Attachment parenting and helicopter parenting

The latest Time Magazine story on attachment parenting is creating some buzz probably due to the controversial and a bit disturbing picture they chose for the cover. The article gives a brief overview of attachment parenting and its major founder, Dr. William Sears.

Most of the time, including in the Time article, when people talk about attachment parenting they focus on how mothers parent infants and toddlers. The principles of attachment parenting are that parents, and especially mothers, should interact with their infants and children positively, consistently, and lovingly at all times of the day and night. Attachment parenting pushes breastfeeding and co-sleeping and having the parents (again, usually the mother) available to feed, sooth and comfort the infant 24×7 as required by the infant. While lip service is given to striving for a balance in personal and family life, the clear message is that once a woman becomes a mother, her life needs to revolve around her baby with the baby calling all the shots. Attachment parenting preaches that if the mother does not respond instantly to her baby’s cries for attention and food, the baby may become damaged and have difficulty forming meaningful and loving relationships later in life.

As the infant grows into a toddler, attachment parenting continues to stress that interactions with the child only be positive. If the child is misbehaving, parents are to distract, redirect and strive to understand what the child is trying to communicate with their negative behavior. Parents are to work out solutions with their children instead of punishing the bad behavior. Parents are not to impose their will on children.

What happens then when the infant and toddler raised in a positivity infused bubble goes out into the real world?  The world does not automatically re-arrange itself around each precious child. Like it or not, expectations will exist for the kids to behave even when they are upset. They may have negative consequences for bad behavior. Rules will be created and enforced without the child being consulted. After such a cushy, positive experience for the first few years of life, the child will be in for a rude awakening.

What is the devoted attachment parent to do to protect the child? My guess is that the attachment parents become helicopter parents. If the infant is damaged permanently by being allowed to “cry it out” after the parents have diligently tried everything else (food, diaper change, a cuddle) and need a break, then obviously the elementary school kid will be irreparably harmed if they can’t acquire enough Easter eggs during a hunt and the college student will not survive if their parent doesn’t step in to chat with their professors about their papers and test scores.

Of course on the surface this is ridiculous. Humans have thrived for generations with children being raised with clear expectations and enough freedom to succeed and fail on their own. The science on attachment parenting is at best a hodgepodge of research combining the rather obvious negative effects of extreme neglect with some studies on parent-child bonding in late elementary school and middle school. Attachment parenting is not the only way to create a parent-child bond and the attachment parenting proponents seem are sensationalizing research and preying on parental guilt.

The ideas of attachment parenting have become ubiquitous in parenting literature since Dr. Sear’s, The Baby Book was first published in 1992. Over the last 20 years there has been a growing social experiment with attachment parenting. Now the first wave of children raised by mothers and fathers practicing this extreme version of parental nurturing are in college and the work force and the picture is no longer quite so positive.

There is growing evidence that children of overly involved parents suffer from insecurity, a lack of independence, anxiety, depression, poor problem-solving skills, low confidence, and poor self-esteem. These are the young workers that can’t think on their own and need enthusiastic praise all the time, even for minor efforts. Since they have never been allowed to discover they can survive failure, they are terrified of it. Scared of disappointing themselves and others they are unable to embrace their lives as independent adults. It is time to start acknowledging the possible negative effects of attachment and helicopter parenting and bring expectations, consequences, and balance back into our family lives.




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