The article by Kate Pickert Are you mom enough in Time magazine drew controversy and stirred up debate about attachment parenting (AP), perhaps intensified “mommy wars”. Whereas the author researched and summarized the history of the AP movement well, she made some errors in describing its philosophy. Attachment Parenting International lists eight principles of attachment parenting, all equally important, not just three, like she points out. One of these principles is to strive for balance in personal and family life. According to this belief, the mother does not have to sacrifice her interests to care for the baby. He is always present, passively observing her activities, and feels secure in her arms, sling or babycarrier.
Kate Pickert is correct in pointing out the connection of attachment parenting to Jean Liedloff, who was an early advocate for this method of child rearing. She spent two and a half years in an Amazon jungle, learning about a way of life of a local Yekuana tribe. I met Jean Liedloff four years ago in Sausalito, where she lived, and asked her why she did not have children. She told me that it was because she was never married. The point is not that she never raised a child on her own. When a man without kids gives advice about bringing them up, nobody judges him for it; yet a woman without children is somehow less credible in our society. This prejudice is visible in the Time article.
A quote in the article that needs to be corrected is this one: “…the prevalence of this philosophy [attachment parenting – E.R.] has shifted mainstream American parenting toward a style that’s more about parental devotion and sacrifice than about raising self-sufficient kids”. This is a classic logical mistake: a false dilemma. The author states that if a parent devotes himself to a child and makes sacrifices, than the child will not be self-sufficient. Exactly the opposite is true. By providing nurture and care to young defenseless beings a parent indeed is raising children who feel good about themselves and trust people around them. Obviously, an infant completely depends on adults. Unfortunately, they not too long ago stopped listening to their instincts and subscribed to a new fashion in parenting that changes every decade.
It used to be that doctors advised against breastfeeding, saying that a new mother already had her hands full with household chores. Then Dr. Ferber said that it was good for children to cry for controlled time periods. Some doctors even advised parents to touch a baby only when absolutely necessary, not to look at the baby or replicate its sounds. For a while mainstream medicine argued in favor of rigid timelines for feeding (no sooner than every three hours for newborns) and against night-time feedings (a baby’s stomach has to rest). These crazy theories existed in the 20th century, so, in search for the truth, it is best to see how “indigenous” (they are smarter than we are) people raise children and care for infants.
They are intuitive and do not lose themselves when they care for babies. They attend to a child’s needs, whereas we in the Western world listen suspiciously to every cry to determine if the baby is trying to control us. Suddenly, the child finds himself in a power struggle when all he wants is warmth and comfort. There is a certain disconnect between generations that we have to try to restore.
It is great to see that attachment parenting found its way into a popular magazine, and the author deserves credit for a largely objective summary of AP principles. However, the bias that exists in our society gets in the way of interpreting the philosophy of parenting that worked for thousands of years to fit modern day families. A form of attachment parenting is practiced in many countries around the world, including China and Japan. And, if it is good enough for mammals, it is good enough for us Westerners.
Specifically for Seattleites, there is plenty of groups an interested family can join. There is an API chapter, Seattle Attachment Parenting Meetup, Seattle Baby Wearing Network through Yahoo groups and others. Famous speakers come to our city to tell people about the benefits of connecting and collecting children. All we have to do is listen.