7 Principles of Attacment Parenting
Practicing the 7 principles of Attachment Paren ting without understanding the nature of secure attachment is similar to following the rules of a religion without understanding the true nature of a relationship with God. Ever since Dr. Sears and his religious cult-like following high-jacked the term “attachment,” it has come to be associated with the following principals:
• Birth bonding
• Breastfeeding on demand
• Baby wearing
• Bed-sharing (co-sleeping)
• Belief in baby’s cry
• Beware of baby trainers (no crying)
The Myth of Attachment Parenting
I’m not against these principles, just the dogmatic beliefs that often accompany them. The misuse of the term attachment implies that certain parenting styles lead to healthy attachment while others do not. This claim is not only offensive, it’s also misleading. There is no research to support a prescriptive road-map for attachment.
Just as baby wearing cannot predict attachment, c-sections, bottles, and cribs cannot prevent children from forming secure attachments with their mothers.
In fact, unless children experience “grossly pathological care” at the hands of abusive and neglectful parents (the comparison group for attachment parenting advocates), they are “hard-wired” to develop attachment with their caregiver. Even when abuse and neglect are present, they do not automatically predict issues of attachment. According to DSM-5, the percentage of children in high-risk populations (i.e. children severely neglected and placed in foster care or institutions) who develop a reactive attachment disorder is less than 10%. Bowlby’s Attachment Theory was actually used to change social service policy and prevent kids from being taken away from their mothers. With a little support, many children go on to develop healthy attachments despite traumatic early life experiences.
Given that developing parent-child attachment is an incredibly low standard for the majority of parents, I’m not sure why it has become the Holy Grail of parenting.
A better goal might be to focus on how we can provide emotional support for moms. By focusing only on a mother’s external behaviors, we forget to pay attention to her heart. What matters most to kids long-term is not what their moms do (or don’t do) but who they are. More important than a mother’s parenting style is her mental health and it’s impact on her child and her relationships with others.
Having a baby is a stressful life event that may trigger various levels of depression, anxiety, or insecurity for new moms. Just when moms need help the most, attachment parenting “experts” swoop in to prey upon her fears and add to her guilt. I fully support attachment parenting when offered as a practical solution for moms, but as soon as it interferes with her physical, mental, or emotional well-being, I believe it may cause more harm than help. The fear, anxiety, stress, guilt, and exhaustion that go along with trying to be the “perfect mom” may prevent the physically attached mom from being emotionally available for her child.
To be clear, I know many wonderful attachment parents and most of them are not crazy fundamentalists who judge all their friends and treat a few minutes of fussing as the abominable sin. Many of them fell into attachment parenting because it’s what worked best for them. I’m not against attachment parents. I’m against any approach that attempts to divide moms against each other by deceiving them into believing the lie that they will eternally damn(age) their child if they fail to follow the one right way to parent their child.
Fortunately, we don’t have to choose sides because the opposite of an attachment parent is not an unattached parent, but rather, a secure parent.
A securely attached mom is confident in her parenting but also not afraid to be vulnerable or ask for help. She understands that she was uniquely and imperfectly created to be the mother for her child. She knows deep down that is unconditionally loved. For her, parenting is not a journey to perfection, but a journey in grace.
Even more importantly, she understands that the invisible bond between her and her child is so strong that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, present nor future, nor appropriate and healthy amounts of separation and exploration nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate (Romans 8:38) their love. Having the same confidence, her child is able to explore the world without fear. In fact, when Mary Ainsworth observed children in her famous “Strange Situation” test, it was the children who weren’t afraid to explore their environment and interact with the stranger (with their mom in the room), not the ones who were clingy or inhibited, who were considered to be securely attached to their mothers.
Fear is a learned behavior. Even when children receive consistent and responsive care, they may still learn, through modeling or conditioning, that the world is unsafe. The good news is that there is always hope. Just as people can experience abusive and destructive experiences that shatter their trust in others, they can have healing experiences that restore their faith. The most important thing is to be aware of your own fears and insecurities and to be willing to ask for help. No matter how broken your past, you can experience healing for the future.
The question is, can you trust Him?
Take a personal assessment to determine your own attachment orientation (level of trust) and review your results according to the descriptions below:
Secure Attachment (low anxiety and low avoidance):
I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.
Preoccupied Attachment (high anxiety and low avoidance):
I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me. I want to get very close to my partner, and this sometimes scares people away.
Avoidant Attachment (low or high anxiety and high avoidance):
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to depend on them or trust them completely. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.