returned it and bought a different baby carrier after reading that carriers that allow the legs to dangle are thought by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute to negatively impact hip health). My mother gave me a crib, and advised me to put it in the nursery as opposed to my bedroom. My baby would sniff, snuffle, and make all kinds of normal baby noises at night, she said, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep. My husband and father dutifully installed the (very heavy, very cumbersome) piece of furniture in the nursery, but I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the arrangement — this was all while I was still pregnant, mind you — and asked them to move it into the bedroom only a few days later. With regard to the feeding of the baby, I’d long intended to breastfeed until 12 months of age, because that was the recommendation of the AAP.

Around the time W was a few weeks old and purely by accident, I found out about attachment parenting (or, more accurately, the Bill and Martha Sears brand of attachment parenting). This happened because W was a very, VERY high-need baby and I was losing my mind. Someone in my breastfeeding support group suggested I look at the Sears’ writings on high-need babies, which are based upon their personal experience with one of their children. I found strength and hope in these writings, if only because they offered reassurance that it’s possible to survive parenting a really intense child. Prior to finding the high-need baby writings, I’d had no use whatsoever for the Searses, purely on the basis of their son (Dr. Bob Sears) and his ridiculous, unfounded-in-data, alternative vaccine schedule. Still, after reading about high-need babies, I decided that perhaps I’d judged the Searses prematurely. I went on to read their other writings and some of their other books, including their work on attachment parenting, a term with which I was wholly unfamiliar.

I guess I got interested in attachment parenting because I fit part of the description of what, per the Searses, an attachment parent is and does. I breastfed. I “wore” W. We co-slept (we never intended to, but we sort of fell into it when, the third night she was home with us, she wouldn’t sleep in her crib for more than 20 minutes in a stretch without crying for me). I guessed that I “believed in the value of her cries,” — another of the Searses criteria, whatever it means — because I figured she was crying for a reason, rather than to irritate me or manipulate. As to the other so-called “Baby B’s” of the Sears’ style of attachment parenting — Birth Bonding, “Beware the Baby Trainers,” and Balance — well, I figured they probably fit my style. After all, W and I had spent lots of time bonding after birth, I wasn’t planning to do a cry-it-out with her (since I was happy enough with her sleeping in my bed), and…who doesn’t want balance?

As a result of my reading, even though I’d never before heard of attachment parenting, I started to identify as “AP.” And boy, did I identify. I was I glad I was an APer in those early days. After all, according to Dr. Sears, babies raised by the AP method don’t cry much; babies in cultures where AP is the norm, he says, cry for only minutes a day as compared to the hours a day of crying we so often experience in our culture. Babies raised by APers grow up with empathy. They become less needy. They’re less prone to SIDS, he claims. They’re smarter, even! Hooray for AP, I thought to myself.

I’d like to take a time-out right now and explain that, for those of you looking for a shred of evidence-based decision-making in my behavior as I describe it here, don’t trouble yourself to look further; there is none to be found. I was swept away on a tide of hormones and promises, of new-mommy fears, hopes, and dreams. I was, in short, not my normal evidence-driven self.

Back to our story. Fast-forward, say, 6 months, and we find me meticulously following the AP regimen, identifying even more strongly with the label of “attachment parent.” As I look back, I wonder if I clung ever tighter to the AP label as I felt it start to fail me; as I wondered in a place deep down inside — a place I didn’t consciously acknowledge — if I’d done something terribly wrong. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? Because far from being an easy-to-please, happy baby (as W should have been, according to the AP promises), she was becoming more and more demanding. She’s a smart little stinker, and she was learning to work the system. In short, she became a tyrant. She cried for hours every night, because she’d only sleep with a breast in her mouth, and I couldn’t sleep while nursing her (no matter what AP said I should do). I went almost a year never sleeping more than 2 hours in a stretch. She forced me to carry her in my arms or in a carrier at all times, protesting angrily and ceaselessly if I put her down. Other mothers’ 6-month-olds would play for 5 minutes by themselves with a new and exciting toy. Not W. W required physical contact with mama — ideally with mama’s boob — at all times.

I started to become resentful. I started feeling like she was sucking the life out of me. I wrote in a journal entry that I later tore to pieces, fearing she’d see it one day, that it felt like the only way for her to be happy was for me to be miserable. On my better days, I wondered if our happiness was simply mutually exclusive. On the hardest days, I literally felt that she fed on my misery, like some sort of freakish swamp-dwelling mold. I talked to support group members who I knew were also committed to AP about my experiences. I said it felt like we (my husband and I) were operating as though W was the only family member who mattered. This bothered me for two reasons; first, because we were getting worn pretty thin. Second, because I worried that it would set a bad precedent as she grew (in her mind, in ours, or in all of the above). These folks were absolutely the wrong choice for moral support; they told me to stay the course. They more or less scolded me for being selfish, saying that this amounted to a very small portion of both W’s life and ours, and that we needed to give her EVERYTHING right now to ensure that she grew up securely attached.

