When you think of the word ‘attachment’, what does it mean to you? For me it brings to mind the most fundamental, primeval, instinctive, monkey-clinging-to-its-mothers-back type of relationship between the mother and the child. It’s what I feel for my two kids – strong, deep attachment.
In a parenting/psychological context, what the word attachment means is “a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space”. Babies who develop a strong attachment to their mums have the best start possible in life, an emotional grounding that will stand them in good stead for years to come. Conversely, kids who don’t form an attachment to their mothers can’t function in life, and they can end up with really bad problems. Sounds grim, right?
‘Attachment parenting’ describes a whole parenting style. It’s a very positive thing on the whole. But for me it has become loaded with a kind of exclusivity, and I find the term, rather than the parental acts themselves that make up this style, problematic. It’s the parental branding that I just loathe, and that’s the thing that the media keeps pushing on us. What type of mum are you? Are you a Katie Hopkins or a Peaches Geldof? That famous TV debate on This Morning of the now late Peaches arguing with the widely disliked Katie Hopkins exemplified what I hate most about the polarisation and over simplified categorisation of mums. The media reduce you to being either totally 100% an attachment parent – or not (therefore you are the same as Katie Hopkins). Everyone knows we are all meant to hate Hopkins, so the subtext is that you are the same as her if you don’t totally subscribe to the tenets of attachment parenting, i.e. you’re a bit of a witch.
This is the definition of attachment parenting (according to Google): “an approach to raising infants that aims to promote a close relationship between the baby and its parents by methods such as feeding on demand and letting the baby sleep with its parents.”
Sounds fine. But then, well, I’m sorry, but don’t we pretty much all feed on demand, and don’t we all let the baby come into bed with us at night, sometimes? So, am I an attachment parent? Well, no I’m not, as to be a fully paid up member of the AP club, you have to ‘buy into’ the ideology, and (breast)feed on demand all the time, and co-sleep with them all the time too. Oh, so I’m not in the club then. Right. It’s a bit exclusive, this AP thing, isn’t it?
The main tenets of AP are baby slinging (I did that too, just not constantly); breastfeeding until they reject you (I breastfed for a few days only – my nipples were about to drop off – so again, I didn’t make the grade there); co-sleeping every night (sorry, no chance, they were in their own nurseries, happily, from early on so I could read with a lamp on – or do other stuff too *blushes*); and, of course, feeding on demand (I did, but then I moved them towards a routine – so shoot me).
When my son was little and I started to read about attachment parenting, I was excited and keen to get on board, until I found out that I wasn’t being an attachment parent (I didn’t tick all the boxes). I actually felt quite hurt and left out. What does this mean? My baby won’t be attached to me? I already felt bad enough about not being able to breastfeed! A couple of months in, I was doing really well, but to hear that I wasn’t doing this attachment parenting thing made me anxious. The implication by using this silly terminology was that I was a non-attachment parent, therefore I wouldn’t build the crucial attachment with my son.
OK. So if I didn’t fit in at the AP club, but I didn’t necessarily align myself with Katie Hopkins’ approach, where did I fit in? What parenting tribe did I belong to? Maybe I’m more of a Jools Oliver, after all she is an advocate of Gina Ford. Yes, that’s right, I read and liked (GASP!) the Gina Ford book in pregnancy (admitting this in some circles is tantamount to saying you read and liked Mein Kampf). I applied some (not to the letter, I have a mind of my own) of her common sense approach to getting a routine with your baby – but I also slung the babies, breastfed them (not for very long, but to the best of my ability), and, quite often co-slept with them (and still do – on these nights I have the worst sleep ever, I am a zombie the next day). I took bits from the book, then learned the rest by experience. I did it the only way I knew how to, my way. I call it ‘Rachel Brady Parenting’. That’s a joke by the way.
Not being included in this club as a new mum made me question the type of mother I was – if I’m not a Peaches Geldof type of loving earth mother Attachment Parent then I must be a Katie Hopkins type, Gina Ford reading and totally Hardass Parent then. But that’s not how I saw myself at all. It’s very confusing. Then when you are questioned by other mothers that you meet at baby groups, you feel like you are doing everything wrong…
You had them in a routine at 6 weeks? Yup, I like order. What, your babies were sleeping in a nursery at 10 weeks? Erm, yes I like to read at night. Oh, you’re bottle feeding? Sorry, I couldn’t hack breastfeeding I’m afraid. What… wait… you cried your baby out? Yes, I did, with my second baby, when her night waking was deeply affecting the whole family. And it was the right thing for me to do.
It’s not the tenets of AP themselves that I have a problem with. Not at all… bloody good for you if you want to breastfeed until 2 (I actually think anyone who survives breastfeeding deserves a medal), co-sleep (I can see the merits), carry baby in a sling all day (so cosy!), feed on demand (makes sense), never ever let them cry for a second (go with your instinct) etc. What I hate is the polarising terminology, the ‘you’re in or you’re out’ mentality of it. “I am an ‘attachment parent’ – you are not an attachment parent, therefore you must be a parent who cruelly bottle feeds, who puts them in a strict routine, who lets them cry, who lets them sleep in a dark and scary room all alone… ergo you are a shit parent.”
We all take bits and pieces of parenting advice, mix it with a little bit of experience, and make it our own don’t we? Who sticks to just one parenting style anyway?
These days women are putting off having kids until later than ever, so many women (like me with my first) don’t know anyone with kids when they have their first child. We have no idea what to do! I was like Tom Selleck in 3 Men and a Baby with my newborn! We have to turn to the Internet and to books like Gina Ford etc to help us keep the kid alive. Back in the day our mums had more help and advice from aunties and mums and friends and cousins who all lived in the same town – our families and old friends live a 3 hour drive away…
Attachment (to a child) is all pervasive, natural, unconditional and absolutely unbreakable. It’s a term I would apply to, well, ALL mums who I know – they are all attachment parents in my eyes. But in the true sense.
I’ve got an idea… Why don’t we reject these polarising, media driven parenting styles that are projected upon us? Newsflash: you don’t have to choose a tribe. You don’t have to slot into a mould to be a good mum. Just be you! It’s the way your baby likes best, after all.