The Problem With Attachment Parenting

I have probably approached this topic from a hundred different directions.  Still not quite sure how to say it nicely.  Today, as a change in programming, I am just going to come out and say it.

The problem with Attachment Parenting is that it is impossible to do perfectly.

There.  I said it.

I love the ideas behind attachment parenting- kindly responsiveness, respect, balance, etc.  But we have to be honest- no matter what AP is SUPPOSED to be, what it usually end up being is very different. 

What does AP end up being?  Often it is a laundry list of mom resume accomplishments- breastfeeding, baby wearing, no circumcision, natural birth, no cry-it-out, co-sleeping, organic food and toxin free clothing and of course- cloth diapers!  I even hear people say they don't believe in saying "no" to their children and think time-outs are as bad as spanking.  (Spare me, please.) The truth is it probably doesn't have to be ANY of those things, but that is what it gets turned into. 

I know my love affair with AP ended when I found myself pregnant with my second child.

I had been busy for the previous two years co-sleeping, breastfeeding on cue, and just generally striving for perfection.  When I became pregnant again, I knew one thing- I could not SUSTAIN the mom rules I had set up for myself in my AP strive for Dr. Sears approval.

I was exhausted.  EXHAUSTED.  I had not slept through the night since my first pregnancy over two years before.  Throughout my second pregnancy my two year old woke up every night and crawled into bed with me around 3am.  In my big old pregnant state I couldn't get back to sleep.  I was tired and not just physically.  I was emotionally exhausted and fed up with constant contact and lack of sleep and doing it all for the good of my baby.  I had lost myself in the shuffle.

Maybe that isn't what is supposed to happen.  Maybe I was being unwise in my expectations for myself.  I am pretty sure though that I am not the only one.  I think AP burnout is really pretty common and the fact that other moms SEE how burnt out AP moms are makes them a little afraid to even TRY it.

I am ashamed (or just frightened) to even admit that my second child didn't sleep for even ONE night in our bedroom as an infant.  She went into a bassinet in the room with her brother (swaddled even!  GASP!) and she slept like a champ. 

I was home with my two kids by myself for about 18 hours a day.  I was over 1000 miles away from family.  The problem with AP at this point was that I COULD NOT DO IT.  I physically couldn't be there constantly, answering every emotional whimper, need, and diaper with perfect, attached, surreal calmness.

The baby swing- ummmm, yeah, I used it.  And I LIKED IT.  I have also owned a Bumbo (double gasp!) and strollers (I know- we can't be friends any more!  Real AP moms only baby-wear!) and bouncers and all that jazz.  Do they all work for every kid?  No.  But sometimes they worked.  Sometimes they kept me sane.  Sometimes they made life bearable when I was overwhelmed. 

The sad reality is that most modern families don't have 10 adults living in a house together.  Most people don't have half a dozen children and grandmas all under one roof.  If you do then it is pretty possible for somebody to always go straight to a fussing baby and you can raise a child who never cries for more than a few seconds.  But for most mothers the reality is much more lonely (and private) and those gadgets we buy- well they replace grandmother or an older sibling or a mom who simply needs to feed her other children.

The problem with Attachment Parenting is the rules and the restrictions and the impossible perfection and of course- the JUDGMENT.  Not just judgment that we throw at each other, but the judgment that we hurl at OURSELVES when we perceive that we fall short. 

Today- more than 7 years after my first baby, I don't consider myself an "Attachment Parent".  I just try to be the best I can be in my circumstances.  I try to baby-wear when it works for me and my baby (and my back).  I try to get my babies when they need me but it doesn't always happen immediately.  I try to make them feel loved but that doesn't mean I meet their every grunt and noise with a nipple.  I breastfeed but sometimes I don't like it.  I still love my stroller more than is healthy.

The biggest difference now though is that I no longer feel guilty or ashamed of all of these truths.  I am more comfortable in my mom skin than I was seven years ago and I am more accepting of my own imperfections. 

I hope that we can all get to a place where we find real balance and where we are so sure of how we are parenting that we don't care how other people are looking at us.  I hope we can raise healthy, well rounded children who don't believe the world revolves around them and are sensitive to others.  I am not sure how perfect parenting is done or how to raise a child into a fantastic adult. 

I am pretty sure that it means doing our best and letting go of the rest.  Nobody wants a mother who has lost her joy in trying to be a perfect mother. 


