Guess what. I sleep-trained my infant.
I’m sure this will probably shock and offend many attachment parenting advocates, but with all the hype about co-sleeping and baby wearing out there, I think it’s important to share my story about how attachment parenting nearly ruined my life.
You can read the entire article here, though personally, I would recommend a nail in the eye first. To summarize for you (if you like your sanity as is, whatever that happens to be), this mom decided pre-birth she would do Attachment Parenting. And like any “good” AP mom, she got her checklist out and made sure she checked all the boxes. Babywearing? Check. Bedsharing? Check. Nursing on demand? Check. You get the picture.
The problem? Not all of this worked for them or their little one. Babywearing left the baby screaming and crying the entire time (yes, hours) and co-sleeping left mom exhausted once baby started nursing all night without break. The real basis for Attachment Parenting – responsiveness – was lost as was the idea of balance, which is key to everyone being happy and healthy. And instead of looking at gentle methods, mom hit a stage where she decided crying-it-out was the only thing to do. With her second, she did Gina Ford sleep scheduling right away.
There are your Cliff notes. (You can go put the nail away now.)
After reading this, I first just wanted to write a full page of me cursing the world and people in it because the way people continue to find ways to simply blame others and expect others to do the work for them amazes me (and saddens me). However, realizing that would be rather incoherent and not helpful, I then thought I would tackle her piece bit by bit. Except I realized that wouldn’t be helpful either because it would only speak to one person’s experience. No, I finally realized that we need to address the elephant in the room: Attachment Parenting all too often is being treated as list of things that parents MUST do (like the many expert books that actually do tell you that you need to do all these things). The entire philosophy behind Attachment Parenting is getting lost in the fray for various reasons and I can tell you that I sincerely doubt that Attachment Parenting International would recommend these parents behave the way they are, or like this mother did, in focusing solely on the practices espoused instead of on the theory and main message behind it.
I’ve already written on the difference between attachment and Attachment Parenting (see here), but the issue here isn’t about Attachment Parenting really, it’s about all parents who expect a one-size-fits-all approach to raising their children. Far too often parents read multiple books and decide which “approach” best fits their idea of what they want parenting to be. If you want a baby that sleeps through the night at 3 months, you’ll probably search out books I won’t even name because most of them are so awful. If you read the books and decide you want a securely attached child, you will probably end up looking at Attachment Parenting as written by Dr. Sears. Reading these books is not inherently bad; treating these books as gospel is.
And this is where we have a problem.
Raising children isn’t like dieting where you can be pretty sure that if you follow a certain set of practices (and they may vary) you will lose weight. Why not? Because there’s another individual involved here who has a big say in what does and does not work for him/her: your baby. Even the B’s of Dr. Sears’ Attachment Parenting Guidelines won’t work for all babies, and even more so, all families. If we take the original article that drove me insane, the mother describes wearing her baby on hikes all the time despite her baby crying non-stop the whole time. She also explains that her back was killing her and the babywearing ended up causing tons of damage to her back that needed fixing. I’ve had friends tell me they saw Attachment-Parenting-identified parents at the park refusing to take their one year old out of the carrier to play with other kids in favour of “keeping their baby close at all times”. When I hear stories like this, I want to scream. If you aren’t following your baby’s cues – or heck even your own – you are going to have problems. It is unavoidable. They may not be immediate, but you will have to deal with the fact that you ignored your child, even if it was in favour of an approach that’s deemed gentle and helpful.
Whatever parenting method you choose, you have to treat it as a guide not an instruction manual. And if you want your child to be independent and securely attached, you have to (a) be responsive to his or her needs, especially in infancy and toddlerhood, and (b) follow their cues to independence. It is not our job as parents to either force independence on our children or hide them from it. We are most effective when we serve as the base for our kids to come back to whenever they need it. If we can do that, we can have incredibly confident children then young adults then adults.
But we must also talk about balance. One of the things the original blogger mentioned is that sleep was a huge issue as soon as her youngest started wanting to nurse all night. Does being responsive mean we have to give into that? No. If you can and you’re comfortable with it, go ahead. (Though having had a couple sick nights where this was the case, I can say personally I was crawling out of my skin from the experience.) But does it mean you run to sleep scheduling in advance of this or to sleep training to stop it? NO.
You can find balance while also being responsive to your child’s needs. For some babies, the intense suckling may be fixed by the use of a pacifier (though if your supply isn’t secure, don’t do this). For others, a good bedtime routine may help. For others, it could be teething and the use of a ring or teething necklace, or remedy (herbal or otherwise) can help. And in some cases, parents may want to turn to gentle methods to guide longer sleep without any aide (like the No-Cry Sleep Solution). Regardless, there are happy mediums that allow families to bond, be responsive, empathize with each other, and develop healthy, happy attachment that will lead to greater independence. But you cannot have that if you expect to follow a check-list and not once consult your child, yourself or your partner.
At the end of the day, when I read articles about how Attachment Parenting ruined someone’s life, I get frustrated. Attachment Parenting can’t ruin anyone’s life, only you can. And if you can’t be responsible enough to find things that work for you as a family or require someone else to tell you exactly what to do all the time, you need to dig deep to figure out why. For some, it’s probably easier to just listen to others and that is when you need to question if you’re ready for kids. For others, I worry it’s a loss of confidence in one’s parenting abilities given we live in an environment that does not lead to much exposure to young children or even knowledge of their normal, physiological development. If this is the problem, go out and get yourself experience and education. It can do wonders for your confidence, and if you have that then you can take what you need and what will work for your family while respecting everyone’s needs.
(For the record, it seems like this mom did figure that out based on her comments on this piece. I don’t know for sure, but I hope so, for her and her family’s sake.)