detaching blame from attachment parenting

Yesterday’s article by Amanda Marcotte in Slate has ignited a wave of responses from parents, feminists, and mothers on my twitter feed and I can’t help but compose my own reply to the discussion.

My thoughts on the Marcotte article run parallel to my feelings on the latest parenting book to sweep the internet; Bringing up Bébé. Like Marcotte’s article, Bébé is also based in the assumption that parenting can be categorized and generalized into big sweeping categories: French parents do this, American parents to that, says Pamela Druckerman. Attachment parenting does this, natural mothers do that, adds Marcotte. And so the sweeping overgeneralizations go in an attempt to shock, sensationalize, and isolate.

As a mother, a natural parent, an attachment parent, a native European residing in the US, and as a feminist, I believe that nothing is that clear-cut, no culture has the ultimate secret to raising well-balanced and successful children, and no parenting philosophy is as easily reduced to a couple of shock-value statements as the two authors would have you believe.

Setting aside Druckerman’s book for now, I’d like to focus on Marcotte’s article. I’ve read similar pieces in the past and while they irk me, I tend to move on and leave the arguing to someone else. But as I’m growing into my parenting style and developing my “mother voice,” I feel that it’s my place to step up and speak out against those who berate a movement they do not fully understand, and do not want to understand, because that would mean acknowledging the many nuances and caveats that make it difficult to reduce it to a few pithy sound bites for the purpose of making headlines.

Marcotte argues that attachment parenting enslaves mothers and keeps them “tied to the kitchen,” and that breastfeeding “until their kids are talking” is just another form of female oppression. Marcotte’s reasoning allows no agency for those who choose to breastfeed past the (Western) socially accepted time frame and for those who co-sleep, stay-at-home, or practice any sort of parenting style that assumes a certain level of “self-sacrifice.” Doesn’t all parenting assume a certain level of self-sacrifice? When does bringing a child into a family not implicitly require that room be made for this new individual and that changes – dare I say it…sacrifices – take place?

Marcotte furthermore equates attachment mothers with martyr mothers that have found their way into the kitchen but forgotten the way out. According to Marcotte, the attachment mother has forgone her “professional ambitions” and given up on “self-actualization.” As a practicing attachment parent, a feminist, and as someone who’s managed to finish a dissertation by the time my baby turned eight months old, I have to beg to differ with Marcotte’s oversimplified and reductionist statements.

Since Marcotte has already covered the gamut of what attachment parenting does to women, I will offer my voice as a practicing attachment parent with a few points on what attachment parenting does for me. (Just me, not all women, since I cannot possibly speak for women, mothers, and parents as a whole.)

Attachment parenting is based on the philosophy that you follow your instincts as a parent and that you respect and value the individual that is your child. Rather than parent according to “expert” advice, sleep charts, and rigid dogmas, you listen to yourself and you parent in a way that benefits your particular situation and your specific needs in the best possible way. Attachment parenting, as outlined by the father of the movement, Dr. Sears, stipulates that breastfeeding, bonding, and babywearing make for a solid foundation in the parent-child relationship. While fathers many not exactly be able to breastfeed, they can also participate as attachment parents, bonding with the baby after birth and wearing their baby as often as desired. Some attachment parents co-sleep with their children. On nights when my daughter has needed me often, waking frequently to nurse, I too have pulled her into bed with us to make it easier on me and my husband to care for her. Attachment parenting does not dictate that the marital bed be shared with the children, it does not denounce mothers who, for whatever reason, do not breastfeed, and it does not expect any mother to forgo “self-actualization” in favor of domestic servitude. “Attachment parenting is not rigid” and it is not “martyr mothering.”

Generations of feminists before us have fought for women to have a voice, to speak for themselves, and to be seen as having full and complex identities that cannot be reduced to one or two simplistic labels. Marcotte’s article does precisely that; reduce and demean based on an oversimplification of information. I cannot speak for other parents who either allow attachment parenting to inform their parenting style or adhere to different ideologies and philosophies. I can only speak for myself.

As a mother, a writer, a feminist, an academic, a runner, a wife, and an attachment parent, I wear many hats and have multiple facets to my identity. I am not enslaved by a movement nor am I a martyr. I do not suffer from misguided “mommy devotion,” I simply love my child and parent in a way that resonates with me while honoring the different components that make up my “self” as best as I can. Sometimes that means making sacrifices, other times, it means reaping the benefits of the sacrifices my family and friends make for me. At the end of the day, I’m happy to sink into bed exhausted, knowing that I did my best for the day and that tomorrow brings new challenges, rewards, and opportunities (and yes, some of them might even be outside of the kitchen).

