Why I Hate Attachment Parenting

The name that is!

Yesterday I commented similar on facebook and was asked “why?”, so I spent the evening thinking about it a little more and these are my reasons (I will warn you many of them are VERY tongue in cheek and over-exagerated  before you get upset! I fit quite neatly into the ridiculous examples I have given below and am prodding fun at myself more than anyone else):

1) I detest any form of labelling, of parents or babies. I hate Tracey Hogg’s description of babies (mostly because mine wasn’t an angel, however hard I tried to fake the quiz!) and shock horror, I don’t even like Sears’ description of fussy babies or Oliver James’ description of organiser mothers. Why not? because it pigeon holes people, whether they are big or little people. We all possess many different traits and qualities, some days we’re angelic, some days we’re fussy, some days we’re controllers, some days we’re helicopters. What is the point of these labels? except to keep us feeling negative, feeling trapped by our own personalities or giving us an excuse for behaviour, ours or our child’s. When I worked as a Paediatric Homoeopath (I told you I was a cliche!) I used to meet lots of parents desperate for a diagnosis for their child’s behavioural issues – Aspergers, ASD Spectrum, ADHD/ADD, Dyspraxia….I always used to ask them *why* they wanted a diagnosis? (particularly if it was one that didn’t result in any extra help for the child/family), why they had spent so long chasing one? When I was a child we didn’t have all of these terms in use, did it make life harder? I think it did the opposite, my school certainly felt more inclusive.

2) I don’t like the implication that Attachment Parents must always be physically attached to their child. This certainly puts expectant parents off, in my HypnoBirthing classes several mums have commented “people are trying to make me do attachment parenting, but I think it sounds stifling, for me and the baby”. I know this is not in the implication of AP principles but  it does often come across, rightly or wrongly, as an implication in the wider world. I can guarantee there  is not one single parent out there who didn’t get pissed off with their baby, didn’t wish for a night’s uninterrupted sleep in bed on their own, didn’t wish to be alone and didn’t wish, even just once, that their baby self settled or didn’t wish, on a hot sticky day, when they were tired  and carrying lots of heavy shopping, that they had a buggy. No parent can admit to being perfect, no parent can admit to never getting pissed off with their baby, whingeing to a friend, shouting at their toddler or sobbing in a heap when it all gets too much. Attachment parenting is often seen as a daunting “ideal”.

3) AP’ers can sometimes adopt a bit of a superiority complex and smugness that can make the whole ethos off putting. Yes I’ve met my fair share of judgemental AP’ers (heck I know I’ve even been one at points no matter how hard I tried not to), the sharp intake of breath as they walk past the forward facing, dangling baby in a Baby Bjorn, the desire to say something to the friend who pushes their baby around all day in a car seat on a travel system (I’m so sorry – I’m guilty of that one!), the comment of “it’s not too late to go back to breastfeeding” to a new mother who has made an informed choice to switch to formula feeding and the slightly smug “he sleeps in my bed, I’d never dream of leaving him by himself in his own room in a big scary cot” comments.

4) AP’ers can make non AP’ers feel terribly guilty. Whether it is an unintentionally hurtful comment, a smug smile (remember I said I was being tongue in cheek!), the latest piece of scientific research sensationalised by the Daily Mail, or just because you do things differently. Surely the AP principle of responding with sensitivity should apply to everybody, not just our babies – but other mothers too. How does a new mother, who has made her choices with what little information and support she had available, feel when she reads she is Detachment Parenting and thus damaging her baby? I have always made 100% sure that whenever I write an article on AP principles/research and get a little hot under the collar that I stress I am NOT ever, ever, ever attacking the parents – but the misinformed “Baby Expert” who has spread the bad advice. It is these “experts” I am angry at and wish they would change their way – NEVER the parents who I always have the utmost respect and empathy for.

5) Attachment Parenting is seen as alternative. It is seen as a lifestyle choice. APers are University educated, shop in Waitrose, have been to Glastonbury at least once, have a penchant for dreadlocks, use cloth san pro or mooncups, use real nappies on their babies. The babies are dressed in organic, fair trade (preferably bamboo) clothing and always sport an amber teething necklace, they shun vaccination, they bed share, they definitely gave birth at home, usually in water with a doula and some birth hypnosis, they read the Greeen Parent, Juno or The Mother, they have a rainbow sling, use elimination communication and don’t buy any toiletries containing parabens, SLS, artifical fragrance or colours and definitely none tested on animals. Attachment parenting has become a ridiculed cliche and one that is not appealing to the masses. Heck *I* am a ridiculous cliche (remember the tongue in cheek comment please!).  So what are the parents to do who shop in Next, Tesco and Mothercare? who have a Bugaboo, use Pampers and Tampax, love Calpol and enjoy reading Now and Mother and Baby Magazine? No indeed Attachment Parenting is not mainstream, it is offputting and weird.

