Does attachment parenting require feminism?

I’ve been exploring the topic of attachment parenting and fathering as part of launching my new Go Fatherhood site and bumped into a thought-provoking article on a mom blog that claims attachment parenting requires the mom to be a supporter of feminism.

I don’t buy it.

The author’s point is that “traditional” attachment parenting is based around the baby being with the mother 24×7 for the first year or two, and it’s easy to then assume the woman’s role is as mother and that anything outside of mothering is irrelevant and should be eschewed. Author “Blue Milk” specifically states:

Attachment parenting needs feminism because without feminism women’s lives have a tendency to be decontextualised and devalued, and that isn’t good for mothering.

I’m torn on this, because on one hand I think that in modern culture a successful woman needs to be able to speak up for herself and establish her own identity outside of her roles as mother and partner. I’m just not sure that the identity requires everything that comes along with the loaded, hard to define concept of feminism. More to the point, are women who don’t care whether there’s true gender equality but follow the tenets of attachment parenting not actually attachment parenting mothers? I certainly don’t think so.

I’m also very conscious that the author hasn’t acknowledged the role and importance of fathers in this situation. I’ve always supported gender equality as a baseline from which men and women can make their own decisions about who they want to be and how they want to live their lives, but that’s not really feminism as I understand it: Feminism is about women not just having the opportunity to be equal but taking the opportunity, not deciding that they are perfectly content with a possibly less equal role both in a relationship and in parenting.

When we had our babies (now 8, 11 and 15) and decided to travel the path of attachment parenting, my now-ex and I also decided together that she’d stay home and nurture them for the first year or two while I worked and brought in what income I could. Was that a feminist-inspired decision, were we unwittingly decontextualizing and devaluing Mom’s role?

I don’t think so, but that’s just me. What do you think, API Speaks reader?

Author: Dave Taylor

Dave is a single dad with three children, a 15yo daughter, 11yo son and 8yo daughter, and blogs about life and parenting both here at API and at his popular Go Fatherhood Blog.

24 thoughts on “Does attachment parenting require feminism?”

  1. I think your personal definition of feminism may be unnecessarily limited. As a feminist, I think two adults making informed and mutual decisions about how they’ll care for and raise their children is a very “feminist-inspired” decision.

  2. As you say, Sproutsmama, one of the issues with the original article that struck me is the variety of definitions associated with feminism. My reading of the original piece was that there wasn’t much space for us men in the author’s definition of attachment parenting, and I reject that, as an AP Dad. I like what you suggest about two adults making informed, mutual decisions. I just wonder if there’s consensus that what you describe is “feminism”.

  3. I think you have badly mischaracterised bluemilk’s post. She specifically does mention fathers, and I think many of the things you are arguing against are the things she was pointing out as problematic with Dr Wootan’s theory of attachment parenting not her own beliefs.

    Nice strawman with the “are women who don’t care about gender equality …really attachment parenting mothers” – bluemilk didn’t say that.

  4. I have tried to extract a quote from your OP but for some reason can’t manage to do it. In any case, the part I want to talk about is at the end of your 4th para. I think you misunderstand blue milk’s point here. She’s not saying that if you’re not a feminist you can’t truly practise AP. As I understand it, she’s saying a woman trying to practise AP without the framework of gender equality is likely to suffer harm (blue milk refers to isolation as an example) because she is likely to be doing all the AP herself. If a mother is trying to do AP without any support from her co-parent or society this is a recipe for burn-out and breakdowns. This not not good for mother or child.

    As sproutsmama suggested, you and your ex in fact practised AP in a feminist framework, whether you were aware of it or not.

  5. It appears that you have misread Blue Milk’s post. She does not say that attachment parenting mothers need to be feminists, but rather that attachment parenting itself, as a movement, needs feminism. Or, to put it another way, that the attachment parenting movement needs feminists. I agree, for reasons articulated by Blue Milk as well as for reasons I articulated in my comment on her post.

    Also, feminism is a broad movement that encompasses many different viewpoints. In my view, feminism is less about equality (though that is part of it) than it is about critiquing and — one hopes — dismantling patriarchal power structures, those that, for example, support our culture of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t mother blame. Here, for example, is Blue Milk quoting blogger Lauredhel on how mother blame, aka the patriarchy, affects something as basic — and as important — as breastfeeding.

    Yes, attachment parenting needs feminism.

  6. Maybe that’s because your post indicated you found feminism a “loaded and hard to define concept”, Dave, whereas for many off us it’s something we’ve read about, thought through and discussed and reached some informed conclusions about.

