Time Magazine got lots of the attention it wanted with their recent cover (shown). The photo, however, was much more provocative than the article that provided a fairly balanced view of Attachment Parenting and its main advocate, Dr. William Sears.
That’s not to say that the article won’t stir up confusion all over again among well-meaning parents and parents-to-be perplexed with all the mixed messages out there. There is the more traditional approach, championed by people like sleep expert Dr. Ferber and more recently the Tiger Mother advocating for a tougher stance that includes letting your infant cry it out at night, not only for the parent’s sake but for the child’s own development in learning how to self soothe. The attachment parenting folks tell you the exact opposite – namely that by keeping infants close to you and responding to their distress that they will develop an increased sense of safety and agency which will serve as a strong foundation and, yes, will actually help them be more independent later.
What is a parent to do with all this contradictory advice? What should we recommend as the child “experts?” First, it is important to note that the scientific evidence on the subject is surprisingly weak mainly because a) there are so many moving parts when it comes to positive and negative child behavior that studies can’t account for them all, and b) to really get a definitive study would require randomization, which is nearly impossible and would throw doubt on anyone who would be willing to participate (I want you to sign this form and then we will flip a coin which will tell you how you will raise your kid for the next 10 years, okay?)
The good Dr. Spock advocated decades ago that parents should be skeptical of all the clatter and trust their instincts. Far be it from me to contradict one of the preeminent child development experts, but just to make things even more complicated I am tempted to advocate the reverse (sort of) namely – make efforts to parent in a way opposite of what comes naturally. Of course, I’m not talking about mistreating kids or thumbing your nose at good universal principles – I’m referring to balance. If a warm loving parent really struggles with setting limits and being firm, then maybe that is where he or she needs to improve. If another parent easily takes the role of the tough disciplinarian, maybe that person needs to work on being playful and responsive.
Parenting both with and against one’s instincts is probably not mutually exclusive and may even be optimal. Furthermore, when it comes to parenting practices, one size definitely does not fit all.
All kids need love. All kids need limits. After that, it starts to get complicated.