August 16, 2005

Wanted: Dads From Attachment Parent Families

I'm very interested in hearing about your experiences with Attachment Parenting, good and bad, how you've participated, how you adapted all or part of it, what kind of advice you got from other dads, and what kind advice you'd give to dads and dads-to-be who are looking at AP.

Since my Attachment Parenting experience, per se, is approximately zero, I'd loke to get up to speed on what's important, specifically for dads, before posting more. So if you want to post a comment or a link about it here, feel free, but it may be better/easier to email.

Thanks in advance.

33 Comments

Greg, is there a good definition for Attachment Parenting somewhere? I caught a bit of it on a PBS show once and liked some of the ideas, but I haven't been following any literature or anything like that...

Oops, nevermind... Google/Wikipedia/etc. what would we do without you?

Attachment Parenting

20-Some Things I know about child-rearing that I don't need Attachment Parenting advocates or Lactivists to tell me:

1. The purpose of tits is to feed children.
1bis. Even tits need a rest now and then.

2. Baby formula can be very useful, especially when your milk hasn't come in yet or fully, even if you have 38DD boobs.
2bis. Big boobs can make it harder to feed a newborn.

3. When the baby is hungry, feed the baby.
3bis. When the baby is thirsty, give the baby a drink.

4. Hug your baby as often as you can.
4bis. Heck, hug everyone as often as you can.

5. Communicate with your baby as often as you can.

6. There is absolutely nothing wrong with corporal punishment, when appropriate. Pain is an extremely powerful motivator.
6bis. Corporal punishment is a method of last resort, and loses it's effectiveness (or can become counter-productive) when overused, so make sure it's really appropriate, and if it really is--use it as sparingly as possible.

7. Change dirty diapers ASAP. Nobody wants to sit in their own excrement.

8. Allow your children the freedom to explore.
8bis. Keep a well-stocked first-aid kit, know how to use it, and get to know your family doctor very well.

9. Give your children the tools they need to find the answers themselves.
9bis. Allow your children to develop an individual personality.

10. Organic food is overpriced.
10bis. There are a lot of dangerous chemicals and other things that man has made in this world.

11. Cloth diapers are a nice idea. (Make of that what you will)
11bis. Fresh Kills is the largest mad-made object on the face of the Earth.

12. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
12bis. Hand sanitizer is the next best thing to cleanliness.

13. Have a sense of humor, and pass it on to your kids.

14. Sing to your children, or play a musical instrument whenever you can. Teach them to sing and play with you.
14bis. Teach your children to make art and appreciate beauty.

15. Read to your children as often as possible. Let them read to you just as often.

16. Play outside with your children. Teach them about nature.
16bis. Recycle.

17. Travel with your children. Teach them about other cultures.

18. Let your children make messes.
18bis. Teach your children to clean up their messes.

19. Teach your children to strive for excellence in all things.
19bis. Teach your children humility.

20. Don't worry so much. Worries are contagious.

21. Never forget that you yourself were a child once.
21bis. ...and don't let your children forget it, either.

Try looking at askdrsears.com, these are the originators of attachment parenting.

bwt - feeding formula will delay/slow down your milk production - its a supply and demand thing.

11. Cloth diapers are a nice idea.

I'd add a bis-and-a-half to that:

Ecology-minded people living in the Southwest should seriously consider whether they have more landfill space than water on hand or vice-versa when making this decision.

A good summary of the AP approach to fathering can be found on this Ask Dr. Sears page. You can draw your own conclusions about what the breakdown of responsibilities is in an AP household.

I should mention that I consider myself to be a very good judge of instructional books, even (or especially) when I'm the one who needs the instructing. The Sears' books are some of the best out there, in my opinion.

feeding formula will delay/slow down your milk production - its a supply and demand thing.

Actually, feeding formula without corresponding pumping will slow down your milk production. Our baby was early term and didn't have energy to suckle for the first few weeks. Formula got us through a couple of scary days -- we used less than a pint total, but it was a real relief.

Nowadays we're having to eat meals out of the deep-freeze to make room for more milk bags.

Interesting...I had never heard of attachment parenting. After reading some of the Dr. Sears stuff and the wikipedia article, I realize that my wife and I are practicing many of these things already just because of our personalities and how we have chosen to care for our baby. The baby wearing has been minimal, and we don't do the co-sleeping, but our approach to our 2 month old sons needs are very much in line with the attachment parenting philosophy.

Before you get too far into this, you should also consider the fact that "Attachment Parenting" isn't the only style of parenting like this -- there's also "Child Led Parenting", "Natural Parenting", and I believe a few other Capital Letter parenting styles that aren't necessarily the same as the typical Dr Sears-led AP but might look like it to an outsider.

