Confessions of an Attachment Parenting Mom

In May 2012, Time magazine published a cover story about attachment parenting that had featured a photo of Jamie Grumet on the cover nursing her 3-year old son. The magazine arrived in my mailbox. I saw it in the pile of mail and cringed.

Why did I cringe? Not because of the cover picture. Ok, maybe a bit because of the cover picture. But because I knew the article would not be balanced or positive. The title on the cover “Are You Mom Enough?” told me all I needed to know about what I would find inside.

Later that week, I got a comment from a family member about how Time had an article about “my” parenting approach. The comment was not judgmental in anyway, but I cringed again.

I finally sat down and read the article. The article lived up to my expectations about the kind of coverage I would find in a mainstream magazine like Time.

I debated whether or not to write some response on my website and post something to Facebook.

I didn’t.

Instead, I remained silent in the face of the controversy raised by the article.

I was fearful about speaking out at the same time that I admired Jamie and her family for her strong advocacy and willingness to put herself out there.

In spite of my own advocacy for transforming parenting and the parent-child relationship, I had remained silent. Time passed, the controversy died down and I moved on to other topics.

Then in August, Lisa Reagan, associate editor of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, contacted me about writing something in preparation for the release of the Fall 2012 issue. Pathways had previously published one of my articles on control.

I decided to face my fears.

I believe in attachment parenting. I would have described myself as an attachment parent for the first five years of my time as a parent.

We have a family bedroom by mutual consent of all members. I nursed them until they were ready to stop, well past the toddler stage. Rob and I used slings and carriers for both of the children in our lives. We responded to their cries and nursed/fed on demand. I pumped at work for 2 ½ years.

But, when the youngest child in my life got bigger and older, I became uncomfortable nursing in front of others and talking about it except with other moms whom I knew would be supportive.

I felt as though I already took some pretty radical stances in my writing and my facebook posts when the Time magazine article came out. I told myself that I was afraid of alienating readers and followers who did not practice attachment parenting. They might decide to discount my message in Parenting for Social Change about fundamentally shifting the adult-child relationship away from power-over and control.

I was fearful that if others knew that I nursed a child far beyond what is socially acceptable in our culture, I would lose credibility. These were all of my excuses for not talking about this controversial article and its portrayal of a style of parenting that had a huge impact on my journey as a parent, a journey which I am incredibly grateful for being on with the children in my life.

In essence, I was hiding parts of myself, some of my beliefs and actions out of fear of being judged. Maybe I was also judging myself at the same time.

I felt like I was being a hypocrite by not being willing to authentically portray what I believed and practiced because of this fear.

The other challenge for me was that I felt confusion about my stance on attachment parenting because it was a path that at one time had allowed me to justify the use of control with the children in my life. I did not want to alienate those readers who practiced attachment parenting and for whom it did not lead to control if they perceived I was critical of attachment parenting in some way.

It was a conundrum. Attachment parenting led me to greater connectedness while I was working out of the home, and then as Martel grew older, it led to greater control.

Not all attachment parents go in the direction of control. But I did.

I have seen it in some other parents that I work with as well. For myself, I needed to question whether or not some tenets of attachment parenting that I had read about and accepted led me to justify controlling food or media.

For example, I used comments written by Dr. Sears to rationalize my control of food with the first child in my life. At the same time, his book changed my view of what was possible in the parent-child relationship.

So how could I write a Facebook post or a tweet that would address the complexities of the issue for me? How could I acknowledge all the ways I believed in attachment parenting while being willing to question whether or not it can also lead those of us who have control issues to have another excuse to use control with the children in our lives?

The invitation from Pathways to comment on the cover article on attachment parenting was a chance to come back and face my fear about my own views and experiences as a parent who uses many attachment parenting practices.

In this current issue of Pathways to Family Wellness, Dr. Jeanne Ohm, Executive Editor, writes about the sensationalized portrayal in the Time magazine article and the ensuing responses in print, online, and social media.

She asks us to think about the role of fear (to an idea such as attachment parenting) as a protective mechanism versus openness as a way to continue to grow.

She writes, “We can react from a fear-based, protective place or we can respond from an open, receptive and loving one. In other words, a knee-jerk, judgmental reaction to an intended instigation is our own fear-based and destructive choice.”

I want us to take this thought further. Too often we characterize the choices we make as either-or. We can either choose fear and protection or we choose openness and growth.

Our society pushes us in this place where we must make a choice. “You are either with me or against me.”

In mainstream society we value certainty. We value knowing. We dismiss those who don’t take a strong stance as wishy-washy. The national political rhetoric we hear is polarized and divisive.

Real life is much more nuanced than this.

When we live in a place of either-or, where there is no gray area, we deny the reality of life. Black, white, and gray all exist. Your truth is as real as mine.

Can fear be destructive? Without a doubt, it can be. However, being in a place of fear and protectiveness is just a place.

Too often we hear the message, “Fear is bad.” We must push down the fear. We judge the fear. Fear is destructive.

I would encourage us instead to embrace the fear and be open to learning from it.

Fear and its resulting discomfort are merely an opportunity to understand ourselves better. Being fearful doesn’t necessarily stop us from growing.

For me, connecting to why I’m fearful, feeling where I feel the fear in my physical body, understanding how fear might be connected to my childhood experiences are all ways that I expand my awareness and understanding.

Fear is as much of my growth process as any other emotion. In fact, it is in facing my fears that I have grown the most as a parent and human being. When I faced my fears about food, media, sleep, money, whatever the issue may be, I have learned from it.

Fear doesn’t have to be destructive, just as anger doesn’t have to be destructive.

If we tell ourselves that fear is always destructive and bad, it has more power over us.

If we tell ourselves that fear is an opportunity, we can change our relationship with it.

We can see fear as a friend. We can be with fear as it provides us feedback and encourages us to move through it and learn from it.

Writing this, confessing my complicated and not easily categorized beliefs and experiences about attachment parenting is freeing. In particular, sharing my fears as a way to opening myself up frees me from the power silence gave those fears.

I have been an attachment parent and I have recovered from being an attachment parent at the same time. I can hold these two contradictory ideas within me just as I can embrace fear and be open to growth and change at the same time.