Looking back, can I just say…BULLSHIT. That was an utter load of Bull. Shit.

Because this post is more about my failed AP experience than my road to recovery (12 steps…hello, my name is Kirstin, and I’m an AP addict…), I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that it took many months and finding a new group of supporters for me to turn the corner. It also took Zoloft, but that’s a story for another day. Two people in particular were responsible for the bulk of me finding my way out of my AP hole. The first told me that being a mama was a little like being on an airplane when the pressure drops unexpectedly and the oxygen masks fall: you’ve got to put your mask on first. It’s not selfish to take care of mama, because if you don’t take care of mama, mama can’t take care of anyone else. The second person who really made a difference was in the same boat as I, with a smart kid who was (at nearly the same age as W) also learning to work the system. She — let’s call her “A” for the sake of anonymity — and I sent lots of emails back and forth, and sometimes I’d read her latest message with tears running down my cheeks just because it helped me so much to know I was not alone, and that while AP might work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone.* In short, “meeting” her and her very W-like child (I put meeting in quotes because to this day, we’ve never met in person; she’s an online friend) helped me to forgive myself for “failing” at AP; it helped me to understand that some kids just need a different sort of parenting.

*I know Dr. Sears talks about balance, and says “If you resent it, change it,” but he also talks about how important AP is in general. Because I basically resented the whole damn thing, I figured it was me — not the parenting style — that needed changing. I assumed that I was being selfish (as other APers told me I was being), or that I was somehow lacking the mom-gene, or that I was hormonal. This post is not meant to be an indictment of all aspects of Sears-style parenting; after all, I still breastfeed, co-sleep, and so forth. There’s a big difference, though, between using parenting techniques that work and subscribing to an ideology. I wonder if some of the Sears’ writings — particularly combined with AP cheerleeders on Internet fora and in support groups — don’t have a tendency to push some of us into ideology. I can’t speak for others, but I know that’s the effect they had on me.

To return to the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I found it a fascinating read because it explained the origin of the term attachment parenting, which was not at all developed by the Searses. Instead, attachment parenting originally came from researchers Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, who suggested in the 1950s that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to take the advice of early 1900s child psychologist John Watson. The latter had cautioned women not to interact fondly with or “pet” their children too much. He called mother-love “a dangerous instrument.” Even when I identified as a Sears-style APer, I found the term a little short-sighted and insulting; surely women who don’t breastfeed, who don’t “babywear,” who don’t co-sleep are still attached to their babies. Maybe not physically, but emotionally. Learning about the origin of the term helped me to understand that, at the time of its inception in the 1950s, attachment parenting WAS defining an emotional attachment (as opposed to the previously-recommended emotional detachment). It was the Searses who sort of hijacked attachment parenting, added additional layers of meaning and requirements, and spun it into something it was not originally. For instance, Ainsworth and Bowlby didn’t talk at all about bedding arrangements or feeding. They didn’t warn parents to “beware the baby-trainers.” They didn’t equate letting a child cry-it-out with emotional neglect, if not abuse. No, Ainsworth and Bowlby simply suggested that it was better to be emotionally attached than not to be.

While I harbor no illusions that my writing these words will have any impact upon the prevalence and ferocity of the horrid “mommy-wars,” I nevertheless submit this: These wars have been fought and won. Regardless of how we handle the day-to-day logistics of child-rearing, we have come a long way as a culture. We no longer treat our children as though they should be “seen and not heard.” We no longer worry that holding them close and covering their yummy faces with kisses will make them spoiled, or weak. True attachment parenting — Ainsworth and Bowlby style — is so much a part of our culture now that we don’t even have a term for it. We are, all of us, attached to our children. Whether we feed our babies from bottles, breasts, or a combination of the two, whether we push them in strollers or wear them in slings or balance them on our hips like so many generations — and even our evolutionary ancestors — have done, whether we allow them to cry for a bit in their room or put them down in our own beds, we are all so deeply emotionally attached to our children that we sometimes can’t feel where they end and we begin. In a great irony, many months after shedding the last of my identification with AP — sure, I still co-sleep and W sometimes rides around in a carrier, but these no longer define my parenting; they’re just things we do — I have realized I’m an attachment parent after all. We all are.


39 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jem
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 10:43:16

    I wish I could say I agreed with this observation: “We no longer treat our children as though they should be “seen and not heard.” We no longer worry that holding them close and covering their yummy faces with kisses will make them spoiled, or weak.” But perhaps I’m just unlucky to have come across some really shitty parents.

    I identify as an attachment parent, despite having not read any of the Sears books, because it is the most accurate label for what I ‘do’ as a parent. In a world of 140 character updates and forum posts hastily typed with one hand while I nurse my baby (much like this comment) it helps to have a quick description for oneself.