  7. So, Zoe, because I don’t think that there’s a simple, cut and dry definition for feminism, you can conclude I’m not “informed” and am unable to reach an “informed conclusion” about? I’m not sure I agree with that, and what I was trying to demonstrate in both my original piece and my subsequent comments is that I believe that most people — certainly most guys — “feminism” has a lot of meanings, some positive, some negative, and when there’s even an intimation that attachment parenting perforce requires some level of feminist awareness, well, that might just artificially limit who would self-identify and feel comfortable raising their children with the basic AP tenets and values. Make sense?

  8. I don’t define feminism in that way at all, though I suppose there are feminists who do. I consider myself very much a feminist, and also a mother who has chosen to work from home at a less-than-ideal so that I can earn the income my family needs while being here for my children. For me – for what it is worth – feminism is about choice, period.

    But I think that you are missing the point of the article. I do not think the author is saying that you cannot be an attachment parent unless you also support the tenets of feminism (however you choose to define the term). What she is saying is that defining AP as something that is all or nothing – either you are at the beck and call of your child 24-7 for three years or you are irreparably damaging her and cannot consider yourself AP – is not particularly healthy, or realistic, or helpful. And I would say, it damages the AP community by portraying us as militant radicals. Further, it damages the women who do separate from their children, by necessity or choice, by telling them that they aren’t good enough, and damages their children in the process. My interpretation of the article is that the idea of choice (feminism) needs to be introduced into the conversation.

    Is not Striving for Balance one of the main principles of API? I would say, as a mother and an API support group leader and just as a person, that few women find that a life of servitude to an infant/toddler is not one that could be in any way described as balanced.

  9. Feminism can be a loaded term if you find it threatening to have patriarchy (and, thus, your male privilege) challenged.

    If you bothered to read much of Blue Milk’s blog you’d see she has a very clear understanding of feminism – complexities and all. But since you have misunderstood the basic point of the post you are seeking to critique I’m not sure that you even took the time to read that through properly.

    Earlier commenters here have tried to clarify the central point of the post, but you don’t seem to be listening. Are you?

  10. You have indeed misread the original post. No, nobody needs to be feminist to practise attachment parenting; that’s clear, and in fact AP as commonly preached is very unfeminist – which was bluemilk’s point. “Strict” AP can be very isolating and damaging for the mother; so, AP as a movement needs an injection of feminist perspective. Without it, a lot of women will be alienated and unwilling or even unable to embrace attachment parenting.

    It’s funny that you argue in the comments above that bringing “feminism” into AP might put people off. The thing is, “basic AP tenets and values” have a way of putting off many women – not just self-identified feminists – who are uncomfortable with the limits attachment parenting can place on a woman’s life. Bringing feminist understanding into AP can only help to fix that.

  11. Cristy, yes, I am listening, and no, I don’t worry about the “patriarchy and my male privilege challenged”. Really? Don’t you think that sort of question and phrasing just makes it more difficult for men to participate here on the AP Speaks site?

  12. Dave, do you agree with me and the other commenters that you have misread the Blue Milk article? You interpreted “attachment parenting needs feminism” to mean “one must be a feminist to practice attachment parenting,” when the intended meaning was “attachment parenting would benefit from feminist analysis/critique.”

    What do you think about the article when interpreted in that light? Do you agree with Blue Milk that we would benefit from a feminist critique of certain AP conventions? I think she specifically questions the notions of mothers being ‘naturally’ better parents than fathers and harming their children if there’s any separation before age 3. Unrealistic? Elitist? Potentially harmful to parents of all genders?

  13. Dave, if people are so freaked out by the suggestion that feminism might have some insights for AP I doubt that they have the fortitude required to be babywearing cosleeping extended breastfeeders in a world that thinks those things are crazy.

    And as for alienating me, look what has happened – someone writes a post which indicates they really don’t have a good grasp of how feminism might intersect with AP and a bunch of kind and patient feminists who have done AP in their own lives turn up to explain a whole bunch of stuff.

  14. Are you SERIOUSLY asking ‘What about the men?’. Oh Dave! This is a classic example of why API needs feminism. It shouldn’t be our responsibility not to ‘frighten men away’ by making a fairly straightforward statement of what feminism does.

  15. Much love to the commenters who get it. Seems like Dave is yet unwilling to actually listen to feminist women and their experiences.

  16. This is a very interesting discussion, I must say. Nowhere do any of you commentators seem to recognize that as a man, my perspective on feminism might be different to yours and that it might well have changed how I read the original article and your subsequent comments.

    One of the challenges that I believe attachment parenting faces as a movement is to bring men more into the picture. I was fairly typical: it was the mother of my children’s idea to be more “attachment” oriented, my experience with parenting was much more hands off, much more “typical” Western, and being raised by English parents, the ‘stiff upper lip, don’t show any emotion, carry on’ philosophy was deep in my thoughts about how to parent and raise tough, resilient, independent children. I’m not alone.