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24 Responses to detaching blame from attachment parenting

  1. Pingback: Always More Mama Drama « The Mamafesto

  2. Jessica says:

    You raised some really valid points, thank you! I also tend to find articles such as that oversimplified and in many ways dogmatic. Thus the reason I shy away from labels as a parent, they are too simplified and too cliched to ever really work.

    I am a parent, why does it matter which style of parenting I use? I am working to bring up my daughter, and also do my masters thesis, and start a business, in the best way I know how with my husband by my side. Why do I need to label that, why does anyone need to label that?

  3. Erin B says:

    I am a stay at home mom. Over all, I am happier taking care of my daughter full time than I was working in an office. I was unhappy working in the job I was moved to after my mat leave. My daughter was sick all the time at daycare. My income barely covered my daycare and work expenses.

    I still have bad days. There were good days at my office job. Over all, this is better.

    I am often amazed at articles that deny my existence as possibility. I am NOT a kitchen slave, or a mommy martyr. I am happy with what I have. Feminism should be big enough to let women choose traditional roles if it is their choice. Otherwise it is just one more system trying to coerce into role it thinks are appropriate.

  4. Jessica says:

    Thank you for writing this; it feels like a balanced and honest perspective. I think that parenting is such a huge and overwhelming experience that it is tempting to grasp for definitions. However, we are all different people and our kids are individuals as well. I am finding that things that worked for my first child are not at all effective with my second, so it’s always an adventure! I combine reading advice from “experts” with my gut feelings and knowledge of my own kiddos and the insight of my husband, and we do our best to make the right decision. It’s such hard and worthwhile work!

  5. Bobbie says:

    I really appreciate your post. Lately, I have been struggling with this same issue of labels. I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist (in the traditional manner) mostly because it is not what I grew up with, so it is a concept that’s a bit foreign to me. But the more I adapt to my own parenting style, the more I feel empowered, and thus more feminist. Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t that a huge point of feminism, to feel empowered as a woman?

    My parenting style is constantly changing. I’ve read Druckerman’s book, and although I agree there are a few ideas that I can get behind, I’m not completely shifting my parenting style simply because “the French do x”. (I also hate the generalization that SAHMs are “socially useless”, but that’s generalizing a generalization, as I hope not all of the French feel this way.) More or less, my parenting style falls into the attachment parenting camp, although I haven’t read more than just the Wikipedia article on it. And that’s just the thing – I am doing what I feel is best (be that breastfeeding possible forever, wearing my child as he needs, and co-sleeping whenever necessary) on a day to day basis. Parenting is an evolutionary process.

    My choice (and it is a choice, no matter how backwards that makes me) to stay home with my child(ren) comes from a variety of places. I grew up with a SAHM, who, when I was in the 4th grade, went back to work. This killed me. I do not wish to do that to my children.

    I am tired of receiving strange looks from people when they ask what I do and I explain that I stay at home. Why can’t I make my own choices, and have them for what they are, my choices? And why do we have to justify staying at home (“my major in college was German, so I’m staying home be there aren’t many job options there”)?

    Sorry to go on a bit of a rant there, it’s just something that has been bothering me for some time now. Thank you for writing this!

  6. Noelle says:

    I love what you’ve written here.

    We (and by “we” I mean humans) love labels. And why not? They’re a great shorthand and can help us find like-minded people. But problems turn up when someone decides that, for whatever reason, one label cannot coexist with another label. You’re either “an attachment parent” or “a feminist.” You’re either “ambitious” or “a stay-at-home mother.” It’s ridiculous, and not at all a reflection of many people’s real lives!

    As you say, you wear many hats. We all do. And even within those hats (labels) what my stay-at-home parenthood looks like may be very, very different from another woman’s stay-at-home parenthood.

  7. T. says:

    You are always so thoughtful. I have been a mostly stay-at-home parent since my son was born in 1997. I have a master’s degree, obtained before my children were born. I read Dr. Sears while I was still pregnant, wore my babies, co-slept, breastfeed with no supplementation at all (not even pumped breastmilk), nursed my son until he was 4 and my daughter until she was 3.5. I nursed while pregnant and then co-nursed an infant and a toddler. Sometimes I was exhausted, and sometimes I cried, but I did those things because I thought they were best for MY family. I didn’t bother worrying what other mothers were doing, and I sure hope no one worried about what I was doing! I am still home with them, but I do a LOT of volunteer work for their schools, to the point where that can feel like a full time job in and of itself. I like being home when they get home, I like being able to attend all their concerts and games, I like baking bread for their sandwiches and making homemade cookies for their lunchboxes. I feel very fortunate that we can afford this lifestyle on just my husband’s income. Sometimes I think about other moms I know who are doctors and lawyers and who have made themselves known in our community outside of motherhood, and I wonder what makes me content to be such a homebody, but I never feel oppressed or quaint. I just feel happy, and very lucky!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Very thoughtful post. I’m not a parent yet, but I know from my many friends who are that the culture of mommy guilt runs deep (and from my research: as early as the 16th century, commentators called women who employed wetnurses unnatural for not nursing their own children). From my perspective, the biggest crime against feminism in all of this is not merely that the individual decisions one makes for one’s own family are not respected in their specificity, uniqueness, and applicability to that family’s situation, but that the decisions women make continue to be the source of public debate and derision.