    However, I have noted that ‘attachment parenting’ means different things to different people. For some it’s just the Bs as publicised by the Sears, but for others it includes everything from an anti vaccination stance to radical ideas on schooling, homoeopathy and discipline. So in itself I guess it’s a fairly useless label!

    Anyway… if having another baby has taught me one thing (in 6 short weeks) it’s that parenting method is fairly irrelevant. It’s a personality thing, for sure. Isabel was also ‘high needs’ so we responded by carrying her, bed sharing etc and I have questioned if these things made her worse, made her ‘clingy’, stopped her sleeping longer than 60-120 mins for 18 months(!) Can I categorically say I didn’t make her that way? Nope, but I can say that I’ve parented Oliver exactly the same, right from the start this time, and he couldn’t be more laid back. He even sleeps 😉


    • SquintMom
      Jul 12, 2012 @ 10:52:58

      Jem, I agree that of course there are some crappy parents who want children to be “seen but not heard,” etc, but I think they’re the exception rather than the rule. Thus, culturally, I think we’ve made a shift.

      Congrats on your new baby!!


  2. Supermouse
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 13:42:26

    What a great article! Recently, I was involved in a discussion (online) with two other women. One identifies as AP, the other (and I) do not. I was trying to get a definition of AP out of the APer because she was telling me that she doesn’t think that some of the more extreme views (like anti-vax and unschooling)can be lumped into the AP category.

    When I asked what AP is, she said something like “When parents are responsive to the baby’s physical and emotional needs.” To which I responded, like you, “Then we are all attachment parents.” She didn’t like that and decide that the other woman and I could not be attachment parents because we didn’t breastfeed exclusively for very long (let alone a year), we went back to work after a few months (she stayed home for 18mos), we don’t cosleep, we don’t “babywear” and we think Sears is kind of a misogynist. So, she both embraced the AP label, and evidently needs to set herself apart like that, despite the fact that her son is 7, but rejected the AP label, if we included the bit about Sears-misogyny.

    Call it what you want. Do what works for you. I am many things, including a mother. My identity is not dependent on how I parent.


    • SquintMom
      Jul 12, 2012 @ 15:04:22

      I love your comment! Especially the last part…”Do what works for you. I am many things, including a mother. My identity is not dependent on how I parent.”

      I think SO many women confuse parenting philosophy with self-identity, which I’m almost certain fuels the mommy-wars, since everything becomes so personal!


  3. Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 13:55:47

    I’m glad there’s someone else out there who has the same love/hate relationship with attachment parenting that I do, and it’s great to know you found yourself and your parenting style in all of this.

    When T was an infant I definitely felt alone and defeated with my middle-ground attachment parenting style, and I although I have my confidence back, it’s still lonely as a result of my decision to dissociate from my “support” group where I felt guilty using the word “no” or vaccinating T on schedule (read the SCIENCE, people, not Dr. Sears!). I like Ainsworth’s original words about being “fairly consistently available”, which to me means all of the baby’s needs can be balanced with the mom’s well-being. Now the challenge isn’t my child so much as finding the right mom support group in my local area. I’m almost convinced this group doesn’t exist, so thank goodness for my online mommy friends, who have helped me keep my sanity so far.


  4. Becky
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 19:15:36

    I thought that Understanding Attachment by Jean Mercer was a good introduction to Attachment Theory and the science behind it. The Attachment Connection by Ruth Newton is a pretty good practical application of Attachment Theory to parenting. Unlike Dr. Sears’ claims, they are solidly based on science.


  5. germfinnchick
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 19:46:11

    This post resonated with me as I too have recently left AP behind and, mind you, I was a die-hard AP-er. My oldest went through a period where he only slept 45 min at a time–2 hours would have been awesome–and I thought there wasn’t anything I could do because it would otherwise be cry it out. It was crazy making, until we night weaned him. Then I got super depressed after having my second because she was colicky. And you know how AP moms are about babies crying: “I NEVER let my baby cry.” Well, f-you. If I could have NOT let my baby cry, I would have, unfortunately I didn’t have any say in the matter.
    At any rate, I’ve reached the conclusion that a lot of women who get really into AP and are super judgy about it and like to be all “This is what AP is” but oh no, we’re not all AP have some skeletons in their closet. I can vouch for a fact that a lot of the ones I know had abusive or neglectful childhoods and they’re trying to over correct and heal themselves via their children. Unfortunately the reality is, for a lot of them, it’s just another relationship in which their needs and desires doesn’t count for squat.
    It’s sad, but I’m glad I woke up. And I’m glad there are others out there who have been through a similar experience.


  6. Alice Callahan
    Jul 12, 2012 @ 22:19:41

    Great post, Kirstin. Thanks for opening up about those rough early days of parenting and how your philosophy has evolved. These are some pretty personal, vulnerable topics. I felt a lot of self-doubt as I worked to define the kind of parent I wanted to be, taking into consideration the kind of person my daughter was.

