Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is attachment parenting pro-life?

Attachment parenting is getting a lot of attention, from people on all points of the ideological spectrum.  This is largely in response to a TIME magazine article on the subject, featuring the now-infamous cover photo of a woman breastfeeding her nearly four-year-old son.  

Slate author Hanna Rosin explains her objection to attachment parenting as follows: 
There is the very basic objection that it is virtually impossible to do what the [attachment parenting] advocates say is best for your baby and have a job, which the vast majority of American mothers have these days. . . . But this leads to my second and more profound problem with it. Attachment parenting demands not just certain actions you take with your baby but also certain emotional states to accompany those actions. So, it’s not just enough to breast-feed but one has to experience “breast-feeding induced maternal nirvana.” And it’s not enough to snuggle—you have to snuggle enough to achieve a spiritual high. As Badinter has said, once women were just expected to tolerate their babies, Betty Draper style, but now they are expected to experience “jouissance,” loosely translated as “orgasm.” And this is what makes the movement truly oppressive.
If I'm interpreting Rosin correctly, she doesn't really mind if individual, well-off mothers decide to follow the attachment parenting model-- but she cares very much about making sure that this does not become a societal expectation.  I agree.  And as a pro-life advocate, I would add that a social obligation to practice attachment parenting is not only oppressive for the mothers, but for the children as well.  

"Every child a wanted child" is a favorite phrase for abortion advocates.  ("And if they're not wanted, kill them before they're born" doesn't seem to fit on the bumper sticker.)  But that's only the beginning.  In addition to merely demanding that a mother want her child, we have also, as a society, imposed additional expectations.  Oh, sure, no one would ever force a seventeen-year-old to have an abortion, but really, that's what she ought to do-- and if she chooses life, we'll punish her departure from the social norm with condescending stares at the grocery store. Teens, low-income women, women who struggle with mental illness-- all are looked down upon as women who "shouldn't be moms."  Whether pro-choicers are willing to admit it or not, this attitude is very much connected to their arguments that abortion is necessary to prevent kids from growing up in poverty or otherwise having a poor "quality of life."

Now imagine if attachment parenting becomes the societal norm.  How many more classes of women will be added to the "shouldn't be moms" club?  (Moms who work full-time outside the home, perhaps?)  How many will be told that they cannot give their unborn baby the life that he or she deserves?  How many will be pressured into having an abortion?

This is not only oppressive and deadly, it's also just wrong as a scientific matter.  Psychologists who research parenting and child development have developed a theory of "good enough" parenting, which posits that a parental focus on attaining perfection is counterproductive.  Obviously, abuse and neglect are horrible and unacceptable.  But once you get above that basic threshold, parents actually have a lot of leeway.  Kids turn out just fine within a huge range of parenting styles, from attachment parenting to "free range" and everything in between.

As the public service advertisements for foster parenting say: "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent."  Pro-lifers need to spread this message far and wide.


Lydia said...

I am an attachment parenting mom! It is MY parenting style, but it can't and shouldn't be imposed on anyone.

Jameson Graber said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that Americans' obsession with being perfect parents is ironically closely related to our permissive attitude toward abortion.

Leslie said...

This is RIDICULOUS. Anyone who thinks this clearly doesn't understand what attachment parenting is. You can work full-time and still practice it, for starters. It's actually EASIER than other forms of parenting and it's certainly cheaper--no bottles, no crib, no stroller, for example. And it's GENTLE parenting, which is the antithesis of the violence of abortion. I actually wrote a column for my Diocesan newspaper taking the opposite approach to what you've written above, saying that it's the kind of parenting that emphasizes lots of gadgets and color-coordinated nurseries that might lead to a teenage girl thinking she doesn't have what it takes to be a good mother.

Anonymous said...

Pro Life groups should stay away from discussing parenting styles because it is a hot topic. The reason I like Secular Pro Life is that it avoids the hot topic of religion and state which draws attention away from saving lives. Parents and potential parents often feel strongly about the style of parenting they favor. It should be a matter of choice for a new mother, not something Pro Lifers take sides on for or against. The only choice we should concern ourselves with is choosing life. This seems to be what the blog post says, but it also seems to take a stand against something, which is not abortion. And so it takes a divisive issue outside of the abortion debate and draws attention away from the reason Secular Pro Life is here. said...

I agree, actually. Parents should be able to use attachment parenting if they want to, or any other style of parenting. I don't want attachment parenting to become a social *obligation* that takes away valid, non-violent choices. I hoped that was clear from the initial post. said...

Interesting point. Would you like for a secular version of your article to appear on the blog? Email it to and we'll make this a point-counterpoint. Thanks!

Leslie said...

Thanks! I will send it to you.

Anonymous said...

I figured this (what you replied) was the main thrust of the argument. Perhaps a better approach would be not to mention a specific parenting style, but discuss it as a matter of parenting becoming a part of "the cult of perfection." In our culture, it is easy to be obsessive about making perfect choices on health, safety, germs, bugs--and parenting choices. Perhaps the target should be on not expecting "perfect" or "ideal" parents, period. Discussing a specific parenting style and making assumptions on why it is more or less convenient or economically feasible defeats this purpose and distracts people from why Secular Pro Life is here.

MrsKatherineA said...

I agree with Leslie and look forward to reading her article!

Attachment Parenting humanizes children, it recognizes their perspective and the way the biological norm benefits both parent and child. I see this as pro-life as it gets!

With their sensationalistic and manipulative cover Time Magazine aims to place the work of childcare solely on the shoulders of mothers, but it's called Attachment PARENTING, not Attachment Mothering. Attachment Parenting places importance of the contribution of fathers and supports the family unit recognizing mother, father and child as equally important human beings.

It also supports the norms of gentle birth, natural term breastfeeding and closeness between parents and children with compelling evidence that parenting biologically this way is mutually beneficial to both parents and their children. For feminists like Badinter and Rosin this is terrifying. Their brand of feminism rests on the false idea that children are enemies to their parents, especially to their mothers. To see women freely choosing not only motherhood but enjoying it to the point they describe it as ecstatic, a spiritual high and even orgasmic should be incredibly exciting to the pro-life movement.

And Leslie is also correct that Attachment Parenting is much more accessible to young and disadvantaged women, the idea this style of parenting is only for the wealthy privileged is a myth. No bottles to buy, no formula, no pacifiers, no cribs, no strollers no night nurses are necessary for the attached mother. She does however need support from her family, society and most of all the father of her child. This should be the ultimate goal of pro-lifers.

That Attachment Parenting is about perfection is also a myth, one Time Magazine very successfully fueled. It is absolutely about accepting humans as they are and results in providing children exactly the 'good enough' parents they need.