Attachment Parenting Freaks

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.

Here I am at 19 with my newborn boy. Look! No forehead wrinkles!!! (Not that I hate my forehead wrinkles. I earned those suckers!)

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.

Okay, to be fair, if you in fact are an outcast, or a weirdo, it is not because you practice AP. That’s just a coincidence. Not everyone wants to be “normal” anyway, and that’s not a bad thing!

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.

See, this pic isn’t “realistic”, but it still captures the essence. And again, to be fair, I totally get the urge to protect your kids from everything!

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.

Here I am with my 2nd child, Oliver, who was, admittedly, the boss in this situation.

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.

I don’t have a picture of the generations of women in my family, but I wish I had one like this. I love the moment captured here.

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.

Let’s not forget dads! (Or non-nursing partners) They are just as much a part of the AP lifestyle as the moms. (This is my husband Jeff with Oliver.)

And you know what? I don’t give a damn if you breastfeed your kid or not. There. I said it.

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19 thoughts on “Attachment Parenting Freaks

  1. Beautiful sentiments!
    I could not agree more. One non-AP’er commented yesterday said the couple on the cover of Time looked like they were ready for battle. I’m sad at how AP is being portrayed. It does absolutely nothing to win AP respect to create such hostilities. I can’t read anymore of the hateful comments people making about the articles and news pieces out there right now, but I’m trying to remember that they all feel attacked already because right off the bat, Time challenged their sense of Motherhood- and and they think it came from the moms who practice extended breastfeeding!

    I love your pictures, thanks for telling it like it is!

    • It is hard to read all the hateful comments. I wish people would really think things through, and come from a place of kindness when responding to things they don’t agree with. And we all know that people feel free type things on a screen that they would never say in real life, to someone’s face. It’s unfortunate.

      You’re totally right. Time is responsible for making parents feel unworthy, not the people practicing AP, or the moms featured in the article.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I stayed up way too late last night writing this, but I don’t think I could’ve slept if I hadn’t!

      ~Daniél

  2. “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.”
    Yep – this, and I’d even argue that instead of not listening to them, you gently remind them that we have to work as a family, and we can’t all get exactly what we want all the time. I had that very conversation yesterday with Kieran.
    I love your thoughts – on the cover, on AP, all of it. You are an incredible face for AP, too, my friend!

    • Yeah, that quote came from the radio. I wanted so badly to tweak it, and I’d bet a million dollars that she would have written differently, but it came out like that, and it’s close enough.

      Thank you! I’m so glad you did this piece. I think it’s awesome that everyone is talking about it. It would have been cool for me to have seen this occur when Max was a baby, and I had no idea what I was doing, feeling like I was making it all up as I went along! Now, whether accepted by the mainstream or not, at least it’s becoming a mainstream topic that everyone is aware of. That can’t be a bad thing!

      ~Daniél

  3. I wanted to take a moment to thank you for you kind, loving, insightful article!! You see, Dionna is my oldest daughter and I couldn’t be prouder of her ( and Tom!! ) for the wonderful family that they are creating!!! I have stopped reading the comments on the web pages of the news stations and such that are covering this…I can’t understand the vitriol, the sarcasm and darn right hurtful things that some people think they have the right to say just because they don’t happen to agree with the things that were reported in Time Magazines article. As a Mother ( and a Grandmother) I am fearful that some of this unkindness might hurt my loved ones, and I am battling the protective feelings that are bubbling up in me!! So, I will simply continue to love and support Dionna and Tom as they raise their children with the loving, involved way that they have chosen, I may not understand every single thing that they do, shoot I may not even AGREE 100% (think no vaccinations!! lol) but I will continue to support them and love them every moment of every day!!!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! It is hard to see all the negative stuff being said, but I don’t think any of it is anything we haven’t heard before. It might be harder on Dionna now (I have no idea) that she is being talked about specifically, but I think (I hope) that she is getting enough positive feedback to counteract it from folks like me who are grateful that she’s willing to put herself out there and be a face for those of us who might not be so brave. So Dionna, if you’re reading this, I thank you for that. You must be a proud mama, indeed!

