It's time to talk about attachment parenting. And more specifically, is it any good? Attachment parenting is a method developed by William and Marth Sears, and is a very popular parenting method these days. Attachment parenting followers focus on a close relationship with the baby and developing sensitive communication with it.
Sounds good, no? But the problem is that attachment parenting has its flaws, and it's time to talk about them. This is why I created this podcast episode, which turned out so long I had to split it in two. So this is part 1, where you'll learn what attachment parenting is, what are the Seven Baby Bs (fundamental principles) of the method, and how it came to be. In the next episode, I'll talk about why I think attachment parenting is not really what you need if you want to create a secure attachment with your children.
What is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment parenting, a term popularized by Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears, emphasizes practices aimed at fostering a close bond between parents and children. These practices include breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping. The method is based on the premise of being responsive to a baby's needs and developing a deep, intuitive connection between parent and child.
The Seven Baby Bs of Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting is guided by the ‘Seven Baby Bs':
- Birth Bonding: Promoting immediate contact and bonding after birth.
- Breastfeeding: Encouraging frequent and on-demand breastfeeding.
- Babywearing: Keeping the baby close to the parent's body for most of the day.
- Bedding Close to Baby: Advocating co-sleeping for better sleep and bonding.
- Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby's Cry: Understanding and responding to a baby's cries as a form of communication.
- Beware of Baby Trainers: Cautioning against parenting advice that encourages letting babies cry it out.
- Balance: Emphasizing the need for parents to balance attending to the baby's needs with their own.
Critique of Attachment Parenting
While attachment parenting has its merits, it's not without its flaws. One major criticism is its potential rigidity and the pressure it places on mothers, often leading to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. The method's heavy emphasis on practices like breastfeeding and co-sleeping can be impractical or impossible for some families due to various reasons, including physical limitations or lifestyle choices.
A More Flexible Approach: Attachment Focused Parenting
Attachment focused parenting, as proposed by psychologist Daniel Hughes, offers a more adaptable approach. It emphasizes creating a safe emotional environment for children, which is key to developing secure attachment. This method focuses on being warm, responsive, and attuned to children's needs, regardless of specific parenting practices.
Conclusion: Embracing a Balanced Approach
While attachment parenting aims to foster a close bond between parents and children, its rigid guidelines are not necessary for nurturing secure attachment. A balanced approach, focusing on emotional availability, responsiveness, and creating a safe environment, is key to raising resilient, happy, and confident children. Parents should be encouraged to find what works best for their family, free from the pressure of adhering to strict guidelines.
Books Mentioned in The Episode
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Eran Katz: Did you know that August is the national breastfeeding month? I didn't, but then again, I have never breastfed in my life. On the other hand, I have two kids who were breastfed and when you're an attachment theory fan boy, as I am, plus a parenting enthusiast, breastfeeding is a subject matter you have to think about.
However, this is not an episode about breastfeeding. It is an episode that goes into one of the parenting methods that put breastfeeding on its forefront and it's called attachment parenting. So in today's episode. What is attachment parenting and why I don't like it. Stick around.
All right. My friends. Welcome to episode number 60, a nice round number. It is. What an insignificant fact that was in today's episode, I'm going to go deep into a subject matter that I have waited quite some time to go deep into because it is of much interest. And I think it's an important one. And.
It is all about attachment parenting. Now I want to start with a little story .A couple of years ago. I had a client in my private practice. For those of you who don't know me, I'm a clinical psychologist. I have a private practice where I work with adults, children, and sometimes parents who come to and get some help around their parenting.
And this mum, she had two kids. One of them was four years old. The other one was around two. And she had some trouble with the older one, regarding his behavior. And she wanted to have some help with that. But when I asked her about her relationship with his younger sister, She, she actually.
