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Attachment Parenting

Monday, August 8th, 2016
Ian Williamson

Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting.

 

A great deal has been written lately about a style of parenting called Attachment parenting (an offshoot of Natural parenting apparently). At the heart of it is a nursing relationship between baby and mother that is primarily baby centred. The mother responds to the baby’s demands as they arise and avoids anything that suggests fitting the baby into a schedule, either a sleep schedule or a feeding schedule. Practically this means long term breast-feeding on demand, holding the baby for as long as possible and co-sleeping. The idea is that this kind of parenting will help the mother bond more easily and securely with her baby. Mothers are urged to trust their instincts and avoid the interference of professionals.

 

At first glance its style of parenting that seems to have a lot going for it in the sense that we know secure early attachments form the blueprint for all future attachments in life. Focusing on getting to understand what your baby needs and attending to those needs gives the mother and baby the best opportunity to bond successfully with each other.

However it could be seen as idealistic and exclusive, some important caveats come to mind. What happens if a mother doesn’t trust her instincts? She may have had a difficult relationship with her own mother or had an adverse early experience? Do other styles of parenting necessarily mean that the baby is less attached and therefore less secure? Does this style imply that any mother unable or unwilling to manage such an intense and exhausting style is somehow depriving their baby of vital experiences? And what are the implications for same sex parents? Childcare theories almost inevitably arouse bucketloads of maternal guilt and this one is no different.

 

To my mind the strategy works better if we think of it as a blueprint for a nursing couple rather than a parenting strategy. As a parenting blueprint it lacks the all-important developmental perspective. Breast-feeding is a different mental experience for a 4 year old than it is for a 6 month old. The same is true of co sleeping. Is the 4 year olds wish to sleep with or be suckled by mother a wish for comfort or is it an attempt to monoplise mother’s body and mind to the exclusion of all others? The mediating of rivalries and jealousies in young children is a series of parenting groundhog days, as we all know. I am not sure they lessen as a result of on demand feeding or co-sleeping. Managing a young child’s frustrations at not getting what they want all the time is an important developmental process.

 

At some point weaning has to take place. Eventually the child has to manage their frustrations and disappointments without recourse to mother’s breast or bed. I presume supporters of this style would argue that the child should dictate when this takes place. But experience suggests that weaning is a difficult process because it involves the child dealing with intense feelings of loss. The child’s enthusiasm or unwillingness to engage with the weaning process depends on many complex factors. It’s too difficult and complex a process to be left to the child.

 

As many have pointed out this style of parenting also has implications for the parental couple, with the father being required to take a back seat for what might be years.

 

Parenting is a much more complex business than just being available 24/7. We all get our parenting wrong at some point between babyhood and adolescence despite our best intensions. In 1953, the pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the phrase ‘good enough mother’. Rather than persecuting ourselves with what we get wrong maybe ‘good enough’ is all that is required.

 

As a final thought it is worth fast forwarding to the turbulent world of adolescence. When your teenager is out way past his or her curfew, is not picking up their mobile phone and your mind starts to go into meltdown the fact that they were breast fed till they were 5 will be of no consolation whatsoever.

Sexting and privacy

I recently read a newspaper headline that read, ‘Parents are more worried about their children sexting than taking alcohol or drugs’. This struck me as both interesting and puzzling. It is relatively easy to work out whether your teen is drinking or taking drugs but how do you know whether they are sexting?

 

‘Hi Emily, how was your evening darling?’

‘My homework was fairly easy dad and I spent the rest of the evening sending naked pictures of myself to my boyfriend’.

‘Right well, couldn’t you do something more productive with your time ?’

 

The point about sexting is that it’s done in private and the chances are, as a parent, you aren’t going to find out about it until the damage has been done.

This raises another one of those modern day parenting dilemmas thrown at us by the new technological world. A technological revolution that is presenting us with any number of parenting dilemmas that we haven’t a clue how to deal with.

 

The first thing you need to do is talk about the sexting to your teen. Sexting is essentially a relationship issue in the sense that one person may be trying to pressure another into doing something they don’t necessarily want to do. They need guidance and reassurance about how to manage such situations should they arise. This is especially true if your teenager is lacking confidence.

 

What about the practicalities? For a start your child needs a smartphone. So the first question that needs thinking about is why your child needs a smartphone? I fully recognize that it’s a ‘must have’ fashion accessory for an adolescent but does that automatically mean they should have one? There may be any number of reasons why you might want them to have one but it’s worth giving the issue some thought.

Ok so you’ve decided that they need a smartphone for whatever reason, next question is do you allow them to have a password or not? This is a subject that in my experience causes all manner of arguments.

‘You’re invading my privacy’

‘You’re so intrusive’

‘You’re stalking me’. So it goes on.

Let’s turn the question around, why would they need a password? What is it they are going to be doing on it that they don’t want you to know about?

Imagine your 14 year old daughter coming to you and telling you she is going out but is not going to tell you where. At the very least you would raise an eyebrow and I imagine any caring parent would say no and would insist on knowing where she is going. Most of the parents I have seen are mindful of their teenagers’ safety but are ambivalent at best about their sojourns into cyber space. If I ask them what their teens do on their computers and phones, what sites they visit, they usually tell me that they haven’t a clue.

 

This is the background to thinking about of whether they should have a password or not. If they don’t have a password they are less likely to engage in nefarious online behaviour because they risk being caught. I don’t for one minute think this idea will be welcomed by your son or daughter but as you are probably paying for the phone they don’t have much choice other than to kick up a storm.

 

This brings us to a second area of controversy, should you as a family have a time in the evening when handheld devices like phones are handed in until the next morning? This should not be seen as a sort of punishment but more as necessary respite from the relentless intrusion of technology into family life. If they are speaking to their friends at school all day, they aren’t going to suffer social exclusion if they are off line for a few hours in the evenings, although they are, of course, going to tell you differently. Have time offline also has the benefit of cutting down the time they have when they could be engaging in sexting.

 

It is true that neither of these suggestions is going to stop a determined teenager from sexting but they do enable you to limit the opportunity for it.