I recently came across this gem from an essay by Jef Otte responding to the TIME magazine story:
“I love my baby like crazy, every single day. But unless he’s actually injured, I do not give a fuck if he cries. It’s good for him. Every time I ignore his screaming, it’s a reinforcement of a crucial truth in life: that no amount of screaming will get him what he wants. And I pity the kid who never learns that lesson, and I pity the parent who never teaches it. But more than that, I pity the poor souls who have to live, work and coexist in our civilization with the fucking baby that baby is destined to become.”
This statement is so overbroad and ignorant that my first response was simply to say, “Well, I’m sorry for the people who have to live, work and coexist in our civilization with the asshole that you’ve clearly become,” and to leave it at that. But I couldn’t do it. Partly because this guy, Jef, apparently lives in Denver, so I feel a personal need to combat his attack on what he perceives to be attachment parenting. Also because it’s just so obnoxious that I can’t let it go. So let me unpack his statement a little in order to deal with it logically and effectively.
The first thing that needs to be clarified is that there’s a difference between a two month old and a two year old. Attachment parenting is technically about infants. Parents who practice AP with their infants tend to practice some form of “gentle parenting” as their kids get older, but there is no one way to attachment parent, especially not when you’re talking about a toddler. But since Jef can’t differentiate, we’ll just go along with him for the sake of argument.
This guy apparently has a nine-month old that he lets scream for hours whenever he thinks it will teach the asshole (his words, not mine) a lesson. Nine months is a transitional area, a time when you should start saying no to your child. So let me talk about infants first, and then we’ll talk about toddlers.
A two-month old infant is not manipulating you. End of story. Human babies have giant heads, meaning that if they stayed in the uterus any longer they literally would not be able to be born. So they’re born after nine months, but they’re not really ready to be here. Think of other animals that start walking and sometimes even getting food for themselves within minutes or days of being born. Then think of a human infant. Completely and totally helpless. They can hardly even see, for gods’ sake! It would probably be better if we were marsupials. If we could just drop them in a pouch with easy access to the boobs and essentially gestate them for another three or four months. But evolution got a little ahead of itself when this crazy human brain of ours started growing. It figured out the birth part, but a pouch just wasn’t in the works. Instead, it counted on our large brain to figure out an alternative: slings! Carry your baby all the time! Breastfeed! Don’t let the baby scream for hours because a predator will then find you and the baby!
The only way that an infant can let you know that it needs something (food, a diaper change, comfort because of gassiness or some other pain) is by crying. Crying is a baby’s first form of communication, and responding to those cries teaches your baby that communication is a positive thing. Not responding to those cries is cruel: you have no idea what might be wrong with your baby, but you can count on the fact that something is, indeed, wrong. Not responding teaches your baby that her needs are worthless, her asking for help is pointless, and she should learn how to shut-down and swallow her attempts at connection because it’s a big, cold world and she’s an insignificant pawn who needs to step into line. Of course, it sounds like that’s exactly what this guy wants to teach his baby, so I guess he’s on the right track. But for anyone who wants their children to be empathetic, able to ask for help, able to effectively deal with emotions and not likely to end up in years of therapy or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, I suggest responding to the cries.
Two-year-olds, on the other hand, need to be dealt with differently. Anyone who has ever seen a two-year-old knows that they can manipulate you. But that doesn’t mean that you should treat them like “assholes” and leave it at that.
He makes it sound as if there are only two options: give your child anything and everything she wants the moment she starts screaming, or leave your child to scream for as long as it takes, never giving them help or comfort of any kind. He literally sums up attachment parenting as the “perpetual satisfaction of [a child's] every desire”. And contrasts this with his approach of letting his kid scream and scream and scream unless the kid is actually dying. It seems so obvious to me that there’s another option: help your child deal with the overwhelming, confusing, and scary emotions that she’s experiencing without giving in to the initial demand.
As an adult I went through years of intensive therapy to learn how to deal with my emotions. I needed an immense of amount of help before I could get to a place where I was able to regulate and control my emotions and tolerate the distress of anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.