      What a gift you are giving Dionna and Tom by supporting them in their parenting choices, whether you agree or not. That’s a really special thing, and they are lucky to have you. 😀

      ~Daniél

  4. Great article! Thanks for including the dads as well.

    I had a very non-traumatic childhood and felt very close to my parents as a kid. To me that was a big reason for doing APing. I wanted that for our kids as well.

    • Thanks Matt! It drives me nuts that dads only seem to be mentioned in the media with regards to AP when the question comes up: “How do you have sex if your kids are sleeping in your bed?” Ugh. That media, always portraying men as sex objects. ;D

      ~Daniél

  5. Love the article! Thanks for making AP what it should be, a healthy parenting choice like quite a few others. Why people have to get all het up over thing like this is beyond me. If there was a Time article on child abuse – serious abuse, sure – get het up! How often you feed, cuddle, teach your child? Come on, people? REALLY?!!!
    I must say I personally found the photo quite confrontational (and I do follow a AP style), but now that I read your thoughts on it, I do believe I am changing my mind. I reserve the right to do that when I find a better way of thinking about something, thanks for giving me that!
    And all those photos are beautiful. And a round of applause to all supportive partners out there!

    • Thank you! I change my mind all the time! I think it’s important to be open to changing your mind. We can’t possibly right on our first judgment of things all the time. We have to learn as we grow. I agree that people did not need to get heated up over this topic. Discuss it civilly? Sure. It’s a very worthy discussion point.

      ~Daniél

      • An almost imperative discussion point 😀 I really think media and historical sexualisation of everything has a lot to answer for. It’s not new – thinking of the Victorians covering table legs here – but I do absolutely think we need to get over it. Breasts are not ‘fun bags’ OR ‘feed bags’ – they are, in effect, potentially both, and I wish we could get over this prudery. Feeding our children is necessary, however we safely do it should be applauded, not denigrated. 🙂

  6. It is weird to hear the term Attachment Parenting and realize that I was part of some kind of ‘movement’ I knew nothing about! I guess you could call it AP…I just did what I did and hoped no one raked me over the coals for it.

    I breastfed both of my daughters. Danielle, now almost 24, part-time from six weeks of age until she was 15 months old and contracted chicken pox. Somehow in the middle of that miserable two weeks she stopped nursing altogether and I truly mourned that.

    With my little Emily I breastfed until age 3 1/2 and only stopped because I had no idea if being pregnant and breastfeeding was okay (no support systems in either situation and active disapproval by multiple doctors and my mother since after Emily turned six months). A month later I miscarried. Going through that was tough – especially having lost/severed that close connection with Emily.

    For a full year afterward she showed interest and asked to nurse. I think that was the hardest part of it all.

    For those of us who did not get a foundation of acceptance in childhood, or a strong sense of self or intuition, it can be incredibly difficult to ignore the pressure of society or ‘swim upstream’. I always felt I had to be secretive. To the point that I lied at one point to WIC when we fell on hard times and said I wasn’t breastfeeding when I actually was. I actually feared they would report me for child/sexual abuse.

    I wonder how many others are out there, wanting desperately to do this and feeling completely alone and unsupported in their quest. I’m proud of what I accomplished, and my youngest is the picture of health – emotionally, physically and mentally. I just wish I hadn’t felt so alone.

    • Wow. Thank you for sharing your story, Christine. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that without proper support. I can’t say I blame you for feeling like you had to lie to the WIC office.

      I wish you hadn’t felt so alone, too, especially going through a miscarriage. Hugs. I felt alone for a long time, aside from having an AMAZING husband and his unwaivering support. But it’s not a good feeling to feel like you don’t belong anywhere. That’s the main reason I wanted to write the post from this perspective. I don’t want anyone to feel alone, or like a freak, or like they need to hide the way live.

      ~Daniél

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