by Cynthia Good Mojab, MS
"There is no such thing as a baby; there is a baby and someone."
- British psychoanalyst D. E. Winnicott
Ask 10 parents, pediatricians or child psychologists for advice on any child rearing issue and you are likely to get 10 different opinions delivered with great confidence: this way is the right way!
If parents handle things in a way different than family, friends, doctors -- even strangers -- feel is the right way, they are likely to be warned of the dangers of "spoiling" or "harming" their children. Mothers and fathers often don't know who to believe and find that the advice conflicts with what they feel is right for their child.
Why all the confusion? Different ways of parenting (parenting styles) reflect what people value -- from authority and obedience to responsiveness and connection. They also reflect different personalities (both children's and parents'), as well as family circumstances. With all the different values, personalities and circumstances to be found among people, it's no wonder we have different parenting styles and lots of conflicting advice on child rearing!
In the early 1980s, pediatrician, author and parenting expert, Dr. William Sears coined the term attachment parenting. With this phrase, he tried to capture a general style of parenting that he felt was optimal for both parents and children.
Attachment parenting refers to responsiveness to the needs of the child. Attachment parenting encourages a mother to listen to her heart, hold her baby whenever he cries, carry him on her body as she engages in daily life, breastfeed him as often as he requests, minimize separation from him, trust that he knows what he needs and trust herself that she can meet those needs.
Attachment parenting also encourages fathers to engage actively in the care of their children while supporting the needs of the breastfeeding pair. It supports women employed outside the home as they incorporate as many of these practices into mothering as they can -- and as they ensure that others who care for their children do so, too.
Much of what is considered attachment parenting refers to the first few years of a child's life, but it doesn't end there. As children grow, attachment parenting means that parents continue to be emotionally responsive and to provide loving guidance that takes into account the needs and development of their children.
Unlike many authors in the field of child rearing, Dr. Sears does not advocate attachment parenting as a one-size-fits-all approach. There are no strict rules from a "parenting expert" to follow. Rather, the parents are the ones who become experts on their particular children as they learn to respond to individual needs and circumstances regardless of similarity or difference with any other children or family.
In many Western societies, like the United States that value the need for both adults and children to be independent and that stress parental control, the attachment parenting model may seem radical and lacking in discipline. But the model is based on helping parents meet the biological and emotional needs of their children.
Attachment parenting is a new term for an age-old approach. The needs of babies and children have not changed for countless generations -- though our values and parenting styles have. The human race simply would not have survived if mothers had not met the infant's most basic needs: the warmth of her mother's body, nurturance and sustenance from her breasts and the safety of her presence day and night. The connection between mother and baby is physiologically and psychologically designed to extend after birth.
Attachment parenting allows this connection to continue, incorporates the father as a critical and active participant in family life, includes siblings as nurturers, and provides children a secure base from which to grow and develop toward maturity at their own pace.
Attachment parenting. Katie Allison Granju. In D. L. Michels (Ed.) Breastfeeding Annual International 2001. Washington, DC: Platypus Media, 2001.