Halfway through my second trimester with my first daughter, my husband and I went to dinner with a couple who deemed themselves seasoned parents of a 5-year-old. "There are two types of parenting," the husband informed us, "Attachment or detachment parenting. You must choose one."
Not knowing what either term meant, nor little else about babies, I picked the obvious answer, "Oh, we definitely will be attached!"
Now, five and a half years later, I have learned that these veteran parents were wrong -- absolutely, completely, dead wrong. There is so much more room in the realm of parenting for different styles to be incorporated. And, I was wrong too, in the end I am not an "attachment" parent, yet still I am very far from detached.
Last week Mayim Bialik, best known from her role as Blossom, published her own parenting book, "Beyond the Sling; A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way". In her book Bialik argues that attachment parenting is the more natural and instinctual way to parent. It is what families used to practice, before we became institutionalized. These methods include co-sleeping, breastfeeding, elimination communication (infant potty training), and gentle discipline.
My foremost problem with attachment parenting, as with other absolute methods, is the notion that there is a "right" way to raise children. Parenting is difficult. Growing up is complicated. And, since people are not identical cookie cutters, both the parents and the child need various methods to choose from in order to find the approach that fits with their family and their lifestyle.
For example, lets look at the attachment parenting system to discipline. Bialik advocates "gentle discipline", treating children as though they are partners in the relationship and cultivating an environment of mutual respect. "Some general goals of gentle discipline include making our children feel safe with us, feeling that they are partners in their relationship with us, and finding ways for children to find better choices for behavior as opposed to simply teaching them to stop a behavior that we deem inappropriate."
When I began teaching, as a fresh, naïve, 22-year-old Teach For America corp member, I held fast these beliefs. My students, eighth graders, would respect me because I would respect them. Together we would navigate difficult situations and work as a democracy to form a nurturing and civil classroom. Unfortunately, the kids neglected to read the same manual as me and could sniff out the easy prey in less time that it took me to write my name on the chalkboard.
While there are teachers that are able to command attention and respect with the turn of their heads, or a silent look in the eye, I (in all my 62 inches) was not one of them. It took me a few years and many mistakes to find the method that worked for me (this involved a combination of my own perky personality, a consistently low tolerance for disrespect, charts, charts, and more charts, and numerous phone calls home).
Parenting is similar. Personally, I would give my husband's left nut to be one of those mothers that can silence her children into obedience with just one stern look of the eyes. Unfortunately, my "I mean it!" glare leaves most people wondering if I am extremely constipated. On top of that, when I scream my voice goes up another octave making me sound as though I sucked helium. I do not have a natural authoritative manner.
So, just like my first year teaching, I tried the gentle discipline approach. When the toddler would throw self-induced exorcisms because I cut her peanut butter sandwich in half vertically (opposed to diagonally), I did my best to patiently explain that gluing it back together was not an option. The toddler did not follow my logic.
Gentle discipline and I quickly faced a fatal problem; I soon realized that I don't necessarily buy into it. At some point I want, even need, my children to do what I say, because I said so. Is it really so horrible to expect children to listen, without a lengthy discussion each time we tell them to pick up their Polly Pockets? Still, even with all of my new-agey parenting beliefs, I think that this is more than OK, I think that this is necessary.
Nevertheless Bialik argues that, "Gentle Discipline can work for every child and every parent, if only we invest the time and energy to make it happen with consistency, authenticity, and love." This is simply not true. No method of discipline, or parenting, can work for every parent and every child. Humans are not one size fits all.
So, just like the lessons I learned in my first few years of teaching, I looked another method to try and keep my children from turning the house into "The Lord of the Flies". This is when I discovered the awesomeness of Dr. Thomas Phelan and 1-2-3 Magic. In my moment of need, his easy to implement system of warnings and time-outs helped give order to a house with two "spirited" little ones.
Little did I know that according to many attachment parenting experts, including Mayim Bialik, time out's are big a no-no. Bialik calls them "physical punishments", along the same lines of spanking. It appears that with time-outs a child's cries are ignored and needs are left unmet.
There is a crucial question missing from the conversation -- what about the parent's needs? Do these not count? With attachment parenting and gentle discipline it seems that I must be omnipresent in my children's lives, and that leaves little room for me to be present in mine.
When my child is screaming loudly enough to shatter glass, for me to keep sanity, someone must be removed from the situation. It can either be the child, left alone for a few minutes in her cheerfully decorated and baby proofed room, or I could hide in the garage and leave the children unfettered access to the kitchen appliances. Personally, I'm more comfortable with the first option.
Still, it is important to note that although this approach works for me and my girls, others will find that gentle discipline fits well for their situation, and others have mastered the "look" that establishes order in the chaos of childhood. Parents need reasonable options, not absolute declarations of the right and wrong ways to parent.