Not long after PalKid was born, after months of colic, special formulas, sleep deprivation, and joy, we went to a get-together with other new parents (that being about all we had in common). A few of the couples were sitting around talking about Ferberizing, co-sleeping, and all other manner of child-rearing mishegos. MrsPal and I were eyeing each other sleepily when one of the parents turned to us and asked, “So, what book are you reading?”
Without a pause, MrsPal answered, “I read the book that says, ‘don’t read so many fucking books’.”
I love this woman.
Parenting advice is one of our species’ earliest annoying habits. It strikes parents at the heart of their deepest insecurities. There’s little doubt that parenting behaviors matter, but how do we know which styles are better and which will scar our kids for life?
We don’t really. There are some fairly obvious behaviors that seem important via “common sense”: show your child affection, don’t beat them, etc. But what about spanking? What about letting a baby “cry it out”? Tons of research on child development has been done over the last century or so, but it hasn’t led to a revolution in parenting.
Attachment parenting is the name given to a set of faddish practices now in vogue. It was (perhaps) coined by Dr. William Sears, and is being promoted by various celebrities and celebrity doctors as the one true way of raising a healthy child. There is no one definition of AP, but Attachment Parenting International lists “Eight Principles” of AP:
- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
- Feed with Love and Respect
- Respond with Sensitivity
- Use Nurturing Touch
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care
- Practice Positive Discipline
- Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
None of these seems on its face to be particularly revelatory or revolutionary. Is ”provid[ing] for consistent and loving care ” unique to a particular type of child-rearing? But it’s not this vague advice which gets them in the news. It’s the more controversial bits such as “co-sleeping”, extended breast feeding, and other out-of-the-mainstream practices. Since there is no universal agreement on exactly what AP is, it wouldn’t be fair to hold it responsible for parents who breast feed a child old enough to ask for mommy’s boob before doing their homework. This lack of a consistent, operational definition also means that research is scant at best. Searches of PubMed and google scholar turn up no scholarly articles specifically addressing AP.
It’s often argued that AP is more “natural”, mimicking behaviors of our primate cousins. My primate cousins fling poo and sometimes kill and eat each other, so I’m not giving that argument a whole lot of credit.
Attachment parenting is like all parenting advice: evolved behaviors, folk lore mixed, common sense, and superstition. Like all similar fads, its useful bits will continue under the category of “parenting” and the silly bits will fade into obscurity.