    I have never really identified with AP. I think sleep-training my daughter as an infant got me pretty securely kicked out of that camp:) I learned about AP around the same time I started blogging, when she was around 8 months old, and it did make me think more about my parenting and define it better. I agree – the big ideas behind attachment have changed the parenting paradigm in the U.S. for the better. I would venture to say that the Sears’ have benefited our parenting culture by bringing those ideas into the mainstream. They’ve also caused a lot of angst by presenting a style of parenting as natural and better for the baby, which makes it harder when we discover that for whatever reason, it doesn’t come naturally to us or doesn’t work in our families. I know that AP works well for many families in both philosophy and practice, and that’s great. When it causes guilt, not so great.

    One thing that I find interesting is how AP is affecting parents across the spectrum of philosophies right now. I think that was mentioned in the Time article (which I really liked, once I got past the cover photo and the headline). You can’t parent with an internet connection without being aware of AP, and for every family that discovers AP and loves it, how many families are beating themselves up over not being enough for their kids? Still, the fact that we are having this conversation – being thoughtful and deliberate about how we parent – is a good thing.


  7. Wren
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 08:33:31

    Oh how I wish I’d read this 6 or 7 years ago, or at least 5 years ago before my second was born. I tried so hard to be “AP” and I could just manage it with one. With my second, I ended up with post-partum depression. I just couldn’t give everything to two children under 2 and keep it together. It took me a good number of years to get rid of the guilt I felt at not being able to do it.

    My children are securely attached and that’s great. Letting go of AP and learning to take care of me has had at least as much to do with that as anything I did when they were infants.


    • SquintMom
      Jul 13, 2012 @ 11:20:38

      Thanks for your comment, and for being willing to share about the PPD. Good for you for recognizing that your kids are securely attached to you and that you don’t need to torment yourself with guilt.

      Oh, and love your name, by the way 😉


  8. Rachel T
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 09:13:44

    I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday. Your posts always make me think. I have an 8.5 month old son, “N” and reading your posts sort of prepares me for what life will be like in a few months when my son is your daughters age. It’s like being able to see the future!

    I was a lot like you – no experience with babies before I had my own, no ideas on how I wanted to raise him. I didn’t read any “how to be a parent” books before I had my son – and actually, still haven’t – because I believed that it would mostly just come to me. After all, millions of moms from all times in history have managed to raise kids without the aid of books.

    Once I had “N”, obviously, my world changed and I began to develop opinions. He was also opinionated. And as I searched the internet on how to deal with my clingy colicky baby, I stumbled upon Dr Sears’ website and instantly identified N as VER “high needs” also. And, like you, I found I was labeling myself as an attachment parent. I went through many of the emotional roller coaster feelings you described.

    I always knew I wanted to breast feed (it was cheap and natural), but I started to want to co-sleep. N wasn’t having it though. He wouldn’t sleep in our bed at all. We put him in a bassinet in our bedroom, which worked for a couple months. But by the time he was 3.5 months, we found him being easily awoke if we moved at all during the night. So we moved him into his own room and within a week or so, he was sleeping 12 hours through the night. I wore him because it was easier than carrying him, and he demanded being close to either me or my husband at all times. N wouldn’t take a nap without being worn or held. Actually, up until this week, he would nurse to fall asleep and then I would sit there very still and quiet for an hour or more, playing Sudoku on my phone, while he slept happily on my lap. I say until this week, because I finally found that sitting there for 2-3 naps a day was wearing on me, and with some shame, I admit I am “sleep training” and letting him “cry it out” to get down for naps. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s heartbreaking to listen to him cry – and then I feel guilty for being selfish when it works.

    I now consider myself a semi-attachment parent, by the current standards. What irritates me though, is the need we all have to put a label on ourselves, and then the need we have to defend our label while putting down someone else’s label. If a women wants to say she’s AP, great for her. That tells me she is taking care of her child, feeding them, nurturing them, loving them, responding to them. If a mom says she hates attachment parenting, I don’t automatically assume that she is neglecting her child. I assume that she is also caring, nurturing, loving and responding to her child – in a different way, but not necessarily a wrong way. Saying “I am an AP parent” is NOT an attack on non-AP parents, and vise versa. We are quick to be bitter, critical, defensive, protective. I know I’m insecure about the way I raise my child, as if the whole world is analyzing me. But, really, the only people I have to impress or defend myself to are my husband and my son – and they both support me whole-heartedly.

    I try not be so quick to judge a mom, no matter what label she put on herself. Maybe her definition of that label is different from my definition and maybe we’re more on the same page than we realize from a quick label designation. But you are right: in the end, we are all (for the most part) attachment parents, no matter how we got about loving our children.


