Is Attachment Parenting Over-Attached?

Betsy and Sal take on a recent Time magazine cover story and answer the question, "Are you mom enough?"

Have you seen the shocker on the cover of this week’s Time magazine? Our jaws dropped when we picked up the issue: it’s $4.99! 

We bought it anyway, because of the provocative photo and headline:  “Are You Mom Enough?” Surely you’ve seen the picture of the chilly looking twenty-six year old mother standing erect and staring blankly at the camera as her three-year-old son, old enough to stand on a wooden chair, is suction cupped to her nipple, having a little snack.  

The article details a worrisome trend in child rearing called “Attachment Parenting.” There’s a lot of posturing in the article, which we’ll sum up as follows: as soon as the doctor cuts the cord, a mother’s life is over. 

We paraphrase, of course. Here’s what it states in the magazine. “Attachment parenting [claims] that the more time babies spend in their mothers’ arms, the better the chances they will turn out to be well-adjusted children.”

We’re not experts, but if you carry your child into kindergarten class, we’re guessing the child will not be labeled well-adjusted. And if snack time involves mom showing up with her shirt unbuttoned, the kid is not going to be that popular until sometime in middle school when other kids discover it’s fun to watch. There might be an Adam Sandler movie about this.

Much of the current attachment theory stems from Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha. Dr. Sears was raised with an absent father, a working mother, and highly involved grandparents.  This resulted in his becoming a successful doctor. Martha, who was raised by a “diagnosed schizophrenic” mother and a father who died when she was four, grew up to be a practicing nurse. They’ve been married for decades and have eight children. 

Despite their seemingly successful adult lives, together they’ve looked back and decided their childhoods were troubled and what was missing was full-time, sane mothers whose sole purpose in life was to tend to their every need.

As a new mother, Martha determined that leaving a child to cry, even a little bit, could lead to brain damage. Buoyed by her personal theory, no substantive scientific research, her husband’s medical degree and their phenomenal business savvy, they’ve turned attachment mothering into big, big business. 

Go ahead, visit their website. Once there, you will have the opportunity to buy more than 20 books they have co-authored, purchase baby-carrying devices they endorse, and receive page after page of helpful parenting tips. In case you don’t have time to actually visit the website, here are a few suggestions they offer:

Job Alternatives for Breastfeeding Mothers: 

  • Bring your baby to work 
  • Try to “work and wear” (The Searses note that if you wear your baby in a Sling during work, you may have to work a longer a day and accept less pay as a result of time spent with your baby while on the job, but still better than daycare)
  • Quit your job and learn to live with less.

Helpful tips on losing that pesky post-baby weight:

  • Take a brisk one-hour walk every day while carrying your baby in a sling.  (Our backs hurt thinking about this)
  • Wear loose clothing 
  • Breastfeed into eternity

With these tips, they’ve built an empire. 

Who are these twenty-first century women who follow Attachment Parenting? And what types of creatures are they raising?

We think they’ve created monsters. And we’re not talking about the kids. Those will be judged later in life, most likely by a team of professionals whose offices feature couches and soothing lighting. And note: those office hours are going to be filled with a lot of lonely dads who have no role in parenting and no company at night. 

According to current scientific research, what the Searses urge mothers to do in the name of raising healthy kids “is alarmist.”

Alarmist? It’s frickin’ crazy.

Here’s what leads to harmful neurological effects: being a mother who can’t let her baby learn to self soothe. Being a mother who needs to jump up whenever her baby whimpers. Being a mother who must subsume all of her own needs to the needs of her infant.  Being a mother who sleeps every night with her child.

So to answer Time magazine’s question, “Are we mom enough?”  Well, we are moms who know enough to know when enough is enough.


