I’m pretty good at keeping this writing thing to science, advocacy, and thoughts that, whether you agree or not, don’t aim to try and take the piss out of someone or a group of someones. Not today. Today I’ve had enough. So I start by giving you fair warning that if you’ve logged on to read something that tries to disseminate the science in a kind and digestible way, this may not be the post for you. If you don’t like reading cuss words or prefer that I always try to keep the upper hand and not sink to calling people names, this may not be the post for you. For the rest of you, well, I hope you can understand that after years of writing sometimes someone just really needs to vent. This is that time…
Yesterday I was sent a link to a completely asinine article in The Atlantic, a publication I usually quite enjoy. It’s called “The Perils of Attachment Parenting” and in it, the author – a parenting consultant – decries how attachment parenting is bad for families. She’s not the only one, though, it’s the same rhetoric heard over and over by the likes of people like Gina Ford or Tizzie Hall or frankly most people trying to tell parents their way is the only way.
The problems with attachment parenting?
- Breastfeeding on demand. According to Ms. Emma Jenner, it’s just not sustainable. It has the awful consequence of not putting baby on a schedule, mom can’t get things done, dads or non-breastfeeding parents can’t feed the baby and baby might just want mom for a period, babies sleep is disrupted if they feed at night, and so on. In short: As a mother your life will be FOREVER ruined and you will never recover.
- Co-sleeping. I actually thought she might be kidding as she described the perils of co-sleeping as, “[babies] become used to sleeping with a warm body and heartbeat next to them”. The horror!!! Oh – it also means babies feed on demand and, as per point 1, that’s apparently awful and mom will pay the price for the rest of her life. There’s also talk about needing to teach them to “self-soothe” and all that crap because, don’t you know, all babies can sleep through the night by 4 months of age if you leave them alone and don’t respond when they wake.
- Babywearing. How are you going to have sex if you’ve always got a baby strapped to you? Honestly, this is the concern. Babies who are worn will apparently NEVER agree to go down on a blanket and we all know that’s the time for some more baby-making. You also can’t get anything else done when babywearing, according to Ms. Jenner.
- Responding to your babies’ cries. Apparently attachment parents are so concerned over every fuss, they never learn to respond to their child’s needs. I shit you not, that’s her argument.
As I said, this is hardly new or unique, it is a very prevalent attitude towards any type of responsive parenting (attachment, evolutionary, gentle, etc.). In short, people view it as untenable, unsustainable. I have one question though:
Are you kidding or are you seriously that fucking stupid?
If you believe this crap, I’m amazed you’re able to get dressed in the morning for my 4-year-old has a better understanding of the different needs of different individuals across time and development than you. Last time she thought a baby didn’t need different responses from his parents than a 10-year-old was when she could barely talk, couldn’t put a shirt on, and still required me to wipe her ass.
Yes, that’s right, my CHILD understands babies better than you idiots. She knows when she’s playing with a younger child that she needs to be gentler, that that baby might need some help with some tasks, that the baby might need mom around more than she does; in short, she knows that this baby is limited in ways that she, as an older child, is not.
You are a grown adult with a fully functioning brain (although this is perhaps arguable at this point) and yet you fail to grasp that NO ONE is suggesting that how we treat our infants will be how we treat our children for the rest of their lives or that being responsive equals being permissive. Amazingly children change as they grow, their needs differ and in turn, we respond to them as they are at that certain point. If you breastfeed on demand it does NOT mean you will give your child, as you put it, another glass of milk right when you’ve sat down to dinner or that if you bedshare or babywear your 10-year-old will rule the house making you drive him half-way across town whenever he wants. (Just as if you don’t bedshare you don’t condemn your child to pain and suffering for the rest of his life.)
If we accept the crap about this type of parenting being unsustainable (though I ask you how we as humans survived if this was so untenable given it’s how we’ve parented for hundreds of thousands of years), we still need to look at what you’re really saying about these methods. Sooo… Let’s take a look at the so-called “perils” of responsive parenting once again…
- Breastfeeding on demand (really this should be “feeding on demand”). This is recommended not just by attachment parent advocates, but by doctors, lactation consultants, researchers, etc. Why?
- A newborn has a stomach the size of a pea, so unless you’re recommending parents starve their baby, you feed them when they are hungry, not according to your idea of when they should be hungry.
- Related to the aforementioned point, feeding (breast or bottle) on a strict schedule is associated with a host of negative outcomes including, but not limited to, cognitive deficits, increased risk of jaundice, and failure to thrive so really you’re recommending parents put their babies lives at risk, asshole.
- Breastfeeding on demand helps breastfeeding. Or rather, not breastfeeding on demand is associated with early cessation of breastfeeding. This is particularly true for night feeds which you really take issue with. Again, infants who go long periods between feeds have a higher risk of hitting failure to thrive, or not receiving enough milk; as stated in , “Breast-fed infants tend to get a diminishing supply with a diminishing demand and may enter a vicious circle ending in irretrievable failure of lactation.”
- Co-sleeping. First you need to be aware that co-sleeping refers to both bedsharing and room-sharing. The main point for responsive parenting is to have your baby close to you at night and for some that’s in bed, for some that’s in a cot or bassinette next to the bed. The case for room-sharing is very clear and it’s considered the safest option for babies from a policy perspective (and is recommended by all health agencies) as it has the lowest risk of SIDS. But what of bedsharing?
