Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Take on Attachment Parenting

Elena wrote about attachment parenting today. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, basically it is a theory of child rearing that states that a child must be securely attached to his/her parents, particularly his/her mother, in order to achieve appropriate independence later in life.  In order to foster that attachment, the theory goes,  parents, particularly mothers, need to be constantly physically and emotionally present to the baby. True believers in attachment parenting take this so far as to eschew the use of cribs, swings, pacifiers, and sometimes even strollers. They practice "baby wearing", toting their babies around in slings for much of the day.   A few even practice "elimination communication" foregoing the use of diapers and instead trying to pay attention to the child's cues so as to take him/her to the potty or other place when s/he was about to urinate or defecate. Elena  mentioned that one website suggested that those who reject this form of parenting aren't good Catholics. I agree with Elena, that idea is foolish.

Personally I think attachment parenting is a concept grasped onto by overachieving moms who have chosen to leave the workplace but haven't given up the competitive mentality that got (or would get) them ahead in the workplace. They choose an image of parenthood that the majority of parents couldn't achieve even if they wanted to. Not only can Mom not work full-time outside the home and leave the poor neglected baby in daycare, she can't work part-time on evenings or weekends (unless it is something she can do with a nursed-on-demand baby present). Mom can't work at home (at least not very effectively since she can't use things like swings, pacifiers or the TV to entertain the baby). She can't have a large brood of closely spaced kids because the baby doesn't get enough attention that way. In short, instead of selling more widgets, managing more people, or handling more projects than the person in the next office, I think these moms "achieve" by parenting "better" than the rest of us--though I haven't seen any research to indicate this form of parenting is any better than any other.

I find the term SAHM (stay at home mom) to be interesting in and of itself. In my mom's day, women who did what she did were called housewives. They took care of the house and kids. The cooked the meals, shopped, did laundry, ran errands and otherwise took care of the family. Yes, they played with the kids, read to them, helped with homework and did some chauffeuring, but when those of us who are baby boomers were kids, our moms were not our major source of entertainment. We played with the kids in the neighborhood. They came to our house or we went to theirs.  Doorbells were rung, and kids could either play, or not.  Our moms didn't take us to "playdates" they arranged in advance. Our bikes were for taking us places, not for riding in circles up and down the street under the watchful eye of Mom, or going for a ride with Mom or Dad at our side. In other words, women my mother's age took care of their kids, but didn't see being constantly within eyesight of their kids to be necessary.

My grandmother and I have something in common. We both utilized daycare when our kids were young. I used a daycare center and a sitter; she used a "hired girl". My grandmother didn't work outside the home--she had more than enough work at home. She got up in the morning and cooked a large breakfast over a wood-burning stove. After cleaning up from breakfast, she started cooking dinner. During the day, she gathered eggs, killed and dressed chickens (if on the menu), worked in a large vegetable garden, canned the products from that garden, washed clothes using a wringer washer and hung them on the line, made and mended clothes and cleaned house. Supper had to be put on the table daily too--and remember that cooking was pretty much from scratch. In short, I doubt my grandmother considered herself a mom any more (or any less) than my grandfather considered himself a dad. She couldn't have performed her chores with a baby strapped to her all day any more than my grandfather could have performed his.

I've read about a group of people in China who lived where there was a very fine absorbent type of sand. The norm for peasant babies was to be buried up to the neck in this sand during the day. The sand would function as a diaper and keep the babies where they were put. Mom would return periodically during the day to nurse them. It sounds awful and cruel to most of us, but the parents had been raised that way too. The parents needed to work or no one was going to eat, and mom couldn't work if she was holding the baby. Ever heard of a papoose board? Basically it is a board to which a baby (or in the modern medical setting, a child) can be tied securely. Again, someplace to put the baby while Mom worked. Mom not working--not being an economic producer, but rather focusing all her energy on the kids--is not historically normal. It is a product of modern affluence, and I think that attention, like many things, is wonderful in the right quantity and can even be harmful if there is too much of it.


  1. Ruth,

    I needed to read this post today! I am so torn over leaving Ben Jr. and working full-time again, and am really hoping to stay home through September so at least he will be on foods other than my milk. It helped to remember the historical perspective... and while I may still look for work that I can do here at home, at least I feel a little better about maybe needing to work outside of the home. Thank you!!

  2. I disagree with your prespecitve. I think that women have traditionally cared for their children at home. Yes, they had things going on at home- they were busy- but they were home with their children. When my mother was ill - my grandmother- who did the books for their business- was home to nurse her to health- and did not worry that she would have to juggle sitters to get back to work.Now non family cares for and brings up the family's children. And yes, I do feel that someone who spends 40-70 hours a week has a profound influence on a child (including a teacher at a later age).
    I feel our present system does not support children. I also feel that "working parents" make "non working parents" feel SO guilty about staying home that homeschooling has bloomed as "what to do because you are worthless if you do JUST stay home".
    I do not really care if a woman works or not- but I think your historical perspective is one held by working outside the family women and not a real 5,000 year perspective.
    Personally, I don't know how this will turn out- but one clue may be the putting off until mid to late 30's to have children- so someone can stay home. That is what I am hearing from my nephews and nieces. I know it definately has promoted birth control in that group (because they certainly are living together). And when there is a baby before an adult is 30 there is a collective sigh of "you blew it!"
    From one working woman to another....

  3. I never said Mom wasn't home with the kids in the old days. According to a cookbook I'm reading now, in the middle of the 19th century, 90% of Americans lived on farms--and my guess is that a large percentage of the others lived behind the store--where Mom and Dad both worked. Not only was Mom home with the kids, so was Dad. My point is that the kids were not Mom's only job, and that my grandmother and her foremothers were no more capable of the intensity of attachment parenting than I am. I agree with you about homeschooling.

  4. I remember this post when it first came up, and I think it was the first time I'd ever actually thought about all this, so thanks!

  5. RAnn, Thanks for visiting my blog! I find your straight talkin' post hilarious, and you make some very good points here. I especially love your description of what life was like when you were a kid, back in the day before "intensive mothering" became the vogue. One of my favourites: "Our bikes were for taking us places, not for riding in circles up and down the street under the watchful eye of Mom, or going for a ride with Mom or Dad at our side." How true!!

    1. I had people raise eyebrows at me because I let (actually I made) my sixth grader walk home from the school bus stop a whole half mile from house--on the other side of this nice middle class subdivision. Could something have happened to her? Sure, but it could happen to me when I walk the neighborhood too, but I don't stay locked in the house.


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