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A Real Insider's View of What Benefits and Detriments are in Attachment-Style Parenting
A recent article (here, if you want to read it yourself) listed the Benefits and Cons of attachment-style parenting, from a fresh, new perspective: totally outside the realm of any kind of life with attachment-style parenting (short form: AP) or anywhere near it. Pure outsider speculation...
Someday I'll have to remember to write a piece about Life as a Theoretical Mathematician in Ancient Mesopotamia, including all the Benefits and Cons I invent based on not knowing anything at all about it... that will be fun. (where is that eye-roll emoji?)
So perhaps a slightly more realistic view of the real Pros and Cons of Attachment-Style Parenting from the inside? Let's start with the Cons, because I do find that it AP is a bit oversold, or perhaps I mean under-realized...
Cons of Attachment-Style Parenting
1. Huge time suck.
I don't want to minimize this or leave it for last, the fact is that AP is a huge use of time. I mean huge. Think 'most of 20 years' huge. In this blog post (The 97:400 Rule), I explain what the reason for all that time really is ... but I really can't overstate how much time it takes to parent this way. It's intense and long-term.
When I was asked why I was willing to spend so much time (phrased as a huge sacrifice, a position I take issue with here: Parenting is Not a Sacrifice) engaged this closely with my children, my simple answer was 'I like them, and I like spending time with them' ... something that was as true in their infancy as it was in their toddlerhood, teens and twenties. I thought they were really cool people, and who would know better: I saw the most of them, and knew them better than anyone living outside of their skin, and watching them grow and learn and become so very much themselves over the years. It was a tremendous gift and privilege which I enjoyed far more than anyone ever believed.
The fact is, I didn't have kids to have someone else (not even many someone elses) raise them. Not because I wanted to mold them into what I thought they should be, or be the only influence in their lives (which by a long, long way, I never was) but because I wanted to care for them as much as I cared about them. As much. Which, for me, was quite simply 'all of it.'
The quality time versus quantity time war is over, quantity won. No contest. If you'd like to argue, please start with 'I show my partner my care and love by not spending time with them as much as possible, while ensuring that someone else is with them to take my place when I'm busy doing important me-things.' Continue as you wish.
2. Deeply unsettling.
I suppose if you were raised this way, maybe not ... but for me, it was a constant grinding against what I thought I knew, what I thought was true, what I thought made sense, who I thought I was, and what I thought the work involved. Some examples:
- I actually thought my job as a parent was to control my kids. Ha ha.
- I actually thought my job as a parent was to lead my kids. Ha ha.
- I actually thought time-out, rewards, praise, and 'tough love' worked toward any of my goals. Ha ha.
- I actually thought I was informed, equipped, and cool enough to be a naturally great parent. Ha ha.
- I actually thought I would skip most of the predictable and obvious mistakes. Ha ha.
- I actually thought our home was peaceful and emotionally safe. Ha ha.
Over the years, I had presented to me giant slices of crow-flavoured humble pie. For a while, I laughed sardonically about how all personal growth, in my experience, comes under the general heading 'Personal Humiliation' ... and it wasn't about what I thought others were thinking about me, it was entirely internal. I was humiliated all by myself, at what I believed when faced with what was proven true. I was humiliated by my naivete, by my results, by the reflection of my kids' faces in response to what I did.
To say that this road is not for the faint-of-heart is to put it mildly. This is so much more desperately painful than what is indicated by the possibly-Phyllis Diller's quip: becoming a mother is giving your heart permission to walk around outside your body for the rest of your life.
3. Emotionally Risky
Kind of to follow up on 2. above, the fact is when you get super connected to your kids, you are in a similar position as when you deeply connect with a partner: you are signing up for the possibility of being emotionally destroyed by their loss.
While it's romantic and twee to smile and say 'love is so wonderful' the fact is that it comes with a deeply dark side, which is why a lot of jaded people avoid it. Not to put too fine a point on it, people prefer to stay at arm's length. Whatever loss or loneliness may be embedded in not letting people in is dwarfed by the grief and terror available when they are allowed in.
Wracked with sobs, unable to sleep (or get out of bed) for days, collapsing inside, walking around as a ghost within and numb to everything is not what most people are willing to trade for casual, cool aloofness.
