I had always planned to parent similarly to the way I was raised but with more structure, like the southern baptist families that populated most of my schools growing up. I would have strict curfews, rules, dinner at the table, yes sir and no sir and my children would do as they were told. I saw plenty of children around me raised this way…then I saw them grow up. I wasn’t so sold by the time we were late teens and college age, many of them had rebelled and were left to face difficult consequences.
Over my first few years in the north I began utilizing another system in my role as a nanny, it was very popular in the area, I call it the rewards and reinforcements method. This style focuses on sticker charts, marble jars, chore sheets and other behavior incentives to train children to respond appropriately to expected tasks so you don’t have to punish them and when you do you typically do so by withholding a reward. I would soon see both in childcare and soon in my classrooms that this can breed a dependency on external motivators and in the worst cases students/children who know where the line is and will tiptoe until touching it as many times as possible, knowing they are invinceable if they stay just this side of the carefully outlined rule.
By the time I stepped into my first developmental pyschology class I was pretty sure neither of these two very common systems worked and I wanted something more for my future students and children but wasn’t sure what. When we reached attachment theory a lightbulb clicked and while I wouldn’t really think to label it such for years, my journey with attachment parenting began.
Attachment parenting is an oft abused and misused term. It is frequently misapplied to what is, in reality, permissive parenting. In some circles it is synonomous with hippie/granola/crunchy parenting and in others with certain choices like breastfeeding, babywearing or cosleeping. All of these things miss the mark of attachment parenting though. Attachment parenting is parenting with the goal of creating a secure attachment for your child and it can be achieved in many different ways but one thing is consistent throughout: Responsiveness. Attachment parenting might better be termed responsive parenting.
The eight principles of AP are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
- Feed with love and respect.
- Respond with sensitivity.
- Use nurturing touch.
- Engage in nighttime parenting.
- Provide constant, loving care.
- Practice positive discipline.
- Strive for balance in personal and family life.
NOWHERE does it say that you must breastfeed, extended cosleep, cloth diaper, etc, etc, in fact that wouldn’t be AP if it was wrong for your child because AP is about RESPONDING to YOUR child. Don’t get me wrong these things can be part of the journey for some families, I have nursed each of our children to 2+ years old and we had a family bed until our preschooler was old enough to feel comfortable in his own but that was what was right for us and it might not be for you.
The first few years of my oldest’s life I could feel the hesitancy from those around us about our choices, were we babying him or spoiling him? Wouldn’t nursing him that long hurt his growth or something? When was he going to sleep in his own bed? Why won’t you make him interact with people he doesn’t know, that’s what is normal. Then my child passed the attaching phase (typically from 6 months – 2 years) and the seeds we had been toiling diligently to plant in his life began to sprout. Those same people began to see that indeed he was more independent and capable than his peers in many areas and the questions changed in tone from judgment to advice, how can I get my daughter in law to try X, would my child benefit from Y. I responded to where he was and waited patiently for him to be ready for each skill and as such prevented the typical cycles of regression so many struggle with.
I’m not saying there is only one right way to parent but I do think that responsive parenting would be beneficial to every child. What it looks like varies widely based on the child’s needs though, even in the same family, because it is responsive! For example I would have never put my oldest child in a “time out” it was not necessary and would not have been effective, instead he and I cuddled and talked over the situation and it worked everytime. If I tried that with my daughter it would only escalate the situation as she does not like touch or affection when upset, so with her I simply remove her to comfy place, usually her room and tell her I will see her when she’s done crying and ready to talk.
Our journey is still in progress and I assume there will be many bumps in the road to come but I have no doubt that responding to my children’s needs and meeting them where they are will always be a positive choice. As a Christian I have a Father who is always available, always willing to listen and guides my life through prayer, scripture and the Holy Spirit and I think that being a constant, loving, stable place for my child is one of the many ways I can model that relationship.
If you want to learn more about attachment theory there is a helpful summary here on Attach from Scratch and if you would like to know more about Attachment Parenting you can check out the AP International site.