This article is a version of one submitted to Huff Post in 2013, which was declined.
Attachment Parenting has become a pop-culture phenomenon thanks to a pervasive media that has titillated our American, mamm-obsessed public with a steady diet of books, articles and most especially provocative images. Attachment as a parenting method was coined back in the early 1950’s, founded on fairly logical principles. In recent years, the term has been embraced by parents, celebs and workaday people alike who appear to suggest to the rest of us that to be close to one’s offspring, one has to be, well, really really close. For years and years to boot.
Why is it that now, being “attached” to one’s child means having the kid affixed like a bosom barnacle several years into its childhood? “Attached” sleeping also seems to justify that sleep deprivation game, aka musical beds, where a roost-ruling Junior member is cozily wedged (albeit with occasional, fatal results) between both parents, or where the “lesser” parent is relegated to solitary slumber in some secondary bed with the littlest emperor – whatever it takes to keep Oh Little One peacefully a-snooze. As a parent who has raised all her children with a traditional family hierarchy in place, where everyone has done just fine in their own beds, where “No” was employed from an early point on and enforced, I am compelled to ask: Since when did it become the norm, let alone a school of thought, for parents to serve at the pleasure of their diminutive princes and princesses? When did the definition of family morph into this inverted monarchy? I have also been a working mom, single for several, formative years. I know what busy is and understand what it means to juggle time, energies and commitments, and I know what work it takes to keep all those familial ducks in a row. But I also know it can be done, and done without succumbing to any mom/parent as victim mindset/trend. Finally, I’d also like to ask why Attachment Parents as penultimate bedmates and legacy lactators have come to be presented as if they alone possess superior connectivity with their children.
Is it possible we have been subjected to Attachment hoopla simply because it has been used as a buzz-building tool by an entertainment-driven media, because that involves exposure of a couple of very specific body parts that are famously successful sales generators in our puritanical societies, especially as touted by media-generating celebs (or worse yet, waning celebs who are seeking to up their publicity quotient)? Is attachment parenting as buzz generator being used by ordinary and anonymous viral-wannabes for its click earning potential? To seek the attention and acceptance of outside others is the most lamentable aspect of our viralized society, as it comes directly at a cost to those closest to us, who most deserve out attention, who should be put first.
When in our westernized society the phrase Attachment Parenting is deemed a documentable school of thought, which is to say a commercially viable one, and when I see all around me the rationalization of the shelving of basic discipline and the word “No” in favor of keeping precious progeny appeased (not happy, mind you, which is a more complex, deeper state of contentment, borne of accomplishment, which slavish catering to does not engender) at all costs, and when today’s committed relationships are further tested by the sanctioning of on-going, compromised parental intimacy, then it’s time for the “other side” to offer their two cents. Count me in to the “others.” My moniker for the methods that drive the Attachment trend is this: EZ Appeasement Parenting.
I will never forget observing an angry, wailing child at the grocery store being stilled (btw, Stillen in German means to nurse) by a parent popping candy into its mouth. Rewarded. Ask Pavlov. I have seen toddlers hit their parents, only to be hugged and cajoled. Rewarded, again. I have known bleary-eyed, unhappy couples, emotionally light-years apart, subsisting with the little human buffers they have produced, there to help maintain dysfunction in the guise of family dynamic. Where many people prefer to call EZ Appeasement Parenting “attachment,” I see avoidance and short cuts on many levels.
I remember participating in a playgroup years ago, where am over doting, leche-loving mother would stuff her obnoxious son under her shirt each time he started – or tried to – act out (in other words, behave like a normal boy) in aggression. I also observed that boy then fighting to get out from under her, literally. The boy needed a time out, a stern redirection. He needed to learn how to 1) behave 2) self soothe. He did not need to be “reattached” into some forced calm, over and over again. I also remember, as a teen, sitting in a living room of a woman who nursed both of her sons for many years: Son #2, a big, robust kid, would climb aboard and helped himself every few minutes, disrupting our conversation and dynamic in a way I could only construe as kid controlling – basically subjugating – his mother. This woman was passively accepting maternal doormat status, not mothering her child, which would have mandated the child’s learning to accept the parent as authority. The boy was neither hungry nor upset when he laid claim to his mother repeatedly. The boy would further rummage around under her blouse in a way that I will go on record as saying was physically invasive and not appropriate, certainly in the presence of an outsider/guest – the distractibility on all sides was pervasive. I am an artist and illustrator who has drawn, studied and appreciated countless nudes and am therefore very likely far more accustomed to the human form. As a mother of three I can now say, tongue in cheek and in all seriousness, that I have seen it all. But this allowed behavior has very little to do with nudity. It was a massive convolution and confusion of intimacy, authority and foundational parenting, disrespectful all around.
