This week's 60 Minutes segment on attachment parenting was pitched as another ‘us versus them’ instigator in the dreary ‘mummy wars’, an attempt to prove which parenting style brings about the 'best results'. Undoubtedly, the mothers interviewed who follow the attachment parenting philosophy think it’s the best way to parent – and for a while, I did too.
I discovered attachment parenting (AP) when my firstborn was seven months old. He was a healthy and happy baby who rarely cried, as long as I breastfed him on demand and held him all the time. Which, to be honest, I didn’t really mind.
I was so besotted with him I thought nothing of holding him all day. And I wasn’t working, so if he needed me to lie on the couch and watch Oprah while he slept on my chest, well that was fine with me.
However after six months, exhaustion set in. I found it increasingly hard to get up so frequently throughout the night, and was ready for him to start sleeping without my help. Trouble was, he was highly indignant at the suggestion of him settling himself. So he started waking even more at night, and I found myself getting up to him every hour. EVERY HOUR.
I was a walking zombie but felt I had no option but to put up with it, because I couldn’t let him cry, not even for a few minutes. So the idea of doing any kind of sleep training was just unimaginable.
The first time around I had been happy to submit myself completely to my child, but this time I needed to keep something for me
Which is how we started co-sleeping.
It came about by accident. I would bring him into bed for a feed and fall asleep, and when he’d wake again I’d do the thing that would get us both back to sleep as fast as possible: I’d breastfeed again. I soon realised we both slept more as a result, were both less irritable during the day … and that I kind of loved it. I loved how in-tune we were, how I would wake instinctively before he did, how our bodies entwined together. It felt right, like that was how mothering was supposed to be. So I stopped trying to get him to sleep without me and started to co-sleep every night.
I became quite the co-sleeping advocate. I found Dr Sears and his attachment parenting site, and realised I’d been inadvertently following his advice. I researched the effects on the brain from raised cortisol levels, caused by prolonged crying, and decided sacrificing my body and bed was more than worth it for all the positive benefits it had for my child.
It suited us both beautifully for a while … but as much as I cherished the intimacy we had, by the time my son was one I was ready to reclaim some of myself again. The AP philosophy encourages co-sleeping and breastfeeding well into preschool years, but it just wasn’t for me.
Luckily the separation wasn’t too painful for either of us and my son moved into his toddler years a happy, confident boy. He’s now a kind, loving six-year-old who is incredibly attached to me and secure in himself.
So did attachment parenting cause him to be like that? Is it the ‘superior’ option? Well, hang on a sec …
Four years after my son was born I had a beautiful baby girl, but I did things a little differently this time. I had a busy preschooler to care for while still working, so the moments I lay with her on the couch while watching Oprah were few and far between.
Instead of sleeping in my arms she’d sleep in her cot beside me while I worked. And I was back performing after a few months, so having her rely on me to sleep wasn’t going to work for either of us.
Most importantly, I wanted her to settle on her own, so from birth I put her in her cot still awake. I still breastfed and held her to sleep sometimes, but not every time. And we co-slept, but not every night. I cherished the moments of intimacy with her, but I loved the nights I could stretch out without her, too. The first time round I had been happy to submit myself completely to my child, but this time I needed to keep something for me.
When she was 10 months old we did a few nights of sleep training. It wasn’t controlled crying but it did involve some crying, and I was okay with that.
I now believe the raised cortisol levels that undoubtedly (and devastatingly) affect an infant’s brain are due to prolonged crying and long-term neglect. They aren’t the cries of baby who protest-cries in 10-minute intervals while being lovingly and affectionately cared for in every other moment.
The co-sleeping/sleep training debate is undoubtedly a heated one, with passionate advocates on either side. Having done both I can see the pros and cons for each way.
But after experiencing two different parenting styles, which do I think is superior? Which one produced the better result?
Neither of them, of course. Both were right for me at the time. And while my children are very different, whether that’s due to their innate personalities, their gender, or the way I parented them in that first year … well, we’ll never know.
I understood the passion the attachment parenting mums on 60 Minutes felt and, while I don’t gel with every single aspect of it (like asking a newborn to change their nappy!), I think on the whole it’s a lovely way to parent. But it’s not for everyone.
I’m glad I followed that style for the first year and perhaps it has helped mould a son who is gentle, affectionate and sensitive. But I’m also glad for the busy, stimulating, hectic first year I had with my daughter, which may have contributed to her being independent, self-reliant and feisty. Neither way was more or less superior, neither child was more or less loved and I certainly wasn’t a ‘better’ parent in either instance. Just different.
Did you see the 60 Minutes episode? What did you think? Is this style for you? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum or comment below.