Out of the blue. started crying Which kind of surprised her. And when we delve into what happened there. She told me that she felt like she's a very bad mum. To both of them, but especially to the little girl who was at then a little bit younger than two years old. And when I wondered why, because nothing in her behavior or the way she talked about
her days with their her, children and all that. Nothing triggered me or put a red flag that made me think, wow, she's doing a bad job. But she told me about how she is reading about parenting methods. And she's always going into Facebook groups and asks questions and reads stuff. And reads ideas of other people in different Facebook threads.
And she always feels like she's not doing a good job. Raising her children, especially her daughter, because she didn't breastfeed. Eh, her children now, it's not like she didn't want to breastfeed them. She couldn't. It was too painful for her. She tried a lot. She had counseling. She did what she had to do.
But then she realized that it's better for her. And I wonder why does it seem so painful for her . And why would it make her think like she's a bad mom, because on all accounts, her kids are doing quite a good job, you know? Yeah, the older one had some behavior issues, but he was four years old and it was mostly her and her husband that needed to adjust and know how to approach him.
But I wonder what made her feel so bad about herself. And then we went into that even a little bit deeper and she told me that they tried to sleep with little babies in the bed, but it didn't work for them. And, and, and she started to tell me about, how she had to hold her babies all the time
on a sling or on their hands and breastfeed them for long periods, but she couldn't. And how she had to sleep with the baby in bed and not put them in a different cot or a different room. And
everything around that was very rigid and it perplexed me. Where do you get this rigidity from? And that's when she told me about this method that is called attachment parenting. Now I'm a clinical psychologist. I deal with attachment theory, both in my research and my practice. I use attachment based
therapy practices. But when she told me about the attachment parenting, which is a term that I did hear about every now and then I, I started to realize that there's something wrong here. Things she told me that mattered weren't the things that mattered when you look at things from a real attachment perspective.
So that's when I started to go into Facebook groups and read the stuff that she was reading and a little bit about the books. And stuff like that. And I realized that something here is a skew. There's a very nice idea about attachment and parenting and it can go to wrong places .At least wrong on my account.
It took me some time to build up this episode, but I wanted to take the time to reread some of the stuff and reacquaint myself with all that and see. How, how should we tackle the issue of attachment parenting. Because. I believe that attachment parenting is not related really to attachment theory.
And as a, as I've said I'm an attachment theory fan boy. And it angers me that a parenting method takes a name and uses it in order to make itself look better. While its advice is not really what attachment theory suggests. So I wanted to make this episode first explaining what attachment parenting is, and then go into my criticism about attachment parenting. But I want to start with a word of caution.
If you listen to this episode and you practice attachment parenting, or what you think is attachment parenting. I want you to know that I am not going to attack you in any way. I have no wish to shame guilt or blame you for any choice that you make. And I say that because sometimes in social media threads,
you can get a sense that things are very polarized. Like there's only black and white, like if you don't practice this, you're a bad guy. Or if you do practice this, you're a bad guy. Now there are some issues that I think there should be a very red line. So when, when we think about corporal punishment, for example, about hitting kids as a manner of discipline, there's a very straight
clear red line here that I think no one should ever cross. I would question, why do you do that? How did you learn it? And I will tell you that you're doing a wrong thing.When it comes to attachment parenting I won't tell you that but I do want to put some light into and why I think it's wrong in some places. Okay. So I don't want to say that attachment parenting is, is bad. I don't want to say that that attachment parenting is wrong. I want to say. That attachment parenting takes good ideas. Good suggestions. Good advice. Good principles. And kinds of twists around and takes everything to a place that can hurt parents.
