When my first child was born 20 years ago, “attachment parenting” was a new and somewhat controversial child-rearing philosophy which involved strict adherence to a demanding set of rules and behaviors including: natural birthing, leaving boys uncircumcised, babywearing, breast-feeding and child-led weaning, co-sleeping, not allowing babies to “cry-it-out”, practicing positive discipline, and so on. While I didn’t like to put a label on the way I parented my children, I was drawn to many of the attachment parenting concepts because they made sense to me and because they often seemed instinctive. Admittedly, they were sometimes a last resort when I was at my wit’s end (i.e. co-sleeping and homeschooling). I had “natural”, interventionless births with all my children, left my boys uncut and breastfed all of them including my third until I cut him off at two and a half years old (if I had let him lead the way with weaning, he might still be nursing….). All of my kids slept in my bed at one point or another (like I said, not because I really wanted them them there).
Bully for me! I also fed them McDonald’s Happy Meals and Lunchables, allowed them to watch countless hours of Teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine, and yelled at them when I got mad.
When my kids were young, I encountered some strident attachment parenters who were extremely judgmental about the way other “non-attachment parenters” were parenting their children. Since I simply cannot stand being told what to do, nor can I deal with rigid rules that defy common sense, this did not sit very well with me. On the other hand, neither did the scorn and derision I felt coming from the other camp (detachment parenters? non-attachment parenters?).
The following are the “Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting” set forth by an organization called “Attachment Parenting International”:
- Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
- Feed with Love and Respect
- Respond with Sensitivity
- Use Nurturing Touch
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
- Provide Consistent Loving Care
- Practice Positive Discipline
- Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
These principles don’t really begin to explain some of the crazy, neurotic attachment parenting behavior I witnessed when my kids were young.
It seems that when things become unbalanced, there will often be a pendulum swing which eventually helps move things back to center. I believe that much of what the dogma of attachment parenting has offered is just that. It’s a backlash to a way of living that is unsustainable. Many of us have been left with a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction by the unrealistic expectation that families can have two effective, high-functioning, full-time working parents and still come home and give our children our very best. We are a society that has bought into the idea that there are experts who are uniquely qualified to tell us how we should raise our own children in such normal functions of life as sleeping and learning to pee in a toilet. We have been led to believe we need to look outside of ourselves for answers rather than allow a natural sensibility to guide us according to our own family’s unique circumstances. Similarly we have lined the pockets of the CEO’s of giant corporations which have built their profits on our willingness to believe that our children are better off using their products than taking advantage of those things that nature has so perfectly and freely provided us. It’s no wonder a dogmatic DIY parenting movement like attachment parenting came when it did. Attachment parenting is a big “fuck you” to all of that.
I no longer pay much attention to what is fashionable in the world of parenting, as I find most of it to be recycled and tiresome. I’ve learned “happy + self-aware mommy = good parent”, and that’s good enough for me these days. Plus my kids are teenagers, and in order to stay sane as the mother of adolescent children I am mostly concerned with maintaining my sense of humor. Thus, I give you my updated “Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting Teenagers”, my backlash to the backlash so to speak, 20 years later.
1. Preparation for adolescence: weekly therapy sessions, a nightly beer or five, or self-immolation – you choose.
2. Feed with denial: Mountain Dew, Pizza, Taco Bell and Toaster Strudel.
3. Respond with incredulity: OH NO YOU JUST DIDN’T??? YOU DID WHAT? YOU ARE FREAKING KIDDING ME!!!!
4. Do NOT touch your adolescent child or she will scream at you, except for when she demands that you give her a back rub, which will most likely be at the most inconvenient or exhausted moment of your day.
5. Ensure that your teen sleeps somewhere other than the floor of her boyfriend’s closet, a bench in the park, or the beanbag chair in the TV room.
6. Provide consistent, loving access to your laptop computer, your car, your wardrobe, your bank account and all that you formerly held sacred.
7. Practice positive IAMGOINGTOSTRANGLEWHICHEVERONEOFYOUSTOLEMYGREYGOOSEANDREPLACEDITWITHWATER!!! discipline.
8. To strive for balance in family and personal life, confine all interactions with adolescent child to increments of 10 minutes so as to maintain sanity and be functional in personal life. If adolescent is female and menstruating, reduce increments to 60 seconds.