Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Does attachment parenting really work?

Does attachment parenting work, especially in the long run?

I hear this question and similar ones constantly.

"What happens when my kids get older?"

"I understand attachment parenting when my kids are young. But how will I know that my child won't be a mama's boy? Or so held fast by my apron strings that he won't leave home? Won't want to get married?"

"I understand about breast-feeding and co-sleeping and holding my kids close to me when they're young. But what happens when they go to kindergarten and elementary school? And what happens when they begin to play at other kids' homes, or hang out with friends, or go on dates and I'm not around?"

"How will I know that all this energy that I've put into attachment parenting will pay off in the long run?" That's the question, isn't it?

Let me tell you a little story. Once there was a impossibly small boy who screamed. He entered life at just over two pounds and fought from the first day. At two, he didn't talk. He didn't say "Mama." He toddled through life from day to day scared. He was terrified of the word no. He fought change desperately. Anything new, he hated.

He thrived on routine and consistency, and every day he had meltdowns. Not tantrums. Not 15-minute venting sessions. He had full-blown meltdowns, several times a day, sometimes as long as an hour and a half. He fought the world, because it was out of his control. His parents thought that there was a good chance that he would never leave home. Never go to college. Never get married.

They held him close, nurtured him, loved him, and did all the normal attachment parenting things: breast-feeding, cosleeping, responding to cries ... walking through the wee hours of the morning because he hated to be rocked and holding him while he screamed. Not knowing what the future would hold, but hoping for the best. Was it possible that his parents were causing him to be even more dependent on them than he already was? Was it possible that by not pushing him out of the nest and forcing independence he would never become independent? They didn't know. All they knew was that their little boy, their beautiful child, needed love and respect for who he was.

Fast forward almost thirteen years. That boy, once so tiny and clingy and desperate, today boarded a plane to Tennessee on his own with only his best friend by his side. In three days he'll return home again on his own - this time without even a best friend for company. This same boy - indeed, the beginnings of a man - is planning on hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail in two months and has been invited by an ambassador program to spend three weeks next summer in Europe, and he's planning on attending, with total strangers and with his parents across an ocean.

Does attachment parenting work? I can't say for sure that this child blossomed because of attachment parenting, because of being held and respected and loved unconditionally for who he was, for not being put down when he cried, and for not being ignored when he called out to his parents.

What I can say is that this child has exceeded by far every expectation of his parents, his doctors, and therapists. Today he is confident and self-assured and brilliant and just plain fun to be around. He loves to live, has great plans for the future, and has dreams he plans to fulfill. He talks about college, his future wife and family, and his plans for his life.

One thing I know for sure is that having his personality respected and his needs fulfilled when he was young certainly couldn't have hurt him. Having parents who responded to his needs has helped shape him into the person he is today, vibrant and full of life.

Were we, his parents, responsible for who he is? Certainly not. The credit goes fully to him. I simply like to believe that we gave him the best possible opportunity to develop and thrive. Had he been raised by parents who spank and humiliate and punish, he might well have turned out a very different person with a broken spirit. I'm glad we'll never know.

Does attachment parenting work? We're living proof.


If you liked this post, you might enjoy Great Expectations.


  1. Oh wow. 2 pounds!! What a remarkable feat this is.
    He sounds like a wonderful young man.

  2. Well, my dear, if you won't take any of the credit, I'm here to give you some. What you went through in those hours of comforting and holding and not exploding, is no small feat. I know, because I've quailed at my own less-intense version of all that!
    His plans are so impressive!

  3. Beautiful!!! You deserve a gold medal, as do all of us, who raise healthy, responsible, loving human beings...

    Tracey Huguley (brandon's mom at fri co-op)