So let's go into this. And we have to start with asking and talking about what is attachment parenting? Now in order to really understand what attachment parenting is in how it became so influential. We gotta understand where it came from. So here's a little history, very basic history lesson. About
parenting methods. Where, where do they come from? And how attachment parenting came to be. So, you know, for many, many years, most of history, in fact, parenting was just something people did without really thinking about it. You know, they get together. They did what they did. They had kids and then they kind of, raised the kids
until these, the kids were old enough to take care of themselves and. For many years, raising kids meant you had just had to keep them alive until they were old enough and stable enough to work and sustain themselves. Now in many cultures, the biological parents weren't necessarily those who actually raise the children, you know, for example,
many cultures had wet nurses, women whose job was to nurse other parent's babies. Or full-time nannies. Kids were being sent to be apprentices at a young age. So they were de facto raised by another person who also raised them, but also taught them a profession. Et cetera. And it was only like, I think 200 years ago that the granular
the family that we think of today really came to be. And if you want to learn more how about that history? There are a couple of books I will put. One of them in the show notes of this episode. You can go to apparently parent.com. 60 to learn more about that book. It's a book called parenting for a peaceful world. And it starts with like summary of the history of parenting.
And actually going into the dark places of parenting, but that's not the issue of this episode. Anyway, with time more and more focus was put on the granular family of a mom, a dad, and a child. But still for many years, the child was still seen as kind of a means to an end. Or something to, you know, you have to deal with while trying to work
or socialize. There was little emphasis on the actual experience of being a child of what childhood means and what are the special needs of children and all that. Now the 20th century brought with it so many changes to the human culture. And in human life. And one of which is the understanding of children and it came actually with the rise of the psychological field.
Of which I am part of professionally. Mainly through the work of psychoanalysts, such as Zigmund Freud, and his students. A better understanding of the concept of childhood was really starting to grow. And while we don't really look at children today, as they looked at children, 100 or 100 something years ago when psychoanalysis started to grow. We did develop a better understanding of the concept of childhood. As the 20th century
moved forward. And with that, we started to understand how unique and important this period in the human lifespan is. And, and also we started to realize what are the negative consequences of, of parenting. So when parenting is cold or harsh, we started to realize that it causes a lot of problems, both for the child and also for the adult that this child is going to become.
Now in the second half of the 20th century, different parenting methods and philosophies started to emerge. And many of them were focused on soft, responsive attention towards the child. And those methods were largely opposed to a more classical way to raise children that was prevalent at the time.
And that way focused on less contact with the child being most strict. Not showing a lot of love being more like rule-based, expectation based kind of parenting. Now, one of the most famous example of parenting method or parenting book, was the, the famous, or sometimes in famous book by Dr. Spock, it was called "Baby and Childcare".
It was published around the fifties, if I'm not mistaken. But later in later decades, more and more parenting methods and literature started to emerge. And in 1975, a very famous book called "Continuum Concept" was published, it was written by Jean Liedloff. And it it's actually quite influential to this day. Incidentally, I found a copy of it in, in the closet of my parents' house, although I don't think they used it when I was a child.
And it did became one of the most inflation parenting books and that I've heard, ever heard of. Now in the meanwhile in the 20th century, while psychoanalysis and psychology grew into a very profound science or profession. One of the most influential areas of this new science of psychology
was attachment theory, aKA my baby. And attachment theory is the love child of the work of two prominent psychologists. One of them, John Bowlby from the United Kingdom and the other Mary Ainsworth from the United States. And sometimes Mary Ainsworth is called John Bowlby's student, but she wasn't, she wasn't his colleague and the both birthed
together, these attachment theory and research and their work focused on learning, understanding and explaining what it means to be a child. And what it means to be a caregiver for a child. Now John Bowlby was a psychoanalyst and he moved from the rigidity of psychoanalysis of his time. That really tended to focus on the child's inner fantasies with little regard to what really happens to the child and his or her parents. So what happens in his external world? The dynamics between him and his parents. And John Bowlby created a simple, yet profound theory to explain how the early relationships between a baby and his caregivers gets coded into the child's personality and how it affects his life.
And John Bowlby actually said that this theory explains how the child is affected from the cradle to the grave. So long after their relationship, the early relationship between the baby and the parent is ended. Because the baby is no longer a baby, but now he's a child. He's still affected and even long after the parents are not, you know, there anymore, you're still affected by your relationship with them as an adult.
