I’ve always been fascinated by parenting theories, and eager to learn and practice them for myself. Although my son is only two, I have already learned a lot about parenting, and my partner and I have continued to refine and adjust our strategies as we go.
From the beginning, we were attracted to the attachment parenting style. This is a model for approaching parenthood that supports a strong and loving attachment between parents and children as a primary focus of parenting. It includes some specific practices that support and encourage children’s emotional development and a strong bond.
The eight principles of attachment parenting defined by Attachment Parenting International are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
- Feed with love and respect
- Respond with sensitivity
- Use nurturing touch
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
- Provide consistent and loving care
- Practice positive discipline
- Strive for balance in your personal and family life
The first principle means being mindful about choices during pregnancy, birth, and parenting. It means considering what is best for both the mother, baby, and family as a whole. Many attachment parents choose to hire a midwife for care during pregnancy and to have a natural birth, because of the many benefits both offer. Attachment parents are also encouraged to be mindful as parents, by being aware of developmental stages of childhood and always seeking to learn and grow in parenting skills.
The second principle means breastfeeding on-demand and for an extended time when possible, or bottle feeding with love as an alternative. It also means respecting children’s signals regarding when they are hungry and full, and practicing good nutrition for the whole family.
The third principle means responding to baby’s cries (as opposed to letting babies “cry it out”), as well as responding sensitively to older children’s emotions and needs.
The fourth principle means offering plenty of physical affection and touch through baby-wearing, snuggles, hugs, physical play, and even baby-massage. These forms of loving contact help strengthen the parent-child bond.
The fifth principle means considering co-sleeping, if it suits your family and you can do so safely. Attachment parents are also discouraged from sleep training, especially forms involving “cry it out” methods, because of the potential negative emotional and physical effects.
The sixth principle means considering having one parent stay home to care for the children, or as an alternative, choosing a caregiver who can bond with the child and provide consistent care. It also means keeping schedules flexible, and limiting separations.
The seventh principle means using positive discipline tools that are kind and respectful, enforcing reasonable limits, and keeping communication open. Attachment parents are discouraged from using punishment, threats, or bribery to control behavior, and physical punishment especially is never used.
The eight principle means taking time to care for your own needs, as the parent, as well as establishing boundaries that respect the needs of all family members.
I like attachment parenting because it frees parents to love and attach to their kids as they are designed to do, rather than following society’s pressure to focus on early independence. Interestingly, one of the purposes of attachment parenting is to build a strong foundation of security from which children can eventually launch themselves into independence.
As I’ve experienced the ups and downs of parenthood over the past few years, I have come to realize that adopting an attachment parenting philosophy has one very big benefit; it changes your perspective in a way that allows you to be the best parent you can be.
What I mean by this is simply that when you choose to be an attachment parent, you choose to accept your child’s needs and your responsibility to meet them, with joy and purpose rather than reluctance. You can take it in stride or even find yourself enjoying the precious time with your child when they are demanding a lot from you.
You are happy to be a parent meeting your child’s vital needs during those hard times; when you’re nursing your baby every hour because that’s what he asks for; when you have to sit in the church nursery with your toddler during service because she isn’t emotionally ready for separation; when you go to sleep at night right next to your squirmy, warm, beautiful child, because he wants to sleep in your bed; and when you resist the temptation to punish your kid for misbehaving, and instead push yourself to find positive discipline strategies that work without harming anybody’s dignity. Parenting becomes the beautiful, challenging, purposeful adventure that it was meant to be. That is why I am an attachment parent, and why I hope more and more parents will adopt these principles for their own families as well.