1:07 am - 06/05/2012

Alanis writes an article for the Huffington Post

What I Know About Being an Attachment Parent

Gotta love it when something meant to instigate, instigates. Especially when what it instigates is a conversation of such far-reaching socio-psychological and physiological proportions. Jamie Lynn Grumet, the mom featured on TIME magazine's cover breastfeeding her 3-year-old son, is this year's most controversial subject of a photograph by far. A mom-turned social activist-turned witting attachment parenting advocate and heroine memorialized by the media... her single cover photo sparked heated debates across the nation -- and they have been gorgeous to watch.

Clearly, the idea of breastfeeding a child into toddlerhood has touched a nerve in our country. (Notably, it doesn't spark any debate in other cultures.) It has raised reactive and feisty concerns and simultaneously activated the pro-attachment movement far and wide. Sign me up to add to the fever-pitched overnight education about attachment parenting, helmed by the likes of the beautiful Mayim Bialik, doctors including Dr. Jay Gordon and the cape-wearing heroine, Jamie herself.

There are a multitude of facets to this conversation around attachment parenting that are worthy of being explored. For the purpose of focus and brevity (and because it would be impossible to cover them all in one article), I start with what I think could be one of the first antidotes -- a way to put out part of the fire that burns at the heart of this debate, in my opinion, that is -- to illuminate and outline what the first stages of development in a child's growth toward adulthood are all about.

According to Harville Hendrix's chart of the stages of development, in his book entitled Keeping The Love You Find, the first two stages of a child's life are attachment (which synthesizes the theories of Freud, Erik Erikson, John Bowly and Harville himself) and exploration (informed by Margaret Mahler and expanded and named by Harville Hendrix). During the attachment stage, dependency reigns and is appropriate. The speed with which we can consistently meet our child's needs for emotional and physical nurturance and sustenance is paramount. He or she learns, through consistent and responsive physical nurturing touch and care, to trust life and to love and to connect: with other, with god, with self... This stage of development tells children that not only can they trust life, but that THEY EXIST, and that it is okay, maybe even great, to be here.

I personally believe that the attachment stage, done well, can circumvent countless addictions later in life because many of these addictions are often a temporary attempt at feeling this sense of connection. If a child's needs during this stage of development are not met, he or she will be staving off a haunting sense of cellular disconnection and loneliness for a lifetime. they will not have effectively internalized a loving nurturance as their own love-style.

The next stage of development is called the exploration stage. It's during this time that a lil' one goes out and explores his or her own world, comes up against the first limits and ultimately learns how to navigate frustration and disappointment in the face of those limits parents set during a socialization period. We, as parents, are asked to guard their exploratory and curious nature while instating boundaries and limits (hopefully delineating between their behavior and their very beingness).

While attachment and exploration are linear, the path from one to the other is also non-linear. There is a definitive overlap, and this overlap is at the heart of today's debates.

The goal of attachment parenting is to provide your child with a deep sense of connectedness and bonding, while the goal of the exploration stage is to provide space for their utter freedom to express their authentic selves while being protected and kept safe. This delicate blend will make for a securely attached, connected and authentically expressed child, who feels free, safe and protected. If these stages are thwarted, a child's ability to navigate adulthood and connect with human beings later in life is at risk. That's the real irony that many people are confused by -- attachment parents believe that the more we tend to our child's needs during those first stages, the MORE independence and interdependence he or she will have later in their life! (Note, we are not tending to their every want.) These are qualities they will need in order to have any kind of intimacy in future relationships. (In her books, Facing Codependence and The Intimacy Factor, Pia Mellody addresses this clearly.) It may be counterintuitive, but it's also a beautifully daunting responsibility to have: to intuitively know whether a child needs space, protection, guidance or nurturing from moment to moment -- not to mention helping them delineate between their needs and wants. It is no small task, this being an attuned parent thing.

Which brings me to breastfeeding. We have years of exhaustive research that extolls the physiological and psychological virtues of breastfeeding, skin-on-skin touch, proximity, object constancy and consistency. Science, psychologists and nutritionists alike support its benefits. Interestingly, for babies, it also provides needed protein, nutrients and antibodies that promote better immune systems.

