Tuesday 19 November 2013

New Mums and the Attachment Parenting Debate

There always seems to be a lot of media-worthy controversy surrounding attachment parenting. Whether it’s that fence shag woman off The Apprentice mouthing off, dramatic headlines about cosleeping or attention grabbing front covers of women breastfeeding children on ladders.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, which I bought by chance amongst a bundle of books I ordered from Amazon the week I discovered I was pregnant. I didn’t buy it because I wanted to parent unconditionally, I bought it because it came up when I typed in ‘parenting’. In the book, Alfie talks about varying parenting styles and their effects on children, and as I read it I started to think about this in more detail. What effect had my upbringing had on me, and how had my husband been affected by his upbringing?

I identified strongly with the book, and decided I would like to try to parent in an unconditional way, as explained in the book. The book didn’t focus on babies, and so I saw it as something which would come later. I didn’t really think much about how we would parent when the baby arrived, I mostly just hoped we wouldn’t fuck it up.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and had been advised to look into breast pumps by a friend. I discussed this with my mum, explaining that the cost was putting me off, and she said that I would be unlikely to want to leave the baby when pumping would be an issue anyway, and to buy a pump at a later date if I felt I needed to. And so the tone of my parenting journey was set. I was going to be a breastfeeding mum who stayed close to her baby for that reason.

When Ebony arrived, and we eventually got the hang of the difficult task of breastfeeding, I knew my mum had been right. Breastfeeding was a nice excuse to stay close to Ebony. I still had a pile of unread parenting books, and so I picked up the next one, The Attachment Parenting Book by Dr Sears. I didn’t buy this book because I wanted to follow attachment parenting, I had no idea what attachment parenting was, I bought it because it came up on Amazon when I searched for parenting. I also bought Gina Ford’s book but (luckily) never got round to reading it. Perhaps the front cover of Dr Sears’ book showcasing a parent holding an infant close, spoke more to me than the baby alone on the cover of Gina Ford’s book.

For the next few weeks, as Laurie entertained Ebony before bed, I would take a bath by myself (well, until Ebony wanted another feed anyway) and read the book. I realised that we were already attachment parents in a way. We used a sleepy wrap, breastfed on demand, stayed close to our baby, and generally avoided any advice about how to train Ebony to do as we wanted. From then on, I identified myself as an attachment parent and felt it was a very important part of how I interacted with my daughter.

Parenting styles is something that is seen as ‘controversial’ because there are always a variety of different approaches to each issue. As a parent, you must believe you have chosen the right approach for your family, and believe strongly that it will have the best outcome. By choosing to do something yourself, you can be seen as ‘judging’ those who don’t take the same path. A breastfeeding mother annoyed about being asked to stop feeding in public, might be accused of being part of the ‘breastfeeding police’ and making other mums feel bad. A mother who chooses to bed share with her child will receive countless warnings or ‘looks’ from friends and family.

As a new mum, life is stressful and scary enough as it is, without feeling that every decision you make is offensive to other mums. I want to be able to make my own decisions about the way I look after my own child, and I don’t want to worry that I’m being judged by other parents for it. Now do I want my choices to be perceived as judgmental by other parents. I’ve got enough on my plate caring for my own family, I really don’t have the time or inclination to fret about what you’re doing to yours.

All of this judgement, whether perceived or real, is part of the reason people feel so strongly in their parenting choices. Because when we make a decision, especially if that decision is seen as ‘alternative’, we have to have the knowledge and science to back it up, because we’re definitely going to be asked about it by friends and strangers alike.

Why should Peaches Geldoff mentioning cosleeping in an article, lead to a media whirlwind surrounding the debate, and a diatribe from that vile fence shagger about Peaches’ parenting choices. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a society where people spoke freely about their parenting choices without being judged? Or if debate about parenting styles was based on scientific research rather than outdated disproven beliefs? Wouldn’t it be great if the media spoke about that research with the same passions and column inches that it wastes on the opinion of unqualified, deliberately provocative judgemental figureheads?

I don’t describe myself as an attachment parent anymore, I just think of myself as a mother. I try to parent in a gentle, unconditional, natural way, but that can mean different things on different days. I try my best. I treat my daughter with respect, kindness and love. I do probably still follow most of the 7 B’s, so perhaps I am still an attachment parent, but I just really didn’t like feeling that I was taking sides in a ridiculously overhyped media-constructed pointless debate.

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