In Appreciation of Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting is a term coined by pediatrician and father William Sears. A number of attachment parenting bloggers like this wiki definition of attachment parenting, and so do I:

Attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of attachment theory in developmental psychology.  According to attachment theory, the child forms a strong emotional bond with carefigers during childhood with lifelong consequences.  Senstive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style which fosters a child’s socio-emotional development and well being.

I have co-parented four children, currently ranging from child to adult. When I first became a parent, the term attachment parenting didn’t exist. My introduction to this sort of parenting came from a little book, How to Really Love Your Child by Dr. Ross Campbell, a father and psychiatrist who specializes in working with young children.

I generally steer clear of labels, but I have to admit it’s sometimes convenient to have a name for this paradoxically complex and simple way of understanding and responding to children, so I accept the attachment parenting label and am generally in accord with William and Martha Sears, the authors of The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby .

I suspect the naming and growth (or is it a resurrection of an older, more instinctive parenting style, such as that seen in indiginous peoples?) of attachment parenting is a natural and inevitable response to the epidemic of ADD, ADHD, autism, childhood depression, eating disorders, cutting, addiction, and teen suicide (Sadly, this list is by no means inclusive). Though no undisputed causal relationship exists between parenting style and children’s capacity for learning and for mental and emotional health, most parents I encounter hold the relationship as self-evident. As a mental health counselor, I observe that the most common similarity among troubled young people is a state of alienation from their parents, not attachment to them. Almost without exception, in each troubled teen, adult, and marriage, I hear a history of indifferent, neglectful, narcissistic, or abusive parenting rather than healthy attachment.

One objection to attachment parenting is something I think of as reverse attachment, i.e., when the parent becomes inappropriately attached to the child.  Parents who use their children to meet their own emotional (or, worse, sexual) needs have always been among us, across the whole array of parenting styles.  Let’s not pin it on attachment parenting.  It is my belief that only a parent who is alienated from their child could see the child as an object for their own gratification.  Emotional or sexual abuse is not the act of an appropriately attached parent.

This is a hard time and a difficult culture within which to raise a family. Even for well-intentioned parents, economic survival for the majority requires children to spend the great part of their waking hours in daycare, school, and afterschool care, spending a precious few hours at the end of the day–after homework–with tired and preoccupied parents. I can’t help but believe that this is a petri dish for alienation. Thus, economics can’t be excluded from the parenting conversation.

For many, attachment parenting is synonymous with having a stay-at-home parent, which is often seen as an unattainable extravagance. True, some of the attachment parents I encounter are sufficiently well-off to have a stay-at-home parent. More often, what I see is families who endure significant economic hardship to do so. A few couples are lucky or creative enough to find or design careers in which parenting and income earning can be split so that there is a parental presence before and after school. Some of these couples home-school their kids as well.

A sad truth for attachment parenting is that the number of unintentional single-parent households continues to grow. Parents in these households, except for the rare independently wealthy ones, are stretched so thin that attachment parenting (or, for that matter, any form of conscious parenting) is a difficult, though not impossible, accomplishment.

Still, it appears attachment parenting is here to stay, and I call that good news.