I feel like Attachment Parenting is detrimental to MY health: how do you define your boundaries?

Guest post by Arianna
Mini Baby Wearing Portrait by Etsy seller PaintbowDrops

As soon as I saw those two pink lines, I started researching the shit out of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. I eventually fell onto the Attachment Parenting bandwagon. It just made sense to me and coincided with my values.

Before my baby even had all vital organs in place, I knew for a fact what my plan was: I was having a home birth. I was exclusively breastfeeding for two years minimum. Baby-wearing and co-sleeping — I refused to accept any offers for strollers or cribs — and so on. This was all happening. No ifs, ands, or buts.

I had read and read how “happy” Attachment Parenting babies were. Because they had confidence due to their needs being met, they were “good” babies. They didn’t cry if they were being breastfed on demand. The breast cures all!  All articles had photos of smiling moms and babies that made parenting look so easy. I wish I would have come across one article that told the truth: “This isn’t going to be easy.”

I do it all for my daughter’s well-being. But where do I draw the line for my own sanity? I am terrified to detriment her by not responding to her every need. But I need to start responding to my needs.

How can I balance what is best for my daughter and what is best for myself?

Comments on I feel like Attachment Parenting is detrimental to MY health: how do you define your boundaries?

  1. Arianna,

    The best parenting style for your baby is one you can do while maintaining sanity. I was determined to AP too. Then I had twins. It’s virtually impossible to do most AP stuff with twins, and yet somehow they turn out adjusted.

    I work in the mental health field and know a lot about attachment. Attachment comes from attunement – being aware of your baby and her needs. You can do that without doing any of the AP practices. Not to say any of them are bad, but they aren’t necessary. I have TWO babies and they are both VERY easy (having two – not easy). I never wore them, never co-slept, etc. I did attempt to breast-feed, but mostly ended up pumping due to various problems. I never had to cry it out because my babies sleep extremely well.

    I was beating myself up so much that I coudln’t do AP, especially about breastfeeding. I kept trying for way too long, and was spending time obsessing about keeping my breasts in order, rather than paying attn to my kids.

    I realized for me, AP was harming my mental health. I recognized I needed to parent a way that was right for me. Yes, our kids need us to have a basic awareness of their needs, but honestly, as a shrink I can tell you having one’s needs gratified every single time isn’t good either. It’s critical for babies to learn to self-soothe.

    You need to follow your own instincts about when your baby needs you, and when he can manage something on his own. Sometimes if you wait a few minutes a baby will distract herself – these are critical life skills.

    Ask yourself, if I had twins, would I be able to do this? If the answer is no, it’s probably okay to not do it. Twins grow up just fine. Children born into families with 8, 10, etc. kids grow up just fine. Ain’t no way those moms are doing AP. Trust your gut!

  2. I have a question, since I am inexperienced with AP :

    How does it work when the children start kindergarten (here most start at 1 year old) or school, where they cannot be carried around or sleep or get fed whenever they wish.

    Are you all stay at home-parents or have special kindergartens?

    • I’ve never really read about AP before, but according to Wikipedia there are 8 basic principles, and no specific do’s and don’ts. It seems like any caregiver (day care etc.) could and should provide most of these for a child.
      1.Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
      2.Feed with Love and Respect
      3.Respond with Sensitivity
      4.Use Nurturing Touch
      5.Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
      6.Provide Consistent Loving Care
      7.Practice Positive Discipline
      8.Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

  3. Remember that AP is all about following your instincts. If you insticts are telling you that you need to take more time for yourself and perhaps enlist the help of others to meet you daughter’s needs, you should listen to them.

  4. I try to take a practical approach. Do what works for you. If what you’re doing is causing you to be unhappy, then neither you nor your child is going to benefit. I love carrying my daughter around in the Moby wrap, but sometimes it just isn’t practical (like when my back is killing me or we’re running errands around town). Having your child ride in a stroller now and then isn’t going to forever damage her, but having an unhappy mama will take a toll.

  5. I’m sorry, this is really off topic but I have a question if you AP parents don’t mind. I am curious as to what you mean by “exclusive breastfeeding until two”. Does this mean no other fluids or no other food or what? Sorry if it’s a stupid question!