And it's good for moms as well: (IMPORTANT: This is not meant to hold up the "perfect breastfeeding mother" as a model or add fuel to the already competitive element of breastfeeding that is an undercurrent among mothers -- one of a few shames about the tagline of the TIME mag cover, by the way). I believe that the choice around breastfeeding is one a mother and family can only make for themselves, and I know that the decision not to breastfeed when a woman wants to can be among the greatest heartbreaks of her life and warrants profound empathy.

All in all, it is our intention, our intuition, our life circumstance and our healed hearts that dictate how well we navigate these developmental stages, not our standard of "doing it perfectly."

But the conversation around the pros of breastfeeding, interestingly, is not where most of the attachment parenting debate gets heated. Most attention is paid to the idea of whether a developmental stage should have a rigidly enforced beginning and end. A cookie cutter enforcement timetable presupposes that a child won't be able to wean or shift to the next stage of development in his or her own perfect time. Just as we can't force a child to walk or read, providing this trust and freedom that they'll reach stages when they're ready seems braver and certainly a lot more humane than rigidly forcing a young person to stop doing something before he or she is naturally prepared to do so. Their natural weaning is assured, even when our parental bandwidth and understanding is not.

A toddler doesn't nurse 24/7 the way a newborn does. There is no smothering going on (in the most functional of us breastfeeding mothers). When a child is used to breastfeeding, there is no quicker way to soothe their nervous systems than by cradling them and offering what they have equated with peace and connection since birth. The primary reason for breastfeeding into toddlerhood is to maintain that consistent connection, health and sense of well-being (frankly, in both the child AND the mother) until, optimally, they naturally wean.

There is a delicate cocktail of hormones that are at play in the act of the tender exchange between mom and child. As an example, the contents of the breastmilk changes over time to adapt to the growing child's needs as they get older -- there is no better indication that nature had it planned perfectly.

The debate, impossible to be complete in a short article here (there is the conversation around sexuality and the fear of impropriety that would need to be addressed, among others) must of course take into account what is best for the child's parents -- their context and socio-economic climate -- and what is best for the sustenance of the marriage and child him/herself. Each family's answer will be different based on lifestyle, very important financial considerations, proximity to help and community, resources, personal vocations, location, whether they are single parents, etc. All of these considerations play a role in whether someone feels as though they, as a parent, have the bandwidth to "nail" each stage. There is no question that our culture -- politically and otherwise -- needs to better enable and support families' parenting choices, so that the making of them doesn't threaten anyone's being able to put food on their plate.

For now, poetically, it seems that all of our outcries bond us. The two extremes I see people fearing the most are child neglect on one end and smothering and impropriety on the other. It seems as though a healthy moderate version of parenting, where our shame about our bodies and our sexuality, our traumas and our resistances to connection are addressed, is where most of us, ultimately, really want to fall.

That most, if not all of us, want the same thing and have different ways of getting there winds up being the moral of the story.

I am reminded of what a dear friend said to me when she noticed that I was, in a way not uncommon among new mothers perhaps, being really hard on myself. She said to me, "Alanis, there is nothing that consistent, loving behavior can't heal." So, for the purpose of distilling this complex and passionate debate to simple clarity, I would say we are all attempting to love our children well, so they can move forward into the future and part the red seas for us, while being as connected, functional, resilient and healthy as possible. And our understanding of the journey they take, with us as their guardians, is one that requires us all to blend our sensibilities of nurturance, love, guidance and protection. Using both heart and knowledge. Something, upon looking around me at my fellow parents, this generation seems pretty darn good at. No doubt a little well-placed and well-timed education here and there will help us through. An education that has been brought to the fore thanks to the conversation around that envelope-pushing TIME magazine cover. Here's to the ongoing discussion. Becoming louder not a moment too soon.