Selena Berry May 19, 2012 at 10:47 AM
Totally disagree. I consider myself an attachment mom. This is not recent trend, but a centuries old practice. Look at other cultures, other countries. This mindset against is only in America. I'm a full time stay at home of 3 beautiful, intelligent, well nurtured children and another on the way, with my oldest being 5. They all nursed till almost 2. They don't even remember nursing, but they do know breasts produce milk for babies. My son starts kindergarten this fall and is very excited and did great on his assessment. I wore my children in a Moby Wrap, which never hurt my back, and I have big babies. I nursed in public, covered with my nursing cover. I fed them on demand, which was a very scheduled routine. I co-slept also and they each sleep in their own beds now. They started foods at 6 months and loved it, while continuing to nurse. My children are happy, independent, and normal. Do not generalize and make assumptions that attachment parenting is somehow harmful and dangerous for children. They grow up secure, loving, nurturing individuals who haver been taught they can accomplish whatever they set out to do. How is this wrong?
Anna Tarkov May 19, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Wow, this is really insulting. I'm not a full on attachment mom, but I follow some of the attachment practices and the philosophy of that type of parenting informs my decisions. Even if I didn't believe in attachment parenting, I would still find this piece grossly out of line. Criticizing the parenting decisions of others is a disgusting practice. The way we choose to raise our children is a exactly that, a personal choice, and unless someone is being negligent, we should keep our opinions to ourselves. For what it's worth, Selena's comment is exactly right. The only place where attachment parenting seems bizarre and alien is the United States and other developed nations which have traded in being able to lovingly raise one's children for a McMansion and an SUV. So yes, NATURAL parenting (as I prefer to call it) is difficult to make work in the US and elsewhere. But only because of the choices we've made.
Theresa Froehlich May 19, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Well said! Well said! There are cultural differences as far as how long a child stays "attached" e.g. whether or not a baby sleeps with the mother, how long a child will breastfeed... The Filipino mothers sleep with their kids for many years; in ancient days, the Hebrew babies were nursed till the age of 4-5. But even after all the cultural distinctions are taken into consideration, the goal of mothers is to raise well-adjusted kids who can make it in the world on their own. There is a reason the ideas the promoted by Attachment Parenting is alarming in this time in this society. The young adults named the Millenials (those born between approximately 1980-1995) are already influenced by helicopter parents (yes, I don't deny there are exceptions). College professors are reporting that Moms are calling them to demand better grades for their kids; human resources professionals are witnessing college graduates getting their moms on the phone to negotiate salary packages on their behalf. Given this kind of culture, we're doing a great disservice to our next generation of children by encouraging the Millenials, who are now the parents, to nurse the baby in the office till she 10 or sleep with the kid till he goes off to college. This blogpost needs to be written. Coach Theresa Froehlich http://www.transitionslifecoaching.org
Ashley May 19, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I'm truly sorry that your own mothering experience has led you to be so unaccepting towards other styles of parenting. Unresolved guilt instills a need to defend what we have done ourselves, and often leads to posts such as this - making the opposite to our experience 'wrong' or 'bad'. The great thing about natural parenting is that our confidence AS parents comes from within, and not from books, magazines, and blogs such as these. most of the moms I know discovered Dr Sears after years of parenting this way, only to find out that there is a name for it. I was an 'attachment parent' for 2 children before I realized it was a coined paradigm by some doc and his wife. It was just natural to me. Regardless of these sorts of posts, we follow strong insticts to meet our babie needs, as well as our attachment to our babies, and fortunately not some strange need to follow the mass information about baby training. Attachment parenting is not passive parenting, and there are many opportunities to help our children become self sufficient. I look at my own three children, and at how well-adjusted they are, and am thankful that I was able to lead them to this place in a way that did not rely on fear, isolation or manipulation, but rather trust, unconditional love, and meeting their needs (all of them - emotional & physical). Thank you, radio host mommas, for showcasing how misunderstood attachment parenting is in the baby training culture by sharing your un-referenced opinion.
Amy D May 19, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Wow. You have ono idea what AP is. Your bias is showing.
Anna Tarkov May 19, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Ashley, you're absolutely right. I had no idea there was something calked attachment parenting either. I just did what felt natural and it feels natural to respond to my baby's needs. The first year is often called the fourth trimester for a reason. Human babies, because of our large brains (and thus skulls) are all born "prematurely" and completely helpless and dependant on their parents for everything. People who talk about the mother's needs vs. the baby's needs are assuming that the latter is a fully formed individual with her own thoughts and feelings. Any parent knows deep down that this is not so.
jb May 19, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Wow. I agree with the other comments. This article is completely uninformed and insulting, whether or not one is practicing "attachment parenting".
Anna Tarkov May 19, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Oh and Theresa, what you describe has nothing to do with attachment parenting. As far as I know, attachment parenting doesn't prescribe how to parent once kids are in college or even well before that. Conflating natural parenting with so-called helicopter parenting is asinine. Children who have been compassionately parented in fact should grow up to be independent and self-assured. With the foundation of love and security they got in their early years, they can go out into the world and confidently achieve anything they put their minds to.