  9. Susan (rad) says:

    I can’t participate much but I can applaud your thoughtful response.
    I thought I first you were going to respond to this NYT piece, that my European born, NYC residing mother-feminist-adjunct professor friend posted:
    Granted her son is 12 and thus the dynamic is different but I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

    • simplybike says:

      Hey Susan,

      thanks for the comment and I would love to see that article that you linked to! I can’t seem to be able to access it (looks like it requires a paid subscription to the NYTimes, which I dont’ have. Bummer!).


  10. Inder says:

    Thank you for this articulate post! I am so sick of the “mommy wars” and so sick of women going after other women for differences in parenting style, beliefs, or choices. At this point, I’m inclined to think that this is a “divide and conquer” tactic by the patriarchy (as internalized by all of us). I’m just over it!

    That said, I’m also a professional, a parent, and overall, more attachment-oriented than not. I coslept out of necessity (to get enough sleep since I was working full time), loved breastfeeding my little boy for more than two and a half years (until I became pregnant again), and wore him until he hit the 30 lb mark and didn’t want to be worn anymore. I found these parenting techniques actually helped ease the transition of going back to work, etc. Going back to my regular lawyer-gig 12 weeks after my baby was born was hard, and I treasured these ways of being close to my baby in the time we had together. I certainly never took it to the level of martyr, and while there were sacrifices, it was a labor of love for me. My husband stayed home as a SAHP while I went back to work, and practiced the same techniques, so I just don’t see how you could term our parenting “antifeminist”!

    I think unfortunately, some advocates of attachment parenting have made some statements that were pretty antifeminist, and among certain circles, there is some judgment against working moms, which is sad and unfortunate (see above re mommy wars). You make a good case for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater (ha?) here. Thanks.

  11. Celia says:

    I am glad you wrote such wonderful and articulated post.
    I have been a SAHM for the last 4 years and have been practicing attachment parenting .I breast fed until my daughter got tired of it, we co- slept until she was about 3 and I do most of the work around the house.
    And I made this decisions because I am an intelligent woman who came to the conclusion that this was the best option.
    I am a moderately good cooker,I will leave my house less than sparkly clean if there is sun outside and I want to go outside, I had time to search whatever topic I like while I have been home and on the whole I feel that I am a much focused and complete now.
    Recently I started working from home in a much better job than I had before.And I do go out with my friends in grown up’s only nights if I want to.
    It puzzles me that people think that just because you have a different way to live your live you are wrong.Or that you loose your brains because you stay home.

  12. emily says:

    it was interesting reading the comments from that post bc NO ONE was on the author’s side… crunchy AP parent or not. ha. she needs to get a clue.

  13. Rita says:

    Motherhood is not a hat I wear yet. But my husband and I have talked about this and when we do decide to become parents, we like the idea that we are free to select whatever situation best applies to us. Unfortunately, it seems a bit difficult (in the current financial situation) for one of us to be at home full time, and this is something we would both like to explore. Not being able to choose that option actually makes me sad. My mother was a all-in-one kind of woman but she always told me that although she enjoyed her job very much, given the opportunity, she would have chosen to spend more time with us. It broke her heart every time she had to drop us in kindergarten and we would be crying and asking her not to go. In the end of the day, it is all about choice isn’t it? That’s what feminism is about, allowing women to choose. Whatever the choice.

  14. Hannie says:

    I am a mother of one and a have a full time job at a university. Our personal parenting style combines elements from attachment parenting (breastfeeding combined with pumping when at work, baby wearing) with elements that might be more Druckerman style. Our personal style evolved while we were parenting and while some of it was based on parenting and child psychology literature, most of it is experience based. We followed our own ideas and instincts. In our situation this also means that mommy needs her job, not just for the cash, but also for her personal happiness which affects the hapiness of our entire family. This implies that my son visits daycare and I don’t feel bad about it. He attends and excellent daycare center and enjoys time with his friends and loves the caregivers. In our personal style, elements of attachment parenting are combined with my life as a working mom. I do not feel restricted by the ideas from parenting philosophies. I feel more restricted by people who are strongly advocating certain philosophies or critiquing them, and leave little space for parents personal choices and style.

