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April 18, 2007

from attachment to neglect in a few easy steps

Over at Babble this week, Attachment Parenting advocate and author Katie Allison Granju goes to town on the anxious, unhealthy excesses of over-parenting.

So here's my unsolicited advice to parents: take a step back. Relax. Enjoy. Your baby will sleep without an expert consultant coming to your house. Your toddler will eventually leave diapers behind. I promise... Let your preschooler play in the dirt, and your kindergartener deal with the classmate who pinches her.


Of course, hearing all about the importance of a hands-off parenting style involving what she calls, "benign neglect" may seem a little surprising coming from someone who has spent so much time extolling the virtues of demand feeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing. But, it seems, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I have often described my parenting philosophy as "benign neglect." Responsive parenting means just that: we respond to children's needs. It's not the same as over-parenting, in which we anticipate, preempt, or take control of our children's needs and developmental tasks.

In my extensive research of three actual bonafide AP moms, the switch from “intensive mothering” (literally years of demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping) to a completely non-hovering approach (kids doing the crazy sh*t on jungle gyms, moms gasp, yards! away) in the older years was pretty seamless.

I was talking to Robin Aronson (who co-wrote The Whole Pregnancy Handbook) about all this AP/OP jazz and she was noting that the AP approach is all about reading cues. So, it would make sense that when the kids get older the parents would pick up on the fact that they need to be left alone. (Still I can hear you crying out, What about the AP moms who breastfeed till 5??? Is that leaving them alone? I encourage you to duke it out in the comments box.)

AP shenanigans aside...

... the transition from anticipating the baby’s every need to letting the kid suck on a dirt-encrusted thumb, and climb every mountain so he won’t be afraid of life is neither a bad nor new idea. In a previous decade of intense over-parenting (the 1950s), British psychoanalyst DW Winnicott treated a lot of anxious kids and their over-bearing mothers. His research led him to the concept of the “good enough mother.” Though "good enough" mothering has come to stand in for anything a mother does that's less than ideal or perfect, Winnicott was talking about something very specific. He was describing the healthy psychological process by which the mother gradually withdraws her attention from her child over time. Though she starts off with "an almost complete adaptation to her infant's needs" she gradually eases up and "adapts less and less completely." The mother who resists the impulse to withdraw and be "good enough," and instead stays hovering over that child, is pathological. I find that theory explains how one could go from All Night Breastfeeding to to Benign Neglect without contradicting oneself. (I like to think I have made this transition myself-- I breastfed for an eternity and my two-year-old is currently eating a dirt cake while dangling from the ceiling fan).

It's worth noting that Winnicott also came up with the idea of the “transitional object.” I have a hunch that his timeline for healthy separation came a tad earlier than it does for Attachment Parents for whom the transitional object is a big no, no.

But that's another story! For now, I'm happy to just remain benignly neglectful. And, as always, grateful to anyone who tells me I'm perfect for being that way!

by ceridwen at 11:03 AM
in baby | breastfeeding


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