In the aftermath of Time Magazine’s cover story on attachment parenting (& specifically Nathan Thornburgh’s companion piece, “The Detached Dad’s Manifesto”) I thought it would be a good time to check in with my parenting (& life) partner, MFA Dad. Historically, we’ve talked a lot about the philosophies that have influenced our personal parenting choices but those conversations have been happening less often, probably just as a result of being neck deep in the actual business of parenting. I asked MFA Dad a bunch of questions about AP & parenting in our little family. Here’ the result… Introducing the man not even a three-year old can rattle:
Mom, JD: So, do you think attachment parenting = attachment mothering?
MFA Dad: I think it’s probably perceived that way, but, I don’t think it’s exclusive to mothers. However, you phrase the question in such a way that leaves it a bit open. It may actually be “attachment mothering” insofar as the style of parenting is a “mothering” style — a more responsive, comforting style. But a father can mother.
Mom, JD: Are you signing onto an essentialist view of parenting roles? Or is that just where we are culturally right now? I guess what I’m asking is, do you think that “mothering” is inherently female, something fathers must learn? I think mothers have to learn how to mother, too, but I have found that my desire to respond & comfort has come pretty naturally & feels quite strong (less so as T enters the terrible threes, I’ll admit…).
MFA Dad: No, I don’t think mothering is inherently feminine, nor do I feel it is an inherent trait for women. What I mean is that culturally “mothering” usually means this style of parenting, for better or worse, and I do feel like it’s a pretty “natural” mode to fall into with a child for loving men and women.
Mom, JD: So, do you think men have parenting “instincts”? What about women?
MFA Dad: The word “instinct” has interesting Latin roots. It comes from the verb instinguere, which means “to prick toward” — stinguere being “to prick.” So in a sense, an instinct is a response to a kind of pricking, and I do think that when you have a child you are “pricked” or “stuck” with a whole lot regardless of your gender. It’s not necessarily a nice feeling, but you respond. You are pricked simultaneously by love, responsibility, a desire to set a good example, etc. etc. But you are also smarting and in a befuddled daze. These are the complex feelings that anyone’s “parenting” actions comes out of. Whether or not that’s what we mean by “maternal instinct” or any of that jazz, I don’t know, but you know I’m fairly skeptical of essentialist claims.
Mom, JD: I really love that description of instinct. And I appreciate that it goes beyond biology to general human behavior.
MFA Dad: I think a lot of times we use the word instinct to describe actions or feelings that we can rationally find causes for. I try to be careful because the concept can be a frustrating cop out or excuse for lazy thinking.
Mom, JD: What does attachment parenting mean to you? Do you even want to call yourself (or us) AP?
MFA Dad: To me, AP means approaching parenting with a total openness to the child’s emotional needs, especially as they manifest themselves in physical ways. The aim is to be as responsive, comforting, & available as possible, especially through the first 2-3 years. I think of AP as a style, not a method or dogma. One’s style is not fixed, it is always developing even though there are “rules” or guidelines.
Mom, JD: You are my AP guru!
Whose idea was it, anyway, to buy The Baby Book?
MFA Dad: I’m pretty sure it was my idea. I remember picking it up at that god-awful Babies R Us in the ‘burbs when we were doing the registry. I quickly read a few pages — mainly on sleep — & thought it had some sense to it. I had no idea there was a whole style of parenting modeled off the book.
Mom, JD: I remember that day! I loathe that store, but at least we got one good thing out of it! It’s actually ironic–The Baby Book (& AP generally) has led me to approach parenting with more simplicity than I might have otherwise… That’s the antithesis of Babies R Us, which pushes more & more gadgets to “help” parents micromanage their child & just ends up creating more distance between parent & child… That’s what all the “stuff” seems to do, create distance at a time when it’s important to foster closeness & intimacy & security.
MFA Dad: I know, hilariously ironic that we found that book at one of the worst stores on the planet!
Mom, JD: How do you feel about my nursing relationship with T?
MFA Dad: In short, conflicted. I think it has wonderful benefits and has been a real boon to his physical and emotional health. But I can’t help being influenced by the culture I live in, a culture in which seeing a fully capable 3-year-old nursing is a rarity. I worry most about weaning, whenever that day comes.
Mom, JD: Would it surprise you to learn that I feel conflicted, too? In my heart, I want to follow T’s lead in the weaning process (perhaps under the delusional hope that it will be easier…) but I also desperately want my body back. All those nursing hormones are still pulsing through me & I just want to be done. It’s still awfully sweet still sometimes, though.
Why did you not want to continue cosleeping exclusively when T was an infant?
MFA Dad: T started sleeping in a way that continues to this day: he needs a lot of space. Clearly space and good rest are as important to a child as anything else. I think there’s an unfortunate literalist understanding of AP as merely physically “attachment.” Yes, physical closeness is essential & I’ve been happy that our physical closeness with T has enhanced our emotional closeness, but it is possible to be fundamentally “attached” without being on top of each other.
Mom, JD: I love that! And I know you’re right… Still, I wish we had coslept longer. … But (again) only under the delusion that any of us would have gotten any sleep, which I know is impossible given T’s need for physical space.
Speaking of being delusional, do you think I’m extreme? An “intensive” mother?
MFA Dad: No, but you do take it very seriously. You are wonderfully thoughtful and deliberative in your parenting & family decisions. I admire your commitment to thinking about and researching motherhood & childrearing.
Mom, JD: Aw, shucks… Thank you. Seriously, though, isn’t reading about parenting a double-edged sword? For one, sometimes I think my time would be better spent reading more Supreme Court decisions. I’m not sure that’s a valid sentiment, but it crosses my mind. It seems like you would hardly ever choose reading a parenting book over reading a book of poetry. I envy that sometimes. Second, often I am jealous of my mother, who didn’t have access to so much darned research… I think I turned out just fine without it!
Still, can you imagine parenting another way? Would another approach lead to a better marriage? Better individual lives?
MFA Dad: Absolutely not. I think our parenting “style” sprouts fairly organically from our marriage and individual lives. If we were less “AP,” I’d be plagued with guilt and that never leads to a better individual or marital life.
Mom, JD: Amen, hubby!