Attachment Parenting: What’s Going On?

I wrote about the intersection of attachment parenting and Waldorf education some years ago in a back post, but it has been on my mind again lately…And then, just this week, there was a wonderful thread regarding this topic on Marsha Johnson’s list.  Lisa Boisvert Mackenzie of Wonder Of Childhood ( had some particularly wise and insightful things to say about the journey of the parent  as a part of Waldorf parenting  (which we often see in the work of biography in Waldorf Education, as we, the teacher and the parent, strive to heal and understand ourselves because we are not just teaching academic subjects but teaching how we view the world and who we are!) and how this intersects with attachment parenting.

My husband and I have attachment parented three children ages 11 to 3 as of this writing.  I have been involved and am still involved in attachment parenting at my local community level, and I receive a lot of mail and questions from attached parents all over the world, so I think I am in a unique situation to know what’s going on in the world of attached parents.

So, today I want to write about some of the ways I  personally think attachment parenting has been misunderstood and misconstrued.  Again, this is my opinion, so please take what resonates for you, and leave the rest behind.  There really are no road maps for the attachment parenting of the older child; I believe there is a book out by Isabelle Fox on this subject and I think I read it a long time ago but yet I have little impression of it at this point Therefore, these are just some of my observations from seeing attached children that are now over the age of seven, up through the teenaged years.

The attached mothers I have spoken to who have children over the age of 7 or 8 wouldn’t change the fact that they are attachment parenting but many of them would change HOW they did it.  Most of the things they would change has to do with rhythm, how they communicated with the young child, and boundaries for the entire family.

So, without a road map for the older child, here is my perspective after being in the attachment community for eleven years now:

Number One: Some feel that in order to be an attached parent, the approach must be completely child-centered – ie,  the child sets the rhythm, whatever the child wants to do the parent does their best to make it happen,  anything the child says and does requires the attention of the parent.   Yet, Jean Liedloff herself wrote about the unhappy consequences of being completely child-centered here:

Actually,  I think the attachment literature that has sprung up has done a decent job of  talking about how the family needs balance, that the parent cannot “fix” things for the child…..BUT I don’t always see that in practice.  What I often see is an exhausted mother, a husband who is completely involved but also wishes for some time alone with his wife, sometimes guilt  because the mother feels she should be doing things “better” as an attached mother and if she was “perfect” she could fix every emotional challenge for her child and her family would float along happily with no conflict at all.  Sometimes everything really comes to a head  for the attached family after years and years of attachment parenting and multiple children…..  I think some of this stems from the fact that when an infant is small, we need to respond to infant’s stress cues right away and that for many breastfeeding mothers, they feel many things are readily fixable with nursing…How that changes as a child grows into toddlerhood!

So, in response to this, I wish the attachment community would write more about how the child and the mother, whilst entwined at birth and through the physiologic acts of breastfeeding and attentive nighttime parenting (co-sleeping or sleeping in proximity), are actually separate human beings with distinct differences by virtue that one is the adult parent and one is the child with the consciousness of a child.  I like how La Leche League put it in their book, “Adventures In Gentle Discipline”:“Bear in mind that to say children are equally deserving of dignity and respect does not have to mean that the relationship itself is of equal power. As a parent, you have a broader view and more life experience to draw from, and these are assets you bring to the child as his adult caretaker. You also bear more responsibility for choices surrounding your child than he does.” (Adventures in Gentle Discipline, page 11)

I believe many attachment parenting groups utilize The Gesell Institute books in their libraries, but I wish attached parents would refer to the developmental stages in those books more often in their parenting so they could really understand where their child is and have realistic expectations and realistic ways of communicating.   I think these books highlight where a child is coming from, and how the adult can help their child best in each developmental stage.

I  also wish the attachment parenting movement would  talk more about the benefits of like-minded community to assist in balance for the family.  The Continuum Concept certainly showed the benefits of community off!

More thoughts on this subject tomorrow!

With love,

19 thoughts on “Attachment Parenting: What’s Going On?

  1. I JUST reread that Jean Liedloff article the other day because my youngest is now 15 months! It’s so easy to keep responding to the toddler like they are still an infant when you are doing attachment parenting. Now that I’m back in control again he is SO much happier and so are my 5 & 3 year old daughters, lol!

  2. Carrie – I love this! I also read the article on Marsha Johnson’s list with much interest. I come from an AP, LLL Leader, IBCLC, waldorf homeschooling perspective, and I feel so so fortunate that I seemed to stumbled upon the right balance of respect for my children’s wishes and those of others….. When my oldest, now turning 7, was about 3, I saw some AP mothers with older children who seemed to need some limits set…… it was a lesson to me and I am so happy to be where we are now. I’d call it mother-led, child-focused, family-forward and people-centered!

