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Attachment Parenting…Good or Bad?

16 May Posted by in Early Childhood, Newborns, Toddlers | Comments
Attachment Parenting…Good or Bad?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the concept of “Attachment Parenting” due to Time magazine’s cover shot of a 26-year-old mother breastfeeding her nearly 4-year-old son. That provocative image and the underlying philosophy of attachment parenting has sparked considerable debate. I thought it might be helpful to join the discussion.

Attachment parenting is a concept championed by the movement’s guru, Dr. Bill Sears. For those of you who are not familiar with this latest parenting trend, attachment parenting is all about parents and children sleeping together, mothers “wearing” their infants (constantly carrying them around in slings), breastfeeding these same children until they are two, three, or more, and generally centering their lives around their kids.

John Rosemond, a syndicated columnist and outspoken critic of “Attachment Parenting” states that “supposedly, all this fuss over children is essential to making sure mother and child properly ‘bond.’ According to the movement’s high priest, California pediatrician Bill Sears, proper bonding is supposed to enhance the mother-child relationship, nurture better emotional health, and even make the child smarter and less likely to lie. That’s right! On his website, in an essay titled “11 Ways to Raise a Truthful Child,” Sears writes “‘Connected children do not become habitual liars. They trust their caregivers and have such a good self-image they don’t need to lie.'” In the same article, he promises parents who choose to adopt his method that they will develop the wisdom they need to make proper decisions for their children and that their children will ‘turn out better’ than children raised otherwise.

By ‘turn out better’ Sears means a child who is more intelligent, calm, secure, socially confident, empathic, and independent than a child raised according to prevailing Western norms. Mind you, he doesn’t support this with any evidence obtained via the scientific method (an experiment involving both a control group and an experimental group) because he can’t. There is no such evidence. To be blunt, Sears is making all this up. He’s … well, let’s just say he and his mother must not have properly bonded.

In fact, no unbiased research has ever affirmed any emotional or behavioral advantage to parent-child co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, or ‘baby wearing.’ To cite but one example, James J. McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, says that he has yet to find any benefit to parents and children sleeping together. McKenna is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on infant sleep issues.”

Rosemond goes on to say, “the harm of attachment parenting is testified to by numerous ex-AP parents who have shared with me horror stories about the damage done to their marriages by co-sleeping and the problems they’ve had trying to get over-dependent children as old as eight out of their beds. In an Amazon consumer review of Sears’ The Attachment Parenting Book, a mother who is trying to recover from his advice with two small children says, ‘This book ought to come with a warning!'”

I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly research attachment parenting, but I have some opinions about some of its primary concepts.

I believe that some of these issues are about lifestyle—how you want to raise your kids and what you are willing to put up with—and some involve the health and well being of both the parents and the children.

Parents and children sleeping together

You’ll find parents who never allow their kids in their beds, those that always let their kids sleep with them, and everything in between. I believe that this is mostly a lifestyle issue but also has some health and well-being ramifications. We never had our kids sleep in our bed with us. When they were frightened by lightning, or had a nightmare, we would allow them to sleep on the floor next to our bed. This allowed them to feel safe while keeping a boundary in place. Our bed was for mommy and daddy and no one else. And their bed was for them and no one else. This ensured that we would all get a good night’s sleep—parents and kids alike. Our kids even knew that our bedroom was off limits, and that they must knock before entering. I believe it’s healthy to have these kinds of boundaries for a number of reasons. It establishes that mommy and daddy have their own space and their kids need to respect that space. When they are allowed in, they know it’s the exception and not the rule—they know it’s “special”. This separation has obvious benefits for a husband and wife. Enough said. Now, I’m not saying that having your kids sleep with you occasionally is bad. I’m just telling you what we did. Like I said before, it’s mainly a lifestyle choice and what you are willing to put up with. However, all parties involved will get better sleep if there’s separation.


I obviously can’t speak from experience on this one (and glad, too, that I didn’t have to wake up for 2 am feedings!), but someone once said that “if your child is old enough to tell you that they want to be breastfed, it’s time to wean them.” Once again, I think this is more of a personal choice and not harmful if you still breastfeed at 2 0r 3 years, though the benefits of breast milk diminish somewhat over time. Our experience was different for each of our kids. One was supplemented with formula at 6 months, another at 9 months. All were pretty much off breast milk by 1 year. For some the freedom that comes from feeding formula outweighs the benefits that come with breast milk. Some mothers feel that you are not being a good mother or even harming your child if you don’t breastfeed. I don’t believe that’s the case. There are scores of kids who were formula fed right from the beginning that turned out normal. I’m one of them. OK, maybe I’m not a good example, but the whole subject of breastfeeding can be polarizing and it doesn’t need to be. It’s mainly a personal choice.

Making your child the center of your universe

OK, now were talking right and wrong. There should only be one person who is the center of the universe, and that’s God. I know your baby is a little angel, but let’s get real. Of course, newborns are completely dependent on us and require our nearly constant attention, but it’s not meant to stay that way. From the time their born, our children are moving in the direction of independence—and rightly so. As they grow and develop, we want to gradually give them more choices and train them to be independent, mature adults. But during that process they need to understand the order of things. God is the supreme authority. He truly is the center of the universe. Then, as parents, we represent that authority to our kids. We train, discipline, and model an authentic life lived for God so that they will one day choose to also follow Christ and live for him.

Making your child the center of your life and having all your attention, focus, and decisions revolve around them is unhealthy—for the child and the parents. Carrying your child around in a sling is fine and a great way to transport them in a comfortable way. But if you feel compelled to do this all the time out of a concern that you need to “bond” with them, I believe that’s unhealthy—especially after the first few months. In fact, I believe its healthy to routinely use trusted babysitters even at an early age for two reasons:

1. Your child will come to know that when mommy and daddy leave, they will also come back. They will develop a sense of trust and security knowing that you always come back when you leave. They will therefore have less anxiety when you need to leave them and not be so “clingy”.

2. It’s healthy for you and your spouse to get away to enjoy time on your own—especially in the beginning when there are many sleepless nights and constant attention is devoted to your baby. Many marriages suffer because they fail to realize how much energy is sapped from their relationship when a baby is added to the family. You will be a better parent and a better spouse if you take time to invest in your marriage relationship and not let your baby’s life consume you.

 The bottom line

“Attachment Parenting” is not necessary to raise healthy, well-adjusted, “bonded” children, and in some instances can be harmful to both the child and the parents, creating insecure, clingy, overly-dependent children. Each family needs to carefully consider how they want to raise their kids and determine what is a healthy, god-honoring way to do that. There are so many good parenting resources these days. I would also ask several parents who have kids a few steps beyond yours what they did. It can help you formulate your own plan.

What do you think? Is it healthy to use “Attachment Parenting” as a strategy to raise your kids? If so, why? Why not? If you have used attachment parenting, have you had positive or negative experiences?



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