The Huffington Post

ok here we go
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dottiehinkle 4th-Jun-2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
The mods are trolling now I'm sure of it.
ch33rylips 4th-Jun-2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
Oh joy from race wank to mommy wank.
xliquidskiesx 4th-Jun-2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
ontd is on a roll tonight
violue 4th-Jun-2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
brucelynn 4th-Jun-2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
I wonder what is next
snortingcoke 4th-Jun-2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
surely gender wank is due another turn
xliquidskiesx 4th-Jun-2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
gender or weight
chreesko 4th-Jun-2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
NPH and David Burtka just did an interview with Oprah about their twins and surrogacy, so maybe we could have a go at reproductive choices wank?
leviicorpus 4th-Jun-2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
gives me life tbh
beatlesluv 4th-Jun-2012 09:38 pm (UTC)
next is weight wank
gigglyvapidslut 4th-Jun-2012 10:26 pm (UTC)
that's ONTD these days

leviicorpus 4th-Jun-2012 09:24 pm (UTC)

So ready for this parenting trend to die. The world does not need anymore spoiled little monsters running around.
brucelynn 4th-Jun-2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
ch33rylips 4th-Jun-2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
Time to move your old ass the next generation is here

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
manicpixiegirl 4th-Jun-2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
theratwhispers 4th-Jun-2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
I'm just thinking of the future right now: SPOILED ANNOYING CO-DEPENDENT BRATS EVERYWHERE!

And they will all have dumb names that sound like Internet screennames like: Skylor-Neaveh and Jaedun and Jaydan etc...
leviicorpus 4th-Jun-2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
dumpyfledgling 4th-Jun-2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
This comment deserves an A+++++++
muzicnem 4th-Jun-2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
morant_bay 4th-Jun-2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
i'm so happy i have zero feelings on this subject either way- i was allergic to EVERYTHING when i was born and could only drink synthetic milk (my mom was so bummed) and i'm not giving birth to my own children. it's GREAT to not have to worry about this particular american-centric wank.
violue 4th-Jun-2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
filmorejive 4th-Jun-2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
omg a north gif????
misspinkkate 4th-Jun-2012 10:03 pm (UTC)
I, too, am amazed.
snortingcoke 4th-Jun-2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
i don't care if you breastfeed, and i'm not offended if i'm in public and a woman just whips those bad boys out to feed her kid. it's a natural thing. BUT CHILDREN CANNOT MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS. why are you putting so much power into a being who eats whatever they find on the floor? i do not get this whole aspect of attachments parenting. they are not capable of making their own decisions.

and VACCINATE YOUR GODDAMN CHILDREN. i don't want to get polio because your dumb ass wants someone to blame.

Edited at 2012-06-04 09:27 pm (UTC)
hiclasslowlife 4th-Jun-2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
ugh the vaccination thing is what bugs me the most tbh
snortingcoke 4th-Jun-2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
i'm not saying EVERY attachment parent has that way of thinking about vaccinations but an alarmingly high number of them do and it's so fucking stupid. there is NO link to it being responsible for autism in any way. and quite frankly, it's an insult to the child for their parents to act as if they're defective in some way and were made the way they are by some wrong done to them. they are a normal child just with different needs.
xtinkerbellax 4th-Jun-2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
manicpixiegirl 4th-Jun-2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
that's the thing about vaccination that these tools refuse to understand, you're not just putting your own kid at risk but everyone else as well

ao_kiddo 4th-Jun-2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
IA. Kids are smart but do not have the common sense to make thes decisions. That is why you are there-to PARENT them. Just because you do not subscribe to this type of parenting doesn't mean you are creating fucked up adults.
nemoteen 4th-Jun-2012 10:50 pm (UTC)
omg, the anti-vaccination stance infuriates me more than anything. I hate their excuse of my kid is protected by herd immunity. Herd immunity is only beneficial if everyone that can be vaccinated is vaccinated. Herd immunity is for those that are immunocompromised that can't be vaccinated or are too young to be vaccinated.

It breaks my heart to see infants get diseases that should have been prevented because parents or people associated with the infant are so irresponsible.

