If the object of Time’s provocative magazine cover was to draw attention to the important issue of parenting, I’m all for it. Let’s talk about it. But, as a child psychiatrist and mother two, I’m less interested in the cover, and more interested in addressing the subject of the article itself: attachment parenting.
First, while I applaud the emphasis on the mother-child relationship, I believe advocates of this parenting style are misusing the word ‘attachment,’ to promote a very extreme and unhealthy view of parenting.
Attachment, as it’s described by this group, requires mother and child to be connected at all times. This literal interpretation is counter to a number of important elements of parenting designed to facilitate autonomy and social exploration.
As a child develops into a toddler, he develops a need to venture away from his mother and explore the world. A child truly, securely attached to his caregiver, has the strength to venture out on his own with the knowledge that his caregiver will be there when he needs them or when he returns. That’s what a secure attachment really means.
Secondly, the idea that a child should never be allowed to cry interferes with the child’s developmental need to regulate his own distress. Whether to respond to a crying child can’t be determined with an “always” or “never” absolute approach, it requires a more nuanced individual solution. It is not right to ignore a baby who needs comfort, but responding immediately each time she cries – and staying with her until she’s completely soothed – is not emotionally appropriate either. Children need to develop the capacity to regulate their own distress and a mother who is too responsive may become smothering and can thwart this ability.
Children raised with the attachment parenting style may be slower to develop their own independence, have lower self-regulation skills, and otherwise be less self-sufficient.
Don’t forget the impact this type of parenting has on moms. This article implies the attachment parenting style becomes so consuming that the mom abandons all other aspects of life including her relationship with her spouse or partner or friends. Parents are better parents when they have more satisfying lives themselves. It’s not healthy for mother or child when there is no room in mom’s life for other activities.
What is clear to me is that children need a healthy and secure attachment to their parents built on love and support – but not to the extreme of replacing their own ability to grow into healthy, independent and self-confident individuals.