Family Matters

Attachment Parenting: The Root of all Evil? Erica Jong Thinks So

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I have never understood all the fuss about attachment parenting. The term does not resonate with me. In conversation, when you say someone is really attached to something (baby to blankie, for example), you mean he really, really likes it. Don’t most parents really, really like their babies?

In any case, a recent Wall Street Journal essay by Erica Jong has brought the parenting philosophy to the blogosphere forefront, yet again. Attachment parenting, such as it may be, espouses mothers carrying babies non-stop, sleeping with them and responding to — nay, anticipating — their every desire. As I understand it, attachment parenting puts babies first and mommies and daddies trailing behind in a distinct second/third position.

Anyone who’s spent any time with a baby knows that they often end up getting their way, attachment parenting or no. When they’re hungry, you know it. When they want to be held or rocked, they don’t keep it a secret. They’re demanding and most parents are happy to help keep them happy, no aristocratic label needed. (More on Study: Breast-Feeding Moms Get Just as Much (or Little) Rest as Formula-Feeders)

I’m not certain what sparked Jong’s missive — attachment parenting as a concept has been around for a while; maybe she’s just gotten fed up — but she goes a little off-kilter, taking aim at “professional narcissists” and adoptive moms Angelina Jolie and Madonna and attachment parenting gurus, pediatrician William Sears and his wife, Martha, whom she calls “condescending colonialists.”

Does adopting foreign kids make a person a narcissist? If so, Jolie and Madonna have a lot of company, judging from the many Asian and African children I see palling around with white parents. While William Sears’ parenting advice does, in fact, strike me as largely impossible to follow, I am not convinced that name-calling is the best way to up the quality of our conversations about how to parent. (More on “Mompetition”: Why You Just Can’t Make Mom Friends)

Still, Jong makes valid points, namely if you’re attached to your baby 24/7, how can you afford to raise her? “At one point,” Jong writes, “the Searses suggest that you borrow money so that you can bend your life to the baby’s needs.” That’s so extreme, it’s laughable. But Jong’s not chuckling. She’s raging, over cloth diapers and homemade baby food and other time-sucks that she says shackle the modern mom. When attachment parenting is held up as the gold standard, “American mothers and fathers run themselves ragged trying to mold exceptional children.”

Over at The New York TimesMotherlode blog, Lisa Belkin weighs in. I agree with her assessment that Jong’s essay is mostly “a mishmash of old accusations against overinvolved parenting.” I’m also glad that she gave the “other side” a voice, in a guest post by Katie Allison Granju, author of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child, and blogger Jillian St. Charles. They wrote:

While second-wave feminism got so many things so very right, and made possible a great many of the career and life choices my generation of women enjoys today, many in that group of feminist thinkers got one thing fundamentally wrong, and that is this: even for those of us who are also productively employed outside the home — whether by choice, necessity or both — our most valued, fulfilling role is the one we take on as mothers to our children.

On this point, they’re right, at least as far as I’m concerned. That said, I still don’t feel I need a book about attachment parenting to tell me how to raise my children. I hold them when I want to, and that’s a lot. Over the weekend, I scooped up my nearly 6-year-old daughter, who looked kind of mortified. “Please don’t tell me to put you down,” I whispered. Maternal guilt works, because she happily snuggled into that space between ear and shoulder, and I supported her 39 pounds until I couldn’t any longer. Then I set her down gently, knowing that whether or not I subscribe to the definition of what others call an “attachment parent,” I always have been one and I always will be. And really, isn’t that the case for most of us? (More on Time.comIn the Battle Over Breast or Bottle, Guilt May Play a Role)