    • simplybike says:

      Thank you for this comment, Hannie! I think you voice what many of my friends have said during this discussion: parenting is unique to each situation and the problem lies not in finding a way that works for you but in feeling the judgements and critiques from the outside. I hope my post didn’t come across like it was judging anyone but those who seem to make broad statements about “superior” parenting styles or what it means to be a mother and a feminist. I simply wanted to say that I consider myself a feminist despite (because of?) breastfeeding and babywearing and do not feel opressed by those things (which Marcotte’s article seemed to be suggesting).

      Somewhere though, here and on my facebook wall, I noticed that friends seemed to defend their choice of using childcare and daycare in order to return to work and wording it as though my defense of attachment parenting was judging moms who do use daycare and return to work. That is by NO means what I was saying. I too work from home or, at times, from a coffee shop (writing) while babysitters care for our daughter. I have many feminist mom friends who nursed on demand, breastfed, pumped while at work, and successfully intergrated careers and personal life in a way that is inspiring and empowering to me to watch.

      I am not advocating for anything but respecting that women have multiple identities and that feminism encompasses more than just one type of woman/mother.


  15. Heidi says:

    Lovely response! I agree. I think the post is another sloppy attempt at provoking mommy wars; you said it so well: meant only to shock, sensationalize, isolate. It’s the other side to the GOP ‘war on women.’

    The Washington Post ran a much more balanced book review, I thought.

    *I am a 30-something, educated mother of one special needs child, whom I stayed home with for two years, nursed for 2.5 years, and attachment parented, for the most part, with a mostly Dr Sears philosophy, but not in a dogmatic way. Prior to motherhood, I built a career and worked full time (and then some) for 10 years. I have since returned to work part time. I was and am a feminist at all stages of life.

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  16. My baby is 6 years old now and I have gone through every notion in my head over the years as to what is the “best approach”. I would agree with your statement, “I am not enslaved by a movement nor am I a martyr.” I have many friends who followed a specific model and I never chose to follow any of it. I breastfed until 18 months because it’s FREE MILK and healthy. Not because I felt baby needed skin touching, etc. I just did it because it is what my breasts are for. I discipline in a fair and reasonable manner. I discuss things with my child. I teach her about her own body parts in a normal biology based approach. I just really try to take every hour of the day one hour at a time and approach all of it from a very realistic and uncalculated fashion – out of love and reasonably living. My child, now, at age 6 is very well adjusted, very happy, normal, no extremes in any direction, the average amount of happy and crying any child would do. Just a regular kid! I let her fall off bikes, I let her skin her knees, I let her run, and just let her be a kid. Perhaps I am modeling my way off of the era I was raised in, the era of the 80s before we had concepts like helicopter parenting, attachment, co-sleeping … or whatever other concepts are out there. I do have to say, I often feel in the minority within mom circles. Most moms I meet nowadays are smothers, not mothers. :-)

  17. Heidi says:

    I want to add a short addendum to my first post. While I am a feminist mother, I do realize the economics of parenthood really do not leave many with real choice to stay home or work. My becoming a mother hasn’t trapped me in the kitchen, as the Salon piece asserts, but it has made it more problematic and challenging to work. I am a professional, and educated, and work in academia, and I have more flexibility (probably) than most. But, I’ll say this: working post-baby is infinitely more problematic and challenging than pre-baby. In fact, it’s damn hard. You need a support system to do it. If you lack one (as I do), it is very stressful. That is a trap for women, too, not unlike the kitchen trap. My husband works in the private sector. He takes off maybe 2 or 3 days *a year*. That makes it hard to “balance.”

    • Inder says:

      This is such a good point, and one that occurred to me after writing my post above. Parenthood DOES seem to disadvantage women in the workplace. If you stay home, and take time off from your career, it hurts you; if you go back to work, the stress and financial difficulty of that choice will take their toll. It’s not a parenting style that is “unfeminist” and “keeping us in the kitchen”; but it would be wrong to lightly dismiss all of our decisions around parenting as free choices, when often they are not. I have found being a working mother very hard, and I have a TON of support (my husband stays home!). But I still can’t put in the hours I used to, and my husband and I both have to battle stereotypes about who should be the “provider” and I feel guilty that I am not home with my child more. Like many women, I do feel that I should somehow do it all. But this isn’t caused by attachment parenting – I think it’s pretty universal. Articles like this (and the mommy wars in general) distract us from what’s really going on here, which is that our society provides very little in the way of parental support.

  18. Heidi says:

    Inder – great post. I agree on all points.

  19. Heidi says:

    Also, I think what you wrote, and which I know to be true from my own experience, leaves us women/mothers in a state of vulnerability which authors and bloggers like the ones on use to divide women. Having seen multiple sides – as an older mother who delayed children for career, as a mother who set aside my career for a time to stay home, and as a working mother trying to juggle – I won’t let them make me feel the divisions. :) I am a feminist and the very same capable woman/mother no matter my work status. I’m just varying shades of exhausted.

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