Holli said…
I'm sorry, I have to call the Mommy Mafia on you now. Not being super mom at ALL TIMES is completely unacceptable. ;)
christa said…
Thank you so much I really needed to hear this xxx
christa said…
Thank you so much I really needed to hear this xxx
annie said…
Agreed, we hhave to do what is best for everyone as a whole. If that includes one of the amazing gadgets to see to another childs need then by darn i will use it!

(So glad you used my fave bfding picture:)
momto5 said…
interesting. i fell into AP before i even knew what it was, that there was such a beast, i held my first all the time because i loved to do it. i wish now that i had known about a sling, but i do have some rockin' arm muscles because of it. lol
maybe it is because i have parented for 18+ years now or raised/raising 6 children, but all the stuff that i do that is considered AP i do because it is soooo much easier then all the other stuff. i co-sleep because i have found it lets me sleep more (i know that doesn't happen for everyone, so you gotta do what you gotta do), i breastfeed because formula is pricey and because, well i like it, and because it is good for the baby. i cloth diaper because... well sadly because i freakin LOVE cloth diapers. i justify spending ungodly amounts of money on super cute diapers because well, the are necessary. LOL
my first got jarred baby food and didn't get organic because i had no idea about that stuff, all the rest just ate off my plate and we have been eating organic for years now because i feel it is better for us, BUT when money has been tight i just buy what we can afford.
we have used a stroller, a johnny jumper.
i have sent the kids to their rooms, and grounded them, i say no.
i think it is all media hype that pits mama against mama. we all have to do what works for our families. if co-sleeping doesn't work, then put them in a crib. if you can't baby wear or don't want to, then don't.
all the ideals of AP help me have a way to be a better mother, which my children deserve. they do deserve a mama who will listen, hold them, answer their calls. which i think is a good thing. so much of my parents and grandparents generations were so detachment, keep your distance, show them who is boss. maybe it has swung too far the other way, but i think learning to que into your children isn't bad, just the list of have to's is.
Julie said…
This was a fantastic post, thank you so much for it! I had no idea what AP was either until I had my first child (now 13 months old) and realized what I was doing (BFing, co-sleeping, babywearing, etc) was actually "AP-ing". I can't imagine doing it any other way, and am also scared to death about having a second one because I know I won't be able to maintain the amount of AP-ing I am able to provide today! Thank you for reminding me that it is OK to not be perfect. It's ok if my baby takes a bit of an english muffin that is not organic, or gets gluten in her diet everyone once in a while. :)
Alanna said…
I've never actually been a fan of attachment parenting. (Don't take offense at that, please, because I LOVE your blog!) I remember reading The Baby Book when I was pregnant with my first, and it seemed like such a nice idea, and then-- I think before I even gave birth-- I realized that it just wasn't me. I hate having a baby in my bed-- I can't sleep at all because I worry I'll roll over onto him or, worse yet, that my husband will (and since he's elbowed me in the face a few times in his sleep, this is a valid concern!). Even baby wearing just left me exhausted and kind annoyed. My first baby, I discovered at 6 weeks old, preferred being left on the floor to kick than being held! And if I let him nurse as long as he desired, he never stopped!

So it just never worked for me. Which isn't to say that I don't try hard to give my kids what I think they need. And I'm a huge advocate for natural birth (I'm a home VBAC-er myself!) and breastfeeding and all that. I just can't go in for the slings and co-sleeping... It seems like it would just be bad for my mental health.

I don't have a problem with other people doing it. I just realized that for me, it would make me a worse mom...

Anyway, like I said, I really do love your blog, so please don't block me from it or something! :)
Enjoy Birth said…
It is all about balance and finding what is the right balance for you.

I think it is sad we are so busy judging ourselves and each other. I wish we could be more kind to ourselves and each other.

I never really labeled myself as a parent. I do some AP things and some not. But I am a Mom and a pretty good one in some areas, and lousy in others (such as dental health, really my kids and brushing their teeth, I get like a C-)

Avtar Ram Kaur said…
I do hate the parenting categories. It's more damaging than helpful, in my opinion. It sets us up for failure, and has a built-in forum for judging others. No good!

