What Does the Mommy Psychologist Have to Say About Attachment Parenting?

It’s time to address this question: What do I think about Attachment Parenting? I’ve been getting asked it a lot especially after I posted about Mayim Bialik’s new book. Answering this question is going to take much more than just one post, so I’m going to split it up into a few posts over the next couple of days.

The first thing I want to make clear is that I don’t believe there’s a superior theory of parenting. I’m not an advocate of any particular way to parent your child. I simply advocate doing what works. I practice parenting just like I practice therapy. When I enter the therapy room, I go in with my toolbox. My toolbox is filled with a variety of tools that I have gathered from various theories and past experiences. Depending on the specific situation and child, I pull out a tool that I think may be helpful. If the tool doesn’t work like I had expected I put it back in my toolbox and grab something else. I approach parenting in exactly the same manner. And I definitely carry tools from Attachment Parenting in my toolbox along with the tools from other parenting theories.

So, there you go. I’m not an Attachment Parent hater, but I certainly have a few issues with Attachment Parenting.

The biggest problem with Attachment Parenting is the name.

Yep. You read that right. The name. It’s misleading. And it’s not fair. Here’s why.

If there is a type of parenting called Attachment Parenting then it logically follows that all other types of parenting are by definition Non-attachment Parenting. And who wants to practice parenting that isn’t attached? You look cold and heartless. It’s like saying I don’t want to be attached to my kids. That’s ridiculous. Who doesn’t want to be attached to their kids? All of us want to be attached to our children. The name itself doesn’t allow parents to look at it objectively.

Don’t believe me?

Developmental Parenting is another theory of parenting. It’s based on the developmental stage theories of child development. In this type of parenting, the parenting techniques match where the child is at in his/her developmental stage. Parents learn what is considered developmentally appropriate for a child’s particular stage and then model their actions accordingly. It’s fluid and dynamic. What if instead of calling this type of parenting Developmental Parenting we labeled it Loving Parenting? Your perception of it would change immediately.

The point I want to make clear for everyone is that it’s not called Attachment Parenting because it is the only form of parenting that allows you to be able to become attached to your children or for your children to become attached to you. Not at all. There are all types of parenting styles that allow you to be able to develop a secure attachment relationship with your child.

Can you be an attached parent without adhering to Attachment Parenting principles? The answer is absolutely yes. Do not be misled by the name and mistakenly believe that you are an un-attached parent if you do not align yourself.

Where does the theory of Attachment Parenting come from? Stay tuned…

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40 Responses to What Does the Mommy Psychologist Have to Say About Attachment Parenting?

  1. Rach says:

    I recently told my friend (the new mommy) that with parenting books, you take what works for you and toss the rest, that just because something worked one day doesn’t mean it’s going to work the next time you try it. You may have to pull ideas from many sources, that not one “theory” is going to be a perfect fit.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. Whew! :)

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Sometimes when I am really struggling with parenting I’ll pull out my actual textbooks from graduate school and pour over them. For a few moments. I usually end up laughing and thinking, “this is so ridiculous! It would never work in the real world.” I close the book and realize that my child is not a mathematical formula even though I REALLY wish he was. It would make parenting so much easier!

      • Hannah says:

        I’m new to your site and I am certain you will have said this somewhere else but its so true, the best piece of advice about parenting I was every given…”babies don’t read the books”.

  2. Melina says:

    I completely agree with you. The first problem is the name, although there certainly are positive aspects in this parenting style. But then again, there are positive aspects in all styles. I’ve just started following your blog. I’m enjoying it and learning a lot, cheers!

  3. Valerie says:

    Amen, Mommy Psychologist. Not only is every parent different, but every child is different as well. When asked for my opinion, I encourage my friends to take a step back, consider the outcome they desire, and age & personality of their child… then follow their hearts with what feels right.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Valerie. This is great advice. We have such a hard time trusting our instincts, but most of the time they are right. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I trusted my gut and my gut was wrong….

  4. GMama says:

    I’m not a big adherent to AP, I am a take what works for me and leave the rest person, but I’ve been reading through some posts and they just don’t sound that “smart”…I mean, you say “If there is a type of parenting called Attachment Parenting then it logically follows that all other types of parenting are by definition Non-attachment Parenting.” Why, exactly, does that “logically follow”? That might be what AP devotees would imply, but it certainly doesn’t “logically” follow. If AP is so out there and full of wackos, why are people so defensive about it? Only YOU can make yourself feel like a “bad parent.” Own your behavior, own your choices. Maybe people feel guilty or “bad” because deep down they know they SHOULD be breastfeeding, SHOULD be carrying their babies in arms, NOT letting them cry and such, and it’s their gut instinct that makes them feel this way…

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for your comments, GMama. What I mean by that is that only one type of parenting can be given the name Attachment Parenting. You can’t call free-range parenting attachment parenting because the name is already taken. And other types of parenting also lead to secure attachments being developed. I think many people get confused by this and think if they don’t practice attachment parenting then they won’t be attached to their children and this is simply just not true. The only type of parenting I advocate is “doing what works.” And doing what works has a huge amount of variability between parents.