    It seems like I didn’t clearly state my point in the original article, because it’s not that I “don’t understand how AP and feminism intersect” but that I question the original comment from Blue Milk that “attachment parenting needs feminism” because to me, AP is actually more natural, more normal, and less “modern” than the more typical hands-off parenting that most people use nowadays. Do you think parents who used slings and had a family bed back in the 1800s or earlier were feminists?

  17. Re. Zoe’s remark to Dave, I certainly didn’t require feminism to give me the “fortitude” to be a “babywearing cosleeping extended breastfeeder.” In fact feminism did absolutely nothing for me but to increase the stigma of choosing to stay at home, choosing to forgo selfish narcissistic consumerist things so that I could put my children’s needs first. My fortitude came from my own convictions not anybody else’s political beliefs. IMO white woman’s global north feminism has failed to speak for the true needs of children and is an insult to the word “motherhood”. It alienates woman against woman, generation against generation, and gender against gender. It began as a military movement that has nothing to do with femininity or being female but panders to a male concept of what it is to be female – whether at home or in the workplace. That’s why women are still berating themselves no matter what choices they make and it is not a united front that speaks for all women. Feminism has punched a hole in the male ego which is a good thing because it has started to level the playing field…but in doing so it has alienated many women, myself being one of them. I keep hoping a men’s liberation movement will start – to liberate men from the media hype that says men have to be Arnold Schwartzenager – in the home, in the playing field and in business. One of the loveliest things I’ve ever seen was a man wearing roller blades pushing a baby stroller. This world, and especially our children, is greatly in need of loving, nurturing and selfless role models – from both genders.

  18. “Do you think parents who used slings and had a family bed back in the 1800’s or earlier were feminists?”

    No. I don’t think they were attachment parents, either. AP ‘stuff’ isn’t, in my mind, the defining element of AP. It’s the connection with your kids, the respect you treat them with, the unconditional love and kindness. It doesn’t matter where your kids sleep if you’re hitting them or you think they should be seen but not heard.

    The AP notion that children are people, too, has always struck me as pretty modern, actually.

  19. Dave, I think you have completely misunderstood blue milk’s post. She isn’t even remotely arguing that attachment parenting mums need to be feminists. A woman (or man) could be a 100% wonderful attachment parent and not care one bit about feminism. What blue milk is saying is that, in her opinion, women who follow the attachment parenting philosophy, which is extremely intense for mothers in the early years, and who do not also have a feminist ethic run the risk (i.e., it’s not inevitable) of being harmed by the intensity of the choice. That is, some women may find themselves completely consumed by a very intensive form of motherhood that leaves no room for her. Bluemilk’s definition (or yours, for that matter!) of feminism is irrelevant to her argument. She is concerned that a woman who has not thought about the many questions feminism has asked (and, in my view, one of feminism’s strengths is that it’s difficult to define, because it SHOULD mean different things to different women because no two women are the same) may find their myriad identities consumed by one: mother.

    You should also read the rest of her blog. She talks extensively about fathers, including how she and her own husband manage to practice attachment parenting without it being overwhelming for her.


  20. I’m just finding this, but feel compelled to post. I am a mother who strives very hard to parent in a gentle and connected way, and I also work full time. I am a woman who is grateful for the paths paved for me for earlier feminists, and who defines feminism as a woman being able to make choices in life that are not weighed for or against her because of her gender, and being fairly recognized for her hard work in whatever area she chooses. Just last night my husband actually called me ‘lazy’ because he felt that I had not accomplished enough during the morning hours before I started my job – time which is precious to me for spending with my children, rather than keeping the house to my husband’s standards. (I would add that my husband does not participate in keeping the house up to his standards, beyond complaining about my laziness.) My mothering work is not recognized in my household as valuable. Moreover, when a child is sick, or has a routine Doctor’s appointment, it is I who uses leave from my job, not my husband. So my paid work is also not valued. I am pretty sure I am one AP mom who needs feminism. One person doth not a statistic make, but I think my story is not uncommon, and it is not unimportant.

  21. As a mama, I think the focus belongs on the baby’s needs, not the parents’. In my experience feminism is all about demanding equal pay, which I think worthwhile, but also frequently about devaluing motherhood, which is dreadful. When we married we agreed to limit our lifestyle so we could afford for me to be a stay-at-home mother as long as possible. I feel so sorry for young mamas who realize their maternity leave is almost finished and they have to leave their tiny one with someone else. Attachment goes well beyond the second birthday, if baby gets a say.

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