So that was one of the premises of the attachment theory by John Bowlby, which it really put a lot of emphasis, especially on the first year. Of of the baby's life. And Mary Ainsworth, she took his theoretical ideas, because John Bowlby based his theory on, on things he saw in his clinical work, but Mary Ainsworth took his ideas and put them to the test.
And by watching them and being part of the culture. And then she went back to the states and she created a groundbreaking, psychological testing paradigm, known as the strange situation. I won't go into that now, but that led to countless studies that to this day, who they are in the world.
Now I have to say that attachment theory in my opinion, and in that of many others, is the best theory to guide us when we want to do a good job as parents. And it's highly researched and leads to practical ideas and things to do as parents. And it's always changing and evolving the way attachment theory was taught and understood 20 years ago, when I started my studies
into psychology. It's not really the same as it is taught today.
And that's important to remember because as you're going to see in attachment parenting, things are not really changing the way they may be should be. But because attachment theory is such a robust and it has a good name, I guess that's one of the reasons why William Sears, who was the originator of the method known as attachment parenting, chose to use the attachment name for his method. Now let us go into attachment parenting and understand where it came from. And as I mentioned, William Sears, he developed it with his wife, Martha Sears. And William is a pediatrician. Eh, sometimes he calls himself to this day, america's pediatrician.
And he's my wife, Martha is a nurse. So they have a lot of experience with babies and children and that that's something to remember. And together they wrote a couple of parenting books, such as the "complete book of Christian parenting and childcare".
And a book called "creative parenting" and "the baby book". And, initially Sears based his ideas
on the continuum principle. You remember the book published in 1975 . And actually he originally referred to his method as the new continuum concept or immersion mothering. Note, mothering and not parenting. Although however, he did started to use the term attachment parenting. And, you know, you wonder why. And Martha Sears in an interview said that they decided to latch on the attachment wagon for publicity reasons.
So she says, quote, "I realized we needed to change the term to something more positive. So we came up with attachment parenting. Since the attachment theory literature was so well researched and documented by John Bowlby and others".
End quote. Which for me is quite telling.
It makes you think about how people think more on the publicity of their ideas instead of the validity of their ideas, but let's move on.
So history, that's an aside that is checked. Now, let's talk about what attachment parenting means?
Basically, attachment parenting is a methodthat is supposed to help you "put your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby. And letting your knowledge of your child be your guide. To making on the spot decisions about what works best for both of you". End quote. That that's a quote from the attachment parenting book by the Sears. It was published, I think originally in 2011, like 10 years ago. And think that's the most recent book that is really about attachment parenting written by the Sears. Now, this feature, letting you knowledge of the child be your guide, is actually an important and fundamental feature of the method. And one that makes a lot of sense. They call it baby reading. And it means that the mother is supposed to learn how to read her baby's cues and signals, and let that understanding lead her way
now, if you raise an eyebrow for the use of mother, instead of parent, there's a reason for that. As most of the writing is geared towards the mothers. Remember, Sears wanted to call his method immersive mothering, not immersive parenting.
That's true at least for their earlier work.
their babies, learn to recognize their signals and respond to them.
Which actually sounds like what a good parent should do. This is really a hallmark of attachment theory. As proposed by both Bowlby and Ainsworth as well as later researchers in the field. However, the main teaching of attachment parenting comes in the form of the seven baby Bs. These are seven principles that guide the method and you can see them pop up in almost every attachment parenting inspired group on Facebook or on blogs, et cetera.
So this is the main doctrine of the attachment parenting method and the seven baby Bs, as far as I understand, we're actually five at first and the last two were added later. So in the rest of this episode, I'm going to go over the seven Baby Bs. So you'll understand what they mean. Now by all means this is not an exhaustive discussion of all they have to say. And if you want to learn more,
you can really pick up their books, at least the attachment parenting book, which is the latest one is. It's an easy read. And you can learn a lot about the method from that. I will quote from that book during the episode.
But remember, this is not a podcast about attachment parenting. This is not an episode that goes deep into the method. All right.