As non-practitioner of the über-long-term suckle ‘n tuck as attachment agent or pacifier, I wish to directly counter Attachment rationalizations as one personally challenged by the “Are You Mom Enough?” question in TIME magazine’s controversial May 2012 issue. When TIME presented us with a blonde-tressed, generically pretty gal on the cover of its May 2012 issue, who also happened to have a really big kid latched on to her, the magazine’s true intent was to provoke and boost sales, not inform. Had information and adult discourse been the plan, we’d have seen a woman plain of face and form on the cover instead, with her gaze directed in towards the kid at her breast. TIME could have above all spared us the come-hither stare of their cover mom/model.
What was TIME really asking? Are women not “mom enough” when they don’t parent in this fashion or are moms not “women enough” when they are unwilling to appear in lacto-based poses that in my interpretation are nothing more than thinly veiled moments of maternally excused exhibitionism? We are now as before very susceptible to sexuality in print. Yes, yes, the body is a beautiful thing, as is nursing, birthing and so on and so on ad infinitum. Arty appreciation or reproductive sentimentality aside, unexpected, in-your-face nudity in print has always been and is still an old media hat trick for attention. TIME pulled little more than an entry-level visual stunt to raise an eyebrow and sell editions. And thanks to the Facebook-style billboarding of self in our vitalized culture (where those with nothing more than too much time on their hands are the ones who generate new/buzz/trends), too much of the on-going Attachment argument has become about the tangential sexualization of exposed body parts, not nurturing.
Am I woman enough if I’m not on board with the whole breast-as-everlasting-Gobstopper and its display? Am I mom enough if I do not care for kid-bliss at all costs?
Let me put it this way: I have three kids, breastfed them all, all done by about the first birthday or sooner. Thriving, healthy kids, a year seemed plenty long enough to me and there was never the first bit of weaning drama for anyone, including me. I freely acknowledge the biological and psychological benefits to my children and myself but felt no compulsion to prolong my personal pleasure principle via their feeding off my body once they reached ages of active-memory building. I loved giving birth, loved nursing them, and though my role as parent is one of the most important aspects of who I am, I don’t define or deify myself by having procreated or lactated. Collectively, Western society has a tendency to poeticize and glorify our most basic biological functions, be it religiously founded, displaced romanticism or plain old ego-mongering. We have likewise created a dichotomous, full spectrum of issues founded on the dysfunctional mix that based on our puritanical and religified, sexist and obsessive hangups with those very same bodily functions. Add to that the narcissistic projection and unrequited dreams of failed fame seeking dreamers who can’t quite let go of their own fantasies, who in turn install them into their kids. Our ever-growing need for outside attention in a world saturated by EZ fame and viralized publicity finds too many of us reaching ever more haphazardly into private realms as we try to leave some sort of a mark on a world that sees fit to view the banal and everyday as some form of entertainment.
So, why does breastfeeding and the manner in which its done need to continue to garner so much attention? There are two obvious reasons we can point out, singularly American fixations substantiated by a booming cosmetic surgery industry. When I nursed my babies, which was any- and everywhere it suited them/me, I was never tempted or driven to dare either the company I was in or unwitting passersby to behold my boobs or my body. It was always a very simple matter to be covered up and unobtrusive enough to keep those around me as comfortable with me as I was with them. That, dear readers, is a form of courtesy. Breastfeeding need not be a test of public laissez-faire progressiveness. To challenge via any form of shock effect is not to teach or positively sway a more puritanical mindset. Likewise, as nursing was a never big deal to me it never required fanfare, fandom, clubs or socializing based solely on the activity. I preferred to seek attention and company elsewhere and in other ways as participant, not by self-centering.