On the outside looking in, I am an AP momma. But whatever. I don't live my life based upon some list of DOs and DON'Ts which often change as the wind blows! I do what works for me and my family, right here, right now. And I do it very, very imperfectly.
Lani said…
AP burnout... yup... that's pretty much what led to my nervous breakdown.
Kathy C said…
I have to say I am a little confused. I wasn't aware that to be an AP you had to do everything by the book or you were "out of the club"... I guess what I am saying is that being a good parent is doing what's best for your child and your family, which is all relative. I know The Baby Book makes mention of that on almost every page. Saying that if you can't or aren't comfortable with each and every aspect of AP then tailor it to the needs of your family specifically... That is what good parenting is all about not a bunch or rigid rules. I don't think any AP would agree that it is all or nothing.
Mama Birth said…
I realize that AP isn't "supposed" to be like that. And Baby Wise probably isn't "supposed" to starve babies. They are all supposed to be balanced with common sense and mom's needs, etc. BUT- that is way easier said than done- especially with parenting- ESPECIALLY when you want so badly to do it right and especially when it seems like the stakes are so high. (IE- functional fabulous child VS an emotionless meanie.)
I am not saying we shouldn't strive for greatness- we should. But I am kind of tired of the categories and the books and the rules and the this and that. And I think that a LOT of moms feel like I did.
C. Beth said…
I love this.... It's a similar path to the one I walked when I had baby #2.
avizuell said…
I totally agree with you, I also think AP is great when you live in a group and it doesn´t matter how much I would like to live like this, it won´t happen. Both grandmas worked when they were younger and they don´t wanna be near any kid. Sad but a lot of mom´s reality.
Two years ago I embraced AP to the limit when I was always upset and feeling that my life was over. Then it took me some weeks to decide I had to do my best. The "best" I could without leaving myself aside. I think is better to teach my girl her mother has a life and enjoys doing things and going out, than teaching her I´m a zombie! lol. Love your blog! :)
Evan said…
I had only the vaguest knowledge of attachment parenting before becoming a parent (I'm a dad). Then our high-needs baby was born and she was all: "You WILL attachment-parent me! You will wear/hold me at all times unless you want me to scream 24/7 [she still screamed in our arms a lot anyway for the first few months]. You will co-sleep with me and nurse throughout the night if you want even a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep at a time [still going strong with the co-sleeping after more than a year, no end in sight]." Etcetera. As it turns out, I'm fine with the babywearing thing, but hate co-sleeping. My wife is getting pretty sick of breastfeeding. We're not going to beat ourselves up about it.

If we'd had a mellow child we would absolutely have let her hang out for hours in a bouncy chair while we stared at our smart phones. And we probably would have weaned months ago, and had the baby in a crib in another room. We definitely didn't choose attachment parenting; our baby chose it for us. And I'm glad she did...mostly. The sad thing is when other parents, who aren't co-sleeping and breastfeeding anymore, seem to feel threatened when they find out that we still do these things--like it makes us better parents or something. No no...we're just trying to survive each day with a minimum of screaming/crying. If you want to voluntarily do all of that stuff, more power to you. It probably is really good for your kid, for the most part.

Maybe our reactionary attachment parenting doesn't count as the real thing since it's not exactly what we'd have chosen to begin with. I don't know, and am not sure I care. :)
Kathy C said…
Mama birth, I meant to say that I think you ARE an AP or at least your blog constitutes wlrhe fundamentals of AP. it is the unnecessary stress or rigid rules you bestowed upon yourself that made it difficult. Not that my opinion matters but parenting is a hard job regardless. I consider my child fortunate that I adopted AP and myself as well but I don't follow it to the T and I don't know that anyone does.
I have mixed feelings about this post. I was full-on AP when I first became a parent, and then I stepped away for many of the same reasons (although I didn't really feel like I was being less AP -- it was just what worked for our family). Somewhere along the way I just didn't like the movement as much as I had anymore. It felt judgy, and it also just didn't feel right with how I interacted with my kids. I felt like they were able to handle so much more independence than AP recommended.

I didn't turn to equipment, because that also didn't feel right to me (except a bassinet and a crib, because my second son slept so much better in them), but I found RIE. I guess it really doesn't matter what we found outside of AP that worked for us, but I think it's interesting that so many moms end up feeling overwhelmed.
Mama Birth said…
Suschada- what is RIE?
Anonymous said…
Ohhh how I can relate. I didn't even make it 3 months in the AP Club. Weaned at 6 weeks because of PPD, stopped Cloth Diapering at 9 months because we moved to an apartment with no washer, used a stroller and have even let her sit in her crib and cry while I calm myself down. I try to embrace AP qualities particularly loving discipline.I burned out right away though! Kuddos to you for all the wonderful things you do for your kiddos... your blog is such an encouragement for moms like myself that haven't been able to cut it in an AP club or conventional parenting club!
VanessaM said…
RIE- Resources for Infant Educarers, is based on Magda Gerber's teachings

I think I would have gone insane if I had kept giving myself all those rules, I ended up in therapy and realized how hard I had been on myself and had surrounded myself by "natural" moms who were just as hard and more on themselves.

