It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Attachment and Limits

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was an Attachment Parent. Those seven B’s? I did them. Birth bonding? Did that. Breastfeeding? Yup. Over a year with each of them. Baby wearing? Love me my baby sling. Go down through that list, and I could check, check, check them all.

Only, I didn’t consider myself an attachment parent. Without having read a single one of Dr Sear’s books, I dismissed him out of hand as “that nutbar”.


Well, because I knew attachment parents. Quite a few of them, in fact. And, without exception, they were sleep-deprived, disorganized, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants types whose produced rude, unruly, inconsiderate children. They were nice people. Sweet people. Kind, well-intentioned, gentle people. And they were producing brats. Children who got up and went to bed whenever they felt like it, who ate what and when they felt like it. Kids who utterly ignored their parents’ attempts to guide and direct. Kids who squabbled amongst themselves constantly. Kids who interrupted conversations, kids who disregarded their parents, kids who rarely said “please” or “thank you”, and certainly never said “sorry”.

These parents would make a half-hearted attempt to issue an instruction, and, when it went ignored, would shrug in a “what can you do” sort of way, resigned to being treated so disrespectfully.

If that was attachment parenting, I wanted nothing to do with it.

But of course, as I learned when I actually got around to reading up on the subject, that’s not attachment parenting. There is absolutely no reason why attachment parents can’t set limits. In my experience, it’s undeniable that many of them don’t — but that’s not the fault of the method.

While I tend to view Dr. Sears’s rosier pronouncements with a solid dose of skepticism, I do agree with those seven B’s. Even that baby training one. While, unlike Dr. Sears, I think there is a place for training your child — in fact, I see it as a parental obligation — I also believe it can be taken too far, and when he started writing, rigid scheduling and other non-baby-friendly parenting strategies were far more common and encouraged than they are now. Insofar as he counsels caution regarding excessive application of training, I am in agreement even on this one. However, there is a wide swath of good parenting between the equally bad extremes of rigid authoritarianism at one end and total lack of parental authority at the other.

Which brings us to the last B: BALANCE. Knowing when to say “no” to the baby, and “yes” to your needs. It
is not bad parenting to ensure your own needs are met. It is not bad parenting to put the baby’s needs second to your own. There’s a progression to this, of course: in those first few days and weeks, the baby’s needs do take priority. But as the weeks slip into months, your needs can bubble to the top of the list.

And as months grow into a year, then two years, you must put your needs first often enough that your child learns that other people have needs, and that these needs are just as real, and just as valid as his/her own. So that your child learns to take other people into account. Because remember, we are in the business of raising adults, not grown-up children. Do we really want a society populated with people who have never had to even acknowledge the needs of others? People who assume the only real needs are their own, and that other people exist to ensure those needs are met?

I think they call those people ‘sociopaths’.

If you combine the reluctance to train your baby with a reluctance to put your needs first, you will end up with the kinds of kids who had me thinking that attachment parenting was a bad idea.

So, if attachment parenting suits your style, if it seems to you to be the right way to raise your child(ren), then by all means, use it. Just don’t be afraid to be directive when required, and please do exercise a little healthy selfishness. And above all, set loving, consistent limits. It’s good for all of you.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | parenting | , , , , , | 12 Comments