Well, that's attractive... So what are the Pros?
Pros of Attachment-Style Parenting
The article got this largely right, although on a pretty superficial level. They list 'Emotionally-Strong Connections,' and 'Strong Trust and Support System' which are true... but ... they also list these two Cons: 'Lack of Adventure' and 'The Balance of Independence' which are, frankly, ridiculous. When kids feel strong support and emotional connections that are not readily shaken (essentially, a strong inner sense of stability and security) they are far more adventurous and independent... and this article's twaddle is really just another way of saying the same old thing again: kids who get their early needs met are supposed to turn out to be 'tied to mom's apron strings' or somehow crippled by not having to suffer enough... which has always been a massive pile of b.s.
One of the first things I noticed when I started being around people who liked their kids (my criteria for the influences in my life, I sought them out intentionally after having met a woman who visibly detested her 8yo, whom she eventually left at daycare and flew to New Zealand as an astonishing surprise to everyone involved) was how different these kids are from my own experience and expectations:
1. Independent, Adventurous, and Self-Confident
I am not kidding when I say that the first of these kids I ever knew blew my mind and deeply unsettled a whole range of silly things I had come to believe were natural and inevitable in children. One simple way that I noticed this, and then became able to pick them out of crowds, was that children raised this way make eye contact with adults they're introduced to, and are both interested in conversation with those adult and capable of participating. I don't know which I found the weirdest: that they made eye contact with me or that they were capable of holding a conversation with me. This included young children (3, 5) and teens (13, 15, 17.) And it doesn't go away.
The level of quiet confidence in these kids is notable. Far from being namby-pamby or painfully shy, they are visible, poised, forthright and inclined to stand up for their friends in really effective ways. My eldest (a quiet child who always looks on until she's comfortable to join in, which is sometimes never), on her first day of an international summer camp with zero people she knew previously: Within an hour of arriving slapped a handsy boy across the face so hard she left a handprint, and told him to keep his hands to himself . . . which he did, for the duration of the 10 day camp. Now, I don't think she'd ever seen anyone slapped in real life up to that point, but she definitely quickly and effectively made her line-in-the-sand on behalf of her shocked new friend who had been groped. Beyond this, my kids were sometimes asked what it was like to have 'such a young mom' --partly because I apparently seem younger than I am (I have no reference point, I always think I look older than ever) but mainly because while they were in their young teens people often thought they were in their early 20s (and since I seemed to be in my late 20s... confusion abounds.) Again, my eldest: a few days into her first full-time job, she was asked when she had graduated. She told the nice lady she turned 16 a month earlier and had not graduated yet, and was called a liar because surely she was at least 25.
Additionally to this, these kids are adventurous and self-driven. They want things, and they pursue them. I have known kids who ran their own online radio stations, and who have planned, paid for, and executed their own (entirely independent) international travel, learned languages as diverse as machine coding and Japanese, started successful businesses, and developed skills that quickly surpassed their parents (arts, crafts, sailing, mechanics, driving) ... and one who went to college and ended up teaching before he was technically finished the program...
There are certainly lots of kids who have done things like this who aren't raised this way, which no one thinks much about one way or another, but that doesn't mean kids who are raised this different way are somehow incapable, broken, weak or misaligned... as the story is supposed to go.
2. Yes, Emotionally-Connected, For Real
One interesting event in my parenting life was the Christmas when both kids were grown and on their own, all cool young adults 'finished' with their family and moved on to 'real life' ... There is so much embedded in the ideas of being grown up and out of the nest that just aren't really very rational (I address these in more depth, here) ... and this is what happened:
All together, I think there were about 25 people --my parents, my family, my brother and his wife and her son and I think his former roommate, my sister's family, my mom's sister's family and their intervener --my cousin is deaf and blind-- and the strays (usually single men who worked with my kids' dad), our girls' friends and boyfriends. We had a seafood buffet at our house Christmas Eve (where Santa comes and brings presents for my sister's kids) until about 11pm, and then 'dinner' at my parents starting at about 11am and running until about 5pm, followed by brunch at my brother's for Boxing Day. All of them came to all of it, and stayed the whole time --entirely voluntarily. Because they had fun. They played games, chatted with the elderlies, sang songs, held the baby, helped cook or clean up, or, in the case of my brother's the next day, laid around on the couches moaning with hangovers (the young adult people had also gone clubbing Christmas night --ouch!)