Laurie May 20, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Selena, Anna,Ashley, Amy, jb, thank you for posting great responses to the uneducated article, which by the way was insulting and hurtful to parents following their instincts and parenting their children in a loving, natural way. Ashley I agree that the authors of the article perhaps have some regret about how they parented their children. I'm so glad I have a great group if supportive friends and family who understand and embrace thus parenting style which is so very important.
Lisa Raju May 20, 2012 at 02:45 AM
I am sick and tired of Moms judging Moms. This article is just two more people tearing you down saying they know how to parent better than you. Betsy and Sal, If you don't like what the Sears say is the best way to parent, don't do it yourself. Don't buy their books, but don't judge another Mom who does. I went back to work after my first child and he was in daycare at 12 weeks. I stayed home after baby #2 and nursed him for a whole year. Oh the horror, yes, he was "suction cupped" to my nipple several times a day. The language in that sentence is so insulting to anyone who made an effort to breastfeed for any length of time. But back to my original point, it's not easy being a parent of an infant either way. Why don't you write a column supporting Moms who choose to not practice AP rather than judging Moms who do?
Caroline Johnson May 20, 2012 at 03:31 AM
I am disappointed to read the negative comments - both ways. Really now moms, are we so different? Do we not all wake each day with the intention of doing the best we can, from our hearts and minds? Please consider this wisdom I tell my own children - judging others does not define who THEY are, it defines who YOU are.
Life is Good May 20, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Nicole: You are very classless to use such a derogatory word towards women. Whether you agree or not, clean up your language.
Jacob Nelson (Editor) May 20, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Nicole's comment was removed. Patch encourages constructive criticism in the comments, but name calling and profanity is totally out of line and will not be tolerated.
Harvest to Heat May 20, 2012 at 06:04 PM
So its ok to bash and insult woman who decide to AP? Just because she's not using profanity its OK? "Who are these twenty-first century women who follow Attachment Parenting? And what types of creatures are they raising?". Creatures??? Creatures! What in WORD are you talking about?? " And note: those office hours are going to be filled with a lot of lonely dads. I'm going to spend the REST of my life with my husband..my son will GRow up and move on some day. What is SO wrong with giving him my full undivided love and attention. My mother inlaw told me to put my son who was just 4 weeks old at the time... in his crib put head phones on and let him cry...I'm sorry but how is that loving your children unconditionally? This article is foolish and very insulting to every mother who chooses to AP. My son is now 11 months old still exclusively breastfeeding..ill stop when he decides its time to wean. Does that make me a bad mother?
Life is Good May 20, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion . You say you will stop when your son decides its time to wean. So maybe at 5,6 or 7 years old?
Jill Goldstein May 22, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I am all for breast feeding. It is this militant advocacy that disturbs me. I tried breast feeding my son and it was a bad fit for my son and me (pun intended). I thought the la leche leaguers were going to come after me. Fast forward a few years, I am on a plane sitting next to a woman breast feeding her man-child who is kicking me. Of course, I couldn't say anything because of the wild eye look she had in her eye just waiting for someone to say something. I think teeth are a biological sign that it is time to move on.
memomuse (Megan Oteri) May 23, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Oh the Mommy Wars! What an uneducated post. The responses here are confident, educated & informed mothers standing up for what their instincts and hearts tell them. I applaud you all (Jill, Harvest to Heat, Caroline, Lisa, Laurie, Anna, JP, Amy, Ashley, Theresa, Selena). AP does not promote itself as the only way or the right way to parent. It is a set of guidelines, not rules. Dr. Sears did not invent Attachment Parenting -- motherhood did.
memomuse (Megan Oteri) May 23, 2012 at 02:23 PM
The concept of Attachment Parenting is ancient. The concept is based on developing connection and attachment with your children, fostering security and a sense of love in your children. You do not have to wear your baby all the time to be AP. You don't have to co-sleep to be AP. Your kids can be in daycare and you can still be AP. The guidelines are a framework to take what works for your family. Co-sleeping for our family developed out of convenience, because I was working when my son was four months old. We co-slept and now he is sleeping in a toddler bed next to ours. What I am impressed with most, are the educated and confident AP mothers who are commenting here and in other forums, and standing up for what they believe in, without throwing stones at other mothers (although there are some serious mommy wars going on too). We all have wounds and issues, one of the AP principles (Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting) is to educate yourself about your own experience with your parents. There is nothing wrong with wanting to create a loving and attached relationship with your children, even if you did not have that as a child yourself. If you want to label loving and nurturing your children, and call it AP -- fine. But insult and bash women who have made a choice to alternate their lifestyle to accommodate the needs of their babies and small children.
Laura May 25, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Will you still breast feed at later ages? Like ten or twelve or even sixteen? When do you feel that your child will need to self ween? I am simply curious since I know one of my friends still breat fed her four year old because it calms her when she is upset. Please advise. Because I would like to know when it becomes weird for the parent if at all.
ratbaby April 03, 2013 at 11:10 AM
AP is not "ancient" - it's a cobbled together idealistic theory as to what people assume traditional societies do (while conveniently forgetting that ancient cultures also offered their children to the gods fairly regularly). I find the idea of "instinct" being a valid way to parent as laughable as "common sense". Both mean totally different things to any two people. I thought the article was superb.


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