Tuesday, January 8, 2008

My Two Cents on the Attachment Parenting Debate

Quote from Dr. Popcak at Heart, Mind, and Strength blog:
"I would agree that you cannot do AP without going to the nuthouse if you have
another child every year. But the AP response would be that, unless God
has somehow specifically called a person to act in a manner that is contrary to
what he created the child's body to need (which would be remarkable considering
Pope Benedict's assertion at Ravensburg that the Christian God
is a God of order and reason who does not contradict the laws of his
own creation) then it is imperative to the bonding process and the health
of the mother that children be spaced about 2.5 to 3 years apart (give or

This is in reference to what has turned into a debate at HMS and at Danielle Bean's blog about parenting a large family and attachment parenting principles. I pulled the above quote because I think it contains a fundamental part of the argument.

First, no where in this debate has anyone really laid out what attachment parenting is. Looking back, I was a rabid adherent to Attachment Parenting philosophy and practices when I began my mothering career fifteen years ago. Now with baby #9 due to arrive next month, I have gained much wisdom and experience regarding parenting methods and philosophies. I would still call myself an attached and attentive parent, but I would not embrace Attachment Parenting as a philosophy any more. Why? Because family life and mothering is much too complicated. I would not suggest that one must or must not follow an arbitrary set of rules to be a good parent -- beyond the "rules" of our faith. Can a mother be an attached and loving parent and use a pacifier, or a crib, or wean at 18 months? Can a child be healthy and whole, physically and psychologically, and be attended to by older siblings, strapped in a high chair at meals, or attend pre-school? Wouldn't some of these violate the tenants of Attachment Parenting?

Even so, I would still advocate for the benefits of natural birth, breastfeeding, a mother's presence, and homeschooling, but see these more as goals and ideals than absolute mandates for everyone in all situations.

I would argue that loving parents can depart from AP methods and still be attached. Just as adoptive parents can still lovingly bond through bottlefeeding. It is donating yourself to your parenting vocation that makes a good parent, not a set of methods. Sure, breastfeeding and co-sleeping may help the process, but are not required. In some instances, AP methods could even interfere with loving parenting; I have seen it happen. We all have different circumstances.

Now to specifically address Dr. Popcak's assertion that "it is imperative to the bonding process and the health of the mother that children be spaced about 2.5 to 3 years apart (give or take)." I totally disagree with this statement. Children can be loved and well parented, healthy and happy, and grow up in a large family with closely spaced children. My vocation as the mother of one such family requires much of me, and many nights I go to bed exhausted emotionally, spiritually and physically. This is my path to heaven, and this is what God has created for me and our family. Yes, this is what God has done in my family, and as was mentioned above, God does not contradict the laws of his own creation.

Additionally, the burden does not entirely fall upon my husband and I to ensure that we only have children spaced an arbitrary number of months apart in order to never have to use a pacifier or because of some parenting method. God has given some couples abundant fertility. Our families may not fit neatly into a philosophy or look like the perfectly "planned" NFP family. Just as God permits infertility, infertility that can lead to pain, desperation, or can lead to spiritual growth and other avenues of charitable living. Couples who are very fertile have our own avenue of charitable living and a unique burden that can lead to disorder and pain or to spiritual growth. Infertile couples or small families are not necessarily less married or less Catholic then large families. Large families are not necessarily less attached, loving, or healthy than small families. I say necessarily, because families of any size can allow their struggles and challenges to get in the way of their path to holiness or they can use these struggles and challenges as their avenue to holiness.

Let's all be careful how we judge families of different shapes and sizes and not create burdens for each other that God never intended.

Peace, Hope