Cara Paiuk wrote a very touching piece on Kveller this week. It detailed some of her mother’s difficulty conceiving, birthing, and, ultimately, “attaching” to her infant. Cara described a series of events unfathomable to most of us, and bravely notes a sense of loss in the bond she and her mother ultimately shared. Whereas many would shy away from making a possible link between her birth and later attachment, Cara spoke up.
Ever the scientist, I would argue that the loss she describes may have come about from myriad possible birth or bonding outcomes although research supports what Cara notes: attached babies do have a different “profile” for the most part, but it’s not absolute. The complexities of primate bonding, historical lack of support for women in birth and labor as well as post-partum, and lack of community resources can make even the “ideal” birth situation very quickly become an isolated and challenging ordeal when difficulties arise. That being said, I think Cara makes so many powerful points and I commend her.
As Cara noted, my book detailing my journey from neuroscience to an understanding and application of the principles of Attachment Parenting comes out in a week or so, and I wanted to make a few points about attachment that Cara brought to light not as a defense but as an opportunity for clarification.
1) Rarely (especially with a first birth) do we get the outcome we want which facilitates “ideal” attachment. The ideal situation is rarely achieved for many of us and we get to do our best within the situation and framework we find ourselves in. Brave women like Rickie Lake and Abby Epstein have shown what a crappy framework can do to make women stand up, demand change, and spread knowledge and help women create a more ideal set of options to start from. Here’s my personal experience in this: my first son was supposed to be born at home. He ended up born in a hospital after I labored three days. I got one shot of pitocin and delivered him with no other drugs. He was in the NICU for four days. I couldn’t hold him for more than a few minutes, much less breastfeed him or sleep with him. NOT the desired outcome for us.
2) There are no Attachment Parenting police. No one tells you (I mean, I guess some people might, but I sure won’t!) that you can’t call yourself an Attachment Parenting person “even if” you: had a planned C-section, had an emergency C-section, chose not to breastfeed, did not breastfeed, slept five rooms away from your kid, hated slings, think cloth diapers are gross, etc. Attachment Parenting is an umbrella term that more describes a parenting philosophy than a checklist of membership identifications. I know AP parents with adopted children who they never breastfed or slept with from infancy. I know AP moms who fed their babies bottles after starting chemotherapy for cancer. I know AP moms and dads who simply did not want to sleep with a kicking squirmy kid, so they didn’t. I know AP parents who don’t homeschool, don’t practice Elimination Communication, hate vegan food, and are grumpy. We come in all shapes and sizes and flavors!
3) The overarching philosophy of Attachment Parenting supports gently building a relationship with your child that benefits the entire family. No matter the details of the lives and beds and breasts of all of the AP parents I know, the following are almost always present in my experience:
- A belief that babies can not be spoiled, do not manipulate, and seek to be understood.
- A belief that Western and “modern” conventional notions of baby training are limited, parent-centered to a fault, and at the least, worth questioning.
- A desire to seek out opportunities for babies and children to be themselves and grow at their own pace rather than conform to society’s notions of what babies and children “should” do and when they do those things.
- A faith that children are the way they are for a specific reason and that individual differences need individual care.
- A deep notion that punishment and physical force are not the way to discipline; rather that the principles of Gentle Discipline are valuable, helpful, and ideal.
I wrote Beyond the Sling to share why my neuroscience background informed what thousands of parents don’t need a PhD in neuroscience to know. I wrote this book to show people what Attachment Parenting looks like in our home both to support parents who do it this way and to demonstrate the underlying principles of this parenting philosophy. You may not want to practice any aspect of Attachment Parenting before or after you read my book, but what I hope is that learning why it is chosen and how it works will underscore some of the bigger and less-detail oriented principles that can be helpful no matter what umbrella term you fall under.
I chose the title Beyond the Sling because the principles I discuss are not about if you use a sling or a $1,000 stroller–it’s beyond that. The notion of building a lasting relationship with your baby and child not of equality, but of mutual respect, love, and care, is one that (God willing) will sustain your whole family beyond the time when you can hold your child in your arms. Cara acknowledges that her start in life wasn’t AP-picture perfect, but rarely is any of ours. And the beauty of this world is that we get to learn without judgment, acknowledge without fear, and love like it’s infinite. Attachment Parenting supports me in that journey and I hope that my writing this book can inform yours, no matter where it takes you.