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The provocative magazine cover

“In a way, the arguments for and against attachment parenting

mirror questions about family and work that still divide America

 five decades after the advent of modern feminism.”

Dear Kate,

You don’t have kids, do you?

If you did you would know that there is no “battle that rages within the parenting community.”  The only place such a battle exists is in the media, who use it to sell magazines, and in the rhetoric of politicians, who use it to score political points.  Those of us with children are not battling one another.  We are doing the best they can with what we have within a society that would rather talk about us than offer meaningful support.  We are raising children in a world that is changing beneath our feet.  Old supports and certainties have fallen away and attachment parenting is actually a creative response to that.

Parenting methods aren’t developed in a vacuum by “crazy” (your word) parents who just feel like changing things up.  They are in part a reaction to experience.  In the case of Bill and Martha Sears, they experienced hardship and neglect in their childhoods.  It’s natural they would want better for their own children.  Even if their childhoods had been idylls, they still might have made some changes – every generation does to some extent.  But they and the so-called “devotees” of their approach are also reacting to the larger culture.

Attachment parenting strikes me as an unconscious attempt to counter the forces of detachment, fragmentation and insecurity of modern life.  Financial insecurity creates circumstances that can be harmful to family life.  Professionals are expected to move to further their careers, so they often live far from extended family and old friends who might help with the kids.  Parents’ willingness to hustle has not resulted in upward mobility, though; middle class incomes have remained stagnant since the 1970’s.  Maybe that’s why 80% of American families need two incomes to make ends meet?  Without trusted loved ones to care for our children and the shameful absence of parental leave policies, some parents feel backed into a corner:  it’s all work or all home.  Attachment parenting feels something like a new, rewarding career to women who choose all-home.

There is social insecurity as well.  Public institutions have lost authority.  Civic institutions are weakening.  Corporations are all that’s left standing, and they are better known for loyalty to shareholders than to employees – let alone the public interest – in the global economy.  As a result, people are questioning authority and convention in many areas of American life.  In response to the environmental and health consequences of industrialized food production, there has been a surge of support for organic, locally-sourced food and breastfeeding.  In response to the unsafe rise in Cesarian sections and conveyer-belt birth experiences, women are choosing homebirth in record numbers.  When faced with poor performing, unimaginative public schools, parents are embracing homeschooling.  There is also an increasing acceptance of wellness models of health, such as homeopathy and acupuncture, as well as of Eastern philosophies and practices, such as meditation and yoga.  Attachment parenting is consistent with these other trends in its quest for what is natural and for wholeness, connection and thoughtful living.

Attachment parenting is much bigger than feminism.  It is a creative response to insecure times and a rapidly changing world.  As a feminist I would like to see fewer articles criticizing how mothers mother and more conversations about how to help mothers – with parental leave policies, job sharing and investment in quality child care, for example.   In fact, as a feminist I would like to see less criticism of the choices other women make, full stop.  This is the principal reason that I threw away every other parenting book once I laid eyes on Dr. Sears’s The Baby Book.  In my haze of postpartum anxiety and vigilance his was the first voice that validated what I felt instinctively:  that this was not a time to be endured until I could get the baby on a predictable schedule and my life could return to “normal.”  It was an invitation to live more deeply, to learn from my baby as she learned from me, to allow myself to be transformed.  The practices he suggested – breastfeeding, sleep sharing, physical closeness – are not ends in themselves, but a gateway to a deep connection with my baby.

In this way, attachment parenting is more even than a response to insecure times.  It’s an affirmation of what we want:  connection, instead of separation, and cooperation – yes, even with our children – instead of competition and dominance.  To the question you imply, “Is staying home to raise children an authentic feminist choice,” I answer, “Why wouldn’t it be?”  Birth showed me my power in a way that society never would.  Motherhood has shown me my value and given me a sense of purpose that the world of paid work never could.  I’m helping to raise the next generation to live comfortably and creatively in a world that bears little resemblance to the one I grew up in.  What could be more feminist than that?



Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Great article! It touches on all of the issues that are so important in our lives today. It doesn’t just complain, it offers an alternative way of doing things that responds to the problems we’ve identified in society. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who studies attachment as the main factor in the development of the self and in how a person is able to develop attachment in later relationships. The argument regarding separation-individuation and attachment theory with their concerns over whether a child is able to separate and individuate if they have been raised with attachment parenting makes little sense to me. It is within the relationships that children begin to differentiate. Attachments are necessary for growth as individuals, and we strive for interdependence, rather than some model of independence that has some fantasy belief that a person can exist without needing anyone else.

    • allison says:

      Thank you, Elaine! Your last sentence made me weak, you’re so right! I do think times are changing.

  • “As a feminist I would like to see fewer articles criticizing how mothers mother and more conversations about how to help mothers”

    The early part of the feminist movement was about rejecting motherhood because it was what kept us “enslaved” by our bodies. I think how we have been able to come full circle and see that our bodies offer us liberation if we are willing to follow their lead.

    I’m not saying there are not cultures where women are enslaved by motherhood. I’m saying that motherhood is not the slave maker.

    You are finding the liberation. Keep at it.

    • allison says:

      Well said, Rebecca, as always! I think the slave-maker is belief in the lie of separation, because it forces us into believing in scarcity and competition. We compete with our children for time or energy, for example, when cooperation is more satisfying to everyone. I don’t mean to suggest I have it all figured out; this is just the light, the warmth, I’m moving toward.

  • Yes! I love this response Alison. Thank you for taking the time to express this. And, I wholeheartedly agree that I would like to see fewer articles criticizing mothers (and women in general) and many many more conversations about how to hep them….how to help them not only in the very practical ways you mentioned, but also in honoring and listening to their own inner guidance. It’s clear that as a society we do not have all the answers. The answers that will lead us through the changes we are experiencing will come one by one from each mother parenting and responding to the needs of each child. Women have so many big decisions to make that effect society in powerful ways and until we support them to tune into and honor their inner wisdom we are collectively cutting ourselves off from that wisdom all need.

    • allison says:

      Thank you, Lorraine! I hope we are moving toward more wide-spread acceptance of the belief that you imply, that individuals and peace in the relationships between individuals actually make a difference to the world. The more we cultivate connection and peace, within ourselves by tuning into our wisdom, and in our relationships, the more of it there will be!

  • Such a great, intelligent response, Allison. Feminism to me is about the freedom to be who we are, regardless of our sex, and to be treated as equals. The attempt to create infighting among mothers sets all mothers up as second class citizens- creating the idea that if you’re caring for another human being you are not fully worthy of equality and respect. That a human’s only value is based on the stereotypically male roles they take on….and that caring is weakness and deserves contempt. Sorry, not having it. Motherhood is powerful and empowering (loved your examples!). Mothers are smart women. We see through it, know our innate worth, and won’t play the game.

    • allison says:

      Sing it, sister! Thank you for your strength. It bewilders me that, as you put it so well, “a human’s only value is based on the stereotypically male roles they take on.” That cannot be all that feminism is: permission to act like men in the world of men — worse, the necessity to act like men in the world of men, or be considered second-class citizens. Feminism has to be about elevating the feminine, the womanly, the maternal, or it’s just another set of chains.

  • Jenn Mellon says:

    Nicely done. You make great points drawn from social observations, but also from experience. So many feminists without kids writing about motherhood… and being published! Is that not strange to anyone else? A woman with a theory must always yield to a woman with experience.

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