If you aren’t familiar with attachment parenting, it is a style of parenting often characterized by things such as co-sleeping, feeding on demand, quick response to baby’s cries, and gentle discipline. If attachment parenting isn’t for you, then this post probably isn’t either. And that’s fine. This isn’t an indictment against conventional forms of parenting. No doubt those have advantages for both parents and children that I know nothing about.
But I do know about attachment parenting. All four of our children were parented in this way, and I want to reassure parents who look at that little one asleep in their bed and wonder if they are spoiling them. I’m speaking to the mother who feels like she is a human pacifier or who wonders if she should let her daughter cry it out so she can learn to self-soothe. I’m speaking to the couple who hasn’t had a weekend away since the baby was born because you’re nursing, and you’re wondering if it’s worth it. If you are that parent or that couple, this post is for you.
We didn’t plan to attachment parent our kids. In fact, when we had Baby No. 1, we hadn’t given much thought to what kind of parents we were. Attachment parenting just sort of happened to us.
When our son was with us, he slept better, and we slept better. So we became a co-sleeping family. Not one to keep strict schedules anyway, it was just easier and more natural for me to nurse on demand. So I did — night and day, 24/7. This made leaving Baby No. 1 for any length of time impossible. So we didn’t. And those bulky baby carriers? They killed my back. Soon I found it was just easier to carry my baby in my arms or in a baby sling.
Yes, within a few short weeks of Baby No. 1’s arrival, we were full-fledged attachment parents. And while this parenting style was natural and enjoyable for us, I continued to have lingering doubts about our unconventional ways (despite the support of my parents, my grandparents, and Dr. Sears).
There were definitely stages and phases in our young children’s lives that made me question the choices we’d made. When Baby No. 1 turned four, he developed an intense case of separation anxiety. Had we made him too dependent? At the age of 5, Baby No. 2 was still crawling into our our bed in the middle of the night. Was this normal? Baby No. 3 wanted to be carried almost constantly the first year and a half of her life. Was this okay? And Baby No. 4, he didn’t talk as soon as the others. Had we spoiled him, giving him everything he wanted before he even asked?
I only wish I had known then what I know now — that my kids would turn out just fine. Great in fact. No, they aren’t all grown. Only one has left the nest, and Baby No. 4 is just 12 years old. But so far so good. I like who they are turning out to be. And while I don’t attribute their delightfulness entirely to attachment parenting, I do think that being raised with such extravagant love has had a profoundly positive effect on my kids. In my experience, here are some of the long-term benefits of attachment parenting:
1. Attachment kids are kind.
My kids aren’t perfect, but they genuinely try to be kind to others — to me, to each other, and to kids at school who seem to be struggling. I think that attachment kids grow up expecting kindness. If they cry, someone kindly responds. Discipline is gentle. As a result, it is the natural inclination of many AP kids to respond in kindness — not perfectly, not always — but I have noticed that the basic instinct to be kind is there.
2. Attachment kids are independent.
One of the criticisms of attachment parenting is that it creates overly dependent children. Nothing could be further from the truth. No, they weren’t independent at 3 or 4 years old or even at 6 or 7. But as tweens, teens, and young adults, my kids and other AP kids I know are confident and capable. I think there is a deep security that comes from attachment parenting that fosters independence.
3. Attachment kids are affectionate.
It has been a long time since my husband and I heard the pitter-patter of little feet making their way to our bedroom in the middle of the night (yes, they do eventually sleep in their own beds!), but our kids are still big-time snugglers. My 12-year-old still likes to snuggle up when we watch a movie. My teenage daughters cuddle together and giggle through their favorite shows or over the latest Instagram post. My children rarely leave or enter a room without expecting a hug. AP kids are comfortable showing affection even when they are supposed to be too cool to do so.
4. Attachment kids are attached — on a healthy level.
Despite all the dire warnings about not being friends with your kids, we are. That’s not to say we aren’t in charge or that we treat them like adults. We don’t. But we genuinely enjoy hanging out with our kids, and they feel the same way about us. I’ve noticed the same thing with other AP families. There is an ease about the parent-child relationship in AP families that is not always characteristic of the tumultuous teen years.
5. Attachment kids have strong sibling bonds.
My kids fight. My AP friends’ kids fight. But beyond the bickering, there is an abiding love between AP siblings that likely comes from such a strong family bond.
6. Attachment kids are happy.
All the attachment kids I know, mine included, are happy kids. They experienced an infancy and early childhood quite literally in the arms of the people who matter most to them, their parents. They have been showered with love and affection. Dr. Sears compares attachment parenting to feeding a hungry child. A child’s need for attention, affection, and the security of his parents’ presence is like a physical hunger. If you feed a hungry child, he will be satisfied and grow healthy and strong. Withholding food does not make the hunger go away. It only makes it worse. Attachment children have been emotionally well-fed. The result is healthy, happy kids.
Attachment parenting isn’t the only way to parent. My children are far (oh so far) from perfect. And I have made more than my fair share of mistakes as a mother. But I like who my kids are turning out to be. I like who they are at their core.
I’m not a parenting expert. I don’t claim to be. But when I was a young mother, just trying to figure it all out, it wasn’t the experts who eased my fears and addressed my concerns. It was other mothers — mothers who could tell me what worked for them. Attachment parenting worked for us and for our kids. So if it’s your thing, relax. Enjoy. Attachment parenting might be demanding sometimes, but the time is so very short. And you are making priceless memories and awesome kids.