Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Meat of AP (Attachment Parenting)

By Rita Brhel

I first came to Attachment Parenting like most parents do – because it felt wrong to let my baby cry herself to sleep and it felt good to hold her all the time. And I came to Attachment Parenting International, because gosh, there are a whole lot of people in the world who feel compelled to criticize the way I raise my children.

It was through my membership to API, plus a whole bookcase full of parenting books and neuropsychology texts, that I learned exactly what Attachment Parenting is: that it isn’t just a feel-good approach to parenting. It is a set of eight parenting principles proven by science to raise our children to be well-adjusted, emotionally healthy members of society who are able to establish and maintain secure attachments with other adults and their future children. (Read Attached at the Heart by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker to learn more about what the research says.)

We hear a lot about these attachments? What exactly are they, and why are they so important? Attachment is the emotional bond between two people in a relationship – in this case, between the parent and child. A relationship can either be healthy and stable, producing a secure attachment; or it can be stifling, violent, or otherwise dysfunctional, which indicates an insecure attachment. Relationships are absolutely vital to our individual happiness in life – they determine our success in school, our careers, our friendships, and our marriages – and our ability to attach to other people in a healthy way and maintain that attachment over the long term is absolutely vital to our relationships.

Humans are social creatures, and our ability to connect with others is what our lives are really about. We must know how to navigate our relationships in order to feel fulfilled in our lives. That’s why people who are unable to establish and maintain attachments fall victim to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, and other unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to avoid despair and loneliness as they seek happiness that they can’t find without first repairing their ability to form healthy attachments to others.

That’s the real meat of Attachment Parenting. AP parents don’t opt for a natural birth because they want to martyr for their child. They don’t breastfeed their babies simply as a way to transfer the health-boosting qualities of breastmilk. They don’t wear their babies in slings and wraps to make a fashion statement. AP parents don’t cosleep with their children because they’re afraid of bedtime battles. And they don’t decide not to spank or use timeouts as a way to get around having to discipline at all. On the contrary, we do all these practices and more because they are instrumental in guiding a child’s healthy emotional development (not to mention, their physical and cognitive development as well). We want our children to be happy, to be joyful, to be content. Wow! What a gift a parent can give to her child – the secret to true happiness.

But it doesn’t come without work, and as we know, it doesn’t come without criticism. We are salmon swimming upstream against the current of a parenting culture that advocates early independence, emotional detachment, and discipline through punishments. It isn’t that our culture doesn’t want our children to be happy but that it defines happiness in a different way: independence. The sad thing is, it is this striving for early independence – and consequently, rejection of emotional attachments – that leads so many people to live unfulfilled lives. AP allows parents to change the way they measure their child’s happiness – away from the culture’s standards and toward a sense of self worth that begins within the individual and the quality of his relationships – and gives parents the tools they need to be able to raise children into loving, empathic, compassionate, and nurturing adults who truly experience joy in their lives.

So, yeah, practicing AP does feel good but there’s a whole lot more substance to it. I enjoy cuddling with my children, but beyond that, I know that touch is crucial for babies and children to feel emotionally connected with their parents, and that connectedness – that is what I’m going for.


Related Reading from Brhel:
  1. Nuzzle closer dear…
  2. Parenting Courage
  3. The Transformation of a High-Needs Child

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