CM: Attachment Parenting Throughout the Ages

This is my most recent post for Connected Mom, a longer one on what it means to be an "AP Mama" for the long haul. Looking beyond the breasts, beds, and babyslings! I'm pretty pleased with it, so I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think. 


The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what has been, but its also a great time to look ahead. Today, on this last day of 2012, I'm choosing to look years ahead. I was/am blessed to have a Mama that provides an amazing example of what AP can be long after the baby years. I wanted to share that forward perspective with all Connected Mom readers. Here's wishing you a beautiful 2013.

When someone mentions Attachment Parenting, the thing that pops into most people's minds first are breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing. However, as Valerie has pointed out before... AP is more then just breasts, beds, and babyslings! You can do all of those things and not think of yourself as AP, or do none while proudly wearing the label. Not to mention, that while the years when those three things are even an option are fleeting, being AP is something most people can continue for the duration of your baby's childhood, and can even be carried over into the rest of your life. Basically, those particular actions are not the core of AP, nor are they the most lasting of its principles! I do all three, proudly wear the AP label, but see myself as an AP mom for the long haul, and not just until our boob, bed, and babysling days are over! Let's review the 8 principles*:

1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible.
At first glance, this principle seems to be a one time thing. However, the continuous education of the parent on developmental stages of childhood, and the setting of realistic expectations is an ongoing process that lasts through the child becoming an adult. It is one that is long lasting, and during those frustrating toddler... and teenage years!... is one that is so important for a peaceful household! 

2. Feed with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant's nutritional and emotional needs. "Bottle Nursing" adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.
Ah-ha, you say! Here it is... breastfeeding! But read it again. Yes, "breast is best" but as long as you are feeding your child in a way that follows their cues, and is done in a way to deliver emotional sustenance along with physical nutrition, then feed the way that works best for your family! Once solid foods are introduced, continue to feed in a way that is best for your child, offering healthy options and demonstrating a healthy relationship with food. I think its easy to see how this one can last a lifetime. 

3. Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.
From the beginning we try to understand what our babies are trying to tell us. A newborn/infant has only its cry to tell us that it needs something. It is up to us to take the time to listen to them, and respond in a way that is comforting, and shows them they can trust us. They learn we are there for them by us being consistent, and they learn they can come to us with anything by us being sensitive to what they show us. As they get older, our responses grow and change with them, but the level of sensitivity we show should not diminish. Their anger, their fears, their joys, and their excitement... they are trusting us with these emotions, and we should react accordingly. 

One of my favorite quotes about responding to your child is from Catherine M. Wallace, and it says, "Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff."

4. Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.
Babywearing! There it is! But again, I'm sure you notice, it is a single word in a paragraph of ideas. So I'll just say this... Hug your babies. Hug them when they are newborns, hug them when they are toddlers, hug them when they are kids, and especially hug them when they are teenagers. Then, hug them when they are adults too. We all need affection in this form, don't be stingy with it, and don't hold it back as your babies become big kids.

5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.
Bedsharing** can be so rewarding (when done safely!), co-sleeping has amazing benefits, but good sleep is is unique to ever family. Babies do great in the parent's room when they are new to this world, listening to your breathing, close at hand for easy soothing. Whether that is in your bed, in a co-sleeper or in a pack'n'play nearby. As your baby grows, their needs will change, but their need for you, during the night, might not. 

On a personal note, Gwen was not a great sleeper for a very long time. She bedshared with us for the first few months, then transitioned to her crib for most of the night followed by a few hours with us in the morning. We needed that transition, as much as I love sleeping next to my baby, we all (Gwen included) sleep BIG! Moving, and taking up a lot of room, and it was leading us all to get less then stellar sleep. But she transitioned easily. It was all going pretty well when we went away on vacation at 6 months and her sleep went straight to hell! We were told we had to sleep train her, or she would "never sleep through the night." I'm a firm believer that her need for me, her need for consistent loving response, does not end just because the sun goes down. So, we did not sleep train. I followed her lead, listened to her needs, and gave her gentle direction when the opportunity arose. She now sleeps very well, and she still enjoys an hour or so of sleep in the "big bed" in the mornings. 

