The truth about dads and Attachment Parenting

alexis schraderLike many bedsharing parents, I’ve had conversations where I let people assume my daughter sleeps in a crib.

While I love our family bed, sometimes I just don’t want to get into the details of why I’m not afraid of suffocating my child and when and where I have sex. So I smile and nod when strangers refer to a crib that does not exist.

My husband doesn’t do this. Anyone who assumes our daughter sleeps in her own room gets immediately corrected and, if they question our choice, engaged in a lively debate.

I love this about him. It’s dads like him who break down misconceptions about Attachment Parenting (AP) and gender.

One of the most common criticisms of Attachment Parenting is that it undermines women’s place in society by demanding too much of mothers, forcing them to abandon any interests and identity outside of motherhood. But women who self-identify as feminists are more likely to practice Attachment Parenting than women who identify as non-feminist. The disconnect between criticism and reality comes from critics’ own assumptions about AP families: They assume Mom is doing it all.

Enter the AP Dad.

Maybe he is feeding the baby a bottle of pumped breast milk, with love and respect of course, while mom is at work. Maybe he’s running errands with an infant cuddled up to him in a sling. Or maybe he’s snuggling up with a toddler in bed at the end of the day.

When Mom is out of the house, he’s not “babysitting” — he’s parenting.

The assumption that he’s not, hurts all of us. This misconception about Attachment Parenting leads families away from a parenting approach that may be better for their children. It places undue pressure on mothers through a societal assumption that they are doing all the parenting. And it’s disrespectful to dads who take on their fair share of parenting responsibilities.

Even those of us in families where fathers pull their own parenting weight expect other people to assume that they’re not. As an API Leader, the most common question I’m asked is, if dads are allowed at API Support Groups. Dads need parenting support, too, but the societal expectation that Mom is doing all the parenting is so strong that we hear “parenting support group” and think “mothers’ support group.”

It is within this zeitgeist that my husband is brave for being a proud bedsharing dad. When people hear a man sleeps in a family bed, there’s often an assumption that his wife made him do it, that he was against it and that he’s never going to have sex again.

They discount the possibility that a father-to-be would research parenting options, discuss them with his partner and together they would make a decision on the sleep arrangements that they feel are best for their family.

In reality, this is how almost every family I know operates. The more apparent it becomes that a couple operates as a team, the less Attachment Parenting appears to put an undue burden on mothers.

So be proud, AP Dad! You’ll be helping out AP families everywhere. Plus, you get to end your day with snuggles.

Motherhood: Is It Holding Mothers Back?

“The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” is the latest release of self-effacing mom lit, by prominent French intellectual Elisabeth Badinter. From her recent piece in the Huffington Post:

Today’s ideal of motherhood requires that we give birth in pain, without benefit of an epidural, since this robs us of our first act as a mother. We are enjoined to nurse for six months, a year, or longer, day and night, whenever our child wishes, regardless of the mother’s situation. We are advised to practice co-sleeping, at the risk of sending numerous fathers to the sofa. The good mother who wants the best for her child is urged to forswear processed baby food, which is eyed as a health hazard, and to avoid daycare as injurious to her child’s healthy development. With all of its demands, the naturalist ideal of the 21st century means that it takes a woman as much time and energy to raise two children as our grandmothers spent raising four.

We’ve heard these types of arguments before from Erica Jong and countless mothers before her. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Prescriptive parenting, whether pro- or anti-naturalism, is at the heart of the issue. As Badinter herself agrees, when we look to gurus, whose opinions change with the mood of the times, we lose our way. Believing that there is a right way to parent, especially when that way contradicts with your own instincts, is the real prison modern mamas are facing.

Badinter continues: “Daughters have reacted against the feminism of their mothers. Most of all, we have seen the return of a naturalist ideology not much different from that of Rousseau, which kept women at home for almost two centuries. Its message was simple: ‘Ladies, your duty and your great achievement is to make the adults of tomorrow. You need only look to the teachings of nature and devote your days and nights to the task.'”

I’m concerned by this idea that modern or attached motherhood is setting back the feminist movement. For me, and for many of my generation, the lasting gift of feminism is the right to choose what we do with our lives: the right to self-determination. Not the right to sit in a cubicle all day, then pick up our child from day care and call ourselves liberated. Not the right to hate your life as you wash cloth diapers and puree baby food because someone told you that’s what “good” mothers do. For me, feminism means choosing how we navigate motherhood, whether we dress Junior in cloth diapers, disposables or none at all. In other words, if it’s not for you, just skip it!

Now to the valid issue Badinter raises about mothers whose lives revolve entirely around mothering. “We …fail to remember that raising a child doesn’t last forever, that when children grow up we have thirty or forty years left to live. To make a child the alpha and omega of a woman’s life deals a terrible blow to women’s autonomy and to the equality of the sexes.”

I’ll start by pointing out that this issue – identifying so completely with a particular role, always has the potential to leave our worlds completely rocked. A close relative recently told me about the best job she had. She loved it – the work, the people, everything about it. And she was there for a long time. But then one day she was let go. And she swore to never again identify with a job so completely. Work is work, she said, and that’s all it is.

So maybe identifying so completely with one role, to the exclusion of others, isn’t just a pitfall of motherhood. It’s a danger of completely identifying ourselves with what we do, rather than who we are. The danger is identifying as anything but our true selves, whatever that means to each of us. As long as we stand in our own truth, we’ll make the best decisions possible – for ourselves, for our families and for our careers. And if the highlights of our lives change suddenly or over time, we’ll be equipped to ride it out.

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?