SHARING SPACE: Do Real Feminists Attachment Parent?

By Etelson, Erica | Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

SHARING SPACE: Do Real Feminists Attachment Parent?


Etelson, Erica, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health


ABSTRACT: As attachment parenting has become more popular, many feminists condemn it as fundamentally oppressive to mothers. Their critique is based on misinterpretation and misrepresentation of attachment theory, the neuro-psychological body of research that underlies attachment parenting. In contravention of the great weight of scientific evidence, many feminists downplay the nurturance needs of young children as a defensive measure against the neo-conservative backlash against changing women's roles. Mothers and their children would be better served by a feminist articulation of a real family values agenda that calls for society to support fathers and mothers engaged in the socially meaningful work of child-rearing.

KEY WORDS: Attachment parenting, attachment theory, feminism, family values, child-rearing, nurturing.

INTRODUCTION

It is not my child who has purged my face from history and herstory.. .Not my child, who in a way beyond all this, but really of a piece with it, destroys the planet daily, and has begun on the universe...We are together, my child and I. Mother and child, yes, but sisters really, against whatever denies us all that we are -Alice Walker (1979).

I am a feminist. I am also a mother, and do not wish to think of myself as one who has betrayed feminist principles by staying home with my son and practicing the bogeywoman of feminist motherhood-attachment parenting. This essay is my attempt to rehabilitate attachment parenting from a feminist perspective and restore to new mothers the freedom to practice it without fear that they are pawns in a neo-traditionalist conspiracy (Ingman, 2006).

ATTACHMENT PARENTING

Attachment parenting is a collection of highly nurturing infant care techniques that promote attachment and bonding between the infant and her primary caregivers. These techniques include natural childbirth, homebirth or rooming-in, demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping in a family bed, child-led weaning, responsiveness to crying (as opposed to leaving the baby alone to "cry it out"), and "babywearing" (carrying the baby in a close-fitting sling or carrier rather than leaving the baby in a bouncy seat or crib for long periods of time). No single element is necessarily critical, and many parents choose to practice some techniques and not others.

For many new parents, attachment parenting affirms their instinctual desire to keep their newborns snuggled up close. When your mother-in-law cannot refrain from suggesting that your three-minute old infant is well on her way to becoming a spoiled brat unless she is placed in her bassinet and left there until the next scheduled feeding (preferably from a bottle), a citation to highly respected baby care authorities and attachment parenting proponents, William and Martha Sears, comes in very handy.

For others, however, attachment parenting and its proponents inspire wrath. Marrit Ingman (2006), in her memoir, lambastes Dr. Sears for framing his baby care advice in such an overstated and self-righteous way as to generate guilt and anxiety for mothers like her who find the advice to be ineffective or difficult to implement. Ingman did everything by the book and still had a colicky baby who cried nonstop-she and her baby in no way resembled the idyllic illustrations and descriptions of blissfully enmeshed mother-infant dyads in The Baby Book (Sears & Sears, 1992/2003). In The Mommy Myth, Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels (2004) satirically propose a ritual burning of The Baby Book. Their contempt extends beyond Sears' arrogance to the essence of attachment parenting itself-the notion that sensitive, empathetic caregiving is part of a parent's job description.

Though no one has come out and said it so bluntly, there circulates in feminist vogue the presumption that real feminists don't attachment parent. The notion that a woman might choose to attachment parent, free from the cultural pressure to be a perfect self-sacrificing mother, is even less popular than the idea that a woman can freely choose to stay at home and raise her kids without betraying her self (and the feminist movement that fought so hard to give her the choice).

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