Some time later I found RIE as well and it makes so much more sense to me if I combine it with what feels right to me from an AP perspective.
Anonymous said…
I am so glad I had no idea about any of this stuff until after I had my 3rd child! The benefits of being internet illiterate I suppose when I was pregnant with my younger 2. By my 3rd I was confident and didn't read anything. Never read a baby book in my life:) That being said it did feel right to nurse on demand and to avoid letting the baby cry for too long (esp the first 6 months). All the other stuff - eh. I happily used strollers, bouncy seats, etc. Finished my doctorate when baby #2 was 1 1/2 years old even. They are happy kids.
Anonymous said…
First time commenter here - been reading for a while, pregnant with #1. I have to say, there's been some things you've said on this blog that I have pretty strongly disagreed with, but this? Entries like this are why I keep hanging around. Thanks!

J Luck said…
I'm sorry that AP didn't work out for you, but surely you can see that it was an issue with your perfect-mamma complex and not with the tenets of AP? The whole point of AP is to NOT have rigid rules but to meet the needs of each baby/mamma pair.
Perhaps a better title and subject would be, "The Problem with Perfection-oriented Parenting."
Mama Birth said…
I know that people are taking offense at the whole AP thing that I attacked- and I realize (and pointed out) that it was partly me. BUT- you have to see that TONS of mothers do the same thing. AP- if you do all the stuff you are supposed to do (which, lets be real, there are a lot of judgmental AP moms out there who flip if you don't sleep with your baby) is really exhausting and overwhelming. And- I don't believe that it is doable realistically for a mom who is usually by herself. I have seen over and over women going off because somebody has a bouncy seat or something- REALLY? That is the type of thing that AP moms do to others who don't measure up. I don't care about it any more- but I used to.
"I realize that AP isn't "supposed" to be like that. And Baby Wise probably isn't "supposed" to starve babies."

You make me laugh!!! But, we all know Baby Wise starves babies and I don't know any self-proclaimed AP mama that doesn't stress out about being gentle enough at some point or another.

My husband says our kids might actually listen to me if I didn't strive to be so freaking respectful at all times. Maybe he is on to something...
Alison Mertz said…
I love this one. I feel like what seems like the intentions of AP comes out of waht comes naturally and easily to a calm-environment/stable life instinctual parent. And that's not always there...and it feels really good to have something else to rely on in the meantime:)
Kristi said…
I can tell just by reading this post that you are very hard on yourself (it reminds me of myself ;) )...but I am learning as I get older that life is too short to constantly punish myself for every little thing I feel I am doing wrong. That is good that you are learning to accept yourself for who YOU are. Thank you for sharing.
Larissa said…
The last line says it all! No matter what, I think, if you don't have joy in being a mom, you should try another method. I put too much pressure on myself, and I was a grumpy mom. I'm still learning what priorities to keep and what to let go, but letting go of needing to be a 'perfect' parent, one that no mommy group could call out, was what helped the most. When I am able to change my perspective and stop seeing my family the way an outsider does, but instead look from the inside and see what my kids see, that's when I know I'm doing it right.
Amanda J. said…
It is true there is a lot of judging going on in the AP world. But the thing is that no matter what YOU want to do. It will eventually be what ever your baby needs. I do strive to AP but it has never been perfect for us. I tried breastfeeding, my son hated it, HATED IT. He would look at me like I was murdering him or something. He LOVED the bottle. I always wanted to sleep with him, but when he was little he never wanted to. Once he hit like 9 months or something he decided he wanted to but before that he never did. I'm planning on homeschooling but he won't shut up about school. LOL! I'm a hippy lover he doesn't seem to be. Every single child out there is different. What works with one will not work with the other. I don't beat myself up about eating organic or buying organic clothes. because frankly we can't afford it. i do my best. But i do beat myself up when i don't peaceful parent him correctly. I'm a yeller. i dont yell all day every day but when i yell it's BAD. and that kills me inside. i hate that i yell. i know that isn't very AP or peaceful about me. i hear the judgy AP mama voices in my head when it happens. so i know what you are talking about. but hey it's what i have to work on. it's my first kid. i am trying. i want those judgy voices out of my head!!
Mary said…
Thanks for sharing your feelings on this subject, I feel like so many moms get stuck trying to be everything for everyone and forget to just BE for themselves. I've never really understood the mama-guilt thing. If you know that you are doing your best, then what's to feel guilty about? You are only responsible to yourself and your family. And to the people who might judge you, I say screw em! NO ONE IS PERFECT! I also feel that(and I'm going to get faith-y because you do it sometimes!) if we believe in a good and loving God, then he can forgive us our mistakes and redeem them into blessings for our children, whom he loves! Attachment parenting, and all parenting really, is about love. Do your best, keep love first, and forget the judging people. They're wrong! You're awesome, MamaBirth!
Mama Birth said…
Thanks for ALL your comments!
Aunt Annie said…
"I still love my stroller more than is healthy"? Laughter! Without my stroller I would have gone completely mad, and the same applies to my Jolly Jumper and my roll-along walking frame, and strike me dead for it if you will, his harness and leash once he could walk. My son WANTED these things. He HAD to be independent, he HAD to have use of his hands instead of holding mine. He screamed blue murder unless he could see and interact with the world on his own terms. He taught me how to parent him, and I listened, and at 27 he is a roaring success as an adult.