    • Mama Bear says:

      Amen! People who are confident aren’t defensive!

    • Anon says:

      The real issue isn’t self-imposed guilt based on parenting choices. No, not at all. It is the quiet bullying, mommy-shaming and passive aggressive “advice” handed out to new moms from proponents of attachment-theory parenting. I’m a ten year veteran of parenting and can attest that I was quite happy with the idea of bottle-feeding, scheduling and having my husband share in the work until I started exploring the greater parenting community. There is an extremely vocal minority peddling fear-based advice, clearly communicated the message that if parents want their baby to be secure and attached, then they needed to “mother” them by breastfeeding, eschewing bottles and pacifiers, bed sharing and constant contact through baby wearing instead of strollers.

      Through this bullying new moms and some dads are given reasons to feel guilty about their choices, when they might have felt fine at first. The funny thing about it is that I was such an AP nut with my first and I spent most of my time opining on how wrong everyone else was and how mainstream they were and how I didn’t want to hear about their ways and felt pressure to be that way.

      Once my second child was born and I had emerged from the AP fog and did things differently, I found the pressure wasn’t on for me to do more mainstream parenting things. Nope. I was ostracized and bullied for not doing AP things. Even though they didn’t work for us.

      So saying things like “ap doesn’t cause guilt, it is your own guilt about not doing it right!” is BS and the core of the problem and is the source of the guilt. People don’t feel guilt until someone comes along and tells them how they “should” do it.

      • Mommy Psychologist says:

        Thanks, Anon. One of the things I wasn’t prepared for in regard to motherhood was the amount of competition and bullying that you described in your post. I’ve said it before in previous posts, but I felt like I’d be transported back to high school except this time around everyone had babies.

  5. ImaPsychMommy2 says:

    I’ve always had a problem with AP too and couldn’t really put my finger on it. I’m all for developing your own philosophy of parenting to help guide your decisions and give you more confidence, and it helps when there’s already a philosophy out there that speaks to what you believe. But when experts or followers judge others who don’t follow their beliefs, that’s obviously not cool. While I don’t agree with the supporting arguments for AP, I can see how it would make sense to others. But there is something very smug and self-righteous about the name. I’m a psychologist too, but I don’t know if there’s any research showing AP parenting leads to higher rates of secure attachment. Do you? And if so, I would imagine that there might be self-selection variables (higher education, socioeconomic status, etc) that might contribute to higher rates.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Exactly. There aren’t any studies showing attachment parenting leads to higher rates of secure attachment. Now, if you go on the API website they will assure you that there are. However, the studies they cite are Bowlby’s work and Ainsworth which as we both know are in relationship to attachment theory, not AP specifically. They also provide research that demonstrates the importance of attachment. Again, yes, everyone has read the monkey study even people who aren’t psychologists. No one who argues against attachment parenting is saying that attachment isn’t important. It’s what all of us have in our relationships with our children. Other than that, I’m not sure of any studies. I’ll dig a bit further.

      • Allison says:

        To this (all this, really, but I decided to put the comment here) I have to say, word.

        Reading Dr. Sears and other AP stuff in the early days of my son’s life made me feel like if I ever put him down or went back to work outside the home, he’d basically have the same emotional disorder as those kids who spent their first years in Romanian orphanages. Yeah, no. We are wired to make attachments; the situation has to be pretty extreme for that not to happen.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Thanks, Allison. I couldn’t help but laugh at your comment because it is so true. The reality is that kids almost always form attachment to their caregivers. Even caregivers that are abusive. Unless a child is horrifically abused or neglected, they’re going to become attached to their caregiver no matter what we do.

        • Anon says:

          Omgosh. Me, too!! And even though I don’t really practice AP anymore, I still have fear about doing the things that I know are right when they don’t fit the AP mold. Like bottles. Or going away for the day. It is like all the AP stuff I read planted a sanctimommy in my brain that won’t shut up when I make different choices!

  6. Jerica says:

    I am a breastfeeding mom and I read your post at the washington post about the time cover. I breastfed my first til a year and am breastfeeding my second now, he is 9m. I have a question? Is there a way to get back the “attachment”/loving parenting kinda thing when you have strayed far off course? I think I strayed around the end of my last pregnancy then started school and got even more stressed. I want to get back there… without putting my oldest back on the breast which is what she has been begging for.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      I’m a little confused. Are you saying that you want to begin breastfeeding again or you don’t? What particular aspects of attachment parenting do you feel like are off for you?

