It’s that time again: another article meant to provoke a big response by attacking attachment parenting. Nicola Kraus recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled, My Message to Dr. Sears: Why I Chose Detachment Parenting.
Nicola writes about Blossom “nursing her 25-year-old” in public (he’s actually only three), about her various friends who’ve gotten divorced as a direct result of co-sleeping with their kids (surely there were no other issues, right?), “parents who sometimes spontaneously burst into tears they are so sleep-deprived and miserable”, and a friend who, the implication is, has an unnatural affection for her son (do you think they’re still friends?).
I know I’m giving Nicola what she wants by writing this blog post (a link back to her article, more readers and more attention) but I just can’t help myself. I have a few things to say.
Nicola, you write that you “have yet to meet a parent of a child over 9 months old who isn’t in some kind of agony trying to undo the attachment crap.” So my question is: When can we meet? I’d like to prove you wrong.
My daughter, Adeline, will turn two in just under two months. She is a wonderful little girl, as anyone who has met her would agree. She’s outgoing, kind, funny, independent, and she even “behaves well,” which I’m guessing you think is the most important quality for a child to have.
We co-slept with Adeline until she was about three months old, when we slowly and gently transitioned her to sleeping in a crib. We never let her cry it out, but we did help her learn how to put herself to sleep. She started putting herself to sleep at about nine months, which is also when she started sleeping through the night. That may seem late to you, but it’s actually perfectly normal neurologically. Babies younger than that often need to eat throughout the night because they have small stomachs, not to mention that their brain literally is not wired to sleep long periods. Babies who “sleep through the night” at a younger age are usually still waking up, they’ve just learned not to ask for any help getting back to sleep.
Of course, some babies sleep better than others. This is usually for reasons individual to the babies, like how much and how often they need to eat, how settled their sleep patterns are, and how awake and alert they are during non-sleep times. It sounds like you had an easy baby. Good for you. Lots of parents don’t. Maybe you should stop judging their parenting styles and instead ask them if there’s anything you can do to help.
Infant sleep, thank god, only lasts a little while. Adeline now sleeps in her own bed (not a crib). Our bedtime routine is simple and when we’re done, I walk out of the room and she puts herself to sleep with no problems. If she’s having a bad night or is a little sick, I might cuddle with her and sing her to sleep. This does not make me miserable. In fact, I love it. It’s one of my favorite parts about being a mother; the kind of thing I looked forward to in my daydreams.
Very rarely, she will wake up with what I’m guessing is a bad dream or some kind of pain in the middle of the night, and we will bring her into bed with us for the rest of the night. My husband loves this time with her. It doesn’t ruin our sex life, nor does it make us more likely to get divorced. In fact, the last two years have made our marriage much stronger, even those hard times in the beginning when she didn’t sleep well. We learned that we could count on each other and that our marriage was deeper and more meaningful than travel and fancy dinners. We fell more in love with every night waking.
Of course, we love the chance to go out on a date and we do believe it’s essential to a healthy marriage. We’ve been lucky because Adeline has never experienced any severe separation anxiety and she’s great with babysitters. It’s obvious as her mother that this is because she’s so secure in my love. She’s so well, if you will, attached. Attachment Parenting has not left us with “crap” we need to undo, but rather with a well-adjusted, secure little girl.
You also criticize extended nursing, as though any mother who nurses longer than, what, six months?, is just a love-deprived freak taking it out on her child. I nursed Adeline until she was almost 20 months old, at which point she self-weaned (with a little nudge from me). I even, god forbid!, nursed her in public sometimes. I did not nurse her so long because I “need[ed] to be needed that badly because [my] own inner 3-year-old still isn’t sure if it was.” I nursed her that long because I knew that it was the best thing for her, and because I respected her need to wean slowly and gently.
In fact, when it really comes down to it, Attachment Parenting is about respect. Respect for yourself, yes, but also for your child. Something you don’t show much of in your piece. A child is not an accessory to be shown off at birthday parties (“Look how well she behaves! And she’s been sleeping through the night since six weeks!”) nor is a child an inconvenience that you need to manage (“We can just leave her with a babysitter and enjoy a night on the town any time we want! Thank god we don’t have to worry about parenting too often!”). A child is a human being, fully deserving of the same level of the respect that adults deserve.
That respect means that, when your child is an infant, you should respect her need to be cared for in all ways. She is helpless and she needs you, her mother or father, to be there for her. That is what Attachment Parenting is all about. (In case you didn’t know, Attachment Parenting as a technical term mainly applies to infants.) Respect, of course, also means that you should respect her growing independence as she gets older. If your child is ready to wean, by all means wean her. If she’s ready to sleep in her own bed, let her. Attachment Parenting does not proscribe a set of rules that all parents must follow, including nursing and co-sleeping into the preschool years. It never ceases to amaze me the way that uneducated parents conflate infants, toddlers and preschoolers as though they are exactly the same and should be treated the same.
I want to close with a comment on this line: “I didn’t need to hold her until she fell asleep because I was already prepping for the kayak trip on the Hudson I knew we’d one day take.” As a firm believer in the power of mindfulness, I feel sorry for you and your daughter. Why live in the future when you could be living in the moment with your infant, holding her and studying her tiny fingernails and soft breath? When you do eventually take that kayak trip, will you be so busy planning the vacation you’re going to take when she leaves for college that you won’t bother to enjoy the present moment? Will you spend her childhood looking forward to her adulthood, only to realize that her childhood was a beautiful and amazing place in its own right and that it passed you by while you were too busy to look?
I write as an attachment parenting mother. Did we have struggles? Yes, yes we did. As you so aptly put it, “Parenting is really fucking hard.” Parenting is hard for everyone, regardless of parenting style. I wish more people would stop trying to pin it all on one parenting guru or the other. Attachment Parenting is a choice that many parents make, and that, I believe, many more parents would make if they were fully educated on the issues. Articles like yours do no one any good. Why do you continue to fan the flames?