By

Jennah Evans

rainbowbaby

Attachment Parenting (AP) is a method of nurturing and socialising children which has often attracted the scrutiny and scorn of the Feminist lens. After all, what could possibly be empowering about fostering a state of complete co-dependence between a parent and child? 

 It has to be considered that, overwhelmingly it is still women who are the primary caregivers (despite or perhaps because of the initiatives available to new fathers) and it is women who by and large, suffer the ill effects of postpartum depression and the pressures borne out of motherhood. It is therefore essential that child rearing practices are investigated and where necessary, stressors can be identified and support packages developed. It is proposed here that traditional ways of upbringing are such stressors which undermine caregivers’ confidence in raising their children. To this effect, AP is proposed as a healthy and enriching alternative which is also compatible with Feminist aims.

 An influential advocate for the AP style of parenting, Dr Sears (2015) sets out the criteria required of AP practitioners, which are then narrowed down to the ‘7 Baby Bs’:

1. Birth Bonding

2. Breast Feeding 

3. Baby wearing

4. Bedding close to baby

5. Belief in baby’s cries

6. Beware of baby training

7. Balance


 It is claimed that the popular revival of an ‘attachment theory’, perhaps an ideologically-driven style of parenting is bad news for mothers who are already stretched thin across that triple shift of paid, domestic and emotion work. Becoming ‘Mummy Martyrs’ has apparently left women feeling, ‘endlessly guilty’ and is supposedly more about ‘regulating the behaviour of women than their children’ (Guardian, 2012).
 The argument set forth here however is that contrary to popular belief, AP is in fact incredibly empowering to women. AP allows woman to acknowledge the strength of her mind, body and soul – all encompassed within her ability to nurture and fulfil the needs of another human being. This is not to say that success and fulfilment cannot be found outside of this realm, but it seems that feminist thought has for too long dismissed mothering as an oppressive, demeaning state. Through throwing off the shackles of patriarchal, detached methods of child rearing, AP teaches parents that it does not have to be this way, returning to what feels right for both baby and mother.

 Unfortunately, unhealthy child-rearing practices are deeply embedded within a tradition and culture that has been normalised through successive generations. As observed by Chrissy Chittenden, founder of ‘Attachment Feminism’ (2015), ‘we’re more than brainwashed, we’re culturally indoctrinated to think that what we now know as mainstream parenting is normal, and anything else is just…wrong’ (Huffington Post UK, 2014). The Millennium Cohort sample (NSPCC, 2012) of 19,000 babies born over the period of 2000/2001 provides a snapshot of these mainstream parenting beliefs with 68.4% of mothers stating that babies should not be picked up when crying. 

 It has already been well documented that such emotional detachment has negative consequences for both mother and child, investigated further in Sue Gerhardt’s, ‘Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain’ (2015). From her unique perspective as a psychoanalytic-psychotherapist working alongside mothers and their babies, Gerhardt argues that, “this process can go wrong in many different ways, but it is safe to say that a whole range of people who are depressed, or angrily antisocial, or anorexic, traumatised, alcoholic, or disturbed and insecure, are neither able to accept their feelings or to manage them well in relation to other people” (Gerhardt, 2015, p.227-228). 


 If the next generation of women and men are to be raised as independent, stable and confident members of society, then the primary caregiver should devote substantial time and effort to achieving this goal. The onus is on the parent to produce emotionally intelligent children who in turn recognise the importance of gender equality and social justice. This cannot be achieved if the first foundations in life are not carefully placed. If children are taught from infancy that their voices and cries do not warrant our attention, how are they expected to command it as they grow older? If infants are left for hours on end to ‘cry it out’ (whatever ‘it’ is) without the respite of an adult’s comforting embrace, how will they grow up to be anything other than emotionally detached and cold towards others? 

 

 Is it beneficial to the feminist cause that life’s first role model (i.e. the mother) does not console or attend to a child’s distress? What does this say about the relationship we are meant to have with the women in our lives? It says that it should be one of distance, one lacking empathy and emotional connection. This is in fact, the real bad news for women and the following quote from Elizabeth Hormann (Attachment Parenting UK, 2015) sums this view up quite eloquently: “We are bent on weakening bonds in the name of growth and independence, then spend out adulthoods wondering why we have trouble getting close to other people”.

 It is therefore, a disservice and a disrespect to children to instil within them a ‘learned powerlessness’ through constant ignorance of their needs, needs which consist simply of; love, understanding and support – coincidently the same values and ethos that should be at the heart of Feminism.

 

 
Bibliography

Guardian (2012) Attachment Parenting: More Guilt for Mothers [Online] Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/may/18/attachment-parenting-guilt-mothers [Accessed 07 July 2015] 

NSPCC (2012) What the Millennium Cohort Study can tell us about the challenges new parents face, [Online] Available at: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/millienium-cohort-study-challenges-new-parents-face-report.pdf?_t_id=1b2m2y8asgtpgamy7phcfg%3d%3d&_t_q=cohort&_t_tags=language%3aen%2csiteid%3a7f1b9313-bf5e-4415-abf6-aaf87298c667&_t_ip=10.97.160.97&_t_hit.id=nspcc_web_models_media_genericmedia/_0612de13-7c5a-4390-ac8b-12769c5c5eeb&_t_hit.pos=1 [Accessed 06 July 2015]

Attachment Feminism (2015) [Online] Available from: http://www.attachmentfeminism.com

Attachment Parenting UK (2015) Quotes to Inspire [Online] Available from: http://www.attachmentparenting.co.uk/quotes-to-inspire/4564590673 [Accessed 08 Jul 2015]

Huffington Post UK (2014) Attachment Parenting IS feminist [Online] Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chrissy-chittenden/attachment-parenting-feminsim_b_5018564.html [Accessed 06 July 2015]

Ask Dr Sears (2015) Attachment Parenting babies are raised the way nature intended [Online] Available from: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/attachment-parenting/attachment-parenting-babies [Accessed: 07 July 2015]

Gerhardt, S. (2015) Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. London: Routledge. 2nd Edition.

 

Jennah is a Sociology graduate from the city of Salford and gained a First class award for her dissertation in “Beauty in the Postmodern era”. First time motherhood has nourished her sociological imagination and she is savouring every moment with her daughter. You can follow Jennah’s twitter feed here: @Jennahmarie88