"Attachment parenting is an easy thing to get wrapped up in and it’s an easy thing to feel like you’ve failed at, primarily because there are defined and demanding benchmarks."
You know what one of the scariest things in the world is? Your first newborn. That thing is terrifying. The pressure to do all the right things and the constant fear of failure that come with having an infant are incredible.
The fact that most of that pressure and fear is self-imposed notwithstanding, babies are intense. Especially first babies. Because face it, you’re clueless. You have zero idea what you’re doing. You’re winging it and praying to Google that you’re getting it at least halfway right.
It’s hard. And it’s confusing. Everyone has advice. Everyone gives tips. Everyone knows best and it’s overwhelming. So you pull out your trusty phone and do what we do best. Ask the internet. And lo and behold, you inevitably learn about all the different kinds of parenting.
There’s free-range parenting, the tiger mom, laissez-faire parenting, positive parenting, attachment parenting, and a boatload of others. And then you feel even more overwhelmed and inadequate, but you choose one, because you feel like you have to or because one speaks to you and you want to do what’s best for baby, right?
Surely winging it isn’t an approved parenting style, so you go with something that has a book or two written about it.
With my first newborn, I decided that attachment parenting spoke to me. It resonated with my soul and I found myself nodding and saying “duh” a lot while reading THE BOOK. It all just seemed very common-sense-y to me, so I ran with it. I read the Seven Baby Bs and figured I’d be able to knock them all out, check all the boxes, and have this AP thing down. My baby was going to be so damned well-adjusted all the other moms would be jealous.
I was already breastfeeding, so that box was checked. I had been clued in to baby-wearing during pregnancy, so I was well on my way to checking that one off as well. I wasn’t about to let that baby out of my sight, so bedding close was an instant check mark also.
Final B — Beware of baby trainers. I was so aware of baby trainers it wasn’t even funny. I quirked an eyebrow and gave major side-eye to anyone who even SUGGESTED I “get him on a schedule” or “let him cry a little." No way in hell. Nope. Nuh uh.
But here’s where things started to crumble a little. I had a complicated c-section and was unable to bond with baby, do skin-to-skin, for close to four hours after he was born. I missed one. I couldn’t check off that Baby B box. Uh oh.
Already, a week home from the hospital, I was feeling some guilt creeping in. Feeling some inadequacy, some concern for my AP cred, and some worry that maybe my baby would grow up to be a sociopath despite my best intentions. OK, so what’s the next B? Surely I would get this one down. I was off to such a good start! I couldn't let my utter failure to bond with my baby at birth ruin my chances at being a good mom.
Responding to baby’s cues. Oh shit. Am I? Am I doing it right? Am I responding appropriately? Do I really know what he wants? Why won’t he stop crying if I’m responding to his cues? I thought he wanted to nurse, but he’s still crying. I’m wearing him, but he’s still crying. I changed his diaper, but he’s still crying! What’s wrong with me?? I'm a horrible mother!! I can’t even tell what my own baby NEEDS from me!! He’s doomed!! I don’t deserve him!! Someone is bound to call DSS.
(I actually, really, legitimately convinced myself that someone was going to call child services on me because my baby was crying. I was WRECKED).
You see, I suffer from pretty bad anxiety on a normal day, and had postpartum anxiety on top of that, so these all seemed like perfectly reasonable reactions. And I was feeling them. Every. Single. Day. Multiple times. Because, bless his heart, my first baby boy cried a lot.
He was a high-needs baby, and I had no idea what that meant. And it spun me right the hell out.
The next B — Boundaries — I thought I had checked off, but in hindsight, that’s a big, fat nope. I stayed home with him. I was with him 24/7. My husband was away from home for 12, 13, 14 hours a day, and we had one car. Even if I’d wanted boundaries (which I didn’t, because I thought I already had them), it would’ve been impossible. We were in a new town and we had zero friends there and were two hours away from our closest family. So, boundaries: another nope.
Final B — Beware of baby trainers. I was so aware of baby trainers it wasn’t even funny. I quirked an eyebrow and gave major side-eye to anyone who even SUGGESTED I “get him on a schedule” or “let him cry a little." No way in hell. Nope. Nuh uh. Not gonna happen, thank you very much, you must be a bad parent and have no soul to even suggest such a thing.
Obviously, despite my intense desire to do all the things right, I was struggling. AP was hard. It was wearing me down and I didn’t know it. I had PPD and PPA, and attachment parenting, as much as I loved it and wanted it to be perfect, was not helping me get better. Only problem was, I didn’t realize that until my first baby wasn’t my first baby anymore.
When I got pregnant with my younger son, I thought back on how strung out I was, how stressed I was that I hadn’t been able to do skin to skin, and how devastated I was that my son cried a lot. And I said a loud and resounding "hell no" to another round of attachment parenting.
I wasn’t doing that shit again.
But I knew I was going to wear the new baby and nurse the new baby for as long as I could, and sleep in the bed with the new baby and do skin-to-skin if I could. I wasn’t going to let him cry it out or get him on a strict and regimented schedule. So that sounds a lot like AP, right? So why wasn’t I going batshit this time around?
Because I just did all those things because they felt right, not because I was trying to hit some benchmarks some dude made up and wrote in a book. I also didn’t have PPA or PPD the second time around, and had a ton more support.
But I also had a different perspective. Older, wiser, been down that road before kind of perspective.
I learned that babies are resilient little things, and even if you didn’t do skin to skin or nurse 'til toddlerhood or sleep in a family bed on the floor, they’re fine. They love you and you love them and they grow up to be fine, perfect, amazing kids.
Don't’ get me wrong, though, AP is good. And it’s not entirely AP’s fault that I got so spun out. I’m programmed to spin out. That’s just how my brain works.
But attachment parenting is an easy thing to get wrapped up in and it’s an easy thing to feel like you’ve failed at, primarily because of those benchmarks. All the literature says “don’t worry if you don’t do all seven,” or “these are just guidelines,” or “take what works for you and your family and leave the rest."
But that’s not how it works. Even by having them as bullet points in the manual, it’s understood that to effectively and officially attachment parent your child, you need to hit all the markers, check all the boxes, and do it without dissolving into a crying mess on the floor when your baby won’t stop crying and you only slept for two hours and you have to go to the supermarket because you’re out of coffee, but you shouldn’t even be DRINKING coffee and you’re the worst mother in the world.
So, if anyone asked me about whether or not to head down AP road, I'd say to do what I did the second time around. Just say "fuck it" and do your best.