    • SquintMom
      Jul 13, 2012 @ 11:25:36

      Great comment. Thanks for sharing all this! I did edit your comment just a bit; there was one place you used your son’s full name, and I assumed it was a slip up (since you call him “N” the rest of the time). I changed it to “N.” Hope you don’t mind!

      I fully agree that there is too much of a tendency to label ourselves, and then to defend those labels. I suspect that, as you say, it’s partly the result of insecurity. I also suspect it’s the result of cognitive dissonance; a need to believe that our way is THE BEST way.

      Also wanted to say thanks for the comment that my posts make you think; it’s SO GOOD to know that my pouring out my heart is meaningful to some people instead of just…pointless 😉


  9. theadequatemother
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 10:25:46

    I am trying more and more, as I get further and further away from the hormonal-new-mom-sleep-deprived fog to keep my focus on the big picture. And that is to raise a self-sufficient, well-mannered son who both feels accomplished and has the ability to accurately self-evaluate while at the same time not completely losing my mind or sense of identity.

    Activities that fall under the AP label are just parenting tools that are available to all families in greater or lesser measure. When I had a young infant, I wore him. I breastfed him on demand. It seemed like he never left my lap and my left buttock doesn’t “fire” according to my trainer who can tell that I carry my son on my left hip by my inability to perform certain exercises on that side. But I also put him in his own room at 8 weeks and sleep trained him for naps and night at 4 months because that worked to keep both him and us well rested.

    I thought he was “high needs” too…and then we went to daycare and learned that, on the spectrum of children, he’s actually easy going. !! I guess that since this was my first kid, and I hadn’t spent much time around babies, I completely underestimated how demanding newborns are.

    Young babies apparantly all need a lot of soothing and AP activities are pretty soothing. But babies grow up into bigger babies and toddlers and get more demanding and, IMHO, as a parent you need to switch the focus to different tools..ones that gently encourage their increasing independence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that moms here are writing about falling out of love with AP around the 9-18 mo mark. I almost want to say that some of AP is developmentally inappropriate for the older baby and toddler…By that time I think a shift more towards The Dog Whisperer might work better…you know, exercise, discipline, affection with the parent firmly in the role of “pack leader.”

    The part of AP I don’t like, is the name, because, as you point out, it implies that non-AP parents are somehow detached from our children and that simply isn’t the case. The name is divisive and the AP-philosophy often veers into ideology and holier-than-thou sanctmonious territory, as does the Sears website (haven’t read the books and never will).


  10. Dorit
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 10:02:09

    Thank you, this got me thinking on so many different labels. One of them is that there is something wrong in using the label “attachment parenting” to say “anyone who does not parent exactly the way I do” (which, as pointed out by several commentators, is a range of behaviors, some more extreme than others)”is not properly attached to their babies” just seems wrong.


  11. Dorit
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 22:55:58

    I keep reading – and stopped responding, because I get so angry I write too harshly and offend people – on the mom group’s website – emails from mom saying, more or less, “my baby is [3 months/10 months/ 6 months] and keeps waking every 1.5 or 2 hours at night, and I’m at my wits end, what should I do?” and the answer is inevitably, at least from some mom, “it’s part of the growing of babies, it will pass, just hold on, I feel your pain” – sometime with the “I went through this with my four children”. Which to me translates into “it’s your problem, deal, why are you whining”, and seems remarkably unhelpful. Yes, I’m simplifying, not all moms say that, but many do. No, it’s not inevitable that a baby – at least after 4 months – will regularly wake every short time, and it’s bad both for mom and child. I mean, I bet many of those moms drive. How do you feel about knowing there are many moms driving cars with child after sleeping broken, insufficient nights for months at a time? And do you think that’s safe and good for the baby?


    • SquintMom
      Jul 16, 2012 @ 10:27:55

      Totally agree with you. After all, most of us were sleep-trained, and it didn’t impact us psychologically! At some point, especially for working moms (but really, for anyone who can’t take it anymore) you have to do what you have to do.


    • Supermouse
      Jul 17, 2012 @ 11:52:01

      I have seen that too, Dorit and I agree that the moms who empathize but have nothing to offer are not helping. If the exhausted woman is explicitly turning to internet friends for help, then she wants some kind of suggestion. Maybe permission to do some form of sleep training? But she doesn’t get permission, so she suffers on.

      I don’t understand why the extreme APers associate sleep training with leaving the baby locked in a closet, screaming for hours on end while the parents (read:mother) selfishly gets some sleep, probably with noise cancelling headphones on.

      I used sleep training, when my children were 6mos old, and I was heading for PPD. Thankfully, it took 4 days to sleep train them. 4. Not months, not years, not weeks. Days. And our version included soothing them every 10min. They learned that they could fall asleep wo/having to eat immediately beforehand, and that they could fall back asleep if they woke in the night (due to sleep cycles.) They also learned that if they cry, they will get the attention of at least one parent, who will do his/her best to solve whatever the problem is.

