Friday, May 11, 2012

The AP'd child speaks out

When the current issue of TIME magazine came out, I wasn’t surprised. I knew that they were going to do an article on attachment parenting and wanting mothers who are currently practicing extended breastfeeding. How did I know this? Dionna of Code Name: Mama is one of the co-founders of the Natural Parents Network and a local friend. I knew she was flying to New York for a photo shoot and that they took pictures of her nursing her two children. I saw the exact photo they picked for the cover at the same time as the rest of America.

My mother wearing me in a carrier her friend made. It is 1979
and I was a few weeks old.
When I saw the cover photo (a mother standing, with her toddler standing on a chair, nursing) I had to roll my eyes. I could tell it had been posed. I read a blurb on the TIME blog that said the photographer drew inspiration from paintings of the Madonna and Child. Suddenly, the poses made more sense, as there are many paintings of the Blessed Mother with Jesus standing and nursing, or nipple twiddling or otherwise being a goofy nursling. Why? Because that is how older babies and children breastfeed! The painters weren’t painting anything unique or abnormal; they saw toddlers and young children nursing and their paintings reflect that.
Of course, considering that the headline screams “Are you mother enough?” I don’t think TIME was trying to go for the innocent, sweet Virgin Mary look. No, I think, based on their headlines and how they portray mothers who extend breastfeed and Attachment Parent (the author states that she believes mothers who AP are trying to make up for something lost in their own childhood), they are going for the shock-value. They wanted to ignite a shit storm, and they got it.

Time and time again, I have seen on blogs, Facebook and in news articles how horrible attachment parenting (and in particular, extended nursing) is.  “They” say mothers are only breastfeeding for themselves. Children should wean once they have teeth/can ask for it/are potty trained/ *insert your own mildstone here.* Children who nurse past x-age will never fly the nest, who are baby worn will never walk, will never sleep alone, will never have healthy relationships with others. To all that I obviously say, “Hogwash!”

Children who are attachment parented are not emotionally scarred for life. How do I know? I was nursed into toddlerhood.

Oh, you read that right. I was an extended nursling.

My parents co-slept. Yes, I slept in my parents bed. And (are you ready for this?) they wore me in baby carriers. They did these things with me, and with my younger siblings.

See, contrary to what TIME would like you to believe, Dr. Sears did not invent attachment parenting. Attachment parenting has been around much longer than 20 years. My parents practiced attachment parenting- they co-slept, breastfed exclusively, practiced baby wearing and many more tenements of natural and attachment parenting. My grandparents practiced some form of attachment parenting; my grandmother once confessed that she co-slept with my father when he was a baby. This style of parenting isn’t new; the name “attachment parenting” is.

 I was nursed until two and half years old. My brother weaned around three and my sister was also two and a half. I have only one conscience memory of my sister (eight years younger) nursing as a toddler. I don’t remember nursing and I don’t remember my brother nursing. Why? I honestly think it is because it was such a normal, natural part of life that my brain didn’t bother to record it. Many of my mother’s friends nursed, so being around nursing children was normal and natural.

Yet, on an unconscious level it made an impression on me. I have never thought extended nursing was “weird” or “gross” or “nasty.” It just . . . was. It was how those children ate or received comfort. I knew that they grew into happy, secure children. I am one of them.

My mother taught me how to co-sleep safely.  My own preschooler and toddler still climb into bed with myself and my husband at night. When I tell her that they bed-hog, she commiserates and offers me some tricks for getting a better night’s sleep. She admires my baby carriers and my father fondly recalls carrying my brother around in a baby back pack.

I can’t speak for my parents’ relationship with their parents. That is between my parents and grandparents, but it seems very loving and healthy. I don’t know why they chose to parent me and my siblings the way they did. I can say that I have a decent (not perfect, but certainly not abusive or toxic!) relationship with my parents. I certainly do not AP to make up for something missing in my childhood. I AP because it is how I was parented and because my own research shows that co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and baby wearing is normal, natural and good for the children and the parents.