    • I believe it generally means that your child does not have any formula or animal milk until 2. Usually it includes food, and things made from animal milk (like cheese and yogurt, so it’s a little arbitrary). Some AP parents are into “baby led weaning” where they let the child choose what to eat by demonstrating interest, and not pureeing anything for them. B/C not pureeing usually results in less food intake (or a diet dominated by bananas and cereal), more milk is often needed.

      • My son pretty much demanded “baby-led-weaning” – he was not so into purees, and boycotted them shortly after I made and froze 1 MILLION BABY FOOD CUBES. Now I just have to be creative & spread them on toast & put them in muffins & stuff.

    • I think people are saying it wrong when they say that. They mean “exclusive breastfeeding until six months, then, as solids are introduced, continuing to breastfeed on demand until the age of two.”

  6. I think part of why so many people find themselves panicked about AP not working like they thought it would, is that much of the literature on the subject is so preachy. It takes on the tone of “This is what’s best and if you don’t do it, you’re ruining your child.” I know there’s exceptions out there, but I wish they were the rule instead of exceptions. I think it became so culty and preachy because it was going against the norm. If you want people to believe and accept new ideas, it’s tempting to think you need to tell them it’s the best and only way.

    I think I originally fell for AP because I had blinders on. My blinders said “The counter-culture is always right! Down with the man!” If I could go back I’d tell myself to find my instincts, trust them, and trust that my baby would let me know what’s what. The little baby who never wanted to cuddle, sleep together, and who could care less about breastfeeding, is now quite adept at telling me how she feels, when she needs a hug, and when she needs some space.

  7. I just want to echo the comments noting that attachment is a two-way street and parenting isn’t successful if the mama isn’t also bonding and feeling a strong positive attachment to baby.

    My first encounters with the word “attachment” connected to parenting was within the context of adoption, where it has a slightly different emphasis, focusing on the basic attachment cycle that infants initiate after birth, which is disrupted to a greater or lesser degree in adoptive situations. I was surprised to learn that crying is a good thing and that the cycle of express need(baby cries) followed by need being met(parent feeds/changes/comforts baby) is essential in order for both (or all three) parties to feel trust in the parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs. When this is established, usually by the time a child is six months old, then the child’s attention turns to other developmental stuff. With children who are adopted out of situations where this attachment cycle has been disrupted professionals recommend that adoptive parents treat them as much like infants as possible – to re-establish healthy attachments. It’s fascinating.

    So then I found out about AP, the way pop culture does it, and it just didn’t ultimately make sense to me. It seems like in its worst incarnations parents are encouraged to treat their children as infants long past the time when developmentally attachment is a primary issue.

    For us, we adopted our girls as very small babies so we followed the suggested attachment practices, which boil down to meeting an infant’s need whenever she cries, for the first six months and then our relationship with each kid got more complex – that’s about when kids start differentiating “needs” from “wants” and crying in order to get stuff, like candy or out of taking a nap, instead of simply because something is needed. There’s all sorts of approaches to that developmental change, but at that point if your child has had a infanthood that hasn’t been disrupted by neglect or trauma then he or she is attached. So it’s a matter of what works best for everybody in the relationship – not just the kid.

    Sorry, long winded comment- but super interesting topic!

  8. I agree that you don’t need to follow any parenting philosophy to a T. Make your own! I find parenting articles and the like interesting because I can filter though it and add parts of it to my routine if they fit. But in the end, you have to do what works for you and your family.

  9. I do the attachement thing with my son, although I’m not really into labels. We breastfeed and cosleep and all that stuff. And yes, I did pick him up whenever he cried and feed him, and he is a very happy baby.

    But YMMV, because I think he’d a happy guy by disposition.

    I have trouble answering your question, really, because it seems vague. What exactly are your problems? Are you not getting enough sleep? Are you having breastfeeding problems? I’m not sure how to advise you.

  10. Just one thought. Did your parents do attachment parenting? Did your partners? Chances are, probably not.

    Do you think you’re an ok person? Attachment parenting isn’t the be-all-end-all, it’s simply a philosophy and isn’t more harmful or more helpful than most other parenting philosophies. Just love your kid, and they’ll do ok. Who you are is more important that what you do.