      They are now 3.5yrs and are securely “attached” to me and their father, their extended family, their day-caregiver,and each other. They know their needs will be met. They love a lot of people and have shown themselves to be quite empathetic at times. Ten minutes of crying wo/soothing, for 4 nights in a row doesn’t seem to have warped them too badly. Though I guess if they become incorrigible arsonists, I’ll rescind my statement.


  12. Dorit
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 11:14:47

    plus, do you really want to give your child a family model in which the mom – especially – has no life of her own and sacrifices everything for the child? Would you like to see such a pattern in your CHILD’s family?


    • SquintMom
      Jul 18, 2012 @ 11:17:00

      So well said! We have to remember that through our behavior, we model and teach the patterns that are children are likely to perpetuate.


    • supermouse
      Jul 18, 2012 @ 17:41:27

      Dorit–excellent point! And no, I would not. I believe that all children, regardless of gender (and I am assuming physical and mental health), should be raised to be self-sufficient. If one parent is entirely financially dependent on the other AND has no skills to offer if he/she were forced into the job market, that’s a dangerous situation to my mind.


    • Jem
      Jul 19, 2012 @ 07:39:01

      As someone who has confessed to identifying as AP let me reassure you that I have a life, and don’t sacrifice *everything* for my child (just my sleep and sanity). 😉


    • July
      Sep 04, 2012 @ 17:12:06

      Well, no, but giving up your life is not necessarily required to follow attachment parenting principles – though I do think the individual children and the level of their needs also determines what will work for a family with Mom keeping some semblence of self!

      My husband is an attachment parent, too. Yes, I’m the one who breastfeeds, but he’s perfectly able to care for her, as are many other loving individuals in our lives. So I have a life – I work, I do volunteer work, I go out with friends, and I go on occasional dates with my husband. I get enough sleep (most of the time). Yes, there are periods of frustration (I think that’s unavoidable with parenting) but it’s working for us. It is so important for mom to get time to herself, IMO, but you can do AP without being a martyr.


      • SquintMom
        Sep 05, 2012 @ 08:15:02

        And I think the important central message here is that you’re doing what works for you. Lots of us (this was my experience, and has been echoed by many of those who commented) felt “pushed” further into (or pushed into sticking with) AP by “supportive” groups who guilted us, despite the fact that it wasn’t working.

  13. doshdela
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 13:15:32

    This post really resonated with me, thanks for sharing. My daughter, A, is 9.5 mos now and like you, I have gone thru the whole rollercoaster love affair with AP.

    When A was born and the reality of sleep deprivation hit me, I belatedly went to the library and got out all the books I could find on helping babies sleep and feverishly flicked thru them looking for answers. The AP philosophy seemed to fit me best. I breast fed, I loved carrying A in her sling and by the time she was 6 weeks old, we were co-sleeping simply cos that was the only way I could cope.

    So far so good. By the time A was 6 months, she had been waking every 1-2 hours every night for 3 months, she only napped in the sling and I hadn’t slept more than 3 hours straight since she was born. I felt like I was on duty 24/7 and was beginning to resent it. Something had to give. I realized this one night when, to my everlasting shame, I slapped her when she wouldn’t stop crying (it was 2am and I’d only had 20 mins sleep since 5am the previous morn). To cut a long story short, we did sleep train A (I got my husband to do it cos I couldn’t bear to hear her cry). We expected a rough ride but the very first night she woke up only twice (!!) and by night 4 she was sleeping 12 hours in her own room. We didn’t know ourselves; evenings off, a whole bed to ourselves, hours of sleep – I was giddy with joy!

    Now I have come full circle. It turns out A gets really pissed off if we keep checking on her when she is crying in her crib so thru trial and error, we have found the best way is to ignore her. It is very, very hard to sit in the other room and not go to her but now it is me who persuades my husband that we are doing the right thing for all of us. I know that I couldn’t bear to go back to soothing her to sleep and doing everything for her. I have belated realized that I need to put my needs, if not first, at least on an equal footing with A’s.

    I agree with one of the comments above that AP tools are appropriate and effective for very young babies but after 6 months or so, different tools are needed. I think that if I had never heard of the AP style I would have instinctively made this transition in parenting style myself. I definitely fell victim to becoming an AP ideologue for a while there. I think that it is possible to take any philosophy to extremes and that it is essential to take what you need from other people’s advice and discard the rest. I do think that new mommies are a very vulnerable bunch and liable to try to do-it-all by themselves. The Dr. Sears books are dangerous in this way for encouraging this Mommy-complex, where you begin to believe your baby will not cope without you. I wish I had offloaded A onto my husband more often at night but hindsight is wonderful:-)

    If you are looking for an antidote to the Dr. Sears style of AP, check out The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson – hilarious advice for raising independent self-sufficient toddlers and children. For example, he and his wife discovered that their 4 year old could not only make his own breakfast but bring them breakfast in bed! How did they find this out? By staying in bed themselves until 10am!!


