Room For Debate takes on Attachment Parenting… Sort of

A recent Room For Debate posed the questions: “Has women’s obsession with being the perfect mother destroyed feminism? In particular, has this trend of ‘attachment parenting’ been bad for working moms?”

As usual, the Room for Debate responses were too short to get even close to answering the questions posed. … And of course I feel compelled to belatedly throw in my 2 cents as a real-life AP’ing, working mom (& I’ll note that while it seems at least two of the AP debaters work outside the home, none discussed working & AP, which is unfortunate since I think the issue needs to be a bigger part of the “debate” … Especially since one debater, Heather McDonald argues that the two are incompatible … But more on that later…).

I’m both gladdened & distressed by the attention attachment parenting (or “AP”) has been getting lately. Gladdened because this low-stress way of parenting has made mothering both easier & more enjoyable for me as a working mom. Distressed because misconceptions about AP have led to its vilification. And the Times is just contributing to the vitriol.

The debaters themselves all had interesting things to say, but the way the Times framed the debate was awful. Clearly the “debate” was about about attachment parenting, but the title is simply “Feminism v. Motherhood” … The immediate implication being that attachment parenting (the form of mothering they’re really talking about) is incompatible with feminism. Wrong. As Bialik points out so eloquently. And then there’s the two questions posed by the Times, which mash the drive to be a perfect mother & AP together. Again, untrue. As a couple of the debaters note, including Bialik & Annie Urban.

AP isn’t for everyone… Not every mother, father, child will respond or take to all of tools AP has to offer. But as I’ve said before, AP is not a checklist of “natural” hippie-dippie things you must do or else doom your child to a lifetime of unhappiness & detachment.

In fact, AP teaches almost the opposite: Listen to your baby/child & seek balance in your roles as a parent & individual. AP moms are certainly not perfect & we’re not striving for perfection. It’s just another way of approaching the madness of parenting.

So perhaps it’d be useful to debunk some AP myths.

AP does not require a full-time stay at home mom or dad. Under AP principles, quality child care is a suitable replacement for when a parent isn’t around. So a day care center or sitter that leaves a baby to cry without soothing is not a suitable substitute for loving parents (yes, this happens). A responsive caregiver who meets your child’s physical & emotional needs is A-OK.

Many families that practice AP strive to have at least one parent around as often as possible. We fall into that camp. There’s no denying that time spent with a parent is irreplaceable. If it weren’t we’d all just throw in the towel & not worry about how long we were spending away from our children. There is no one else a young child wants to be with other than mom or dad. So MFA Dad & I have swapped part-time or flexible schedules back & forth since T was born (though my schedule is unlikely to become flexible or part-time in the near future…). Not everyone can swing that. Like I said, a responsive caregiver is a fine replacement for a parent.

AP does not require full- or part-time breastfeeding. AP advocates for breastfeeding & supports breastfeeding mamas, but the bottom line is responding to a child’s nutritional & emotional needs. Bottle nursing & feeding can accomplish that too.

AP does not require you to purée your own organic baby food. AP requires parents to nourish their children with love & care. In my book, well-chosen packaged foods can fall into this category. The point is only that as parents we have a responsibility to feed our children the best we can. It’s not about perfection. If it were, AP would be impossible for most of us. I enjoyed making some of T’s baby food, but we certainly resorted to jars often. (Though maybe if I knew more about baby-led weaning at the time we would have skipped purées altogether.)

AP does not dictate that you use cloth diapers. AP is sometimes equated with “natural” parenting but they’re not the same. Is there some cultural overlap? I think so. But not all AP families veer toward natural parenting.

AP does not require co-sleeping. AP advocates responding to a child day or night. The most important thing is that you provide your child with a safe & healthy sleep environment. It is possible to do this without co-sleeping. In fact, sometimes a child (… a child like T…) just doesn’t want to share a bed with mom & dad every night.

AP does not call for or encourage helicopter parenting or constant enriching play. Helicopter parenting is almost anti-AP. AP empowers parents to trust their children & respect their needs (including the need for independence). To me, helicopter parenting is more about imposing the parent’s will & vision on the child’s experience. I really think the one has nothing to do with the other.

Now if you used none of the AP tools, it’d be fair to say you’re not AP. Which is fine! There are different ways to raise happy children! But it works for some of us. Even some of us working moms. And we’d appreciate if people didn’t label us as anti-feminist or backwards or incompetent or the “parenting police” or even just crazy. We’re none of those things (…Well, I admit to being a little crazy…) & are just putting into practice the things that work for our families.

And let me tell you, we’re certainly not sitting around passing judgment on your bottle or stroller or disposable diapers or jarred food (… All things, by the way, that I have been known to use myself…).

But what really irks me about the “Debate” (& the general discussion in the media, Time Magazine included) is the utter lack of representation by working mothers. And I’m not talking about actresses (sorry, Mayim, I’m sure your schedule is often grueling but I can’t imagine it’s the same type of grueling that us non-celebrities experience… I could be totally wrong & if so, I sincerely apologize!) but moms with full-time gigs who work 9-to-5’s (or 8:30-to-6’s) or who work the second (or night) shift. It could be that all the AP moms who took part in the debate are working outside the home full-time but no one is talking about it!

It’s infuriating that working & mothering is not part of the discussion, especially when it is so often a point of criticism lobbied at AP (see McDonald’s response in the Debate).

Why is it so frustrating? Because many AP parents have significant obligations outside of the home. Because if proponents of AP hope to ever shake the idea that AP is something only stay-at-home moms can practice, then we need to have a voice. Because if supporters of AP hope to make the world (read: workplace) more compatible with AP practices (practices many of us value deeply), we need to talk about how most moms & dads parent & work!

And I know, now, from hosting this blog that many working mamas (lawyers even!) are finding ways to make it work!

I bet even more are attracted to the idea of AP but are intimidated or believe they can’t practice AP & hold down a job. Unfortunately, in many sectors it really is almost impossible. There are not enough hours in the day & quality child care is too expensive.

But we should talk about how the two often can work together. Working & practicing AP don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Practicing AP isn’t anti-feminist. We just have to talk about realistic ways to make it all work.

So far, that’s not happening. At least not in the more mainstream discussions of AP that have been popping up lately.


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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Gentle Discipline, Mothering, Parenting, Working

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