So let's go through the seven Baby Bs, and it starts with birth bonding. According to Sears. There is a time slot right after the birth, where the child is in a quote unquote, quiet and alert state.
Which is prone for bonding between baby and mother. For that reason he suggests women refrain from using analgesics, during the childbirth, such as, you know, Epidural shots. Because as he says, those drugs not only affect the mother, but also the bonding. In the book they say, quote, The hours and days after birth are a sensitive period. When mothers are uniquely primed to care for their newborns.
Spending lots of time together after birth and beyond allows the natural attachment, promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive biological caregiving qualities of the mother. To come together. End Quote.
Also say later,
Of birth and breastfeeding in the days and weeks after birth.
Quote again, from the attachment parenting book.
Now, basically what it means that. There are two advices here. One is not to us analgesics during the childbirth. According to the series.
Now, I don't know that to be true.
So there are a couple of things here. One is the M.
There's a suggestion that we followed with our second child. To put the baby immediately on, on the mother. Right after she gave birth and let her nurse. And then also That her. Eh, let the baby sleep with the mother or the parents in the same room. And be with the mother all the time, instead of the nursery and all that.
So. In an effort to promote the bonding, the early bonding between parent and child.
Now the second baby B is breastfeeding. As I've said, August is the breastfeeding national month. And basically the series are building on the notion that breastfeeding enhances the mother and child attachment due to the release of oxytocin, which is also called the love hormone, which is also a concept that is butchered in the media.
And they suggest the following. You should breastfeed frequently, like eight to 12 times a day for newborns. You should focus on nighttime breastfeeding like from 1:00 AM to 6:00 AM. And, you should only breastfeed for the first six months due to food allergies. And that includes not using formula.
According to the series, according to what I read online and in the book. And. While the breastfeeding is truly a way to enhance the mother-child attachment due to the close proximity, because she holds the child really close to her and and the need to be sensitive to the baby's cues.
Now I don't want to go into the question, is this advice right or wrong. Because I don't know, I'm not a pediatrician. I don't, I don't have any proficiency or professional knowledge about the right way a to breastfeed. I do think that you don't have to breastfeed. But this is not the issue that I'm going into. Just wanted to present that as the second baby B. And the third one is baby wearing.
Now, Sears suggests that mothers wear their infants around their body, meaning they hold them close to the body all the time, or this most of the time using something like a baby sling or. There are different kinds of slings and, you know,
Appliances that you can put the baby in. And the reason for this suggestion is that,
according to Sears, this makes the child happier and allows the mom to engage in whatever she wants to do while still keeping a close eye on the child. And he also claims, that baby wearing trains the child's sense of balance as well as his language acquisition, because he always experiences the mum talking.
Now, you might ask, what should the mom do if she goes away from the house to work? And he suggests that in that case, she wears the child for four to five hours during the night. To compensate for the absence of her doing the day.
And by the way, he also claims that baby wearing should be a practice that continues even after the child grows up. For example, it can help soothe a misbehaving toddler, not a baby, a toddler.
And the fourth baby B is bedding close to baby. Now in the book, the attachment parenting book, the right quote. Most, but not all babies sleep best when they are close to their parents.
End quote. And I do like to note that they use parents instead of mothers in this one. Basically what bedding close to baby means is co-sleeping. They state that in when babies are sleeping in the bed of the parents with the parents they sleep better. That it minimizes nighttime anxiety.
Or separation anxiety. And it can also help nursing mothers to breastfeed during the night. Now the fifth baby B is belief in the language value of your baby's cry. Which means that you should try to understand why your baby's crying. What he or she is communicating. They talk about how babies use their crying as a way to communicate their needs.
And not to manipulate, which is actually right. Quote. The more sensitive that you respond, the more the baby learns to trust his parents and the ability to communicate, end quote. Which basically means that, you know, don't think that when your baby's crying is trying to manipulate you.
Try to understand what he's trying to say.