    • my parents did but they didn’t call it that. Like many 80s parents my mom and dad carried me in a snugglie and mostly slept with us kids, and while I wasn’t breastfed my brothers and sisters were until they were like 2. So just because they didn’t have the label doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, aspects of this kind of parenting existing before. But I get your point, babies turn out find with lots of different parent strategies.

  11. I babywear, co-sleep (sometimes), and breastfeed on request… and literally threw Dr Sears’ book across the room when I tried to read it. Okay, I was 3 months pregnant at the time, and angered easily (ha ha understatement), but seriously, what patronizing sexist bullcrap.

    TRUST YOURSELF. And trust your child. I firmly believe that when you pay attention to your child they will (almost all the time) let you know what they need. My daughter needed a surface of her own to sleep on, so we got a crib. Sometimes she wants extra cuddles, so we co-sleep. Sometimes I need extra space, so her dad cuddles her or we try and find other ways of meeting her needs (more cuddles when she’s awake, wrapping her tightly in a blanket, etc).

    Trust yourself. Trust your child.

  12. I am the mom of 5 brilliant, happy, confident children! Every baby is different with different needs, as a mom i was different with each birth and each relationship with each of my babies was different…i am always leary of any movement or system that says there is one right way that works for every mom and every baby every time…u and ur daughter have to set the limits for u and if or when u have another child u will define yet again what it means to parent ur new baby!

  13. Something I’ve been keeping in mind is that, while “attachment parenting” is popularly known as the specific actions many attachment parenting parents take, such as Sears’ “5 B’s” (breastfeeding, babywearing, bedsharing, etc.), those actions aren’t the most important part.

    What’s important is being connected and in tune with your child. A lot of people find that they are able to facilitate that connection through things like breastfeeding and babywearing, but not everyone needs those things to help them feel connected to their children. For some people, babywearing is off-putting and makes them feel disconnected from their children. I know for me, feeling guilty/judged/anxious about my parenting makes it difficult for me to pay attention to my actual child and his actual needs.

    Do the parenting that works best for you and your family, that creates the healthiest environment for everyone.

  14. I want to say thank you so very much for your comments. Not once did I feel judged. I felt like i got a lot of hugs! Thank you 🙂 Very good advice all around! You have helped!

  15. One thing that I read or realized when my son was a few months old was that it isn’t our job to keep them from crying. Our job is to help them through the crying, so that they can learn to regulate themselves through us. Even though it was still exhausting to respond to him every time, that distinction really helped me not stress out about it so much. Most of the time. And now that he’s a toddler, I approach tantrums and upsets as opportunities to help him learn to deal with his emotions in a positive and healthy way. Most of the time. 🙂

    We do attachment parenting, but we definitely took the parts that worked for us and forgot about the rest, like others have said. We’ve had plenty of difficult phases, but I do think that it’s all been worth it. I think a lot of the benefits become more apparent once they’re toddlers.

  16. First off thank you for asking this question, it’s something I really struggled with when my baby was first born.

    And here’s the thing I finally realised: all those parenting books you read when you’re pregnant, all those goals and ideals and expectations? No one tells the baby!! I too fully signed up to AP before my daughter was born but turns out, my girl had an oral problem that meant she couldn’t breastfeed, she hasn’t wanted to be in the carrier much since she could roll (at 4 months) and I needed my own sleeping space to stay sane. Letting go of my own expectations of how it ‘should’ be, as someone else said, is the single best thing I ever did for me, my husband and my baby. I still love AP and I’m secretly envious of my friends for whom it worked but it didn’t work for us entirely and that’s okay – it would be totally against what AP stands for if I had carried on doing something that made us all unhappy. You will find what works for you – you probably already have – and just because it isn’t ‘Sears-approved’ doesn’t make you a bad parent or any less attached to your child.