  14. FrustratedMom
    Aug 13, 2012 @ 13:17:23

    Thanks for sharing your stories! I have been an AP mom myself and felt very strong about responding to the baby’s crying right away. Now my dd is 6 month old and my life is in an absolute disarray. Baby demands that we carry her around all day with her facing out to observe everything, and even then she cries a lot. She would stay in her jumperoo for 5 min and then cries loudly to get her out. She gets bored in no time and starts fussing. She can’t stay still and keeps moving around even when we sit her down to feed. My husband gets really frustrated because he would like her just to sit with her and play or watch a cartoon and all she wants is to walk around. We started having lots of arguments because he wants me to let baby cry in order to encourage independence and I just can’t do it. After a minute or two, I run and pick her up. It doesn’t help that my mom is taking care of the baby when I work and she does what baby wants as well. I am so confused, I know my parenting is not working well, baby learned to manipulate us, but I don’t know what else to do. My husband is blaming my “softness” for baby’s outrageous behavior. I am willing to try new things. What did you guys do after you decided that AP is not working? Sleeping at night is not an issue it’s just the day time fuss and clinginess.


    • Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
      Aug 15, 2012 @ 14:59:00

      I feel like you have described our family situation to a “T”. I now have a 16 month old very high maintenance little toddler. We slowly worked on more independent play time when he was an infant. Sitting on the floor, having him in the bouncy seat for short periods of time, trying the jumperoo for a few minutes. Sometimes these things lasted for only seconds, but it did get longer before he would cry. We just kept doing those things, and I would let him fuss and then stop the activity before he had a complete meltdown. I recall specifically needing to take a shower or get ready and not being able to w/o my son crying. So I started bringing toys into the bathroom, would talk to him while I was in the shower, and we eventually put things in one or two cabinets where he could get into them. Yes, he cried some, but eventually he stayed busy “getting into things he wasn’t supposed to” and I was able to get ready. The belts in a laundry basket on the floor quickly became a favorite. Those weren’t things he usually got to play with–only when I got ready. The cabinets that were truly off limits were safety latched off. He had free reign over the rest of the bathroom. What is he really going to do with big hair clips, towels, or empty containers? No harm there. At 16 months he is still pretty fussy when I try to get ready, but I tell him mommy will be done in a little while and that he needs to play with something until then. Sometimes I get completely ready and some days I don’t. I obviously don’t let him go into complete meltdown mode, but he does wait for me to get ready, even if he is fussing and demanding my attention.

      Also, going outside ended up being a lifesaver for us. When nothing inside could keep his attention, crawling or walking around in the back yard lasted longer. I remember a day several months ago when my son was entertaining himself outside while my husband and I enjoyed coffee/tea on the patio while playing on our iPad/iPhone. We both looked at each other like “this has been a looooooong time coming”!!!!!

      My son doesn’t do strollers, pretty much hates being in the Ergo, and definitely doesn’t sit still in a shopping basket for very long. We stopped taking him to the grocery store almost completely, since crying in a cart isn’t something I allow, but once he was on solids, I would pack a “new” toy that he hadn’t seen in a while, along with FOOD. The snack cup has been our key to getting any type of shopping done. I know that doesn’t help with a 6 month old, but maybe talk with your husband about things or amounts of time that you think are reasonable and can handle, if your daughter cries. Keep trying different things and for different amounts of time. Some babies just need lots of stimulation. I know mine does, and it doesn’t usually come in the form of toys. He likes our everyday stuff.

      I really, really don’t want to offer unsupportive support by saying, “Hang in there. It gets better…” although based on our experience, I really do feel like this type of thing gets better with age–they are able to entertain themselves for longer periods of time. Hopefully you got a few ideas above and can do whatever feels right for your family. You don’t just have to sit and do nothing, and know that you’re not alone!


    • SquintMom
      Aug 16, 2012 @ 09:13:24

      I agree with what Ashley and germfinnchick said. Also, remember that 6 mos of age is a time of high frustration for many babies, who want to be mobile but (generally) aren’t yet crawling. Your little one will be a lot happier once she’s moving around. In the meantime, though, you don’t have to “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” so to speak, just because you’ve decided AP isn’t working. If you don’t mind carrying her around, maybe switch to a back carrier (Ergo and Beco make great ones) so that you can have her with you, but in a position that’s more comfortable for you and allows you to get stuff done. With W, carrying her around on my back let me go about my business and kept her somewhat happy and amused. Once she was crawling, she was much happier on the ground, and I stopped carrying her on my back as much. If you aren’t interested in carrying your baby, though, don’t feel obligated to. Just set her up on the floor with some interesting toys (rotate them frequently to prevent boredom), and you may be able to work toward getting 5 or 10 minutes at a time to do things you need to do. Be aware, of course, that she’ll want to see you to be happy. Doesn’t mean you have to pee with a baby balanced on your lap; you can leave the room and it certainly won’t hurt her to cry for a minute or two…but she’ll be happiest if she’s where you are. Keep us posted on how things go!


