An ancient parenting style, attachment parenting, is gaining popularity again as parents are encouraged to follow their instincts. By Beth Cooper Howell
An ancient style of parenting, which is still practised by most indigenous cultures, is experiencing a rise in popularity. Attachment parenting (AP) is a phrase coined by US paediatrician and author Dr William Sears, and refers to a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to Dr Sears, forging a strong emotional bond with parents during childhood results in a secure, empathetic and well-adjusted adult.
Dr Sears identifies several tools for attachment parenting:
- Firm bonding at birth
- Baby wearing
- Co-sleeping safely or sleeping close
- Empathetic response to a baby’s cry (not letting her ‘cry it out’)
- Being wary of baby-training methods and learning to find balance between ‘me time’ and ‘baby time’.
Most parents who practise attachment parenting employ two or more of these tools – sometimes deliberately, but often accidentally.
Who practises it?
- There are no official records of how many parents practise this style of parenting, but the vast majority of indigenous cultures – including Africans, Indians, Inuit, South Americans, Indonesians and Aboriginal Australians – still instinctively practise it today.
- Modern birth and baby-raising methods in Western society have overtaken traditional breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing customs, with an increase in hospital births, separation of mother and baby after birth, and a preference for bottle feeding.
- Most moms who fit the ‘attached parent’ label say their parenting style felt natural to them and wasn’t the end result of books they read or firm decisions made before birth.
Pros and cons of attachment parenting
- Critics of attachment parenting say that this parenting style can be stressful and demanding for parents as they need to be physically available to their children more than other parents. For example, writer Judith Warner says a “culture of total motherhood” has caused anxiety for modern American mothers, especially considering that a strong support network of willing friends and family is sorely lacking today.
- Psychologist Jerome Kagan also cautions that there is no firm or conclusive body of evidence suggesting that a labour-intensive approach is superior to that which AP practitioners call mainstream parenting.
- The lack of privacy and intimacy in the family bed or room and the chance that mothers are left feeling house-bound and claustrophobic are also valid concerns. Baby wearing can get trickier as infants grow, while rejection of sleep-training methods may result in some high-need babies not sleeping through the night as soon as those who are ‘trained’ to do so.
- AP advocates counter that intensive parenting has long-term benefits. Dr Sears explains that breastfeeding promotes an important hormonal function as well as the necessary biological closeness between mother and child. Wearing babies in slings also results in more restful children, while responding to cries instead of training babies to soothe themselves helps cement trust.
- He tells parents to beware of “detachment parenting” – one in which we are warned against taking cues from our children. The advocates of detachment parenting preach: “Let the baby cry it out. He has to learn to sleep through the night,” or “Don’t be so quick to pick your baby up. You’re spoiling her.” Dr Sears says this style of parenting features quick and easy recipes for difficult problems that result in parents losing their intuition and confidence when things go wrong.
Beth Cooper Howell is a freelance journalist based in the Eastern Cape. She has a keen interest in holistic health and progressive parenting. She has written a book on breastfeeding, enjoys interviewing experts on cutting-edge parenting topics and believes that nothing beats being barefoot in the veld.