Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Attachment - Overrated?

Its an observation, an anecdote, but something I've been thinking about for some time.  Maybe all this emphasis on bonding and attachment to your baby is... way overrated.  On one of my anti-crunch groups someone recently was pointing out how you can bond over a bottle of formula too, as if that squashes an anti-formula argument.  Well, yes, I'm sure that's true, but it just demonstrates what a big deal we make over bonding.  Every one takes it as a matter of fact that of course bonding is crucial, and how crucial cannot be overstated.  Sure its important, but HOW important is it really?  I think it IS overstated, and overrated.

I have a friend who didn't read much of anything during pregnancy, didn't have her heart too set on any particular parenting method, didn't have a birth plan - she watched me drive myself crazy and wisely opted not to do that to herself.  Wouldn't you know it, SHE was the one who got the vaginal birth, who is still breastfeeding at 10 months and for whom co-sleeping just worked in a natural no drama kind of way.  She and I have the kind of relationship where we can give each other crap about these things and laugh it all off and learn from each other.  She's great.  She works from home and is bonded very securely to that child.  But she is SO intensely bonded that when she comes to visit, she can't leave the room or Baby Jenny (I'll call her) has an absolute total meltdown.  Just the sight of her mother walking away from her is enough.  Poor Jenny just screams for 2 solid minutes while my friend pees.  She can't even leave her with her mom or sister at home because of this extreme attachment, and it is really wearing on her.  She recently had what she describes as 3 or 4 days of sheer hell trying to get her to sleep in her own crib at night.  Ironically, she is now DEVOURING "Babywise" in an effort to find some sanity and balance in life.

Similar situation with a 6 month old who has just started coming to my son's home daycare a few days a week. For 6 months, she has only been with Mommy, and after seeing her with Mommy, you can see what a cutie and a delight she is, but at daycare, when Mommy leaves, she cries nearly constantly.  And if a stranger enters the room and she sees or hears them, she starts up again if she had settled.  Doesn't matter if you sing to her, rock her, hold her, talk to her, show her a toy, there is no soothing her.  This child is in extreme anxiety and its sad to see.

I have other crunchy friends who have never ever left their kids, not even with their father, and because of their extreme attachment, they can't now.  It would cause the child extreme distress, and probably the mother as well.  Doesn't seem very healthy to me.  So then should Mommy never leave?

I can hear the answer now.  No, of course she should always be there for her child.  Parenting is hard and if you don't want the job, don't have kids.  This is what you signed up for.  Its YOUR job to raise your kids, no one else's.

A lovely platitude, but is it realistic?  Is it fair?  Will that really work for YOU?  In many cultures the women of childbearing age have STUFF TO DO and its the grandmothers or older siblings who take over childcare while they are out at the market or whatnot.  I don't know where we got this idea that mothers absolutely have to do all the childcare, and that a good mother will not outsource this or get any help from anyone else.

I don't see these parent-child relationships as very functional, for mom or baby, really.  At least not at a level I could function well at.  I initially felt horrified that I turned out to be the type of mother who dropped her kid in daycare at 7 weeks, and nearly dry-eyed, went back to work, when I could have stayed home a little longer.  But Parker didn't cry when I left him there, and he still doesn't cry when its time for me to leave him.  He's already too busy eating his yogurt or playing and exploring.  I think he actually looks forward to the change in scenery.  But he's still bonded to me.  He somehow knows when its time for me to pick him up and starts looking expectantly at the door, and when he sees me, I get a huge smile.

Parker is so secure and confident, and that actually comes from a healthy place of DE-tachment, rather than hyper attachment.  The AP theory is the opposite though.  From AP you come to think that security and confidence come from a solid foundation of attachment with the parents, and from that security, they blossom into confident little explorers of the world.  But comparing my little guy to AP kids, that's very falsifiable.  Sure, every kid is different, but those kids are stressed and lost without mommy around.  They have no coping skills.  These babies I know are young enough, they will learn and adjust, but it has been no picnic for mom to reclaim her life just a little bit.  And I'm sorry, but I think its reasonable for moms to have a bit of a life.  It's no sin.  If you want to be a complete martyr, go for it, but that doesn't mean every mommy has to as well.  There are many ways to raise kids, and right now, compared with what I see around me, mine is very emotionally healthy, even if I do work.  Maybe even because I work.

I think I've ended up making all the right mistakes, in spite of myself.  And with my next little one, coming this summer, I won't hesitate to hand him off to Grandma as I did with Parker and enjoy a manicure.  And I won't hesitate to send him to daycare as well at 7 weeks, just like I did with his brother.  I won't however, feel any guilt or regret about it though.  I want him to be as calm and assured as his brother that yes, mommy is coming back, so let's go play and have fun.


  1. I think there's an exception to every rule (thank goodness, right?) ... I have a good friend who would fit into the AP category (mostly) and her child is absolutely not one that you describe above, where she can't leave his side, he cries when she leaves, etc etc. He is very independent, confident and able - she has allowed him to learn, explore and become independent, trusting his environment and knowing that his needs will be met. I am glad that AP can take all forms and there isn't a rigid formula for "right" parenting - doing what is best for your child (each child) and your family is key!

    1. I didn't mean to imply that my friend is the exception to the AP rule (I know many other parents/children that are similar to my friend) ... there's so many variables and factors that go into parenting and child development that a hard-and-fast-rule with an expected outcome, to me, seems unreasonable.

    2. Right - and I might be giving nurture too much credit here, when its really all nature. Isn't that the human thing to do though - credit nurture when things go right, and nature when things go wrong. :)

  2. This is not the case for me at all. My daughter has been with me pretty much every minute of her life since birth. I have never been away from her longer than two hours and during those occasional two hour time slots she is with my husband. She still nurses at one and half and has always known mommy and daddy will always be there. Despite all that she is the most independent and fearless child I have actually ever come across. She has never had separation anxiety- ever. I have always been able to hand her over to anyone, even someone she has just met, and she will happily go. I can even hand her over to someone and walk away and she won't bat an eye. She's even been known to give kisses to people who are holding her, all on her own. This child has no shyness. The first time I dropped her off at the daycare at my gym to go have an hour workout, she ran off from me and didn't even turn around when I walked away. The staff there has repeatedly told me how outgoing and friendly she is and they are always pretty shocked that she had never even been left with a babysitter before.

    On the other hand, you look at my sister, who is a little older than my daughter. She is raised with all sorts of nannies and all kinds of opportunities. Her mother leaves her for hours and has other people take care of her all the time. My sister is a wreck. She is the most apprehensive, untrusting child I have ever met. When I go and visit them, the nannies always tell me in secret that I am doing such a good job. They are so impressed that I still nurse and that my child will run up and hug and kiss all these nannies that she barely even knows. The difference between these two girls is remarkable, and I'll be honest, it makes me very glad that I have raised her the way I have. If you ask me, bonding is the one of the most essential parts of being a good parent.

  3. See, my son is the same way. I'm more convinced than ever that this is a nature/nurture debate and that parents get too much credit/blame for the most part. That doesn't mean you can't damage your kid, of course, but I think within reasonable parameters, security and independence in kids is the luck of the draw. Wearing them and staying home, etc is no guarantee. I think its fine if you want to parent that way, more power to you, but it won't define their personality - they do that on their own.