  15. germfinnchick
    Aug 16, 2012 @ 05:48:28

    I would stay start to encourage independence slowly. Like when you go to the bathroom, put her somewhere safe where she’ll be entertained (like a excersaucer or bouncer) and go to the bathroom like normal. Don’t act nervous or feel guilty; I think babies have special radars for these feelings 😛 If she cries just remind yourself that she is safe, she has something to occupy herself with and stay calm. When you’re done, come back and pick her up and snuggle her and all that. Just keep doing that until she gets used to it. After that start leaving her for 5 minutes at a time. Learn to differentiate between the “OMG my mom’s gone cry” and the “I’m hurt cry” and just leave her there while you get something done. Just being slower to react when she starts crying can make a difference (unless it’s the I’m in danger, I’m hurt cry–then of course you want to respond immediately). There’s a tendency in the US to always act like crying is a bad thing and crying babies need you to respond immediately. But crying is the only way they have to communicate, so instead of thinking she desperately needs you, just think that she’s telling you “hey, I’m sad you’re not here, I don’t like it when you leave me, I’m not used to it.” And just remind yourself that it’s okay to feel sad, even if you’re a baby, even if you’re an adult.


  16. July
    Sep 04, 2012 @ 17:00:00

    I think the final message of your post is nice, but a little naive. I think there’s value in the “attachment parenting” label when one has the misfortune to encounter people who proudly identify as “detachment parents” or “boundary parents”. There are still people who sleep-train newborns, who believe eight-month-olds are manipulative and need their wills broken, etc. and these folks are not that far off the mainstream.

    Anyway, I wish people who do identify with AP wouldn’t take it so far, and then I think we wouldn’t have the rather needless controversy surrounding it. I consider myself an AP mom based on the general tenents of AP, but I don’t feel guilty about adjusting to suit my family’s needs. Babies are all very different, as are families, so no one parenting style or set of tools is ever going to suit completely, and there’s no reason to feel guilty for doing what works best.


    • SquintMom
      Sep 05, 2012 @ 08:13:41

      Well, there’s nothing wrong with sleep training, and I disagree that parents who practice it are “detachment” or “boundary.” Yes, there are fringe, “detachment” parents out there, but they’re as much outside the “mainstream” as the hardcore APers are (the ones who go for it hook, line, and sinker, wearing even a toddler in a sling constantly, breastfeeding a three-year-old who would have happily weaned a long time ago, and refusing to vaccinate). My point was, and remains, that attachment parenting in the TRUE sense (the A and B sense) is something so “normal” that we don’t have a word for it now. It’s not fringe, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with how baby is fed, carried, or put to sleep.


      • July
        Sep 05, 2012 @ 09:48:40

        I specifically said above “people who sleep train NEWBORNS”. I don’t have a problem with parents sleep training when developmentally appropriate, but we all know (I hope) that’s not the case for a newborn baby.

        You seem to have misread my comments, both here and above. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for quite some time as I love the idea of evidence based parenting, but I find this all really disappointing.

      • SquintMom
        Sep 07, 2012 @ 09:36:51

        “Newborn” can mean different things to different people, as can “sleep training.” I didn’t misread you. There are some forms of sleep training that I disagree with and other forms that I personally agree with…but my opinion doesn’t matter at all in this case. There is no research that has demonstrated any form of sleep training to be detrimental. As such, while we all have our own opinions and boundaries with regard to what we’d do in our own homes, we can’t say across the board that sleep training is wrong, etc.

        I’m not sure why you feel I misread your original comment (you claim I misread both)?

      • germfinnchick
        Sep 07, 2012 @ 10:11:06

        I’d like to point out that *everyone* trains their newborn how to sleep. They come into the world not really knowing there’s a specific way to fall asleep. If you breastfeed your baby to sleep, you’re teaching it that that’s how you go to sleep just as much as someone who puts them to sleep by laying them awake in a crib by themselves.

      • SquintMom
        Sep 10, 2012 @ 07:43:33

        Good point!

  17. Liz Schier
    Dec 19, 2012 @ 21:56:11

    man I wish I had time to read this more often.
    I agree that when any parenting style becomes encoded as strictly-followed rules which aren’t reflected upon problems start. What we need to do is to teach our children to be good people who amongst other things know how to regulate their emotions and to treat other people. Many attachment techniques are good for this, but, as you did, they have to be applied with thought and attention to the nature of each individual child. The thing I like the most about the Sears is the methodology they used in coming to their suggestions for dealing with “high need kids”. That is what people should be modelling


    • SquintMom
      Dec 22, 2012 @ 23:03:43

      Your comments are insightful; I particularly like the statement about teaching children how to regulate their emotions and treat people.


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