Not So Easy to Define AP to Some Parents

by Rita Brhel on April 28, 2011

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Tonight, I’m going to a parenting class at the request of the facilitator because, as he sees it, I will be able to add some interesting discussion about the topic of parenting. I reluctantly agreed to go, to at least try out the first day of this series.

I am hesitant because, as I told him, I don’t want to get stuck in some AP-bashing session. But I finally agreed, after he spent much time trying to persuade me, because I believe that I may be able to help some parents look at my “different” approach to parenting with new eyes.

See, most parents around my hometown know my children as very well-behaved kids. But they don’t really know my parenting style, because being a stay-at-home parent, most of my parenting style is done privately, in my home. The folks around here only see me and the kids out for brief periods of time, such as at church, the grocery store, the bank or the doctor’s office.

They don’t know that Attachment Parenting (AP) really isn’t for the light of heart. I say this because AP can’t be done half-heartedly and that it really is an intensive, holistic approach to parenting compared to some parenting styles.

I know that tonight’s parenting class is going to center on discipline, for the most part, and the facilitator is very interested in my sharing about positive discipline and how it can be done without spanking or punitive timeouts.

But what he doesn’t know is that AP is about much more than positive discipline, that when I talk to parents about discipline I don’t stop at redirection and teaching. I’m very forthcoming that my parenting approach – and therefore positive discipline – encompasses all areas of parenting.

We know AP as Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. To a newcomer to AP, the fact that there are eight parts to this parenting approach can simply be overwhelming.

People start researching parenting styles and approaches, going to classes and reading books, often because they’re looking for something different from what they’re doing. Something isn’t working, and they’re looking to tweak.

Those who finally embrace AP have come to the realization that there is no quick fix – that parenting is very much a multi-faceted program, that as parents you have to be involved in every aspect of that child’s life – from discipline to nurturing touch, from feeding with respect to consistent care, from responding with sensitivity to family balance, and so on.

Some parents don’t want to hear this. They don’t want to know that to change their child’s behavior, they have to do all this other stuff that they see has nothing to do with discipline.

If parenting was easy, we wouldn’t need books and experts and classes. There wouldn’t be all this confusion in our culture as to what the best parenting approach is. What makes parenting hard, in actuality, is the conflict it creates in parents trying to find balance in their lives.

Both our needs for balance and our children’s needs to be nurtured need to be met, but not at the expense of one another. Our children need a lot of attention. Discipline isn’t the answer to well-behaved kids; attention is.

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Rita Brhel (183 Posts)

Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader, lives with her family near Hastings, NE, USA, where she works as a WIC Breastfeeding Counselor. She also writes for Mothering and La Leche League's New Beginnings.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chavelamomela April 28, 2011 at 7:40 am

Rita, I have to say that I am an AP parent, and I completely disagree that AP has to be an “All or nothing” type of attitude. So many parents can’t do things “ideally” (for example, I have to work FT b/c my DH is disabled). But just because I am not a SAHM does that mean I can’t be AP?

I don’t want to turn this into a WAHM vs SAHM debate (because it certainly shouldn’t be) but bring to your attention that the way you presented things, that “AP isn’t for the light of heart” can be incredibly discouraging and make AP seem like an unrealistic ideal (the same way that formula companies present breastfeeding as “best” but “real” moms use formula). You see how that can be a slippery slope?

As an alternative approach, I try to explain AP as an approach to parenting that is (like you said) holistic, and focuses on the developmental norms and needs of a child so we can create realistic expectations, positive encouragement, and (this is KEY!) an environment that fosters and encourages communication between parent and child (and vice versa) of love and trust.

Now, does that say it? Well, I see it that as babies, our children have needs, and they communicate their needs the best way they can for their age and stage, and our jobs as parents is to meet those needs as best as possible. As they get older, their needs change, and how we responds changes, but we’re still responding to their needs and creating feelings of security and trust between us.

Please don’t think I am disagreeing with your approach. Just that AP doesn’t have to sound so difficult, or many people won’t even give it a try.


Chavelamomela April 28, 2011 at 8:35 am

In short, I like to present AP as an approach that fosters communication between parents & child (and vice-versa) based on the needs and norms of the childs’ age and stage. It sounds a lot more do-able when you talk about “communication” and not about all the things you “have” to do in order to define yourself as AP.


M April 28, 2011 at 8:49 am

I I agree w/ the first comentor. Some of the language used here is to militant and scornful. While my parenting style most closely mirrors AP, and I started out a fierce advocate for it, I quickly relaxed as I realized that parenting isn’t a out who is right; or who’s doing it right. Many people in AP act very judgmental of “conventional parenting”, as if all parents are one thing. I don’t like playing God and acting like I know what type of parent people are. Just because you say No, go to work full time, or have other rolls u want to fill? That doesn’t mean that the person isn’t nurturing that kid. Don’t forget there is a God, flowers grow thru concrete. AP sometimes acts like instead of the seven guidelines it’s the seven sins. The same goes for religion, the minute u believe theres only one path to God, youve missed the whole message. I wasn’t raised AP, many of the worlds most loving creative leaders were not….. Think about and keep doing what your doing as a parent
But drop the judgement and know it all part. Really parenting
Is a lot simpler than any book, 7 guidelines or group, it’s unconditional love.