  3. I could not agree more! This is so hard for me! I feel like so many attachment parents are afraid to discuss this, but then are exhausted with unhappy kids (like me…. Ha!). I esp like the line about feeling that maternal perfection would head off the emotional upset of kids… Wow!

    I think that as attached parents, out worst flaw is just a lack of boundaries. That is, internalizing our kids’ unhappiness from the beginning, and feeling like if they were truly ‘attached’ they would always be happy. Then, they never learn any type of frustration tolerance!

  4. My husband and I did practice attachment parenting with our three sons. I was a LLL leader and co-slept, etc. Then they all attended Waldorf school. It is wonderful and so exhausting! Recently I read about RIE parenting which made me stop and think about the possibility of their being a better balance for someone like me. The philosophy includes lots more “free” time for babies, letting them be a bit more independent once all needs are met. it sounds like something Steiner might have recommended too as he spoke of the child being behind the mother’s “veil” for too long with extended nursing for example. Of course I still strongly feel that extended nursing, co-sleeping, being with our kids is best…but I wonder if I would have been less tired and the kids would have learned different skills if I had put them down more. What do you think?

    • It’s funny because I JUST discovered the website, too, and had never heard of it until this week. I don’t necessarily agree with how much alone time this school of thought recommends, but it really speaks to me as far as just giving kids time to be. I found it to echo much of what I read in Waldorf literature, actually, although in practice people I actually know who are “waldorf-ish” tend to be attachment parents who struggle with their kids having down time.

    • E – Do you mean the article by Jean Liedloff? I think the Waldorf literature can come across as “put your children down and go about your business”, but that tends to me, to be the older Waldorf literature coming out of Europe some time ago..I think there is this wave of AP and Nonviolent Communication in Waldorf, but now I think we need to find the balance..

      Many blessings,

  5. As always, good practical wisdom here. I am speaking from the perspective of one with children ages 19, 14, and 18 months. I practiced AP in the beginning the best I could without having a name for it or any type of support community. Much of what I thought was loving parenting, especially as my oldest grew was more likely enmeshment.At that time I was the mom, but also serving as a buffer from an unstable father, I internalized every single feeling and struggle of my children. By the time we were in a healthier situation,(away from the father) my teenager had a real difficulty with boundaries. I still have to check myself on those more interior boundaries although I am much further down the road in setting exterior ones. And I am glad to report that the eldest is doing really well and is quite independent. But I would advise mothers to recognize how important the individuation stages are. You can still be strongly connected or attached to your child while letting them experience necessary growth.

  6. Pingback: Part Two: Attachment Parenting: What’s Going On? | The Parenting Passageway

  7. Fabulous discussion! I read Leidloff’s book when my children were babies and it really became a hard point for me. I couldn’t find the boundaries. I knew something was wrong and did course correction when my oldest was around 5 yo, started finding where to draw boundaries and was also able to join a Waldorf school/community. But, our Waldorf school is urban, and has diverse ways of parenting, and not a strong parenting education. So, finding my way was mostly on my own and through the articles and blogs. I wish I’d had your blog earlier on, Carrie! I saw this article by Leidloff several months ago and heaved a big sigh, hoping that more people would read this article and seek balance. I’m so glad she put it out there, and I wish I’d had that sooner too, to balance out her book. Now I would love to know of a resource(s) that delve into the stages of development. Perhaps I need to read Parenting Passageway more often!! Thank YOU!!

  8. Hi everyone!

    I’m a new mom to a 12 mon precious boy whom we adopted and took home from the hospital. My husband and I practice attachment parenting with the exception that he sleeps in his crib in his room now. The problem is he seems to be TOO attached and it’s very difficult to put him down for a few minutes to go to the bathroom, wash laundry, make lunch, etc. I’m just now able to put him down for moments to do these tasks without him screaming. He is fine to wander and explore now that he’s mobile but will scream loudly and uncontrollably if I leave the room to do one of the above quick things (for example, the bathroom is unsafe for him since he can crawl head first over the edge of the bathtub, etc.!!!) Is this just separation anxiety? I hesitate to say it is because it’s always been this way. How can I get him to be more and more comfortable on his own for some moments? What can I do???? I don’t really have anyone to guide me very well…..and I don’t have any experience with witnessing other mamas as I have not found a local group to get together with of like-minded people. I haven’t joined La Leche because he was adopted and not breastfed. Thoughts? Thank you!