God, there are diseases that were close to being eliminated but are now making a comeback in part to people not vaccinating their children. Reason why no one gets smallpox is because everyone was vaccinated and the illness was wiped of the planet.
nemoteen 4th-Jun-2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
haha, and I apologize for my long comment. I just get so mad at these people.
pink_dog 4th-Jun-2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
I'm on board with attachment parenting for infants. My child never cried longer than three minutes--no exaggeration. I was RIGHT THERE, BAM. But this "child-guided" stuff is for the birds, imo.

It's confusing because Liedloff's "The Continuum Concept" is where a lot of this attachment parenting stuff comes from, yet it does NOT advocate child-guided parenting for toddlers. It says that, for toddlers and pre-k kids, allowing/permitting/forcing them to make their own decisions is detrimental. The bottom line of that theory is essentially this:

You know how stressed out you feel when you have too many options and you don't know which to choose? How even something as "simple" as choosing which restaurant your family will eat at can cause you stress and nervousness? That is the same sensation toddlers feel when a parent "allows" (read: forces) them to choose their bedtimes, suppers, clothes, etc. By allowing the child to choose this stuff, they're, in a way, forcing him to make pretty big decisions and that's confusing for him. Aren't they supposed to be the parents? PARENTS decide bedtime. PARENTS decide weaning. PARENTS decide household practices.

carrie9142 5th-Jun-2012 12:31 am (UTC)
seriously. babies/children are the only beings on earth stupid enough to FIGHT SLEEP.
voyevoda 5th-Jun-2012 12:53 am (UTC)
Yes. Anti-vaxxers have no credibility once they whip that card out, sorry.
roseofjuly 5th-Jun-2012 03:46 am (UTC)
why are you putting so much power into a being who eats whatever they find on the floor?


jacomus 4th-Jun-2012 09:26 pm (UTC)
Taking several seats and setling into this post, the ONTD parenting experts will be rolling in any minute now.
theratwhispers 4th-Jun-2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
attachment parents believe that the more we tend to our child's needs during those first stages, the MORE independence and interdependence he or she will have later in their life!

snortingcoke 4th-Jun-2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
where is the motherfucking logic in this?
theratwhispers 4th-Jun-2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
There is no logic to it. I have seen no proof that it works.
hiclasslowlife 4th-Jun-2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
not excited for all these attachment kids to grow up tbh
manaconda 4th-Jun-2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
i think the logic is that they'll grow up with a sense of trust and confidence? like, they won't be insecure and clingy, or whatever. i feel like they really take erikson's first stage seriously and probably misinterpret it.

Edited at 2012-06-04 09:37 pm (UTC)
___hippriest 4th-Jun-2012 11:32 pm (UTC)
If they do its because all this attachment made them resentful
crystalzelda 4th-Jun-2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
but bold tho

I mean I'm all set for this post but I just got through 130 mind numbing pages about international law

I ain't reading all that.
albeit_ 4th-Jun-2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
i mean i thought it was a well-written response tbh. i don't know anything about attachment parenting. i do think the appalled outraged people are a little bit goofy. it's not quite so simple as X amount of years spent breast feeding = Y amounts of insufferable spoiled child-ness.

Edited at 2012-06-04 09:30 pm (UTC)
snortingcoke 4th-Jun-2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
it is well written and i don't think breastfeeding has anything to do with a child being spoiled. someone on synthetic milk could be exactly the same kind of monster brat if their every need is attended to, they're given the power to make their own decisions because parents feel they know what's best for them, they're allowed to share everything with their parent including a bed, food, etc.
albeit_ 4th-Jun-2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
i mean, yeah. but there's a lot that goes into making a kid well-adjusted or a spoiled monster. i slept in my parents' bed as a baby and i don't think this unequivocally led me to some false sense of entitlement. i just dislike people drawing really simplistic conclusions based on parenting decisions.
pink_dog 4th-Jun-2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
It is well-written. I think maybe Alanis has been swept into this thing but isn't one of the dopey ones. I hope.
pink_dog 4th-Jun-2012 11:18 pm (UTC)
But I disagree with "you can't force a child to learn to read."

because, yes you can. And you should, at some point. I have had 18 year olds in my courses who are semi-literate and can barely hold a pencil. Not kidding. SOMEONE should have FORCED those people to learn to read and write when they were young.

