When Attachment Parenting Isn’t Enough

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I first learnt about the concept of attachment parenting when I  was pregnant with my daughter. I decided that of course I would do all of the 7’s b’s of attachment parenting, including, breastfeeding her, carrying her in a sling everywhere, and bedsharing. It seemed like attachment parenting was the perfect antidote to all my fears about bringing up a happy child who would grow into a well-adjusted adult. 

As my daughter got older, it was no longer easy to carry her in a sling due to health issues, and I remember the pain and upset that I could no longer do attachment parenting ‘right.’ I worried that somehow my daughter and I were less-attached. I was a new mum who’d never done this before, figuring out the best way to parent in an information over-loaded world.

Attachment parenting was great, but I soon began to realise that beyond the baby stage, I’d need to do much more than simply hold my child close. What did attachment parents do as their children got older?

When I discovered Hand in Hand parenting I started considering the missing piece of this attachment puzzle – emotional connection. I began to read articles like this one about how children’s hurt feelings can get in the way of them feeling connected to us, even when we’re right there next to them. I began to understand that sometimes physical closeness can even be a way that children can stuff down their feelings, clinging to us, rather than working through their feelings, so that they can feel that it’s safe to explore their world.

Attachment parenting can make us feel like it is our responsibility to make sure our babies never cry because there are stories about other cultures where babies are happy and contented all of the time. We start to feel like it’s our job, to ‘cheer our babies up’ and bounce and ‘shhhh’ them because we want to be the best parents we can possibly be. Every time our babies cry, we can go into a wild panic that they are not attached enough and it’s our fault.

It was such a relief to me when I got a different perspective, when I learnt about the healing power of tears. Sometimes there will be times when our babies and toddlers cry, and that’s okay. Actually it’s more than okay. We can figure out the times when they have a need that we can fix, and we can also be aware that sometimes they may simply need to have a good cry, to release stress and tension with us there to give them cuddles.

In Patty Wipfler’s decades of work with Hand in Hand parenting she has worked with many different kinds of families, some who co-slept and some who didn’t. She found that what was much more important than physical proximity at night was the strength of emotional connection between parent and child. A strong emotional connection can make children feel safe to sleep in another bed, or another room if that what’s works best for the family.

Learning about this was a revelation to me. We may not all be able to breastfeed, baby wear, or bed share, and as beneficial as these can be, they don’t work for everyone. What’s more important is our ability to be there when our child needs us, and to listen.

Would you like to get started with Hand in Hand parenting? Find out more about our Parenting by Connection Starter class

Cuddle Fairy

20 thoughts on “When Attachment Parenting Isn’t Enough

    1. thank you! As new parents we are so vulnerable to feeling inadequate, and confused. I have spoken to people who thought attachment parenting was great, but just felt they weren’t up to the challenge. I felt so relieved when I realised that emotional connection was more important than whether or not I could do the whole AP thing. Of course snuggles are important too!

  1. The emotional intelligence of a child is extremely important, form my point of view. Moreover the emotional connection helps the child to feel safe and ultimately he will be able to open, to learn, etc. It is quite a challenge….!

    1. yes, I wanted to write this, because sometimes attachment parents can feel inadequate if they can’t carry their kids around constantly, etc. But actually it’s the emotional connection that can make kids feel confident to separate whether it’s just to play on a play mat on the floor or go to a playgroup. We’re still working on the challenges!

  2. I didn’t know that “attachment parenting” is a thing, and it’s probably better I didn’t know because I would have felt like a failure after not being able to breastfeed my baby. Also I found a stroller to be super practical – haul your groceries home while giving the little one a ride 😉
    You are right, there are many ways to be connected to a child. And where there’s connection there’s also “letting go” which I know is the hardest for me.

    1. Yes, it’s a thing! And sometimes I think the term can be a bit misleading, because it implies it’s the only way to be an ‘attached parent.’ My daughter was happy in a stroller, although I also used to carry her around in a sling when she was young. I know, letting go is super hard. My daughter starts Kindergarten this year, andI know it’s going to be tough on both of us!

