Attachment parenting: taking the high road, or just the road less travelled?

Almost one year ago, my good friend Daiane gave birth to her first son Rio.

A stunningly beautiful Brazilian who moved to Australia just a few years ago, Dai is used to standing out in a crowd: her crazy curls and South-American lilt has won the hearts of many since she landed on Sydney shores.

But what Dai wasn’t expecting to set her apart from the crowd, was her style of parenting.

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Dai and baby Rio. (Image: Instagram)

Dai first became aware of what is popularly dubbed attachment parenting when her friend recommended The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff in the lead up to Rio’s birth.

For Dai, as much as the book was “life changing”, it wasn’t about adopting a label, or a trend. It was really just an affirmation of her existing beliefs and a common-sense way to raise kids in a modern world.

However, the fallout from her decision to adopt attachment parenting has been monumental, with close friends and even strangers buying in on her choice on how to raise her baby.

Bring up the concept of attachment parenting to most mums and dads, and their reaction will be to roll their eyes.

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“Who has time for that?” one pal scoffed, “Just wait until she has more than one kid. Good luck attachment parenting then!”

It’s dividing the notoriously bitchy Mummy Groups online, with many questioning the effects constant attachment might have on the bub’s development and independence.

Articles like this one from The Atlantic call it ‘unsustainable’, and indicate it could lead to a breakdown of the mother and father’s romantic/sexual relationship, the baby’s feeding habits, and even the baby’s safety in co-sleeping.

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Dai has remained a firm advocate of doing things the ‘natural’ way, and proudly breastfeeds in public.

So what exactly is getting everyone’s knickers in a knot, then?

‘Attachment Parenting’ is a term first coined by Dr William Sears in his parenting manual, The Baby Book, in 1992. The concept, however, has been around since the beginning of time – this style of parenting is basically trying to return to ‘natural’ instincts autonomous from the constructs of modern mothering.

Translation: no bottles, no prams, no toys, and definitely no Dora The Explorer iPad games.

It promotes a mutual respect between mother and child: the baby feeds on demand, is worn around the clock by mum and/or dad, and sleeps in bed with them too. Baby-led weaning (skipping the puree stage and feeding the baby solid food immediately after breastfeeding) is synonymous with the movement also.

“Attachment parenting is being sensitive and responsive to your baby’s needs, empathetic towards his emotions, and trust that he is doing what’s right for him at the time.” says Dai, outlining the major differences to ‘normal’ parenting as being “…a responsiveness to a baby’s cry, constant closeness, not forcing independence, and respecting their own time to do or learn things.”

Dai and baby Rio.
Dai or husband Jack will wear Rio all the time, without the use of prams.

I asked Dai why she chose to take the road less travelled.

“After plenty of reading I was certain all my baby needed was me. He needed to be close to me until he was ready to let go. It made a lot of sense. I needed to be there to help him regulate his emotions. Who wouldn’t want to be someone’s universe? It’s wonderful!”

And herein seems to lie the thorn that gets wedged in many a mama’s paw: being ‘someone’s universe’.

We’re all about the balance. Independence. Modern motherhood at times rejects an intense parent-child relationship (see: helicopter mothers), choosing rather to enforce a strong sense of autonomy from, well, birth.

Does Dai think her parenting style is intense?

“I don’t understand how being sensitive, empathetic and present can seem intense. Intense is to let a baby cry deliberately, it’s to think you have ownership over them,” she says.

“You don’t teach independence, you foster it and trust that when they are ready they will walk their own path. It’s only when they feel secure enough they can let go.”

In fact, Dai thinks that the effects of neglectful parenting could be longer lasting than we think.

“You can force the illusion of independence upon them but it could have devastating consequences as several research studies show a clear connection between children not getting their needs met at an early age and malfunctions in adulthood, such as depression, drug use, violence and divorce.”

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Dai has been surprised at the backlash towards attachment parenting.

Is it possible that ‘attachment parenting’ is just…reactionary?

Talking to Dai made me think: maybe this is just a case of, ‘I will never turn out like my mother.’

You know, proclaiming that your child will never be given warm vegemite sandwiches for lunch! And never be allowed on trampolines! And never, ever, ever be allowed to drink at teenage parties!

The 1980’s and 1990’s famously saw many women returning to the workforce soon after childbirth, with a whole generation of kids growing up in childcare. It’s only increasing today with women hesitant to leave their roles for too long.

Is ‘attachment parenting’ movement is a direct response to this?

Dai and baby Rio
Far from being held back from interaction, Rio instead goes everywhere with mum Daiane.

“Attachment parenting is not a trend, it’s the oldest style of child- rearing!”

Dai is adament that her choice is all about gettin’ back to nature. “Think to when humans used to carry their babies everywhere,” she explains, “sleeping next to them in caves, and feeding from their breasts because there were no bottles or formula. If anything, attachment parenting is a response to the disconnection in our society, to the subjugation of our children to an anxious and rushed way of living.

We need to stop pushing our agenda onto children and start treating them more respectfully.”

Check out ‘Big Bang’ actress Mayim Bialik talk about attachment parenting below. Post continues after video…

It’s hard to call anyone right or wrong. One thing is for certain, however: everyone with children believes they are doing the right thing.

Some parents desperately need their own independence from the baby in order to function, and that’s OK.

Some parents believe keeping their child close 24/7 is the right thing, and that’s OK, too.

The most important thing is doing what feels right, and instinctive to you

Dai’s husband Jack is fully supportive of the attachment parenting model, and has taken on an active role in Rio’s upbringing. Indeed, Rio is like other baby about to turn one. He cries, he sleeps, he eats. He is growing four little chompers, and is on the cusp of pulling himself up from crawling to walking.

So whilst there are no magical signs of a baby further progressed to any other child – he certainly doesn’t seem to be adversely affected either.

Shock horror: her baby is completely, wonderfully, adorably…normal!

So let’s stop the finger pointing and eye rolling, labelling and rule-making; and learn to embrace all forms of parenting. As famous paediatrician and author of the bestselling book, Baby and Child Care, once wrote, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

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