How could I then expect my tiny daughter to deal with those emotions on her own? My daughter who has only been on this earth for 18 months and who has only felt anger a limited number of times. I can’t even imagine how scary it must be to experience anger for the first time. You want something but your parent, who controls everything about your life, says no. Your heart starts to race, it’s hard to breath, you feel light-headed and slightly out-of-body as the adrenaline kicks in. Your physiology is taking over and your thinking mind is losing the battle. You literally cannot control yourself. And if you’re only 2 years old, your thinking mind and self-control are not very well-developed to begin with. The emotion wins the battle handily. And then a whole new layer of pain is added: you want to stop feeling this way but you simply do not know how to make the anger go away. So you’re stuck in a cycle of anger and sadness that feeds on itself, creating a monster that we, thinking and self-controlled adults, call a temper tantrum.
And so this guy’s solution is simple: leave your child to scream for hours on end because you need to teach him that “no amount of screaming will get him what he wants.” I feel sorry for this guy’s kids (really, really sorry because he’s apparently a stay-at-home dad). Here’s another idea: don’t “give him what he wants” if by “what he wants” you mean that chocolate chip cookie. But do “give him what he wants” if by “what he wants” you mean your help to calm down and learn how to control his intense and frightening emotions.
Here’s a simple scenario: Adeline asks for a bag of chocolate bunny grahams that I mistakenly bought at the store. She’s already had one bag today and that’s more than enough, so I tell her no. She starts to whine and point at the cabinet and I tell her no again, “It’s not going to happen, Addie,” I say. Somehow this has become my go-to line. She starts to whine more and I give her a sympathetic look but shake my head. At this point, she flails around, falls down on the floor and starts screaming. No, I do not get out the chocolate bunnies and give them to her. But I also do not walk away and leave her to fend for herself. I offer her comfort, but she doesn’t want it: she pushes me away and screams some more. I sit down on the floor with her and tell her “You must be feeling very angry right now. It’s very frustrating when you want something but you can’t have it. I’m sorry that you’re feeling this way, it’s not a nice way to feel.”
Within a few minutes the screaming takes on a different quality, now it’s more like crying. As soon as that happens, as soon as I see sadness mixed in, I open my arms and offer her a hug. She comes over to me and we snuggle. She may still scream a bit more, but I know once I’ve gotten her to give me a hug, we’re on the road to recovery.
I’ve given her several lessons here: I’ve taught her that she can ask me for help when she’s upset and I’ll be there to help her deal with the overwhelming emotions she’s feeling. I’ve taught her what anger is, and I’ve started to show her ways to deal with it. And yes, I’ve even taught her that no amount of screaming will get her those cookies.
The other factor to consider is language: an infant has no language but his cries. A toddler, on the other hand, is rapidly acquiring language. Helping your toddler learn to use words instead of screams is an important developmental step. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires attention and communication and, yes, even your help. Kids can be inconvenient. Sorry. But the more work you put in now, the better things will be as your kid gets older.
Every, single parent has made the choice to be a parent. Even if you got pregnant by accident, you chose not to abort or put your baby up for adoption. And, especially as a father, you chose not to walk away. Your child did not choose to be born or to have you as his parent. You’re the adult here. Act like it.
Jef also includes this lovely piece of commentary:
“I’ve yet to meet a single attachment mother who’s fooling anyone but herself with her supposed “fulfillment,” who doesn’t wear the constant plastic smile of the cheerfully oppressed…”
As anyone with an ounce of parenting experience should know, postpartum depression is incredibly common and incredibly serious. Maybe those mothers you’ve seen are suffering from PPD rather than AP-ism. PPD is not caused by attachment parenting. It’s caused by a chemical imbalance and made worse by lack of support and understanding, isolation, and loneliness. Those “harried” mothers you lambast could probably use a kind smile instead of your scathing criticism, but I’m guessing that’s not going to be forthcoming any time soon.
And just for the record, Jef, my daughter Adeline is one of the sweetest kids you’ll ever meet. She’s independent, smart, thoughtful, resourceful, creative, funny and yes, even what you might call “well-behaved”. She sleeps through the night (usually), takes a good nap, and eats well. She still breastfeeds once a day, but she never “grabs at my tit” or demands to nurse. I constantly get comments from teachers, babysitters, strangers, friends and other parents about how lovely, kind and well-adjusted she is. Hell, I’m in Denver, too, I may have even received such a comment from you. All this “despite” the fact that we practiced attachment parenting when she was an infant and gentle parenting now that she’s a toddler. So maybe you should check your premises and stop being such an asshole. Just saying.