I hadn't thought much about it, except my brother-in-law and one of the younger strays had comments, kind of like those I made in 1. above: those kids are weird! Hanging out happily for nearly three entire days, helping out, chatting and being around their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles by choice... when they could, you know, just not. Like normal kids.
That is a thing I see among families who life closer to the attachment-parenting style: kids who actively like and seek out their family, who feel closely connected to them, even as young adults when 'normal' kids are either way too cool, or frankly fed up with being shoved away.
3. Strong Trust
Now, this sounds a lot like the first two, but is actually a benefit to parents. Or, at least, to me.
When my kids came up with some fabulous new idea of things to do, being the creative little wonders they were, my learned reaction was almost always 'no, no, no, no, don't do THAT' ... which almost immediately got over-ridden by 'wait a sec., what? why not?'
I got to know my children so well, and at such a deep level, that I really trusted them to know best for themselves what they could and could not do. Not whether or not they could do it 'well' --but whether or not they could handle the struggles involved in trying, including the frustration and potential injuries. So, when my youngest, at 13, said she was going on an adventure to the only grocery store open until midnight because she wanted some fresh strawberries, and she could walk there in about 35 minutes, so she just had time, I said 'no, no, no, no... wait a minute, why not?' And off she went, proudly returning in under 90 minutes with an empty strawberry container... or I think she may have saved a few for me.
When they each had said, (at 13, and 12, respectively), 'I want to go to this summer camp in the US for 10 days' I said (after the stock 'no, no, no, no' answer in my head got stomped on) 'let's see how we can make that happen.' When my elder, at 17, said, 'I want to go to this 17-day dance intensive in a different province,' I said, (after the 'no, no, no, no,' got quashed) 'oh cool.' And when my previously-sat-on-my-lap-until-she-was-twelve-and-a-half daughter said, at 17, 'I want to go to Scotland and England by myself' I said, 'um, okay.' (Eventually, the inner 'no way!' stopped talking, probably from being ignored so frequently...)
That last one was really the notable distinction between parenting in an attached way and not: because of the two parents in our house, I had and their dad had not.
When their dad found out that she had bought the tickets, he said, 'wait, what? I thought we were still thinking about this!' with genuine panic. When she went radio-silent for three days in the middle, after leaving London for Glasgow, he didn't breathe or sleep, while I umpired a ball tournament simply believing she was fine... and when I drove back to pick her up from the airport across the water (ferry to the big airport) where I had left her two and a half weeks earlier, he nearly ran to the car to get going, and I swear he didn't exhale fully until he saw her coming down the terminal concourse. It was funny, because it was on CCTV, and I'm kind of faceblind, even where my children are concerned, so I didn't actually know it was her until he pointed her out. I was excited to see her and hear all about her adventure, but he was so relieved that she was not dead that it was wafting off him like mist. I had not realized how frightened he had been until that moment... because I wasn't at all frightened: I knew she was having a blast.
I cannot overstate how delightful it feels to know for certain that my kids are fine --I am living now in another city, and missing them like crazy-- but knowing absolutely: they are fine, and they can handle anything they get themselves into... not the least because, just like with me all those years ago, they have built strong and secure relationships with many people they know they can rely on, and I know they built that on the strong foundation of trust and security I provided them when they were young and growing.
The benefits of attachment-style parenting are, quite simply, that children have the ability to confidently grow into themselves, safe and secure in the knowledge that they don't have to be anything different, or anything more, to be loved. Far from being crippled by overbearing, overprotective or martyr parents, sacrificing themselves to mow down every possible obstacle or hardship that might create a child's single tear or stage-managing every aspect of their lives, attachment-style parenting is simply meeting children's needs as they have them, and trusting that they can handle life even when it hurts.
A final benefit, if it fits: it grows up their parents in quite a nice way, too. Healthier parenting is healing even for the parents...
Do you have a different set of Pros & Cons? Comment in the chat, below:
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