Getting up Close and Personal with an Attachment Parent: We Ask the Tough Questions

attachment parentingIn what ways are you an attachment parent?

Laura: My husband and I were naturally drawn to some of the more “classic” AP behaviors. I chose to breastfeed and allowed Isaac to nurse on his own schedule. We were more comfortable with the idea of having him in our room as an infant, and still bed share now that he is 3. We preferred to wear him or carry him when he was small. We also have chosen various night-time parenting strategies to soothe him back to sleep as opposed to sleep training. While it’s certainly not necessary for attachment parenting, I also chose to be a stay-at-home parent for the time being. In general, it makes sense to both of us that babies and parents (especially new mothers) are biologically designed to want to be close to each other. Attachment parenting gave us permission to parent instinctively rather than conventionally.

Did this parenting style evolve naturally or was it a conscious choice you and your co-parent discussed and made before your child was born?

Laura: Honestly, this parenting style initially evolved as a response to the crazy prices of baby gear and the limited space in our one bedroom apartment. Specifically, we were researching baby car seats and strollers. If we got the infant carrier car seat, did we also need to get the special stroller that goes with it? Then you need to buy another car seat when they grow out of that one? And another stroller? What the crap are we doing? Etc. This kind of pre-parenting freak-out, plus the reality that there was no room for a crib in our place, led us to internet research, which led us to AP. I was already convinced that I wanted to try breastfeeding and that we were willing to make several pretty big sacrifices so that I could stay home. Upon seeing that our parenting intuition aligned with AP philosophy, we began to use it as a guide as parenting progressed.

Why did you decide to become an attachment parent?

Laura: For me, the reality of the parenting I received was not something that I wanted to recreate. My mother was out of my life before I was 2 and my father was a well-intentioned, but emotionally immature, depressive alcoholic. In a lot of ways, when my husband and I decided to start our own family, I felt like I was starting from scratch in figuring out how to do it. I’ve worked with children in a lot of capacities for many years. I worked in a group home for emotionally disturbed teens, I nannied, I taught preschool, and I ran camps. I eventually earned a Masters in Counseling Psychology with the original intent of being a play therapist. So, I did a lot of studying about the psychology and rearing of healthy children. I also thought a lot about my own emotional and attachment struggles as an adult and felt extremely conscious of the parenting choices I was making. Like any parent, I wanted my children to feel safe, loved and confident. When it came to parenting style, there were a lot of conventional practices that didn’t sit well with me and felt potentially incongruous with my parenting goals. The science and philosophy of AP felt more natural and also felt flexible enough to adapt with us.

What are your thoughts/feelings about co-sleeping?

Laura: I honestly can’t imagine sleeping any other way. First of all, I am absolutely convinced by evolutionary logic that baby and mom are meant to be together in the nighttime. Among other things, it made night-feedings easier, and it was easier for me to check on the new baby and to neurotically make sure he was still safe and breathing. But, I also think it’s completely natural for a tiny baby to wake in the night and call for mom to make sure she’s close. From an evolutionary perspective, there could be tigers out there!

Our son is a difficult sleeper for a lot of reasons and I have felt societal pressure to get him to sleep on his own instead of being parented back to sleep. I’m sure many would say that our choice to co-sleep is part of why he woke frequently when younger and why he still doesn’t sleep through the night if he’s alone. But I have absolutely seen him progress, at his own pace, to being more and more ready for independent sleep, and I’m much more comfortable following his pace than pushing one that doesn’t suit him. As an adult, I have a lot of sleep anxiety and I’m fairly sure this is related to not feeling safe at night as a child. There are times when co-sleeping has been an extreme challenge, but I feel like there have been and will continue to be benefits for my son down the line and into adulthood. And, I just love the snuggles so much.

Describe your experiences breastfeeding:

Laura: We had a hard time getting breastfeeding started and I feel incredibly lucky that I am a mom who it ended up working out for. It took about a month before I felt like Isaac and I had gotten into a groove, but after that I found every bit of nursing to be so very lovely. I also really appreciated the convenience of being able to feed him whenever and wherever I was, without having to plan ahead or have anything special with us. We had a brief nursing strike when he was about 11 months old and I was nearly heartbroken at the possibility that the nursing relationship had ended. That feeling of his little body curled up against mine, and being able to satisfy his needs just by holding him close, has been priceless.

We practiced “extended breastfeeding” which basically means I still nursed after a year and it wasn’t until then that I ever felt social pressure to stop. Mostly this came in the form of people asking when we were stopping or seeming surprised by seeing us nurse or hearing about it. But, in so many ways, nursing was my most useful behavior management tool in the toddler stage. It was the easiest way to reconnect with him or calm him when he was upset. I also got a lot of comfort from knowing that Isaac was still getting good nutrition when we were dealing with the finicky toddler appetite (like a whole day of eating nothing but pickles).

I also wanted to be home with our kids when they are small and we’ve been able to figure out how to make that work. This made breastfeeding exponentially easier. We have a pump that I used in the early months so that we could have a bottle or two on hand, but I found pumping to be such a hassle that I preferred to just feed the baby myself. I have an extremely hard time imagining being a working mom and exclusively breastfeeding. Watching friends of mine struggle with pumping and keeping up their milk supply has made it very clear to me that my dreamy breastfeeding relationship is absolutely tied to the fact that I’ve also been at home.

*Read on to find out whether Laura has to deal with snide comments from family and friends —->