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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Detachment Parenting

I have a twelve-year-old daughter who is a firm believer in Attachment Parenting. She reserves the right to hold the household baby at any time that a) she wants to, or b) there is something else I want her to do. If neither of those circumstances exists, it is her responsibility to make absolutely sure that I am holding him. Especially if I'm eating, typing, or using the bathroom.

Attachment Parenting, you see, is a parenting philosophy based on the concept that a baby must be held or cuddled at all times, preferably with expensive devices. The most important of these devices is called a Sling. It is a piece of fabric that can be very attractive and/or cute, which holds the baby on the mother (this is called "Baby Wearing") so that the mother can cuddle the child when she is not in the mood for skin or eye contact. The second part of this parenting method is what occurs during sleep time, called Co-Sleeping. This involves having the baby act as a method of birth control, sleeping between Mommy and Daddy, so that Mommy does not have to wake up or give the child any conscious attention while nourishing the baby during the night. For parents who have what is known as Lactational Amenorrhea (the cessation of fertility that some breastfeeding mothers experience), this birth control is not necessary. In this case, an optional device may be used, a special cradle that attaches to the side of the bed for Co-Sleeping, so that baby may be considered to be in the same bed, without lying between his parents, and without suffering the indignity of being in a cradle separated from the adult bed by two inches.

Despite my daughter's strong feelings on the subject, I do not feel I can live up to the ideals of Attachment Parenting. For one thing, I only own one sling. Although I very much enjoy using it for outings, I don't get out much, and frankly I find it easier to hold my little son in my arms. I worry a little that I'm doing him psychological damage by allowing him so much contact without the aid of the device, but the truth is I'm behind on laundry, and I can't really afford a second sling. Besides, despite the distance it puts between our bodies, we just enjoy playing "Super Baby" too much to stop.

As for Co-Sleeping, a third person would never fit on our full-size mattress, and I have a perfectly good handmade wooden cradle right beside my side of the bed. I just can't bring myself to toss it out.

Oh, there are other things, too. Like the fact that my husband likes holding the baby also, and I have this pernicious idea that it might be good for both of them to form a relationship; or the fact that I have a preschooler and a toddler who also want Mommy time. Or the niggling worry at the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, love and good instincts might do more good than a book or a method.

So here I am, feeling guilty because so many people have said that Attachment Parenting is the most loving, best, most psychologically uplifting method of baby rearing, and I just can't bring myself to do it. I can't seem to convince myself that the quality of parenting depends on what devices you use. And most of all, I can't seem to accept the idea that I have to be the best, or that I have to have the approval of a group of people or a book, to be a good and loving parent.

I finally came up with something that alleviates my worry about inferior upbringing: just find a new method... or in the absence of one that fits us, make one up! Thus was born Detachment Parenting. The idea behind this method is that many parents have to make their methods of parenting fit their lives rather than a book, and that Nature did a pretty good job teaching most of us how to love our little ones. It is based on the rebellious notion that my skin is just as cozy as a sling, and that I may as well wake up when I feed the baby in the middle of the night. It centers on the notion that when a book supplants common sense, whether the book demands Baby Wearing and Co-Sleeping, or on the other end of the spectrum, Feeding Schedules and Discipline, the middle ground might just give a baby what he needs, and give the rest of the family what they need, too. It doesn't give the same level of confidence that knowing you've followed all the rules of your chosen method gives; but it gives parents the chance to use their own minds and hearts in figuring out how to meet the individual needs of real people. And in the final analysis, babies aren't theories or methods... they really are people.