So Time Magazine’s latest issue features a cover story on attachment parenting. Dionna Ford of Code Name: Mama, a real-life, local friend of we Blind Wives, was flown out for the shoot, so I was really excited to see how it turned out. I had no idea, no clue that it would cause the media frenzy that it has. People are talking about it on the radio, on tv, and all over the internet, including on social media sites like facebook and twitter.
The AP (attachment parenting) philosophy has been around since probably cave man times, but has only been coined as such for at least 20 years. So why all the hub-bub about it now that this article is out? It probably has something to do with the cover image.
I know that the disapproval of this image spans many groups. Many “mainstreamers” find it to be disgusting or inappropriate, and many in the AP community feel that it is a sensationalized, inaccurate portrayal of what extended breastfeeding looks like, and was designed simply for the purpose of selling magazines.
I think it’s fabulous. I love, love, love this photograph. In fact, when I first saw it, I reacted with a giggle. It’s so silly and adorable. I think that in a way, it is realistic. I mean, it is artistically contrived, but it does capture the essence of what exclusive breastfeeding sometimes looks like. Breastfeeding is a bonding experience, but it isn’t always the mother and child gazing into each other’s eyes. That’s the image we usually see, and that’s a big part of it, but it’s not the whole story. This picture says to me, “We are two people who are completely confident, and not ashamed to do our thing. If you’ve got a problem with it, too bad.” The more I look at this image, and the more I think about it, the more I fall in love with it.
I’m really writing this, because I want to personally address not the article so much, but some of the issues that are consistently brought up when people talk about the AP lifestyle.
A little about my AP history:
I can’t tell you how many people I know, myself included, who parent this way for years before they ever know there is a name for it. I had only been 19 years old for a week before I had my first child. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and even though I didn’t have a support system, and it was very difficult at first, I stuck with it, and I loved it. Because I was breastfeeding, I kept my son in my bed with me so I didn’t have to wake up to feed him. You see, I cherish my sleep. I could nurse laying on my side, so if my baby started to squirm, I could simply roll over, pop a boob in his mouth, get him latched on, then promptly return to a sound sleep. Maybe it wouldn’t work like that for everyone, but for me, it couldn’t possibly get much easier.
Attachment parents are freaks/It’s a cult/It’s not normal.
It’s totally normal. I’m going to say that again for anyone reading this who is an attachment parent, and feels like an outcast. You are normal. I don’t really get why people feel like they are freaks, or feel the need to hide their lifestyle. I never gave my parenting style any thought within a societal context for the first few years with my first child. I breastfed in public, I carried my baby in a sling, I practiced gentle discipline, and I never felt like I was an outcast. Sure, I saw parents using different methods than I used, but every single household looked different, and every single parent or set of parents and their ideals were so different that from my point of view, I was just… different. But not an outcast.
I belong to a local attachment parenting online/in person group, and there have been quite a few comments since this article came out about us being freaks. One person wrote to Dionna, “Thanks for speaking up on behalf of us freaks.” Sure, she meant it playfully, but still. Another said something along the lines of the Time article lifting the rock and exposing us to the general public. I just can’t relate to that. I want to make it clear that I am not hiding under a rock. I am not a freak. I am perfectly normal. I am so very proud of the way I parent. I always said when I was a kid that I was going to be an amazing parent, and I can honestly say that I believe I am. There’s no shame in that. There can’t be.
Attachment parenting is synonymous with “helicopter parenting.”
Helicopter parenting, a term coined by Jim Fay, one of the Love and Logic authors is a term that describes parents who “hover closely, rarely out of reach–whether their children need them or not.” I personally know quite a few parents like this, both within the AP community, and outside of it. They are the parents who interfere with every playground squabble. They are the parents who will not let their children play outside of the backyard without them. The ones who feel their children should be under constant supervision, and that part of their job is to protect their kids from every potential pitfall. The ones who wrap their kids in bubble wrap before allowing them to ride their bicycles. They see the world as a dangerous, scary place that their children need to be sheltered from. You’ve met them. They very much do exist.