Nicole April 28, 2011 at 11:02 am

I really like the way describes it:

“An AP parent is defined by how she interacts with her child. Does she make a long-term commitment to spending as much time with her children as she possibly can? Does she include her children in every appropriate aspect of her life? Are her children an integral part of her life, rather than an inconvenience that must be quickly taught to comply? Does she respect the individuality, feelings, and thoughts of her children? Is she in tune with her children’s needs and does she seek to meet those needs as a primary priority? Does she interact with her children in such a way that an ever-deepening bond is developed, rather than polarizing the respective positions of power between her and the children? Does she seek to be an emotional coach or is she a policeman?

An AP parent is one who wholeheartedly believes that children are inherently good and that by fostering an atmosphere of complete trust and intimacy, a bond is created that provides those children with the foundation and security to become their best selves. It really has little to do with the tools we use to be Attachment parents. All that is important to qualify us to be an Attachment Parent is simply that we parent from an Attachment Parenting frame of mind.”

To me, AP shouldn’t be about any number of set-in-stone principles; those “8 principles” make me feel like I have to do all that to join some “cool kids club,” which immediately makes me want to shy away from it. “Oh, you’re only doing 7 things? Sorry, you can’t join.” No thanks. But I do consider myself an AP parent because the way we’re parenting my daughter lines up with this frame of mind.


debe April 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I think that it is kind of difficult. For the reason stated and for the reason that chavelomamela stated. I still wish to find something that really addresses ap, unschooling, and greener living from a single parent point of view. I have been looking and trying since my child’s birth. She is now four. I feel that simplifying it takes something away from me. It could be my own perception, but Everything that I put great effort into seems to take on a lower qualitative patina. Especially in the eyes of government. and often in the eyes of the general population. I do not think it negative to speak of something as important as raising HUMANS as being difficult.


debe April 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Oh yes- PI wanted to add that principles are not set in stone that is why they are principles and not rules- though I do understand that cool kids club and face it from time to time.


Chavelamomela April 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm

debe – I agree that parenting is difficult. But I don’t see AP as MORE difficult than “mainstream” or non-AP parenting tools. I see that for many parents, they have no idea what to do or how to do it, they’re walking in a fog, struggling to figure out the best approach, but they focus on short-term results and don’t often think about long-term affects of the tools/approach they use. So with a LITTLE thought (that’s how I see it…not a LOT of thought – though of course, more is better), we can make hopefully better, smarter, more attachment-oriented decisions and adopt approaches to parenting our children that is based on where they are, and not on what everyone else around us is doing (especially if we’re surrounded by unhelpful influences.). Growing up, I didn’t know there was a name for the kind of parent I wanted to be. All i knew is that watching parents with their kids, I saw families that ‘worked” and families that had a lot about that that didn’t work (for me). So I try to be supportive of others where they are, while introducing ideas that require just a BIT of thinking. If it takes too much thought, people shut down and give up because it’s “too hard” to parent so consciously all the time. Better to be a caring, listening parent, who may get little sleep, have too little time, but is connected to her kids, then to have a mom who is overwhelmed by the idea that you have to use a specific set of tools in order to be a successful parent.

(I also think we’re saying the same things in dif’t words).


Naomi April 28, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I can understand where Rita is coming from, because I too will withhold information on my parenting style with some people just to avoid the debate that often comes with sharing my (AP) methods, but most of the time I am confident enough to just openly share and hope it makes them think. There are enough studies out there now to back up our methods and help us feel confident enough to share with the world. I think those of us who embrace AP as a natural way of life see it as the easiest thing in the world, so I’m not sure “not for the faint of heart” is quite the term I would use. “Not for the selfish and lazy” might be more like it. Why is it so hard to give our children what they so desperately need from us? Why would it be hard to respond in a way that feels emotionally and physically right? I think where the issues lies is that parents who are completely foreign to AP have assumed the myths that being responsive and attentive will only create a spoiled child that will rule their life and they will fight desperately to keep this from happening. They will ignore their own instincts to keep their child from “ruining” their life. They believe children are manipulative and will do anything to “show them who’s boss” and keep them from becoming a “bad” kid. A lot of people I know parent “traditionally” and my heart breaks for their kids, but I can only plant a seed and hope that it gets somewhere. I think the more common AP becomes – and people see how happy and content our teenagers are compared to the children raised by harsher, unresponsive methods will start to wonder what they could have done differently. I see things being very different in the next generation or two.

I look forward to the day when it is more common that parents using unresponsive and harsh methods are the ones getting the weird and shocked looks.


