Attachment Parenting--The Start of it All

photo credit: 
Jonathan Cohen on flickr
Keeping It Home, Part One

It's dinner time. You can go to the cupboard and grab the box of instant-just-add-tuna and slap it on the table. Or, you can take the time to prepare a thoughtful meal. Parenting choices can be like food choices. Anyone can stay home with children and take care of them. Deciding to raise your children following the principles of attachment parenting elevates child rearing to an art.

What is attachment parenting? Merely a new buzzword, found selling books for and against? Or is it a way to make being a homemaker more rewarding by putting the focus on the unique gifts an attached parent gives?

Listening to your baby
Attachment parenting, a description popularized by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears in The Baby Book, generally encompasses a parenting style that emphasizes listening to the cues given by babies and children. Based on bonding and attachment research, it is often called "natural parenting" or something similar.

Since babies are not verbal, watching their cues is paramount. Many attachment parents think that loving arms, not plastic "baby buckets" are the natural resting spots for babies. Other practices that maximize body contact with babies are often used. These include exclusive breastfeeding, "wearing" a baby in a sling or other body carrier, and co-sleeping. Most people who practice attachment parenting don't leave their babies with babyminders for a couple of years, figuring that babies belong with their parents.

Older children benefit from many of the same practices: sharing a bed with their parents, being held frequently, nursing until they're ready to wean. The practice gained from really paying attention to a baby's needs benefits parents of older children. Having to decide if a child is speaking from need or want, they draw on years of trust and expertise.

You are the "expert" when it comes to your child
Over the past hundred years or so, advice to parents has been gleefully handed out by "experts" of every stripe. While modern parents laugh at old-fashioned sounding phrases like "limit yourself to one kiss on the forehead nightly," the real joke may be on them. Books touting simple "child-training" methods simply fly off store shelves. Weary parents eagerly embrace notions of getting a six month old infant to sleep through the night, no matter how barbaric the method. Information abounds on how to enhance your child's independence. Why is it that advice such as "trust yourself" seems to fall on deaf ears, while rigid methods seem like the easy way?

Part of it may be that few parents today were raised by parents who followed a more instinctual way. Without a group of parents around to observe, people generally parent as they were parented. So, if you're looking for a way to navigate your family through that's not a carbon copy of your childhood, you're going to have to rethink some practices which may be hard to abandon.

Sometimes I'll hear a phrase come out of my mouth and think, "Where is my father?" Surely I couldn't have said that! Like it or not, my first impulse isn't always my best. Without some conscious effort on my part, I wouldn't have been able to think out of the box I was raised in, and neither can you.

Sacrifice? Nope, laziness!
But you've decided to rear your children to the best of your ability. You may have made this decision in a spirit of sacrifice, laying your own head on the altar of giving it all up for kids. But attachment parenting practitioners will tell you rather gleefully, that attachment parenting is, at least with babies, the lazy way out. Really.

Nature has designed us so that meeting a baby's needs meets a parent's needs too. Take sleeping. As the queen of exhausted new moms, I grabbed every chance for a rest I could. Sleep would have been enough of a reason to bring my daughter into bed with us. All the rest--protection from SIDS, greater bonding time, successful nursing--was bonus.

Everything about children's eating was easier, too. I had come into adulthood watching friends of mine carefully spoon-feeding their children, bemoaning the mess and extra time it took. Sometimes I think it's a wonder I had a child at all. When my daughter started wanting to eat food, well into her first year, it was different. I found out that I didn't have to do the same thing I watched my friends do. Since I'd nursed exclusively until she was ready for real food, we just had to make a place for her at the family table. She did the rest, and it wasn't as messy as the aftermath of strained peaches on a spoon.

Another boon to parents from practicing attachment parenting is that it works for "easy" and "hard" babies. Babies who are held most of the time spend less time fussing and crying. If you've got a fussy baby by nature, he or she would be even more fussy without your constant, loving arms. If a baby isn't spending time wailing, waiting for needs like holding and feeding to be met, more time is spent learning, growing, and becoming a secure member of your family.

The best way to raise an independent child
Interpersonal security seems to be on the most-wanted list for people today. Well, take heart. If you keep your child nearby for the first couple of years, research suggests that in four or five, you'll be looking around wondering where they are. Independence grows out of that sense of security. So when people ask you, "Isn't your child sleeping alone yet?" you can smile and think about the coming years when you'll reap the benefits of the good start you gave them.

Making a conscious decision to pursue a kind of parenting that is different from the norm can be scary. Talk to supportive people, read books and email groups that espouse attachment parenting, and take heart. When you turn your heart and mind toward keeping home a priority, new opportunities for joy and growth surely follow.

Contributing Editor Stefani Leto writes and parents in the Bay Area. Mother of an almost-five-year-old and an infant, she says nothing challenges her mind like parenting. Her work also appears at and