  17. As a new mom I’ve been reading about AP and decided it’s for my family. One of the things I see reiterated in the books I’ve read by Dr. Sears is that you have to have balance (it’s one of the baby B’s of AP.) You’re out of balance, and that will happen from time to time but it seems like you’ve never been in balance. AP is also not an “all or nothing” style of parenting. I babywear, but I also have a stroller for those days when my back hurts (or when grandma wants to take LO for a walk.)We have a crib, and we have a co-sleeper. I EBF, but we use eco friendly disposable diapers b/c it worked better for us. We’ve balanced our needs.
    I think that you are trying to do the best for your child, but you really need a baby break. Find a AP friendly care giver who you can trust to give you that break. A happy mama is essential for a happy baby.

  18. It’s hard to weigh in on your questions because you don’t actually give any details about what your conflict is or what needs you have that you cannot currently respond to. Which means maybe you are just generally burnt out from being “there” for someone 24/7. Take a break and do something for you, and then figure out what is essential and helpful, and what you can ditch.

  19. I am seriously just going to print out all of these comments / stories from everyone and put them in a binder so that when we are bleary-eyed and feeling lost once our baby is born, we can reread them. This is such a great site full of excellent support!

    Most of what we hope to do are along the AP route but, as many people have said, the intent is to have our actions dictated more by what feels right and what keeps everyone happiest. But I am sure, especially in the first few months, there will be questions around if what feels right is actually ok. And all of these responses will provide us with some reassurance that it will all be ok in the end as long as everyone’s needs are being taken care of, and that we are just doing our best to love and nurture our babe.

    Thanks everyone!!

  20. This sounded so much like me when I was pregnant. I ended up doing a modified attachment parenting thing. My daughter sleeps next to us in a crib, I nursed for 6 months and was ready to stop so I did. I carry my daughter in moby’s, kozy’s, mya’s and snugli carriers depending on the day. I also have a jogging stroller, and an umbrella one because sometimes you need a stroller ie-the zoo! All things in moderation if something isn’t working try something else. I always tell people when they ask what type of parenting we are doing I say “Team Baby” which is my philosophy be pro baby. Parenting is intuitive don’t over think it. In our modern world attachment parenting is hard and if you pick what works for you the whole process will be smoother. I will say that my daughter is the calmest baby ever. She rarely cries and when she does it is for good reason. We had our first sickness at 9 months and it was a mild fever/ear infection so that 6 months of breast feeding did us good.

  21. I have to say I wish I had the instincts many mamas here seem to have, but I just didn’t. Maybe it was my age (I was 18) or maybe the fact that I had never really liked kids when I found out I was pregnant (oops) but I had no clue what I was doing and nothing “felt right”. I looked to books, parent education instructors, family and friends for guidance and support. And the one thing that stuck was that everyone had great ideas. That I could pick the ones that worked for me and discard everything else. I now have a 16 year old and still feel the same way. I love books, seminars on the adolescent brain and even took a college course on late childhood and adolescence. Learning from others worked for me so don’t feel you need to drop your reading and learning from others if it doesn’t stress you out. Attachment parenting also became my primary style. I had no idea at the time it was called attachment parenting but I never put my kid down and being a single mom I just let him sleep with me because it was easier. I have since become a preschool teacher and parent education instructor. Weird, right?! I love everything there is about parenting and kids now and I will tell you that one place where attachment parents go awry is that they believe baby wearing means the baby is the center of attention. This is just false. Regular day to day life is the center of attention. The baby is just along for the ride. Certainly, taking breaks to snuggle, coo, sing a finger song or nurse is important. But these are just breaks from everything else we do on a daily basis. I tell my mamas, “wear ’em, don’t stare at ’em”. It takes the pressure off to be a constant source of entertainment for your kid. And that would be exhausting.

  22. This is an area I’ve thought a lot about, and I am really encouraged to see other people thinking about it, too. I have quite a few friends and relatives who use a much more by-the-book attachment parenting style than I do, and I have often felt like an inferior mother because my life does not appear to revolve as completely around my baby’s needs, or Dr. Sears’ interpretation thereof.

    Here’s what I have learned about boundaries in parenting, and believe me, it’s a work in progress.