Now the last two baby Bs to my understanding were added later. And the first one is beware of baby trainers. Now here, the Sears warn from parenting guidance that encourages parents to let the baby cry in order to train him or her to go back to sleep. Quote. Attachment parenting will give you a six sense so that eventually you'll become so confident about your own style of parenting, that you'll be less vulnerable to the advice of baby
trainers. End quote, that's again from the attachment parenting book.
And here the Sears are talking about how many
counselor's advice that when parents want to teach their children to go to sleep. They advise them to put the baby in his bed, different bed from that of the parents. And when he cries or she cries because it happens. Do not approach the child and let them cry it out for example, or pick him up and put him down for a couple of minutes. There, there are different methods here. I'm not going to go into that.
They just want attachment parenting followers to be aware of those kind of trainers. They say that it hurts the child. and that's the whole point of beware of baby trainers and which leads me eventually to the baby B. Balance. Here, they talk about how important it is to balance between attending to the baby's needs and those of the parent or a couple. Quote, the key to putting balance in your parenting is being appropriately responsive to your baby.
Knowing when to say yes. And when to say no and having the wisdom to say yes to yourself, when you need the help and the quote. Now, the last two babies, as I've said, we'readded later. So I guess they kind of got some feedback. That the attachment parenting method really puts most of the emphasis on the child
which can lead to imbalance in the parent's life. And so they added that, which is nice. That's a good idea to add this suggestion. However, I do think that the previous suggestions quite mess things up. So it's like, oh, well we realize that. You know, all of our suggestions, making mums and, and maybe dad's even like too burned out, so let's add this thing about balance.
All right. So. In this episode.
I have talked about what attachment parenting is, where did it come from? And we took a birds-eye view on the seven baby Bs, which are the basic doctrines or principles of attachment parenting.
I won't go into why I think attachment parenting is not really a good idea because it would make this episode too long and it's already quite long. And, you know, you're a parent, you don't have like 90 minutes to listen to one episode right now. Okay. So what I'm going to do, I'm going to split this up.
So, this is part one of the episode about attachment parenting in which we went into the history from which attachment parenting grew.
And what attachment parenting basically means now, as I've said, This is not an exhaustive discussion of attachment parenting. I didn't go into all the nuances that you might realize about attachment parenting. I just wanted to go into the basic areas of attachment parenting. Now in the next episode, that will be released next Thursday,
I'm going to go deeper into what I think about attachment parenting, where I think it's problematic and where during the research for this episode, I realized that things are maybe not so bleak as they might seem sometimes. If you want to learn more about attachment parenting ,I'll put
a couple of links in the show notes for this episode, episode 60. So you can go to apparently parent.com forward slash 60. I will put some links to the books by the Sears and their website.
And if you have any questions or you have any experiences of your own that you want to share, you're were very welcome to contact me, go to apparentlyparent.com, and you will find a contact page on the menu. There you are more than welcome to write to me or to reach out to me on Instagram, at apparentlyparent.
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Spreading the word of the parenting MAP. And also it helps me understand what you like and dislike about the podcast and, you know, I can make it better for you guys. This is what I really wish to do. If you haven't subscribed yet
the apparently parent podcast do so on your favorite podcast app. So you can get all the new episodes when they come. And I will see you again next week. Next Thursday. For the second part of this episode about, the attachment parenting method. See you then.
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The Apparently Parent Podcast
On this show, I share with you my perspectives and experience of parenting and psychology.
Enhance your understanding of the relationship with your child and yourself by learning about attachment, mindful and playful parenting mindset and techniques.
Listen to me sharing my knowledge and experience both as a parent and a therapist, as well as interviews with parenting experts from around the world.
Your Host – Eran Katz
I’m a clinical psychologist and parenting counselor specializing in attachment theory. I’m also the father of two children who are my best parenting teachers.
I believe that parenting is one of the most important jobs we ever do. This is why I created Apparently Parent and The Parenting MAP. My goal in life is to help as many parents as possible become 21st Century Parents, moving from chaos to harmony and building an enduring, meaningful relationship with their children.