There are also a lot of parents who do things that might be called "AP-ish" who don't subscribe to any Capital Letter parenting style, and I suspect you'd find a higher number of involved dads in that part of the spectrum. And fewer mothers who want to stick the knives in other moms. But I think in general that people with Capital Letter belief systems seem a lot more judgemental of non-members, whateve the belief system is.

To find more dads -- Mothering (which is officially pro-"Natural Parenting") has a section of its forum for involved dads which has quite a few frequent posters (although I think you have to register to view anything on the forums).

I'd say Sarah is right about a lot of people now following a capital-letter program. I've been told my wife and I are AP-type parents (we did the cosleeping for a while, we are not doing any "cry it out" sleep training (no matter how many times the grandparents suggest it), make our own baby food, etc.), but we haven't really read any of Dr. Sears' stuff, we're just going with what feels right for us and the girl.

we gravitate toward a lot of the principles, but we balance that with our own experience, needs and "world view." and we save our religious zeal for, well, our religion.

I'm glad everyone has been so civil. I asked a little about AP and Babywise, etc on my blog and got a bunch of rabblerousing crazies bent on convincing me that all other theories of parenting were evil except the one they subscribed to.

That led to this post if you care to read. But essentially I would say check your own beliefs and then pick the parenting theory that matches what you believe, instead of letting yourself be convinced by whatever book or blog you most recently read.

I believe my wife and I are/were attachment parenting practitioners without even realizing it (I hate labels). Weíve never read an advice book and have parented in ways that only came natural to us. That being said, we nor our children are perfect but we are happy. I would say the biggest thing for us was moving across the country and away from our parents, aunts, grandparents, far-far-away from all their zealous unsolicited advice. This allowed us the opportunity to really find our own style and enjoy ourselves while discovering it. Good luck to all of you; no one is right and youíll find your own method with or without Sears or Grandma or Ferber or any other self-proclaimed professional. That and as Michael suggests, communicate often and change diapers as needed.

Oh my, can we please not have the breast/formula discourse again?

I'd like to say the the wife and I lean toward some of these principles ... one thing we did do (eventually, after trying everything else) is the Ferber (often given the misnomer "Cry It Out") method.

We did not let our daughter "cry it out". When she cried at bedtime or nighttime (which she did anyhow), rather than going in there, walking and shushing her (which my wife was getting to the point where her back was barely holding up), we stared waiting 5 minutes.

We'd go in, reassure her we were still there for her, shushed her, calmed her, left. Then, you just increase the amount of time between visits. Every couple of days, the time untilt he first visit increased.

She really did seem to learn to calm herself. She took to it in a few days. The very first time, we felt extremely guilty, but we knew she'd be okay.

She seems to be still well adjusted. Hopefully, in 10-15 years, she won't hate us (well, not for THIS reason, at least).

I would say the one drawback about "attachment parenting" is that most of the burden (no matter how you slice it) falls on the mother, bc of breastfeeding. If the father does not make the ultra conscious effort to get involved, you can fall into the trap where the mother does much of the late night duty bc she's got the milk. Also, it's very tough on working mothers--because even pumping milk and giving the baby a bottle is not considered as good as getting milk straight from the breast. Plus, all the business about "wearing" your baby is hard--bc then you have to find a nanny willing to do this.

if you're going to get a nanny to "wear" your baby for you, isnt the whole point out the window?

Since one of the primary goals of parenting babies is attachement, I'm loathe to say I'm not into "attachment parenting."

That said, Ferber worked for us four times and our kids are not psychotic yet. They're really good sleepers all.

As for family bed -- Not hardly. There's nothing better you can do for your kids than to maintain a happy intimate marriage.

Yes, breast is best. When it works out. But formula is no cause for guilt.

I believe in the instructive power of boredom. My kids have lots of unstructured time. Sometimes I feel guilty for not making sure my kids are getting lots of stimulation and speaking French by age three. But then I get over it. Kids find their own stimulation. All I really need to provide is supervision.

I don't spend "quality time" with my kids. I spend *time* with my kids. Instead of "Daddy and Me Gymboree", it's "Daddy and Me Shopping" or "Daddy and Me Laundry." If you involve the kid, your todo list becomes quality time.

I do sing songs, read, and act silly with them though. But between you and me it does more for me than for them.

Bobw--You prove my point exactly with your comment. It's tough for working mothers to practice attachment parenting and those who try get a lot of shit for not doing it "properly".

I've noticed that a lot of "attachment parenting" families are like T. Carter, above, in that they eschew labels or a rigid checklist of behavior or techniques.

