"Attachment is regarded by many psychologists as the seminal event in a person's emotional development -- the primary source of a child's security, self-esteem, self-control, and social skills. Through this one incredibly intimate relationship, a baby learns how to identify her own feelings and how to read them in others. If the bond is a healthy one...she will feel loved and accepted and begin to learn the value of affection and empathy." (Eliot, 305)What's odd about our approach (I think I can speak for Kevin on this one; we seem to be pretty much in agreement), is that in practice, we're probably Attachment Parents so far -- but we really distrust the rhetoric of Attachment Parenting. We do tend to mostly pick Kavya up as soon as she starts fretting and try to soothe her, and while we might let her grumble for five minutes while we finish eating breakfast, so far, we've never left her to just wail if she gets really going. We do a lot of cuddling, including the naked-chest/naked-baby cuddling they call 'kangaroo care.' It's pleasant, and it's supposed to be good for the parent-child bond. When we wander around the apartment doing chores, we sometimes wear Kavya in a sling (known as 'babywearing') -- it keeps her sweet and sleepy, and we can still get things done. We give her breastmilk almost exclusively (which gets lumped in with AP because they ardently support it, though it's really primarily a separate issue, I think), and even though she's gotten a lot of it in a bottle, we don't prop the bottle up; we snuggle her while feeding her. So, okay -- pretty much we're doing AP.
But the problem with this approach to parenting is that it's very labor-intensive. I'm not sure you have a lot of choice about that with a newborn, but I can certainly understand why parents might try to acclimate their babies to a less labor-intensive parenting style as the kids get older. We have the luxury of time -- Kevin and I are both off for the summer, with no teaching. We should, in theory, still be working -- me writing and him doing math, but that work is flexible enough that we can take a month or two off from that too and it's not a big deal. So we can be as hands-on with the parenting as we want right now -- it's a very different situation from the mom with six weeks of leave and the dad with just one week!
"If babies are programmed, as a matter of frontal-lobe maturation, to grow attached to their primary caregivers, what happens when they spend a large share of their waking hours away from both their mothers and fathers? Do they fail to develop the primordial bond essential for later psychological health?" (Eliot, 308)We're deeply suspicious of the rhetoric of AP. The theory says that babies who aren't tended to enough in this way (babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc.) form insecure attachment bonds with their parents, and that this stunts their long-term emotional development. And it may well be true that if you get tons of affection and attention as a baby, that you're likely to be a bit more emotionally stable as an adult. Fair enough, makes sense. But if you listen to the advocates, that tends to get translated into statements like, "If you're a mom who chooses to go back to work, you're emotionally crippling your child." And, "If you didn't want to devote your life to your baby, you don't deserve to have children. You should never have had them."
One problem is that AP offers a tremendous justification to SAHM's (stay-at-home-moms) -- if they really buy into it, then they can argue that of course it made sense to leave their careers, because their children really need this high-intensity parenting or they'll be emotionally traumatized. If you're someone who's chosen to leave work to be with your kids full-time, and are feeling anxious about that choice (either because of internal doubts, or because you feel that friends/family/society are judging you negatively about that choice), AP could certainly make you feel a lot better about the decision. Some of the SAHM's I've been reading make motherhood sound like an incredibly high-intensity careeer choice, the kind that demands that you work your fingers to the bone and emotionally exhaust yourself.
Even worse, so often, that seems to turn into those SAHM's being brutally critical of women who don't make that choice. Or even if they say it's okay for women to go back to work, they're expected to go work their eight hours and then come home and do this very labor-intensive parenting, which I have to think would be terribly exhausting. Wearing Kavi in a sling for three hours makes my back hurt a bit, even with the best sling I can find. If I felt like I had to wear her all the time, and breastfeed on-demand (i.e., whenever she wants, for as long as she wants), and co-sleep every night even when she's restless and I have to be up at five to get to work on time, and that I'd be a bad mommy if I didn't do all this eagerly...very guilt-inducing. I think it'd make me feel really sick.
EXAMPLE: I chose to put Kavya in her moses basket for an hour while I fed the puppy and me breakfast, read my morning journals and wrote this entry. She's been peacefully sleeping this whole time. According to the strictest interpretation of AP, I should have had her in a sling against my chest this whole time, and since I didn't, I am a BAD MOMMY (tm) and I have emotionally traumatized my child. It sounds ridiculous when you put it that extremely, but what's startling is how many women (some men too, but mostly women by far) do seem to take it to that extreme. Also surprising how easy it is to start internalizing this stuff and feeling horribly guilty, even when you know better.
"Are we raising a generation of children at risk for serious behavioral problems, or is all the fuss about day care and babysitters merely another kind of backlash against women, a way of making working mothers feel all the guiltier about the time they spend away from their young children?" (Eliot 308)Aside from the breastfeeding part, there's nothing about AP that is inherently gendered -- men can do all the rest of it. And men can certainly give every single pumped bottle of breastmilk too. But the conversation tends to be a heavily gendered discussion, because in the vast majority of cases it's a woman doing primary childcare. And so I worry about the sexist implications of how AP gets prosletyzed. Especially in the context of mothers choosing to go back to work and putting children in daycare, AP theory can place huge emotional and physical demands on women, if it's presented in a demanding, judgemental way. And too often, that's the way it gets presented.
I know I've only been a parent for a month. What do I know? But I wish all these people would just mellow out. Pay attention to your kids, yes. Love them and shower them with affection, all good. But take some time and relaxation for yourself too! If you love your work, work (using my brain is a big part of my own happiness). Keeping yourself healthy and happy and sane seems like it should be part of the equation, part of what makes for happy children who grow into healthy adults. And I just don't see an acknowledgement of that from most of the AP folk I've been reading on the web. It worries me.