      • N says:

        Could be wrong, but I think Jerica is saying that she wants to get closer with her oldest and be there for her emotionally ,wtihout starting to breastfeed again. If that’s what you mean (is it?) the answer is definitely yes, you can do that. Just set aside some time to spend with her. Read her stories, play legos together, heck, have her “help with the dishes” (play with the sink) while you cook dinner. Cuddle her a bit at bedtime. Even if you hadn’t weaned her earlier than you wish you had, you still would’ve had to make the transition to spending time together in other ways at some point. Just go ahead and make that transition now.

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          Thanks, N. These are helpful suggestions.

        • Jerica says:

          Thank you. Yes that is what I was saying. I kind of feel like her whole world was ripped to shreds when her brother was born. She already seemed to have some (more than normal)trust issues from birth and then I had never been apart from her and then was at the hospital for two days with a new person. Thanks for the tips. We are working on them.

  7. CCindy says:

    I guess not knowing too much about the theory behind the name gave me a somewhat different idea. I thought Attachment was about being attached at the hip or the boob rather than the heart because I swear everytime I read anything about it they are talking about baby wearing. I’m pro-breast feeding and all into being attached at the heart, but darn it, I just can’t carry a baby around everywhere I go. My back can’t take it. I want my baby within sight. I want contact. I want connection. I will sit and cuddle for hours, but once I stand up baby goes on his blanket on the floor for some tummy time. I think I get a nice balance between independance and connectedness. Does that have a name? Does it need a name? Only if I want to write a book!

  8. Totally appreciate this post.

    I think that if you are a nurturing, loving parent- you are doing it right. No matter what label anyone puts on it. I have a problem when people start pointing fingers and accusing others of not doing it right. Some women can’t breastfeed. Should they be made to feel like they are not fit mothers? If you live in a city, don’t have a car, and run all of your errands on foot- it is really hard to carry your child all day. Should I feel bad that I used a stroller? People really need to get off their soapboxes and realize that different circumstances beget different parenting styles. And that is okay.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Maria. Also, lots of babies don’t even like slings. Or swaddling for that matter. Gus screamed like he was in a straight jacket every time I swaddled him. For awhile, I kept doing it because I “was supposed to” and it was “the best spot for infants.” Then one day I was like- what am I doing? I know it’s what all the books say, but my son CLEARLY hates this.”

  9. Deanna says:

    Attachment Parenting was named so because it was based on the theory called ”attachment” theory. There are many other names that can be given to other parenting styles (Securely Attached parenting or Natural or Responsive or Loving etc.) that are equally positive. Why take offense to a name? The main tenets of AP are to know your child, responsiveness and balance. Some AP moms never breast feed (bottle feeding snuggled close is still nursing), some do extended breastfeeding. Some co-sleep, some never do. Some use slings, some just snuggle alot. AP is not an all or nothing, one way is best parenting style. The idea is to believe in the value of your babies cries, get behind the eyes of your child and respond lovingly to meet dependency needs. When you can use what works for your unique child and family, and toss the rest, why judge those who do things more or less..or an entire style because something don’t fit your family or because you want to find fault in a name. It’s akin to an athiest being offended to others praying or saying God. Just as there are different religions and even differences within religions, there are different parenting styles and even differences within styles. A mom who co sleeps or breastfeeds for an extended time should not be attacked or judged – nor should a mom who never does either.

    • Deanna says:

      Just reread. Typos..don’t should be doesn’t and to should be by. Sorry..am responding on my phone.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks for your comments, Deanna. I agree. I make it clear that I actually don’t have a problem with attachment parenting. There would be people who would call be me an AP parent. For example, I breastfed my son past a year. I am the kind of person who believes parents should do what works for them. I stress this in my post. My issue with the name is the dichotomy that it sets up. That’s all.

      • As the parent of two grown children (22 and 20), I can honestly say I’d never heard of the term “Attachment Parenting” until all of the media uproar. Honestly I think it’s ridiculous. Each child and each parent attaches in a different way. Some children are more independent, some need more physical connection. Advice from a mother with very close connections to her two grown kids – just keep talking to each other. And listening. THAT’S what makes a connection. You can carry your kid on your hip until he goes to kindergarten, but if you don’t communicate it will mean nothing.