    First, the vast majority of mothers, and all good ones, whether or not they consider themselves “attachment parents,” are pretty closely connected with their babies and have a pretty good handle on their babies’ needs. And their babies know this and trust them. As a mom, you spend a lot of time with your baby, and you love your baby with a love that is fiercer than pretty much anything else on earth. One parenting style or another, or one set of rules or another, will not create that bond. You have it already.

    Second, parenting has to be sustainable. You have to be a functioning, capable person. Which means you have to eat, sleep, and breathe. My case in point: I cannot co-sleep with a small baby. I just do not sleep. I’ve tried. I can’t. And if I do, it’s shallow and restless and leaves me exhausted, cranky, hallucinating, and altogether an unsafe mother. At one point in time, I was being criticized by a relative for denying my baby the closeness and snuggling of all-night co-sleeping. She had co-slept easily, with a baby on the breast, no less, and was concerned that my child was deprived of his essential needs since I was not doing this. More power to her, that is amazing, but I could not survive like this. I told this to my husband, and asked him if he thought our kid was deprived. He said, of course, in a theoretical world, most babies would probably do better co-sleeping and nursing all night. But we’re not dealing with a theoretical world. We’re dealing with Rachel, who does not sleep when a baby is in bed with her, and baby P, who sleeps just fine in a crib next to the bed. What P needs more than anything is a functional mother who smiles and laughs and engages with him. And to be that mother, I need to sleep at night. It may not be Dr. Sears’ ideal. But I’m human. It’s the best I can do. There is a time (as in, most of the time) to put your kids’ needs above your own. But your kid needs you, not Theoretically Perfect Attachment Parent.

    And thirdly, it’s a sad and sucky fact of life, but you will fail to give your kid everything s/he needs. It breaks my heart, but it’s true. My relative who co-slept and nursed all night? She has lovely, wonderful, empathetic, caring kids. And they have issues, too. Like all of us. No matter how much we love our kids, no matter how attentive we are to their needs, we can’t do it all. We will misunderstand them, misread their signals, completely blank on some of their needs, be stupid and human and hurtful sometimes. And when we parent focused only on making sure *we* meet *all* our kids’ needs, no mistakes, no doing it wrong, we make parenting all about us. And our kids’ happiness, or behavior, or adjustment to life, become reflections on us, and we start caring more about the job *we* did, or are doing, than helping our kids navigate through life, with its disappointments and problems. It’s a good thing as a parent to learn to apologize, and to learn to let go of needing to be perfect. ‘Cause you can’t be, no matter how hard you try. Better to be present, and loving, and willing to change and grow.

    Okay. That’s my two cents. I wish you all the best in finding peace and harmony for your family! Never an easy process, is it?

  23. The thing I learned about becoming a parent is that I had to change my views and ideas of what kind of parent I wanted to be to fit the needs of my child. When she was born 13 years ago, I had never heard of attachment parenting, but being a single mom from the start sort of turned me into one because it was what worked best for us at the time. She slept in bed with me because it was easier for both of us. And that worked out just fine until she got too big and squirmy and stopped sleeping and the weight of her head on my shoulder caused permanant damage that I still suffer from all these years later. The lack of sleep plus shoulder pain meant the co-sleeping attachment parent thing had to come to a stop.

    every family has different needs & if attachment parenting isn’t something that works for you & your baby, then don’t do it. you shouldn’t feel like you have to justify your decisions. just do what is natural for your family & don’t worry about what other people think about it.

  24. Sacrificing & Losing one’s pre-baby identity just doesn’t seem to fit with my vision of being a happy well adjusted parent. I want to be a mom but I don’t want motherhood to take over my existence.
    My life will never accommodate having a child with me 24/7 for 2 years, being able to support a child will require my husband & I both to have jobs. I can’t see a either of us finding a fulfilling career working from home, we’re both very hands on people; he works in a Restaurant as a prep cook, I’ve built my career in social services & emergency medicine (when I burnt out of social services I took an office job for a year & learned that I hated staring at a computer, so much so that I took a second job for a social service agency).
    I’ve never envisioned myself as stay at home mom, I’ve even offered that my husband can become Mr. Mom if we could some how manage financially.
    Having this perception as my role of Mother leaves me wondering how persecuted I will be by other mothers.

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