Drop the ‘Attachment’ and Just Call it ‘Parenting’

May 16, 2012 at 7:45 am (Attachment Parenting)

The idea of attachment parenting is not new to mainstream America, though I don’t think it has ever been as widely or specifically discussed as it is now. The topic is certainly making rounds.

From what I notice of its critics, most people are making comments and decisions about AP based on a few things: 1) the initial shock of the Time cover photo and 2) what they’ve heard or seen of AP without having experienced it themselves. When it comes to the idea of attachment parenting, most people are saying “I don’t like it,” (according to a poll on one news website). Except that people don’t really seem to know what they’re not liking.

Attachment parenting doesn’t necessarily mean breastfeeding through toddlerhood and beyond. Did you know it doesn’t necessarily mean breastfeeding at all? Did you know it’s possible to put your baby to sleep in a crib and still identify with attachment parenting? Did you know that AP parents can, should, and do set limits around behavior? Did you know that lots of AP moms work outside the home? Did you know that strollers are acceptable in an AP lifestyle?

Did you know that the logistics of an AP lifestyle matter less than the quality of interactions you have with your child?

Attachment parenting–in any form, at any age level–is about creating relationships. Strong, loving, trusting, secure, communicative, attuned, and yes, attached, relationships between parent and child. Pick your ideal adjective here; attachment parenting is about cultivating that with your children.

Lots of parenting advice, information, discussions, and articles focus on the physical aspects of raising kids: feeding, clothing, styling, transporting, scheduling activities, keeping them healthy, and safe. With good reason, too, it’s all either important (avoiding contagious diseases) or interesting (creating fun party favors). So much of parenting information focuses on the surface practicalities of life with kids. Attachment parenting simply focuses on the deeper essentials: the depth and quality of the parent-child relationship.

If attachment parenting makes you feel “not mom enough” for it’s presumed list of dos and don’ts, consider this: AP is less about what you do to raise kids, and more about how you relate to them. It’s about relationships. It’s about meeting kids’ emotional needs in order to form and maintain connected relationships.

And in parenting, connection truly is everything.

Successful parenting boils down to the emotional relationship between parent and child. It is the compass, the guide, the biggest influence that determines the direction of our parenting journey. That’s not to say the journey will always be easy (it most definitely will not!), but parenting success is driven by the strength of that connection; who we are to our children, the trust they have in us, and the security they feel within themselves.

Yes, attachment parenting in infancy often looks like baby wearing, breastfeeding or co-sleeping, which initially seem physical, but are actually more emotional than they might appear. Each approach helps meet a baby’s emotional needs in a physical way. They are about fostering trust and security and responsiveness between parents and children….and can also be accomplished with bottles, strollers, or cribs.

At first glance, baby wearing seems to be just physical; a way to transport your baby and maintain physical closeness. But it’s really about security. A sense of, “I’m here with you, and I’m OK.” Security can certainly be developed even if you decide to use a stroller.

Breastfeeding involves physical closeness and excellent nutrition. But it’s ultimately about trust. Trust that you’re there to nourish her when she needs it. This can occur just as easily with each bottle feeding and every meal you serve. Loving interaction, nourishment, trust.

Co-sleeping is about attending to a child’s needs at night. It makes it easy to be responsive. But can you also respond to a cue through the monitor? Can you go to your child in another room and meet his needs that way? Absolutely.

As children grow and they become more physically capable, meeting their emotional needs requires less physical, more verbal interactions from parents. Positive discipline is about working with a child’s behavior to find solutions and foster communication, respect, and empathy between each other.

All of this is attachment parenting. Not the baby wearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, or positive discipline in and of themselves, but the security, trust, responsiveness, and communication they facilitate. These form the foundation for a child’s growth and a parent’s guidance. I’ve yet to find a parent who would disagree that a secure relationship with their children is something they want, and I can’t think of a more effective way to do that than with attachment parenting. But the ‘attachment’ throws people off; it tends to induce guilt and invite criticism. Maybe it’s time to lose the label and focus on its core principle: parent-child connection.

Maybe it’s time we just call it ‘parenting.’


  1. Christine Gordon said,

    Thanks for the clarifications – that makes way more sense!

  2. Vanessa said,

    I love this post so much, there had been times when I didn’t feel “attachment parent” enough because I didn’t use a sling as much or transitioned our son gently to a toddler bed at 20 months, is certainly about the relationship, not the gadgets or the length in which we do certain things 🙂

  3. Chris said,

    This is a very clear article that explains just what AP is all about. For those of us who have already raised our children, it makes us feel a little better about not being as physical as parents can now be, i.e. there were no Baby Bjorns back then, but we tried to spend as much quality time with our children as we could. Thank you, Kelly, for this explains AP to all the people who may have read any article In a magazine that puts AP in a negative light. Your article is something every parent, old or young, should read as AP can also apply to grandparenting as well.

    • Kelly said,

      Aw thanks, mom. 😉 That’s something that I’ve always felt but never really been able to put my finger on it. It’s what’s underneath all the ‘practices’ of AP that really resonates with me…that’s been the draw for me all along. I bet a lot of parents may look (or look back) at their parenting style and realize they might not have practiced all the popular “techniques” of AP, but that they still found significant ways to bond & connect and used that to guide their parenting.

      (And on a personal note, I think you did alright with your kids! :))

  4. unnecessarywisdom said,

    Very nicely said! I never called myself an “attachment parent” because I’m not even really sure if it was a movement of any sort when my children were babies. But I was taught years ago that you cannot influence anyone outside a relationship built on love and trust. I can only teach my children because they know, without a doubt in their hearts, I love them and they can trust me. And that’s about relationship. So I guess that’s attachment parenting, as they are calling it these days 🙂

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