My own personal guidelines are: no hitting or yelling, no leaving the kiddo to cry by himself, weaning and potty-training on the child's timeline more than mine, and structured, predictable, consistent discipline. The only dictum of of Dr. Sears' that I follow slavishly is "be guided by your instincts rather than outside advice." Baby-wearing didn't work for us, we had to supplement with formula for several months, and sometimes I do plop my son down for some quality time with Elmo, et al.

Some folks are really attached to labels, and they're more into one-upmanship with other parents than anything else, it seems...

That said, we're a pretty AP-oriented family (not especially into "natural parenting" though, which is often conflated with AP -- we vaccinate on the conventional schedule, use disposable dipes, etc.), so I'll forward this entry to my son's daddy type to see if he'll post a response...I know he'd have some interesting things to say about extended breastfeeding, the cost/benefit breakdown of the family bed, and shifting priorities in our marriage due to our parenting choices, among other things... ;)

Sorry for the double comment, but I wanted to respond to the exchange between Diane & bobw which I missed while composing my first comment:

My take is that *both* of you are missing the point of attachment parenting, at least as it is described by Dr. Sears and practiced by most people (excluding those cultists, overrepresented on the Internet, who exalt "AP" as if it were a Stalinist ideology or fundamentalist religion).

No one thing (like breastfeeding, or babywearing) either admits you to or excludes you from the ranks of attachment parents. I have a close friend, a working mom, who gave up breastfeeding and pumping at five months and whose daughter sleeps in a crib, yet she's still into attachment parenting as far as I'm concerned. It's a frame of mind, not a set of rules. And it extends beyond infancy and toddlerhood, long into childhood and adolescence when things like breastfeeding and slinging are non-issues.

So to respond to bobw's snide little aside insinuating that only stay-at-home parents can be considered attachment parents -- if you have a nanny, you want him or her to provide care consistent with your own. So if you wear your child in a sling or a Bjorn or a rebozo or whatever, then it makes sense for your caregiver to do the same in your absence. It's no different from having your caregiver hold the baby while bottlefeeding, rather than bottle-propping, if that's how s/he's normally fed.

The wikipedia entry does a pretty good job of describing what's meant by different folks by this term, but for me it's not a reductive term. At its most essential, it means that parents consider their children's needs and desires to be as important as their own. That *doesn't* mean that the children's needs and desires always trump those of the parents, just that they get considered and respected, and that yes, *sometimes* they trump the preferences and convenience of the grownups.

my apologies. I wasnt attempting to be snide or judgemental, nor am I an aherent to AP in particular. the question was hypothetical, if not ironical, considering "Attaching" the kid to someone other than the "Parent." ha ha. ok not really. sorry.

I was actually with you there: going all-out AP is nearly impossible for working moms. so use your best judgement. personally, we make decisions based on what's best for the whole family, not just for the kid. the sooner he learns that the world doesnt revolve around him, the better.

Not to be a nitpicker, but I don't really think Dr. and Nurse Sears "invented" attachment parenting. They are very vocal and widely known proponents. It's not like Ferber, where it's a system concocted by some expert.

It's a timeless philosophy based on practices observed across cultures to respond to children's basic psychosocial needs. That said, I think there's a case for saying that Jean Liedloff is the real progenitor of the system, with her book Tine Thevenin's Family Bed is also a germinal book. A lot of AP is also based on John Bowlby's attachment theory (you know, the ducklings following him around). Alice Miller's psychological work is also important. And even John Holt's educational books were influential in the rise of AP, along with Mothering magazine (boy, does my husband, a future Daddy-type, seethe at the name of that magazine! It just drives him bonkers).

The Searses took all this up, fleshed out a system from the basic principles, and put it into a series of How-To, which are so popular with American parents in the post-Victorian era.

I would refer you to naturalchild.org for a lot of material on AP, but I don't know how Daddy-focused it is.

Ciao!

Veronica--I don't think I'm missing anything--thank you very much. I'm merely pointing out a fact--even mentioned by the beloved Dr. Sears that for a working mother it is very difficult.

BobW--I never said this is what I do. Just saying this is what the alternative is for working mother. Dr. Sears himself advocates finding a nanny who will work with you with all the philosophies he espouses. Read his book--he's the one who suggests the nanny wear the baby as well.

I mention that some working mothers get shit about not doing it properly bc I have seen it with an acquaintance of mine. She was so adamant about being an "attached mother" and felt so guilty about not seeing her child in the day and not doing Dr. Sears right, that she reversed his day and night, so she could get "real" breastfeeding in. Sorry, but that is nuts.

To add to K's post, many people confuse Attachment Theory (a la Bowlby, Ainsworth et al. ) with Attachment Parenting (as promoted by Sears).

