Whether you’re considering using the attachment parenting method for your newborn or you’re wondering about your clingy one-year-old, chances are that at least a few people have warned you that co-sleeping, breast-feeding, babywearing, and other attachment parenting practices cause children to be excessively dependent and spoiled. While this advice is almost always coming from well-meaning friends and relatives, there is little validity to this claim.
One of the most important benefits of attachment parenting is its amazing tendency to produce children who are emotionally healthy, independent, and secure in the long run. Rather than having the clingy tendencies of children who are not given enough attention as babies and toddlers, studies indicate that attachment-parented children are much more outgoing and secure as older children and adults.
“If they are helped to feel secure and loved, they will be independent, not dependent, because they will be secure in that independence and know that they are loved unconditionally,” writes renowned lactation professional Dr. Jack Newman, referring to the rumor that children who breastfeed beyond toddlerhood are spoiled or clingy. Science also shows that children who co-sleep have healthier emotional and social lives as adults.
The attachment parenting caregivers of toddlers and infants are likely to find this hard to believe, and may even begin to believe that their parenting technique is a mistake. It is certainly true that young infants who are used to being held will protest when put down, and it is equally true that breastfed babies will reject the cold, rubber teat at the end of a formula-filled bottle. But does this mean that the children are spoiled?
Dr. William Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting” in the nineteen-eighties, notes that, in cultures that lack commodities like cribs and baby swings, there is no word for spoiling. Children are given love and attention because that is the way children are intended to be raised– not because entire, healthy cultures spoil their children one generation after the next. Not surprisingly, it is in many of these cultures that war and violence are less common– perhaps because the individuals in the society are more emotionally balanced from an early age.
Babies and toddlers are not capable of conceptualizing the abuse or manipulation of their parents– they operate on a “what I want right now” basis, and they learn to trust in their caregivers and their surroundings by getting what they need, when they need it. The concept of “spoiling” implies that a baby who likes to sleep in his mother’s arms is of the same variety as an eight-year-old who insists on buying every toy she sees. The two are completely different.
Attachment parents may still find themselves swamped by the constant demand of raising a high-need, well-bonded baby, but the alternative– a baby with little or no emotional connection to her parents– is much more harmful to the parents and child in the long run. A five-month-old who has already learned to accept that no one comes when she cries is not a “good baby”, she is a neglected child who has shut down her reception to love and bonding.
Numerous scientific studies show that many of these “good babies”, who have been parented in a detached manner designed to “encourage independence”, actually struggle with more emotional problems and attachment disorders in the long run. Because they did not learn love, compassion, and dependence early in life, they never established a basis for trusting their own parents– or the world itself.
The idea that a well-loved baby is “spoiled” is an unsettling theory. It implies that it is possible to love a baby to much, to bond with a baby too deeply, and to give too much compassion to a person who is utterly helpless. Any society that views attachment between a mother and child as negative needs an adjustment– and what better way to go about changing the world, than starting with the way we raise our children?
Of course, the methods of attachment parenting can be used to keep children dependent or spoiled, but no more so than any other method. A parent who insists on being in-control and constantly needed will exercise this control under any parenting method’s guidelines: be it the suggestions of Dr. Sears, Dr. Spock, or Dr. Ferber’s. Poor parenting is poor parenting, regardless of method, and the attachment parenting model encourages self-sufficiency and independent play as much as any other parenting technique.
It can be difficult to balance work, family, and the process of attachment-parenting a high-need baby or toddler, but this is not necessarily an indicator that the child is spoiled. A dependence on love and affection is not the same thing as a manipulative abuse of control. While the early days of attachment parenting are demanding, they pay off over time with a well-bonded child, an outgoing teenager, and an independent, loving adult.
Sources Used: Jack Newman, M.D., Teresa Pitman. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. 2000.; William Sears, M.D., Martha Sears, R.N., The Attachment Parenting Book. Little, Brown, and Company. 2001.