  10. Ann Onny says:

    LOL, can we re-name it “Clingy Parenting” then? I think all parents have practiced so-called AP things here and there. Maybe the baby is fussy and needs to just be held all day. Maybe he slept in your bed for the first couple months. The parents that tend to overdo absolutely everything and claim “AP status” seem to just be neurotic perfectionists. They cling hard to their ways and tell the rest of us how treating your 7 year old like an infant is the only way to form a secure bond. That’s what bugs ME. Not that they do whatever they do but that they are so insecure that they need to tell the rest of us that we’re just being defensive because we are guilty we’re not doing it their way. I had a friend that was this way, and co-sleeping with her kids until age 7 or so. They are older now, and her son has serious issues figuring out how to be independent. He’s run away, has depression issues, trouble with the law, etc. And her daughter has anxiety about leaving home for college, in my opinion, she got a little TOO attached to her parents.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Ann. The ultimate goal of parenthood is to help develop a secure, healthy, and independent adult. I think this key point is often overlooked.

  11. Mama Bear says:

    It would be lovely if we could transcend labels and accept one another at face value. Realistically, when is that going to happen? The a.p. label bothers you but you like the term “clingy mothers”? You can’t have it both ways-fussing that a movement gives itself a positive label which makes you feel left out and then mocking the same group with a harsh label. What are you, 12? If you don’t like labels then don’t use them.
    Attachment parenting could be considered a phase in our culture’s movement away from authoritarian distant parenting. It’s wonderful that so many mothers feel that this is common sense!

  12. Kyrani Eade says:

    You ideas are very good but it is not just a problem of parenting.

    You will find that attachment parenting is a mother’s reaction to dealing with what appears to be the child’s problem. In actual fact the problem is one of underhanded domestic violence that affects the mother, causes her to become perplexed since the problems she faces for herself are unclear. This perplexity and resulting stress weakens the bond, which is primarily mental (ideas) between her and her child. That is the problem that needs fixing. And that problem not only leads to problems for children but ultimately heart disease for the mother as well. You can see what I have discovered on my blog at http://kyrani99.wordpress.com/ Both in the problems for children that I have discussed in section on toxic people and their networks (2 posts shows vulnerability for mother and child) and the sections before and after these posts on basic foul play and pathological stress and heart disease. I have made the first post a contents page so you can find the relevant links at the bottom half of the post.

  13. Maryanna says:

    I didn’t even know there was such a thing as attachment parenting when i first had my son but from the moment he came home I felt so much more relaxed with him sleeping in my bed…I am still breastfeeding at 22 months not because of any parenting style but because it’s just the way it has happened for us, I plan on stopping once he turns 24 months…it’s really hard though…but that is the plan….I am in no way neurotic or a perfectionist….if anything i don’t like telling anybody that my 22 month old still breastfeeds and sleeps in my bed…but i am just following my instincts, nothing to do with trying to be perfect or anything. I didn’t even realize that it was a parenting style hahaha….i always thought i was doing what i was supposed to do as a mother it works great for us so far, i love it and it’s made my life easy.

  14. Lisa says:

    I don’t believe there is a formula that everybody should follow but attachment parenting I believe is a response and an opposite to all the hard core crying out methods and cynical methods from the last 100 years that has been popular in the Western world. When I first came to England 12 years ago and started to date some men I was so surprised and shocked in how many people who had deep problems with their mothers. I came from Sweden and had never met anyone before who hated their mother so. I know people who have had problems with a distance father but not anyone who deeply hated their mother. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought maybe it was just trendy to dislike mothers or that they were spoilt or something. One boyfriend I had was constantly telling really trivial things like his mother didn’t give him ice-cream or he never got this and that to eat and he didn’t get the bicycle he wanted. I couldn’t understand exactly what was the problem in his relationship with his mother. Another one said his mother suddenly had thrown him into a brick wall but is now denying it. It sounded so alien and scary. I remember I was thinking then -What has these mothers done? It can’t be that bad?. Since I got a baby here in the UK I have had the strangest pieces of advice about childcare from older women like let babies cry it out and don’t spoil them with motherly love. Isolate them in a room and use “naughty steps” for punishment and even when they have done nothing wrong you should just put them in their room and they should go to sleep by themselves. Even little toddlers and babies. I remember my mum was my universe when I was little. Even if she was annoying sometimes she was there for me if I was scared of darkness or if I needed a hug or if I was sad or wanted to confess something. I can’t hold against her that I didn’t get all the trendiest clothes and all the latest gadgets when I know she would dry my tears and always be on my side if I needed help with something. I believe the people I met who had such deep problems were victims of a more detached parenting style so they never got a healthy bond with their mothers.

  15. Lisa says:

    Well OK. I just read up a bit on the attachment parenting site and yes I agree it seems a little bit extreme perhaps too much focus on the breastfeeding bit. It seems to be a bit imbalance in US perhaps. There are extremes the other way who uses physical punishment, isolations and crying out methods and put them in nursery at the age of 2months and put them into their own crib from newborn and the other extremes that breastfeed their children until the age of 6 and co-sleep their whole childhood. Maybe just somewhere in between could be a good idea! Lol! The spectrum is enormously wide between theses two approaches.

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