One can still incorporate the principles of Attachment Theory (i.e., sensitive responding to the infant) into one's parenting without rigidly following the Sears' rules.

As fun as it is to debate the historical origins and philosophies of attachment parenting vs. theory I'd like to refocus. What advice/what would you daddies do differently with regard to AP style?

[thanks, I was thinking the same thing. ed.]

I agree that attachment parenting is probably just a return to common sense techniques used throughout history. I think if you looked at parenting techniques in a lot of undeveloped nations, it would probably fit 90% of the description of AP.

I've heard snippets of AP theory, but the parts I've chosen to follow have been more out of common sense than any theory I've read up on... holding her a lot, co-sleeping (honestly, it's a pain to shuffle the kid in and out of the crib for every feeding at night, so she ends up in our bed for about 3/4 of the night), etc.

In terms of what dads do differently, "Hallie's mom", I think there are a few things that I can of...

Some are probably based on the physical differences between men and women; I can hold the baby for a lot longer and a lot more easily than my wife (I'm like twice as big as her), so if I go out with the baby, even if I have the stroller, I'm holding her all the time, whereas my wife will only pick her up out of the stroller if she cries.

Some of the other things are, at least, in our family, probably due more to personality differences than male/female differences, but for example, I'm more likely to change a slightly wet diaper whereas my wife will wait longer, as she's the one who tracks all the baby expenses and is reluctant to use too many diapers/day. :)

Just finished looking for AP dad stuff over at naturalchild.com, and wow, there's some really ugly stuff. Not much useful about fatherhood, nor my suspicion that capital-letter AP pressures fathers into "traditional" roles.

Erm, by "not much useful about fatherhood", I meant "no articles specifically addresssing the father's role in an AP family". Sorry for any confusion.

we don't label ourselves as AP but do tease one another about being "crunchy" cos... well, that's just kinda cute and we can laugh & wink-wink about it. I'll respond for DH because I could never, ever get him to talk about himself (or our life together) in such a public forum.

My first son (not DH's) was born already programmed with a very user-friendly schedule and, after rolling over in his bassinet at three weeks old, promptly moved into his crib in his own room. My second son (the first in our marriage) was born wanting skin-to-skin contact 24/7, so I quickly had to go back and re-read all the AP material that I'd previously read and filed away in my head as "interesting but possibly fruity". I'm a stay at home mom, still breastfeeding my 13 month old son, still bed-sharing. The funny thing is that when I talk to most people about how we're doing things, one of the first questions I get is "what do you do about sex?" Well, like with a lot of other things involving a baby, plans are always subject to change and it pays to be creative, impulsive and have a GREAT sense of humor -- no complaints here! Like Cam C. pointed out, it's easier for DH to carry our boy now that he's heavier while I tend to use the stroller more... I'm on the waitlist for a Kozy carrier so I can comfortably wear the boy again (the Bjorn stopped working for me a few months ago). We didn't sling him because he didn't like it, and we (I) cloth diaper occasionally... My husband helps wherever he can with reading, bathing, changing diapers, and just holding the boy. He cooks on the weekends to give me a break. But the most important thing he does is encourage and validate me constantly by telling me what a great & healthy kid we have, what a great mom I am and by shooting down any self-doubt I may sometimes struggle with, the way most mothers do.

It's such a shame that some people feel the need to burden others with THEIR need for labels, guilt and rules. When you read the definition of AP on askdrsears.com, you'll see that they clearly state that you must find the way that works for YOUR family. It's not meant to be a set of absolute rules. I do find that most unsolicited advice about when to wean, etc. is directed my way and not my husband's but I just refer those people to the AAP and WHO for info on the benefits of extended breastfeeding. I don't go into the AP stuff because most of the time they're not gonna get it, especially if it has a "name". Sorry this is so long!

[not at all, thanks for the info. now, to figure out what, if anything, to do about making sure the site's useful to guys like your husband, too... Like talk radio, where only a small fraction of the audience ever calls in, I still wonder what the 95% of people just listening are thinking/getting out of it, too. -ed.]

hey Greg, just saw your note. Heehee, hubby is actually digging this site, I told him about it a few weeks ago and he reads it at... um, during the day when he's bored. We chuckle over the posts on this blog and sometimes have some pretty cool conversations because of something we've read here. We like your style, man! :-)

I'm an attachment parenting Dad - three kids - and write about it with some frequency at http://www.APparenting.com/

Feel free to drop by and see my take on some of these topics, usually without too much contention, flameage and hostility, but lots of interesting discussion.

[wow, AP advice without flameage? Sounds too good to pass up. -ed.]

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