6. Attachment Parenting has lost its roots. No, the idea did not stem from Sears or Jean Liedloff, as many seem to think. The idea  ideas are much, much more scientific in nature, stemming from Developmental Psychology and namely the work of Jown Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Harry Harlow, Rene Spitz and co. There is a MOUNTAIN of scientific research, both old and new into Attachment Theory. Why then are so many so aware of Sears and Liefdloff and not of Bowlby and Ainsworth? It is my belief (or indeed BabyCalm’s belief) that this research needs to be made mainstream, in an accessible way. We are branding the BabyCalm book at the moment, discussing cover designs and are certain that the book should follow our mainstream branding, simple, clean, basic, almost  scientific without any nods to “natural”, or “alternative” “earthy”, “crunchy”. I have not used the words “attachment parenting” once in the book! If we want to make attachment theory and its implications mainstream we need  to do it in a mainstream way – we need to drop the name, for only then can it be seen as the cultural and biological norm for our  species and only then can we begin to loosen the grip of the Baby Trainers and Experts.

Do you have to be an AP’er to parent with respect and connection? no. Do we need guidelines and principles telling us how to parent? no. Do we need to just trust our instinct and do what feels right? yes.  Let’s drop this terminology, let’s drop the idea of viewing it as a choice of a way to parent and lets help new and expectant parents to understand the way our species is meant to be born and raised. The NORMAL way for humans to birth and parent.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Mother of Four and Director of BabyCalm Ltd www.babycalm.co.uk

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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5 Responses to Why I Hate Attachment Parenting

  1. Laura says:

    This is so true. My perception of AP before I had my twins was very negative. Now I find I agree with most if not all of the principles of it. There is a definite lack of understanding and labelling certainly can have very a negative impact.

    Ironically, I had only heard of (and read) Bowlby, Harlow and Ainsworth, which is probably why I didn’t know much about the finer points of AP.

    The most important thing is happy babies and happy parents and that can really only come through informed and evidence-based decision making.

  2. Becky Brooke says:

    Brilliant article. As she says, AP should be viewed as a ‘norm’ backed up by science, rather than something ideal and normally unattainable (and only for angelic, crunchy people) – rather like the repositioning of breastfeeding from ‘breast is best’ (and therefore, by implication, perhaps quite difficult and ‘something which you will do your best at but don’t think you’ll succeed’) to the normal, default, mainstream thing to do.

  3. Kirsty Jayne Taylor says:

    Love your article, I found myself laughing, nodding my head and reading snippets to my partner as we agreed with with your words. Then I was pleasantly surprised to see you are the Director if Baby Calm, a workshop that have already participated in when my lo was first born and I remember having the same reaction during the workshops as I have this evening…..! The science you point out in your lectures makes perfect sense to me and with this knowledge my partner and I are completely comfortable with the decisions we making in our parenting without consulting a book or method chart at every juncture. Looking forward to Toddler Calm next x Thanks for making me think twice about logic as opposed to basing decisions on say so! :)) x

  4. Beth C says:

    Thank you, I think this needed to be said. I hope the message reaches many moms. The point is not to judge and categorize our differences but to support mothers own basic instinct, which pediatricians and media will try to convince us is wrong. I do not subscribe to any label because my baby and I don’t fit in a box.

    I was planning my first home birth, after 3 natural hospital deliveries, and I ended up with an emergency cesarean instead. I nurse my baby and will for as long as she wants. When she starts solids it will be whole, non processed, organic food that she feeds herself. I will not have her vaccinated. I do love Pampers and Tampax and Pantene and Colgate. I wear her sometimes (exclusively for the first 2 months) and use the stroller sometimes. We sleep together every night, most often for the entire night. I won’t homeschool, but I will supplement her education at home. Does this qualify me as an AP? I don’t know and don’t care, because a label can’t define my relationship with my children.

    I think the best idea is to parent intelligently and do what works for you and your baby.

  5. Estella says:

    Ive hard it called instinctual parenting and i like that name much better. Most of it is what our ancestors would have done and what comes naturally to us.

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