I share your feelings about AP extremists, Mama Birth. I am a BIG fan of RIE, which has the tenderness for children without the big stick for mums that some extremist APs seem to love to wield.

I know that AP in its purest and original form was not meant to be like this, but some people want a blueprint for perfect parenting and once they find it they treat it like the Bible. There's no such thing as perfect parenting, and you and I and many of the other commenters here KNOW that.

Fabulous post.
JuliPickle said…
Whenever I put my baby in the stroller instead of the Ergo I pray and pray that I won't run in to any of my AP friends. Kind of like praying you won't run into the RS president when you're at Walmart on a Sunday. :)
Carrie said…
I think I get that you had some AP-guilt burnout (in that you got burned out from feeling guilty about not being as AP as you thought or other people thought you should be.) I think that the principles of AP as laid out in the dr. sears book are pretty straightforward and flexible - that's the whole point. One of the principles in the book is balance and boundaries - knowing when to say no. I think it's other people who have added layers to AP, layers that aren't really necessary, that have brought about all this guilt and mommy-warring.

I had the Dr sears book for my first, and we practice many of the principles because they seem right for us - co-sleeping, exclusive bf'ing, baby wearing, cloth diapering and a few of the other things. I wasn't surrounded by other people who did stuff like that, so I never had the experience of feeling judged when I chose to use disposables for a week, or experimented with CIO, or put the baby in bouncy seat. I guess I didn't label myself as an AP person, even though I did AP things. We've had 2 babies since then, and have continued with our selection of AP practices. Maybe I wouldn't be accepted into the AP club by some of the over-zealous parents, but I don't care. I know MY children, and I know how to respond the THEIR needs and cues. And that's the whole point. AP is merely the means to an end - having happy and healthy kids.

Anonymous said…
you nailed it here: "The problem with Attachment Parenting is the rules and the restrictions and the impossible perfection and of course- the JUDGMENT. Not just judgment that we throw at each other, but the judgment that we hurl at OURSELVES when we perceive that we fall short."

The guiding light during my first years as a mother has been to always remember that my default, because of the culture i live in, will be to obsess about my son's needs. and i want to balance that out whenever i can by trying to obsess over my needs. (i'm also a chronically empathetic person, so need to really work to think about my wants and needs). thinking this way really has served me well. i've had my own breakdowns and breakthroughs along the way. but it's helped me to remember that i'm ultimately raising an adult. and i want him to be both attached and able to function on his own. and i think one of the best gifts i can give him growing up is for him to see his mother actively taking steps to take care of herself while still remaining an engaged caregiver.

thank you! just found you through aunt annie's blog. thrilled to know you're out here.
Jo said…
i just always TRY to parent in a way that feels "right" to me. it just so happens that it usually places me in the attachment parenting category.
so yes, i too feel like i suck most of the time because my emotional AND intellectual vision of myself is way more perfect than the realized vision of myself.
ah well- we can only do what we can do, but at least we are not alone in the fight :)
Anonymous said…
I am so glad I found this post. After using ap on my first daughter and now my second I'm now left feeling exhausted. I have a one year old that is up half the night and im too scared to take her to sleep school or let her cry because it will damage her forever as all the ap books say. I feel bad for leaving her by herself on the floor so I can cook or clean it's all too much for me and causing me to be depressed and exhausted constantly. I'm too the point of wanting to have a sickness so I can stay in hospital and have a break and I just don't know what to do. If I give up I am damaging my child if I don't I am damaging myself.