What happens to children who were AP’d? Well, none of my siblings or I currently nurse, although my sister is breastfeeding her own child right now! We don’t sleep in our parents’ bed but happily bed-share with our spouses, children and occasional animal. My parents have taken to holding their grandchildren, not their children. (Although my brother has been known to pick my sister or myself and carry us over to nearest pool… and dump us in.) We have or are working on college degrees. We have friends and loving partners. You could say that there is no difference between us and the children who had mainstream parents. Perhaps there isn’t. Perhaps there is.
And the parents who once AP’d and who now have grandchildren? They understand how their children parent. My parents have never nagged me to give my baby a bottle. When we went away for a recent trip, my toddler co-slept with my mother. She wears her grandchildren in a sling and, when they are older, lets them break all the rules. Ice cream for breakfast? Sure, at grandma’s house! In short, they become loving, supportive, attached grandparents. Perhaps there isn’t any difference between them and more mainstream grandparents. But I think there is.

Do the negative comments bother me? Well, yeah, because people are saying some horrible things- not only about me, as a mother, but about my parents. I can tell that the people who decry attachment parenting, especially extended nursing, really do not understand what a normal, healthy extended breastfeeding relationship is like. They don’t know the end result. But even though the comments may bother me, I can laugh them off because I am a living, breathing, healthy example of a child who was AP'd and is now an adult. And, yes, perhaps there is no difference between me and my counterparts who had more mainstream parents. But I think there is one small difference; I am confident that children who are AP'd grow up into healthy, loving, attached adults fully capable to functioning in the real world because I am one of them.

(Photo credit: Likely my father or grandmother)


  1. Very well said! I love this whole piece... and I am slightly jealous of the support you now have. To have a parent who is so fully capable of embracing your parenting is such a gift!

  2. Yes! Me, too. My parents practiced AP with me and my siblings as well, before there was an official name for it. And we turned out to be wonderfully independent, adventurous, and happy. I AP my children, and my sister will do the same with hers. We like it, we know it, and it feels right. Thank you for a refreshing post.

    1. I believe the offical name for it when I was little was, "hippies." ;) I joke about it but you are right, there was no name for it! I was told today that a childhood friend of mine was tandum nursed... everything we think is "new" is really quite old!

  3. I hear you, all of this criticism for the mom on Time is hitting close to home for me as well... I was breastfed until nearly age 7, and I was an independent kid. I moved out when I was 21 (and never moved back in). All that stuff they say simply isn't true and it's pretty hurtful.

    1. Oh, wow! Do you remember nursing? I actually don't remember at all. I do remember my sister nursing as a toddler (and asking, "Can I nurse now?" complete sentence and all) and as a baby but other than that, I don't. It was just so ... normal!
      I too moved out at 18, for college, and then never moved back in!

  4. I love these stories! Thank you for sharing your normalcy ;)

  5. Ah, I love this! I'm so happy to hear from an attachment-parented grown kid. What a treat that you're several generations into such instinctual, responsive parenting, and have only good to show for it.

    1. Yes, my grandparents and even my husband's grandparents definatly had the instinct to respond to their babies. They weren't always able to (because of the recomendations of their time period) but they wanted too. I am glad mothers are now able to and encouraged to respond to their babies.

  6. I and all my siblings were nursed past age 2 as well. My dad was against AP parenting practices in general so my sister and I did not co-sleep etc but my step-dad didn't really care one way or the other so our four half brothers all co-slept. I feel very strongly that these AP practices protected us from some other dysfunctional aspects of our family. Nursing is very normal in my family and I've noticed that my brothers have a different attitude towards women's bodies than most guys their age.

  7. Its great to hear from an AP child! Im sorry I missed this when the sensationalism was going strong, but loved reading it :)

  8. Well said! I was born in 1973 and raised basically AP style, and yeah, in my family it was normal then and still is now. A lot of the things I have done with my son, I did because I feel they worked well with me or because I saw them work well with my younger cousins.

    I think, based on their headlines and how they portray mothers who extend breastfeed and Attachment Parent (the author states that she believes mothers who AP are trying to make up for something lost in their own childhood), they are going for the shock-value.

    How is it shocking that a mother would try to make up for something lost in her own childhood?? To the extent that any mother believes that any aspect of the way she was parented was inadequate or wrong, doesn't it make sense that she would try to do better?

  9. I'm the product of early 1980s "hippy parenting" also. I don't know where my mom got her parenting philosophy from (certainly not her own mother). But she fully embraced the idea of compassionate & responsive parenting. Now, as I'm expecting my first child, I can fully appreciate the trail that she blazed. I hear from other women how their parents don't "get" it, how they pressure them to do this or that, criticize their decisions, etc. I feel incredibly lucky to have a mom who was active in La Leche League, who's parenting philosophy of "do what's right for you and your baby" gives me confidence as an expecting mom.