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Attachment that goes too far

Young mother closes her eyes as if she's holding in her emotions as she holds her young daughter“Attachment parenting is loving and attentive parenting, but is nothing close to spoiling a child. The idea behind attachment parenting is that you get to intimately understand your child to appropriately encourage and discipline them as they grow up.”

So says Dr William Sears, who originally coined the term, and who explains it at length on Ask Dr Sears.

As a parent of now-grown children, it is strange to see such common-sense parenting jargonized and pathologised. What is the alternative? Detachment parenting?

I was firmly attached to my two children – by the nipple – for 18 months with the first and two years with the second. Our daughter didn’t sleep in her own bed until she was four years old when we moved to a two-storey house and she decided it just wasn’t worth the trip upstairs in the middle of the night.

Back then, I’d never heard of attachment parenting. Instead, I was busy “toddler taming”, on the advice of Dr Christopher Green, who recommended controlled crying to ensure your baby slept in its own bed and which obviously did not work for us.

Since Dr Spock published his landmark Commonsense Baby and Childcare book in 1946, it seems babies have always come with instruction books (mostly written by men).

What’s different is that every baby now seems to be a Porsche rather than a Holden, requiring specialised servicing.

Attachment parenting promotes breastfeeding and building a loving relationship with your child, and who can argue with that?

But for me there is something NQR about the way this idea is extended to the notion that a mother must be fully responsible for her child’s emotions.

“The baby perceives himself by how the mother reflects his value,” Dr Sears writes.

“This insight is most noticeable in the mother’s ability to get behind the eyes of her child and read the child’s feelings during discipline decisions.”

The article goes on to cite the example of Lauren, the author’s two-year-old, who impulsively grabbed a carton of milk from the fridge and spilled it on the floor.

“As Lauren was about to disintegrate, Martha (another Dr Sears and the author’s wife) mellowed out the situation and preserved the fragile feelings of a sensitive child and prevented the angry feelings of inconvenienced parents,” Dr Sears writes.

“When I asked how she managed to handle things so calmly, she said, ‘I asked myself if I were Lauren, how would I want my mother to respond’.”

There’s nothing new about not crying over spilled milk, but what disturbs me about this is that the mother wasn’t allowed, or couldn’t allow herself, to have an angry reaction or for the child to be upset.

A matter-of-fact response might have been appropriate. But let’s not burden the mother with responsibility for her child’s emotions.

So what if she gets momentarily angry? So what if Lauren disintegrates? Big deal. Let Lauren learn to cope with another person’s anger occasionally, and her mother’s humanity.

You cannot spoil a baby through attachment parenting, Dr Sears asserts. But will you inadvertently create a child who expects others to be equally attuned to their needs, or a child that is so attuned to the needs of others that she is unable to stand up for herself?

In the real world, no one else is going to be there to anticipate your child’s every emotion and analyse her response to ensure no one is upset.

Just as your child needs to get down and dirty with germs in order to boost her immune system, she also needs to learn to deal with being disappointed, upset, let down, shafted and coming second. This is called building resilience.

My fear is that Australia is raising two types of children – the neglected children of parents who are undereducated, isolated, under-resourced and under-supported, and who may have mental health or other health issues that prevent them from providing emotionally, physically and financially for their children. And the overly precious, over-compensated children of parents who have too much and who have waited too long.

Be intuitive, be kind and be attached to your child, but common sense must prevail.

Eventually, your child will find herself in a less-than-perfect world. The time to learn to cope with that is sooner rather than later.

Image credit: dubova/123RF Stock Photo

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