Naomi April 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I love kellymom’s article. Thanks for posting that! I completely agree.


kimberley April 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I love also love kellymom’s article. I have just copied and sent a copy to my mom to try to finally explain my feeling about parenting to her. I must say I am the luckiest girl in the world as my mom reads as much as she can about attachment parenting to try to understand it all and to try to be consistent with our child…we feel truly blessed by that!

I’m not sure how I feel about discussions that parents cant balance their own needs with the needs of our children or that parents are overly concerned with their own needs or nurturing themselves.

Those of us who practice AP really need to be cautious that we leave a teeny little something for ourselves – to nourish ourselves as human beings so that we can be the best people we can be for our children. This is very hard to do when you feel so strongly about meeting your child’s needs and being there to nurture and support and enjoy each moment. For example I am having great difficulty finding the time and energy to work out now 19 months and 30 pounds after the birth of my child. But part of me feels it is a gift to my daughter for me to feel good about myself, to be and look healthy and to model healthy active living…I just wanted to add to this discussion that taking care of ourselves as parents must also fit into AP families. I’m not sure how yet but I am really trying 🙂


Debbie May 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I’m with rita. But I suspect it has a lot to do with the age and temperament of your child, how difficult it is. My child is 33 months (nearly 3 years old) & still wakes up every hour or two. And I respond. I still nurse. I can’t go out at night because he constantly wakes and needs me to get back to sleep. No date nights. It’s hard. But I only have one child because I can’t handle more so long as I’m parenting this way. I have to spend his whole nap with him for him to sleep , how could I attend to another? If I did cio 2.5 years ago things would be a lot easier. This is the path I chose. Not for the faint hearted at all. But I suspect the older years will be so much easier. And he is a joy in public and in the day. I pity those traditional parents who speak of the terrible twos.


radha May 3, 2011 at 9:46 am

Every child is different, every child reacts differently to the same technique. I don’t pander to my kids whims, but at the same time, i encourage them to talk to me an spend time with them, maybe be close by while they play, etc., it’s kind of part AP i would say, however i encouraged the sleeping thru the night part, and not feeding unless hungry , both my kids weaned at 15-18 months and didn’t require me to sit and hold their hand while asleep 🙂
They are 17 and 19 and doing extremely well @ college , more extremely well than i would have ever imagined, i consider it a job well done if my kids achieve more than me 🙂 and boy are they competitive.
All these parenting tags are useless and just overwhelm a new parent. all a parent needs ot know is 1. unconditionally give love to your kids, put their wishes ahead of your own. and guide with a firm hand and they will turn out to be whatever they can.

i have seen great kids come out of traditional families as well as AP , likewise losers out of both, problem kids out of both..


Evelyn May 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm

It’s interesting that many of you feel attachment parenting is the “hard” way. For me it has been the easy way. Trying to make a baby sleep through the night in their own bed? Very hard. Rolling over and feeding baby back to sleep? Easy. Trying to make baby fit a routine? Hard. Carrying baby wherever I go, being able to breastfeed whenever they are hungry or upset? Easy. Trying to make my 2 year old not behave like a 2 year old? Hard. Having age-appropriate expectations, being flexible and going with the flow? Much easier. Actually one of my favorite parenting mentors (who made me feel ok about cosleeping despite my fears) describes her way to new parents as the “lazy mum way” as everyone tends to get more sleep when cosleeping.
I like to describe the attachment parenting approach to discipline as being really focussed on the Relationship between parent and child. No fancy discipline techniques or tricks in the world are going to work if you haven’t spent time building a good relationship with your child. In the attachment parenting approach, because you have built a good relationship with your child, they love and respect and care about you, so even though there are times when they are frustrating or you don’t see eye to eye, at the end of the day, and especially when they are growing up and teenagers, they have a certain amount of respect for what you have to say, because they know you have always loved and cared for them. It’s the same for any teacher wanting to have a good relationship with their students.
As Rita said, it’s all the other stuff you do with your kids that is part of discipline as well, but I don’t think it’s too hard a concept to explain.


Ms. Lee November 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

Why do you assume “conventional” parents only pay attention to their kids when needing discipline? It’s like you APers belong to a religion where you think only you know the TRUTH and everyone else is on the path to hell. My kid gets plenty of love and attention but, no, I will not ALWAYS put my own needs aside and be a slave to my child. I’m his mother not his servant and I didn’t stop being a person with my own needs just because I had kids. Your advice is not only ridiculous but, sexist and dangerous. …assuming no child can be loved and happy unless their mother stops “balancing” the needs of her child with her own is not healthy. Go ahead and mother how you want, but don’t assume people with different parenting styles are cold and neglectful and put yourself on a pedestal for all the sacrifices you’re making that you think other people don’t (again like a holier than thou religious zelot). Being a parent doesn’t have to be so hard, you choose the hard way yourself sister. My kids will be just as happy and loved as anyone can be but, I won’t give up all my autonomy in the process.


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