  3. I like this one very much and it reminds me of my own parenting journey. At the beginning I felt similar, like ‘yes, we have to stick to the AP-rules’ and similar. It took me a while to figure out that basically each child and each parenting journey is very unique 🙂
    And yes, it’s always good to explore what else is out there; it makes my parenting, thinking and life so much richer! Great reminder and story, Kate – thank you! x

    1. thanks for your comment Torsten. I still love the concept of attachment parenting, and we still sleep together in one room – that’s what works best for our family. But I did want to share that attachment is more than just fulfilling a list of criteria, and we also need to listen to our children’s feelings too.

  4. a great read.. thanks for sharing this! one of the things that has given me comfort is reading that crying is on of the only ways infants have to expel energy, and sometimes they just need to cry to release that energy. I know for me, sometimes I just need a good cry, so I totally get that maybe my daughter does too here and there 😉

    1. I’m so glad you found it useful Lauren 🙂 I think that having awareness of our own emotional processing is key. When we understand we sometimes cry and feel better we can recognise that our babies and children will sometimes do this too. It’s not always easy figuring out the needs of a young baby, but I remember for me, in those moments when I was trying everything and nothing worked to stop the crying I would suddenly remember that sometimes babies just need to cry. And this was great for my confidence, knowing that the amount of time my baby cried was not a reflection on my parenting!

  5. What a beautiful post Kate. I really appreciate this part “Attachment parenting can make us feel like it is our responsibility to make sure our babies never cry” It was a beautiful discovery for me to know that I could listen to the crying and hold my baby in arms and be providing exactly what WAS needed. It was a relief for me to learn that attachment really is not about following a formula but rather being willing to attune and respond, creating opportunities for baby to build trust in our responses. The 7 B’s can be helpful in creating that emotional proximity, but I do believe each parent, each family needs to find their our own path. Thanks for this post!

    1. Thank you Ariadne. I just want parents to feel that it’s usually not a reflection on their parenting when their babies cry and can be so beneficial for them. Was just commenting on your blog when you wrote this!

      1. Yes, super important and I agree with you. I can-t tell you the number of parents, mostly moms that will tell me how relieved they are to find out they do not have to follow the bs and still foster a very healthy attachment!

  6. I classify myself as a “chewy” parent, in that I do some “crunchy” aspects of parenting (like parts of attachment parenting), but not all of them.

    As a first time mom, the first of my friends to have a baby, someone who didn’t have a great relationship with my parents, it was so nerve wracking!

    I distinctly remember being told not to cry so much, and I knew that I didn’t want to teach my daughter the same thing. It is hard sometimes, though. She’s 4 now and some days are just so ridiculously dramatic!

    1. I like the idea of being a chewy parent! Yes it is hard. i have a four year old too. What has made it easier is to have space to my let out emotions, to laugh and cry too. I think that what makes it so hard to listen to our children’s crying is that it triggers all our unheard feelings from our own childhood. With Hand in Hand parenting we have something called listening partnerships –talking and listening with another parent- so we get a space for our feelings too. It restores my energy for handling tantrums, in more of a netural kind of way, just listening and knowing once we get through the storm my daughter will feel much better.

  7. This is lovely. I love the concept of attachment parenting and whilst I don’t follow it strictly- I follow some of the general principles- I believe it’s such a lovely approach. When I go back to work I’ll miss the closeness I have with my son, I really cherish the breastfeeds and the cuddles! #bloggerclubuk

  8. I have heard of attachment parenting but it’s not something I did with my boy and I probably won’t be doing it with my next baby. Saying that, lots of parents do do it and it clearly has lots of benefits. I’ve never heard of hand in hand parent so this post was interesting to read. Every parent is unique as is every child and each parenting journey is different, we are all doing the best we can though.x #bloggerclubuk

  9. I can see the logic that sometimes a child cries out of frustration rather than a physical want. Even as adults, sometimes it good to have a good cry and you do feel so much better afterwards
    Thanks for linking up to #BloggerClubUK 🙂
    Debbie

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