The Problem With ‘Attachment Parenting’ and How to Really Change the World

“One generation of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world”. (Charles Raison).

I really believe this, I truly believe it is possible to change the world in less than one hundred years.

The recent rise in coverage of attachment parenting by the mainstream media however leaves me cold. I can’t help feeling frustrated that all it really achieves is highlighting how misunderstood attachment theory is in mainstream society. Most media coverage makes AP look like a parenting cult whose  strict principles must be religiously followed – an alternative to the strict regimes of Gina Ford et al, but still something that is confusing to follow and even harder to ‘do’.

I am crying out to be given the chance to get attachment theory (not AP) some proper airtime, because if there is to be a global consciousness shift in parenting it HAS to come from the science, not celebs, or passionate mums coordinating breastfeeding or babywearing flashmobs. It has to be black and white. It has to be independent of social class and eco campaigning and “8 principles”.

Instead the way to really make a change is to present cold hard facts that nobody can pick apart because of carying babies in “15 metres of Indian fabric” or natural yoghurt consumption. It needs discussions of hippocampal volume and the true meaning of independence, with reference to the developing brain and neural connections and the myth of self soothing. It needs discussions of neural pruning, of the long term effects of premature separation of mother and infant. We need to discuss oxytocin and empathy and altruism, we need to discuss the science of maternal instinct.

We need to make the neuroscience of attachment theory as well known in society as the Baby Whisperer’s EASY and ‘pick up and put down’ and Gina Ford’s crazy routines. Because then, when this information is disseminated in a way that *everyone* can understand it, then there is no debate, there is no ‘war’ to win. There are only cold hard facts and the glaringly obvious fact that we have got this parenting thing all wrong.

The irony that it will take this critical, analytical, rational approach – the domain of the neocortex – in order to help mankind to realise that they need to parent in a more instinctive, mammalian way and drop the over analysis and reliance on experts and routines to tell us how to parent by numbers is not lost on me, just as the fact that I write books with almost the sole aim of getting parents to realise that they know best after all is not lost either. But this is the ONLY approach that will work – however much airtime AP gets from the latest news story, it’s just not going to cut the mustard.


Am I the only one that can see this? Surely I can’t be?

PLEASE let’s pick this movement up a gear. Revolution usually means war, but it really doesn’t have to – we can do this quietly, we have the biggest ‘weapon’ of all on our side – SCIENCE – and we don’t need to insult or harm anybody to use it, but right now I feel it has been forgotten in amongst the swathes of indian fabric and birkenstocks getting themselves in a tizzy (yes – how ironic that is the Christian name of Ms. Hall!). What these passionate mothers don’t realise is that by doing so they are creating even more of an ‘us and them’ divide, which may reach a few thousand other parents, but it’s not going to score big, it really isn’t anything to get excited at in the grand scheme of things. I’m not interested in changing things one family at a time anymore, I want to change MILLIONS, because only then will we really change the world.

….and you know what the first step is? It’s acknowledging that the phrase ‘attachment parenting’ is holding this back. It is too full of cliches and inaccurate ideas of keeping babies attached to mothers 24/7 to fulfil their own needs and creating mollycoddled monsters. It is too linked to henna, eating placentas and natural living, it’s just not scientific enough. Language is powerful and in this case it is preventing the change that needs to happen in society.

What should we call it? Personally, I think just ‘parenting’ suffices, after all that’s what it is, but sadly that has been monopolised by the likes of Ms. Ford and Supernanny. ‘Natural parenting’ doesn’t appeal to those who are not interested in a a natural lifestyle, who want to use disposable nappies, buggies, cots and Johnsons baby bath or formula feed (because you know – those people can be great parents too!), ‘instinctive parenting’ sounds too “Ohm” and alternative. The only other phrase that I am comfortable with is ‘gentle parenting’, it’s far from ideal – but I think it’s more ‘there’ than AP.

It’s for this reason that myself and two close friends  launched a new gentle parenting movement – starting with a mainstream, non crunchy, science rich website (featuring real experts) to rival the big parenting websites we all know of. You can find us at:

Please, we need your support, if we are going to try to change things, we need to be shared, we need to be as well known as BabyCentre or Mumsnet, we need to reach those parents that AP is not currently reaching and we need to ‘talk’ to them.



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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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