Conscious Parenting: Time Magazine cover good or bad for attachment parenting?
I had a great discussion this morning on San Diego’s News 6 morning show about the controversial upcoming Time Magazine cover that features a young mom breastfeeding her 3 year old son.
How did you feel when you first saw the Time Magazine cover?
My first reaction to this photo was that it is clearly a sensationalistic photo, done purposefully of course, which gets people’s attention – which is good to get the discussion about Attachment Parenting started.
The challenge with this photo, however, is because while this practice of nursing until age 3 is not unusual, it has evoked such an emotional reaction in many people, which unfortunately distracts from having an open and honest discussion. It has shut people down right away to even hearing about more, which is disappointing.
What is Attachment Parenting really?
AP is a general term used to describe a parenting philosophy what is far from new – it’s how humans have parented over millions of years as a way to ensure not only survival of the species, but thriving of the species. Dr. Sears is not the inventor of the practice, and it’s not some new invention in the parenting manual.
In a nutshell, AP prioritizes the strong infant/mother attachment bond as the foundation for physiological, neurological, and emotional health – and this is done through practices such as:
- Responsiveness (to crying, non-verbal cues)
- Skin to skin contact and babywearing
So what happens when a child is attachment parented?
Over the last 60 or so years there has been much scientific research done that continues to demonstrate the phenomenal long term benefits of attachment parenting. I find it interesting that I keep reading that there is no research to support this, when in fact, there is lots. (One great resource for this research is The Baby Bond: The New Science Behind What’s Really Important When Caring for Your Baby, by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer. Also Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, by Dr. Marcy Axness)
Research has shown that securely bonded infants/attachment parented babies:
- Are more independent than less attached children
- Spend their energy growing and learning (and not fussing) allowing them to grow to their fullest potential
- Are “better behaved” babies – they have less colic, they cry, whine, fuss, and cling less
- Are smarter because they devote their internal resources to growth and learning, rather than stress and fear
I heard a fantastic quote from Dr. Sears on the Today Show last Friday, where he stated, “I’ve never yet seen an attachment parented child who has become a school bully.”
Why is this the case?
It essentially comes down to the way that a child’s brain develops, and how our early parenting practices significantly impact our child’s neurological, emotional and physiological stress response. Put simply, every signal a baby or young child receives (until age 6) falls into one of 2 categories: They either get the message that the world is safe – or that there is danger. Over time this forms a pattern in the brain that sets the child up for how they perceive their world, all the way into adulthood.
It’s clear that there are some myths about attachment parenting – what are the most important ones to mention?
MYTH: AP creates overly need, clingy older children who will have trouble in the real world.
Research has demonstrated that securely attached children (the result of AP practices) are more independent, secure, confident, and intelligent, than children who are not.
MYTH: AP teaches the child that the world revolves solely around them.
Being responsive teaches the child that the world is a safe place, therefore the child devotes more energy to learning and growing, rather than constricting and shutting down. While there are some parents who have their life revolve around their child (which is not what AP is about) this is not the practice of attachment parenting. In AP, the child is a part of the family life, and a witness – they are not the “center of the universe.”
MYTH: There is something wrong with the mother who does this. She has got some warped unmet need that she is meeting through her child’s attachment to her.
When this cover came out, I was amazed at how many people thought this about her, and also sexualized breastfeeding. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years, so why is this mother deemed an extremist?
For more information about the natural weaning age of humans, check out my colleague Dr. Linda Folden Palmer’s anthropological and scientific take on this topic.
For any mom who parents according to AP principles, realizes that in their heart, that doing so is best for baby, and best for their relationship with their baby. In some instances, there are many “easier” ways to parent, that require less time and energy, but AP parents know the investment they make in the early years pays of huge dividends in the long run. I’ve never known of a child who is ready to wean, that is forced by the mom to keep going. When the child is ready, they’re ready, and there is nothing that the mom can do to keep that breastfeeding relationship going in that case.
Lastly, the principles of true attachment parenting emphasize balance. A parent who has no time for themselves, or doesn’t take breaks, is not going to be a grounded, centered parent. There are parents who take that to extremes, but it is not because of attachment parenting that they do so.
MYTH: That it is an “extreme” or “intense” way of parenting.
I guess it all depends on who you ask. It’s how many cultures parent around the world. It’s the most natural way to parent, the way we were designed. The “family bed” concept is alive and well in many other modern societies – it is primarily an American phenomenon that we try to teach our babies to be “more independent” from us at such an early age.
Co-sleeping, for example, has been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of PPD. I feel that leaving a baby to cry it out in their crib is an intense way of parenting – even parents who sleep train feel the agony of hearing their little one cry, even if they think it is the best thing. I’d also say it’s intense to wake up 4 times a night to nurse the baby by walking down the hall to the baby’s room, sitting in a chair, and then going back to bed. As a co-sleeping mom, I found it was far less intense for me to have my baby in bed next to me, where she never had to wake up and get to where she was crying out to get fed. She’s stir, and start nursing, and fall immediately back to sleep (as would I). That’s why co-sleeping moms and babies get more sleep. To me that felt far less intense than the alternative.
Why is this so important for parents to understand?
The reason this topic is so important for parents, and for our future generations, is to realize the long-term consequences of our early parenting practices. Cutting edge research is demonstrating the importance of a secure bond between child and mother, and then father, as a foundation of future physical, emotional, and neurological health.
Infants and children who are not securely bonded tend to face challenges down the road like:
- Poor impulse control – ADD/ADHD
- Exhibit stimulation seeking behaviors
- Lack empathy and compassion for others
These neurological effects lead to behaviors such as increased violence, bullying, peer pressure, poor relationships, both in the nuclear family and in future adult relationships.
What is your advice to parents who feel like if they don’t do Attachment Parenting, that they are bad parents?
I think the most important thing to note is that Attachment Parenting is not an all or nothing thing. There are many AP principles that parents do, that they don’t even know are deemed “AP.” There is this misconception that you must be a stay at home mom, who nurses on demand, never lets the baby cry, wears baby all day long, and co-sleeps. There are very few moms who can do all of these things!
There are many working moms who co-sleep, so that they can foster that bond in the nighttime hours because they have to be away from home during the day.
We are all doing the best we can, and I believe that it is important to follow your heart. Stop worrying about what other people think, or say you should do.
My best parenting decision I ever made was to get rid of the “shoulds” and “supposed tos.” The angst, guilt, and worry that comes from not being sure what to do in a parenting situation is palpable – our children know when we are not sure, and they feel it on an unconscious level.
Once I decided to always follow my heart, I still make mistakes as a parent, but I have no regrets. My child feels that from me and that’s one of the most important gifts I can give my child. To know her mom always listens to her heart as her barometer for what’s best in any circumstance.
It would be great if we could get to a place where parents supported each other, rather than engaged in the “Mommy wars.” I’ve found that parenting is one of the most emotionally charged topics discussed both in communities, and online. Conscious parenting is about opening the mind to learning new things, and perhaps even changing some things we’ve done before as parents. I have changed some of my parenting practices after learning new things, and have had the courage to admit to myself that I wish I hadn’t done certain things a certain way. Rather than beat myself up about it, I feel gratitude for learning something that resonated with me and I will apply in my future parenting experiences.
What were your thoughts about the cover?
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