    • Hi Lisa!
      Sounds really, really normal to me… Separation anxiety is really normal around ten to twelve months…Here are some back posts that might help:
      This one had some great comments by readers:

      He is still really little, but not too soon to start thinking about rhythm, how predictable his day is, and what work he could help you with if he is at all mobile:

      Here is some more on separation anxiety embedded in this post:

      and this one:
      So Glad you are here! I don’t think you are doing anything wrong…but a rhythm and predictability will help you garner a few moments alone…Having a ho hum attitude helps, knowing that in many ways this is a normal developmental stage that will pass…

      Is there an attachment parenting in your area? Also, some La Leche League groups have toddler meetings that could be helpful because they are usually more focused on the development of the toddler, loving guidance, etc.

      Also, try reading the posts under the One year old in the Development header on this blog..there are lots of posts about the one year old..

      Many blessings,

    • Just a practical suggestion: for something like the unsafe bathroom. Maybe a baby gate at the doorway so he can still see you but isn’t wandering around would help. I used to talk to my son to tell him where I was going/doing while I was out of eye sight (or sing a song) so he still knew where I was. Also except for the bathroom most of the activities you listed are ones he can help with (pulling clothes out of the dryer into a basket, pushing a laundry basket down the hallway, give him a spoon and bowl to play right next to while making lunch. My son was super attached as a baby and I promise it gets better.

  9. Thanks so much for your reply! I appreciate hearing your thoughts and will check out the links 🙂 He was born early so is not yet at the point where he will focus to help with anything and seems to be a typical boy in the sense that all he’s really interested in doing is pushing and pulling things, climbing, cruising/walking, opening and closing things, etc. but won’t sit still even for a story anymore. He’s not the child who will just sit and stack his rings or blocks, etc. he’s all over the place so I can’t really engage him in any activity that I’m doing………..anyone else experience this? Sorry if I seem too much of a newbie!!!!

    • Lisa,
      How preemie was your little guy? What is his adjusted age? That is what you should be working off of in terms of milestones for development. Was he drug exposed in utero? If you are not concerned about other aspects of his development, I would say movement is where it is at for the first three years…listening to stories really comes later. Now is the time for nursery rhymes and fingerplays and songs. How are his fine motor skills? Does he hear well, make sounds?


  10. Hi Carrie,

    He was a month early and his biological parents were heavy, heavy chain smokers and unhealthy. Praise God Nathan is doing really well!! The pediatrician is amazed 🙂 He doesn’t really have many delays at all it’s just that he’s not focused enough yet to stay on track with something for more than a couple of minutes before being interested in something else, but this seems to be normal to me (outside of any Montessori kids I’ve seen…..) He used to love to sit and read stories with us but now that he’s mobile he just wants to cruise/walk, push things, climb, throw things, etc. Really that’s all he wants to do! I sing to him at various times throughout the day and will read in the background while he plays. I have some puppets for him but they don’t keep his interest for long. He hears really, really well and he “talks” a lot!! He babbles and practice consonant and vowel sounds all the time. He said Mama and Dada around 8 months and has said the following sporadically: hi, up, what, hi dada, mama, and yay! He understands words like “bottle, wind chime, light, on, off, up, down, etc. He’s really smart and really social so I’m grateful there. He’s also very happy and joyful, which we prayed for! He just has always had major difficulty in going to sleep even in our arms. He may have a stubborn streak in him but don’t we all? I feel like one minute I can properly asses things and have a good prospective and then the next minute I’m a babbling fool who doesn’t know anything!!! For someone who is very social I’m really disappointed not to have connected up with other like-minded moms 😦 that’s been very difficult.

    I’m going to check out some of those links now before he wakes up from his nap, which thank God he is taking right now!! 🙂 Poor little guy needs sleep as last night was rough.

    Hope you’re having a beautiful day!

  11. Pingback: The Physical Hazards of Attachment Parenting « Wailings Of A Work At Home Mom

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this. I have loved and hated many aspects of the real life logistics of attachment parenting, I know have an almost 2 year old and I feel I’m trapped in the very unrealistic vortex you describe. I agree so much that a child (speaking of toddlers and beyond) needs to be respected as a wonderful human, but not treated exactly the same as adults when it comes to decision making. I too often think of my toddler as that newborn crying, that if she is ever upset that I failed at something, that I haven’t been listening or meeting her needs and this is just not always true. Sure, at times I’ve not paid enough attention to her, she wanted to nurse and I made her wait just too long – but other times it is a normal frustration that she needs to work through, with my gentle help. I am too quick and lazy to try to avoid her ever being upset as opposed to helping her through her feelings as they come. And I don’t have a community!!!!! I love the closeness of cosleeping, I love the changing beautiful breastfeeding relationship, I love the way my daughter wants to be with me so much even though she happily runs to play with every new kid she sees. But I HATE how lonely this life is, how often I am unhappy with so many needs left unmet. My unhappiness affects my child, my husband and I wish wish wish I didn’t feel like I have to build a community from the ground up to have support, but I’m afraid that is what it takes. Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing this.

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