- You’re right it’s associated with feelings of comfort by being close. I realize in a world where we try to harden up our kids and babies right away so they’ll grow up to be angry and insecure and not know comfort or help, this goes against the grain. Some of us, however, want our children to associate sleep with feelings of love, comfort, and happiness and this is one of the ways that works for our kids and our family. We don’t want children who fear night when they are older or feel that their parents’ responsiveness and love ends when the sun goes down (which really has nothing to do with bedsharing and everything to do with responsiveness as you can still respond with a baby in their own cot or even room). We, unlike you, believe parenting is a 24-hour-a-day position.
- For those of us breastfeeding, bedsharing can actually increases the amount of sleep we get. Yes, being able to roll over and feed our babies as they need it (and don’t kid yourself – they NEED it in infancy, and many beyond that) means our sleep is less interrupted and we don’t suffer from the REAL perils of sleep deprivation.
- You ignore the fact that babies are physiologically immature at birth. Many can do well on their own (why many babies do well in their own cots), but some, often what we call “higher-needs” babies require their caregivers to help regulate for them and this synchrony is associated with babies’ development of self-regulation. Nighttime shared sleep is one way in which adults can regulate infant physiology and keep baby healthy and thriving.
- The safety arguments can be handled by teaching families how to bedshare safely or determine if their sleep environment is safe. When we look at the real risk of bedsharing, it is really a risk in terms of unsafe bedsharing, not bedsharing per se.
- Babywearing. This one was just so stupid, it’s hard to even fathom how to reply, but here we go:
- You argue that mom can’t get things done when babywearing except babywearing as used here and around the world is what allows mom (or dad) to get things done. Moms (and dads) can wear baby and go about their business, be it cleaning, running errands, writing, etc.
- Babywearing builds up baby’s core which is great for later strength (and avoids the need for tummy time) and avoids the flat head issue that happens because babies spend too much time flat on their backs.
- It has been found to improve the bond between mom and baby in a group of at-risk mother-infant dyads. Even just used part of the time, the increased physical contact increases synchrony and attachment (these are GOOD things, as I’m not sure you even understand what they are).
- As for the idea that your sex life is ruined because you accept that newborns require a lot of touch for their well-being and health, let me say this: If your sex life requires you to not care for another human being as they need it, including lots of touch, then you shouldn’t have a sex life because that is what leads to procreation and you certainly are not ready to care for another human being.
- Responding to your baby’s cries. Let me be very clear here: If you manage to interact with your child in a way that means they don’t cry often or at all, then you ARE meeting their needs unless you’re following a type of parenting that means your child has given up hope of ever reaching you because they know you only care about yourself (sound familiar?). You simply can’t respond to a child without knowing their needs or knowing how to read your child. A final bonus: Responsive parenting is linked to all sorts of positive outcomes for kids, including empathy, self-regulation, and more (for a review, see ).
When it’s all said and done it’s clear that your approach is that it’s all about the parents and babies are here to fit into whatever little world we have created and want. It’s the attitude of “It’s my world, you’re just living in it” and it sucks. Ms. Jenner tries to claim it’s about balance – oddly a key part of attachment parenting (yes, you’ve shown you’re also incapable of actually reading) – and that parents have needs that need to be met too.
No one is saying parents don’t take moments of self-care but that (a) our infants, especially newborns, can’t bear the brunt of our WANTS and (b) also have needs that may need to come before ours simply because they rely on us to live. Let’s face it – sleeping through the night when you have a newborn, having sex regularly whenever you want, feeding a on your schedule – these are NOT things that are NEEDS for parents. They are wants and by telling parents to ignore the physical and emotional NEEDS of their newborn in favour of what makes us adults “happy”, you are proving yourself to be an advocate for selfish, irresponsible parenting.
Yes, if you are a parent who is forever putting your wants above your children’s needs, under the guise that they need to “fit in” or that “happy parent = happy child” (a euphemism for taking the easy and selfish way out more often than it actually refers to parents taking care of themselves to care for their kids), you are behaving irresponsibly and selfishly. Deal with it or change, just don’t bitch that you’re being made to feel guilty or some such crap.
The idea that self-care and balance is antithetical to responsive parenting is astronomically stupid and perpetuates the myth that children are there to fit around our lives and do not require the type of consideration, care, and respect we afford other adults who are far more independent and competent. Young babies will need our attention and our time and a fuck of a lot of it. That’s how we not only survive but thrive. As our babies age, that will change and they will yearn and seek out more independence and it’s our job as parents to give it to them and set new boundaries.
It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a glass of wine with friends or a long, soaking bath, but it does mean you make sure that little person who needs you to survive is okay while you do it. You don’t ignore or distress your infant so you can go to a movie. You don’t leave your child to scream because you’re too tired to get up at 3am and feed him (however you do it) and be a responsible parent. You just don’t. Parenting responsively also doesn’t mean you give into all the WANTS of your older children (if you think your newborn is crying because they only “want” food or a diaper change, hand the child over to someone with half a brain). If the only way you know how to set boundaries is to set them inappropriately – say, like, ignoring the needs of your baby because that particular need isn’t appropriate for a teenager – then you need to work on that because that’s fucked up. It is also your problem, not your baby’s.
As parents it’s our job to do all we can for our kids’ well-being, especially when they are so dependent upon us. When you have a baby, it is up to YOU to make sacrifices to care for their well-being, no matter what some idiot parenting consultant may tell you. End of fucking story.
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