Tuesday Trends: Is there a backlash against attachment parenting?

Kira Pollack, director of photography at Time magazine is riding a storm of controversy over her choice of Time’s mother’s day feature. (Time/Associated Press )This image provided by Time magazine shows the cover of the May 21, 2012 issue with a photograph of Jamie Lynne Grumet, 26, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son for a story on “attachment parenting.” 
We looked around the internet and sampled some responses:

http://www.washingtonpost.com
“Shocking or no big deal? A woman breastfeeding her 3-year-old son is the cover photo of this week’s Time magazine for a story on “attachment parenting,” and reactions ranged from applause to cringing to shrugs.
The photo showed Jamie Lynne Grumet, 26, a stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles who says her mother breastfed her until she was 6 years old. She told the magazine in an interview that she’s given up reasoning with strangers who see her son nursing and threaten “to call social services on me or that it’s child molestation.”

Bobbi Miller, a mother of six who lives in Arkansas, expressed disapproval in a tweet and said in a phone interview, “Even a cow knows when to wean their child.” Of the cover, she said: “Why would this even be out there? It’s ludicrous. It’s almost on the verge of voyeurism.”
But Bettina Forbes, co-founder of an organization called Best for Babes that promotes breastfeeding and supports women who want to nurse their children beyond babyhood, said she hopes the cover “will make mainstream America less squeamish” about women breastfeeding children of any age. “It’s high time we talk about these things,” she said.
Reaction to the cover underscored a cultural rift between traditional childrearing and what some have deemed “extreme parenting.” The attachment philosophy encourages mothers to respond to their babies’ every cry and form close bonds with near-constant physical contact through “co-sleeping” (letting them sleep in the bed with parents rather than in cribs) and “baby-wearing” (carrying them on slings instead of pushing them in strollers).”

Elisabeth Badinter/Huffington Post

“Intensive parenting” may certainly be appropriate for many women who see it as a way to give a noble meaning to their life. Indeed, to succeed in making our children well-adjusted and fulfilled adults is a great cause. But I wonder about the term “intensive”. Is this really what our children need? Shouldn’t we also teach them a bit of loneliness, boredom, frustration and self-sufficiency? The question is open and we won’t know the answer until they grow up.
Furthermore, women who make this choice risk losing all of their independence. Besides the possibility of divorce, a husband who is ill or some other accident of life, what do these mothers have left when the children leave home?”

In response to the provocative TIME magazine cover, senior Huffington Post columnist Lisa Belkin blogged angrily that the ‘simplistic, unrepresentative, staged photograph’ featured in the publication this month undermined a complex debate.
“The breastfeeding conversation is not titillating. The TIME cover is,” she writes.
http://www.askdrsears.com

Dr. Bill Comments on Time Magazine

Hello parents! 
The cover was risky but a brilliant hook by Time Magazine to attract readers, and they achieved their goal.  The writer, Kate Pickert, herself a new mother and one of Time’s most diligent writers, sincerely wanted to increase awareness of the Sears’ family contribution to parenting and family health.  She lived with our family for two days, followed me in the office, and spent hours with me on the phone in an attempt to be factual.  While the cover photo is not what I or even cover-mom Jamie would have chosen, it accomplished the magazine’s purpose.  And, as some attachment dads observed, finally a magazine displays a woman’s breast for the real purpose for which they were designed – to nurture a child, not to sell cars and beer.  Cover-mom Jamie is a super-nice person and highly-educated in anthropology, nutrition and theology.  I enjoyed the several hours I spent with her family and her kids shined with the social effects of attachment parenting.

Even though I’m used to being misunderstood and misquoted, as is attachment parenting (AP), I had a few concerns.  AP is not extreme.  It’s very natural and instinctual.  It’s the oldest parenting style in the world.  Nor is breastfeeding three years extreme, at least throughout the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for optimal health children be breastfed for at least two years and sometimes recommends three years.

Another misconception was AP is difficult for the mother who works outside the home.  It’s just the opposite.  Women are the greatest multi-taskers in the world.  AP, modified to the parents’ work schedule, helps busy parents reconnect with their child, which actually makes working and parenting easier.  It’s attachment moms that forged the long overdue workplace-friendly breastfeeding-pumping stations and laws which respect and value the ability of a working mother to continue part-time breastfeeding. 

Regarding the science criticism, it’s impossible to scientifically prove by a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study (the gold standard in science) that AP works better than a more distant style of parenting.  You would have to take a thousand mothers who practice AP and another thousand who don’t, and see how their kids turn out.  What parent would sign up for such a study?   Yet there is one long-term effect that science does agree on: The more securely-attached an infant is, the more securely independent the child becomes.

I’m disappointed the article did not pay more attention to the bottom-line of attachment parenting: how AP children turn out – and that’s where this style of parenting really shines.  In my 40 years of studying the long-term effects of what parents do to help their children turn out well, AP kids generally are more: empathetic and compassionate, relate better to people, are easier to discipline, and are just nicer to be around.  When I walk into an exam room in my office, an AP baby, like a little sunflower, naturally turns toward my face and lights up.  I’ve yet to see an AP child be a school bully.  On the contrary, they are the ones who try to comfort a hurting child.

Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation. 

Over my years of mentoring attachment parents, the main two words of feedback I have heard is empowering and validating.  My “helper’s high” file is filled with thank you letters such as: “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for validating what my heart and gut tell me is right.”  “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for empowering us new parents with your personal experience to help us enjoy our children more.” 

As an investment banker dad once told me: “AP is one of the best long-term investments you can make in giving your child a greater chance of growing up happier, healthier, and smarter.”  Aren’t those the three main qualities we all want for our children?

Dr. Bill

What do you think about the cover?

Tomorrow: TNTB opinion & comments