Arguably, this is the shortest lasting of the principles. However its importance in the beginning is so big, and can be very long lasting. 

6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.
A scenario for you: Everyday you report to work at the same time, follow your same morning routine, take lunch at noon, follow your same afternoon routine, then clock out at 5. Yet some days your boss is full of praise for your work, and other days he screams at you for being lazy. You would start to dread work... not knowing what was waiting for you. But if you change that around, and replace that boss with one that reacted in a calm, consistent manner, providing constructive criticism as needed, well you would probably be a lot happier about reporting to work. You would know what was in store for you, and would even be able to take the admonishment in a much more positive way, and be more open to learning from it. 

Now obviously babies and toddlers do not offer the same consistency to us that you offered to your boss in that scenario; but ideally, we would all rather be boss #2 then boss #1! Be consistent in your actions towards your child, and when leaving them with someone else, be sure that they will be consistent with their care as well. As your toddler learns and grows, repetition and consistency are the key to encouraging them to grow in ways that work for everyone. This applies to every age though. If you child knows what to expect from you, there will be less need to push boundaries, or test limits (note I said less, not none!). While the practice of it evolves and changes, the principles stay the same. Act consistently, and act with love. 

7. Practice Positive Discipline
Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.
This one is the most self explanatory when it comes to continuing throughout the stages of a child's life. This is also one that I find is the most of a "work in progress" for me. Whether you are dealing with a toddler or an equally rational teenager, show your child that they are not a lesser then member of the family, but a fully loved member. We teach our daughter respect, by modelling respect. That means explaining our reasons, understanding and empathizing with their disappointments, and encouraging natural consequences. We don't hit or berate our child, or tell her that she is bad, instead we teach that we all make mistakes, and that those mistakes have consequences, but we can learn from them together and come out closer. 

8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself. 
Once a week I head out to yoga. My husband does the nighttime routine without me, and Gwen is asleep before I get home. I love our nighttime routine, but I've come to love this night away from it too. It is time for me to stretch my body and mind, and recharge myself as a whole person, not just as Mama. The hugs I get the next morning let me know that I was missed, but the stories she tells me about what they ate for dinner and what books they read before bed let me know that they had a great time and it was okay that I went. The fact that I have more patience lets me know that it was more then okay that I went... it was a benefit to all of us. 

Finding balance doesn't mean you have to go out, but it does involve looking at what makes you tick as a person outside of your attachments to your little ones, and making time for those passions. This is a principle that applies whether you are AP or not, whether you are a parent or not! Everyone needs to find balance in their life, fulfillment in multiple areas, and it is something that can be so hard to come by. But especially when you are working to pour so much of yourself into your babies, it is essential to find time to refuel. 

Gwen is getting bigger and bigger everyday. We already babywear less and less, now only pulling the Mei Tai or the wraps out for things like hiking or long walks with a tired girl. Breastfeeding is only 2x a day now, and sometimes even less then that, and I know that soon enough she won't need that anymore. But I am an AP Mama now, and an AP Mama I'll remain. When she is 5, or 15, or 25, I will still seek to parent Gwen in a gentle way that respects her individuality and adjusts to her current stage of development.

* As taken from Attachment Parenting International.
**  Rachelle gave a great overview of the difference between bedsharing and cosleeping, here.


  1. Great piece Sweets. I can only add that the positive effects of AP for the parent are unending as well. Watching you parent Gwen is a great joy to me.

  2. I think you're pretty much on point. I think the real overarching theme is that you parent in a way that responds to what your child needs. It's not just about ticking off the boxes, it's about tailoring your parenting to your individual child. And that, of course, will never end. You'll be doing that all the way through your child's adulthood.


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~ Meegs