However, that parenting style has nothing to do with the attachment parenting philosophy. AP is about keeping your children close, yes, but part of the idea is that in doing so, you foster confidence and independence. Myself, and all of my close AP friends pretty much let our kids run wild the way we ourselves did in the 70s and 80s. The first time Max, my older son, went to Sonic was when we were at Charlie’s (the Blind Wife Charlie) house for a playdate. Max was barely 9, and he asked if he could walk with her son, Xander, also 9. Sonic is about a mile from her house in the city. The kids would have to manage their own money, deal with the waitress themselves, and all. My answer was, “Hell yes!” I thought about what a wonderful experience it would be for him. The fact that he wanted to do it and was excited about it, even if slightly nervous, told me that he was ready to take it on. And boy was he proud of himself when he got back!
Kids make the rules, and they decide when they move from one phase to another.
This is both true and untrue. You’ll hear all the time that a parent will breastfeed “until the child is ready to stop” for instance. I think that when people who haven’t “been there/done that” hear that, they picture a parent waiting for their child to either shun the breast altogether, or articulate along the lines of, “Mother. I would like to discontinue my num-nums from this moment on. I thank you for your cooperation. You are dismissed.” To be fair, I think that a small percentage of moms who practice extended breastfeeding do expect the end to be that way. However, when most say, “When the child is ready,” they mean when they see the signs that the child is moving on and/or becoming more independent.
In a radio interview with Pat Morrison, Mayim Bialik describes attachment parenting as a give and take. She says, “It’s not about a child running your home. It’s about a child having a voice which sometimes you an listen to, and sometimes you cannot listen to.”
Parents who choose AP do so because of a traumatic childhood.
I wish Kate Pickert hadn’t drawn this conclusion from her research for the article. Now, I can’t speak to it personally, because I did have a traumatic childhood. I don’t believe that’s why I chose AP specifically, but maybe it is. How could I be sure? And I know a lot of people in the AP community who had traumatic or painful childhoods, too. However, I also know quite a few people who were raised AP style, and you know what? They parent this way because they couldn’t imagine doing it anyway other way. It’s how they were raised. They may not have even thought about having a name for something that came so naturally to them. It’s how they watched their brothers and sisters being cared for. They are not filling a void, they are modeling a way of life. Unfortunately, this wasn’t mentioned in the Time article.
AP parents are always judging each other and everyone else.
This simply isn’t fair or true. There are judgmental people in this world. Some of them are really big jerks, and make others feel bad about themselves. Some of them belong to the AP community. Some “mainstream” parents look at an AP person and automatically judge them. That’s just the way of the world. It’s not fair to say that all AP folks are judgmental, because we are not all the same. Our households are different, our families are different, we hold different ideals and personal beliefs. We share an umbrella philosophy, but it looks different to each of us. Most people I know in the AP community share the belief that families have to do what’s best for them.
I myself did not practice child-led weaning. I fully support it, but it isn’t for me. I weaned my babies when I was ready. Dionna says, “We practice child-led weaning. Well – we do right now, but if someday I feel that enough is enough, then I’ll gently nudge him in that direction.” I know multiple AP parents who do not co-sleep because they just can’t sleep well sharing a bed with a squirmy child. And they don’t have to hide that from other AP parents so as to not lose their “membership card” (which we do not actually have). It’s not about judging, nor is it about following a rigid set of rules. It’s about doing what works best for your family. The same goes for all parents, regardless of their philosophy.
Here’s the real secret to being a good parent:
The key is being mindful. That means that you parent with intent. You educate yourself so that you may make informed choices. You have a plan, or rather, a philosophy that you believe in, and you actively practice it. You participate in the lives of your children, and you respond to them and their needs in a mindful way. You take care of yourself so that you may take better care of them. You possess self-awareness and are honest with yourself and your children. If a technique, or your philosophy no longer works for your family, then you are willing to make the effort to change it. So long as you do all that, no matter how much your parenting style differs from mine, then you are a wonderful parent in my book.
And you know what? I don’t give a damn if you breastfeed your kid or not. There. I said it.