I mean, I ~think~ I see what she was ~getting at~ but child-led EVERYTHING is not so great.

come at me, unschoolers
let's throw down
another_grl 4th-Jun-2012 09:31 pm (UTC)

lenra 4th-Jun-2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
heliophyte 4th-Jun-2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
LOL I was actually looking for this gif in my gifs folder and all I could find was this one:

pink_dog 4th-Jun-2012 11:14 pm (UTC)
I wonder what the original context of this was, like, why was his face pasted in there
that's Trace Cyrus, right?
another_grl 5th-Jun-2012 09:07 pm (UTC)

That one works

I had to google it to find the gif.
scottfreein4_d 4th-Jun-2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
can't be arsed to read this but,
parental bandwidth
lmao shut up.
manaconda 4th-Jun-2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
i wonder how many people will actually read all of this.

it's amazing what having a bb sister did to my tolerance of kids. i used to HAAAAATE them, but i like most of them a lot more now. my sister's four now and really amusing. she's started swearing (i think she got it from my dad?) and told me the other day that her ass hurts.
ragdollia 4th-Jun-2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
internet moms irate me

rubyboots 4th-Jun-2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
Rather than hearing from parents who are CURRENTLY doing this, I'd love to hear from parents who have grown up kids who were raised this way, to see how well it worked out for them. But you'd have to give those people Veritaserum or some shit so they won't lie and say it was all wonderful just to stop themselves from looking like dumbasses.
theratwhispers 4th-Jun-2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
I know of one guy that was raised like this...he lives at home and his parents still bag his lunches, when he goes to work. No seriously.

Edited at 2012-06-04 09:37 pm (UTC)
rubyboots 4th-Jun-2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
D: How old is he?
vinyamar 4th-Jun-2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
That's not too bad though. I don't mean to start an agument, but my brother was 25 and still living at home. And my dad made him lunch every morning (because my dad was up anyway). He's moved out now though.

He wasn't even breastfed...soo...
hatsumomo 4th-Jun-2012 09:44 pm (UTC)
Someone on ONTD recently said their 18 year old brother still slept in their parents bed.
4illornil 4th-Jun-2012 09:44 pm (UTC)
There are a couple of ONTD members who readily admit that they feel secure, well adjusted, and have good relationships with their mothers based on their experience with attachment parenting and extended nursing (done properly of course - not some of this needy, parents giving into everything their child wants kind of stuff). I really do think that if intelligent people practice these kinds of behaviors, it does help their children in the long run. That isn't to say that people have shitty relationships with their parents or are complete screw ups just because their parents didn't nurse them or practice attachment parenting though.
caitiecait 4th-Jun-2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
My girlfriend's mom breastfed her until she was 4, used her as a buddy, and they were together all the time.

My girlfriend slept in her mom's bed every night until she was 16, and then sporadically (when her mom asked) until she was over 20. She also has serious anxiety that was so bad when she was 14 she dropped down to 100lbs (she's 5'10ish), because her anxiety made her nauseous. She panicked whenever she was away from her mom, and her mom still wants her to call every night. She's 25.
cerseilannister 4th-Jun-2012 10:35 pm (UTC)
well, my younger sister slept in my mom's bed until she was 12 and my little brother slept there until he was 10. they seem fine even tho my little brother is a bit of bratty momma's boy. i personally stopped when i was about 7, but i've always been v adamant about having my own privacy.
i nvr considered it attachment parenting, but there's some similar aspects. nvr breastfed tho.

Edited at 2012-06-04 10:37 pm (UTC)
jessicastamina 5th-Jun-2012 04:51 am (UTC)
My mom has told me she thinks she was wrong in ~attachment-parenting~ my brother and I. Idk I really enjoy having a close relationship with my mom, I think she's the greatest woman on the planet and my best friend, but it sucks that I feel like I shouldn't move out or go on trips with friends because I'll be away from her for too long
monster_mutt 5th-Jun-2012 11:53 am (UTC)
My mom did attachment parenting with me, I self-weaned at like 38 months ... I struggled with codependence till I was in my 20s, and I still have extreme social anxiety.
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