As for co-sleeping, the other EZ Appeasement Parenting hot button issue: Parents either lament these days their inability to get their children to sleep at night or they boast about their co-sleeping. In my world, the bedside cradle graduated at a few months to a crib in a different room. Bedtimes and beds were established and never up for grabs. Bedtime routines were happily employed and days ended on positive notes, very often with story time as the only non-sleep based activity. Kids can sense if there is an option and will take the opportunity to disrupt the chain of authority if the parents give it to them. I continue to observe malleable parents issuing meaningless No’s everywhere I go. Children are quite manipulative; it’s part of their survival strategy as humans, for they are small and dependent for a long time. It’s the parent’s job to sift through the “theatricks” and separate the real needs from the faux, and to choose their No’s well. Then, having done so, they need to stick to the No – the key is selective use of the denial. As for the island of refuge that is the marital bed? It should belongeth to only the parental units, or the lone parent if circumstance dictates – what goes on in Vega stays in Vega. The oh so rare, private waking minutes and hours of precious sleep shared between the overseeing adults of any household should remain exclusively theirs because it is too important and too difficult to attain. To be sure, snuggle time exists in our family too, but alone time with one’s partner is Sanctuary. In this day and age, protecting the adult relationship protects the entire family.
EZ appeasement parenting takes many forms, all of them temporary/non-solutions to the trials and tribulations faced when anyone takes on the parent’s dual role of caregiver and teacher. Pull me any day into a dialogue about the ever-morphing, nuanced job that is parenting – but don’t play the victim card, either – and how it was never intended to be an EZ job, for it is not an EZ world out there. Attachment Parents, call me the Connected Parent.
What I strive for is less tangible. It’s a connection that keeps me close to my youngest child as she sleeps soundly and without issue in her own bed. It likewise keeps me close to my sons, who sleep in their beds in their own apartments, one a few minutes away, the other several states away. As my connection was not primally focused on physical attachment to my body parts, I instead strove to build on the cerebral aspects, with emphasis on safety, security, discipline and civility and communication that would stretch to accommodate all horizons. Hugs, kisses, all that good stuff, exist in droves, but no apron strings will ever be kept purposely short by me in some attempt at parental meta-control.
“Connected” also includes an active acknowledgement of the concept of letting go. Letting go happens incrementally and eliminates any sense of a contest. Beautiful, minute stages of independence are attained as a fledgling sense of self is formed in the child, who depends less on the parent for consolation or approval as he learns to depend on himself for those very things, though I/we will always be there for him too. Connected in my case also helps me maintain my own sense of self, as well as who I am to my significant other. All three of us – my spouse, my child and I – deserve well defined but very different slices of my unequivocal time and attention.
Attachment might be the tight familial braid some personalities require. I say it suggests neediness on the part of a parent who isn’t willing to let go of the brief honeymoon that is infant physical dependency. I also wonder if there isn’t some clinically measurable endorphin-producing drive for a life or lifestyle that fosters a need for its production as a feel-good counterbalance through direct physical intimacy with offspring. Attachment seems tangentially to rationalize a parenting picture with those who are not comfortable embracing their roles as family authorities, who fear if they are not best friend, entertainer and unequivocal appeaser they cannot be worthy or capable of earning their child’s love and respect. Respect is the foundation for the regard a child has for his parent; love binds it in both directions. I don’t think any parent should compromise respect in their quest for their child’s love.
Call me not the Attachment Parent. Call me the Connected Parent. I did not need to keep my children plugged in to me to prove my devotion, nor do I need to be physically intertwined with them to prove my love. I will not garner press by flashing you; instead, I have words and I will differentiate: cleave and cleavage are not borne of the same thing. Acceptance, support and the logical application of convenience need not become inextricably merged with exhibitionism and attention mongering in the guise of lactation advocacy or posturing of superiority. What I represent might be just as intriguing.