Not that you’d know about this, but African and indigenous South American women have been wearing their babies in wraps on their backs, and breastfeeding their kids through early childhood for centuries. And many modern single moms, out of necessity, have been co-sleeping with their children through late childhood years since forever.
However, when a world renowned doctor and parenting expert Dr. Sears assembles those practices along with 6 other steps for growing confident children it is called “Attachment Parenting,” making news and going viral. It also gets a coveted TIME magazine cover.
The magazine this week released a cover story about Dr. Sear’s attachment parenting theory which featured a 26-year old young White mom nursing her 3-year old child as he stood on stool. Reaction has been mixed, but people are primarily outraged by what they see as a child too old to be noshing on his mama’s breasts. Breastfeeding experts are perturbed because the image could cause more people already ambivalent and uncomfortable with nursing to solidify their negative impressions of a very human and natural practice.
And as perception can easily overshadow reality, had the woman on the cover been Latina, the response may have quickly turned into dialogue about so-called “anchor babies,” illegal immigration and welfare. Ask blogger and columnist Maegan Ortiz, who, amidst all the furor over the cover, tweeted a link to an article she wrote, “The Racial and Economic Politics of Babywearing.” It focused on the way people of color are criticized, shun and shamed for practices they do while affluent White families get praise and accolades for the same activity, all while shelling a pretty penny for the comfort to do the same – via expensive slings that can cost upwards to $70 a piece.
But, I digress.
I cannot lie. I am an attachment parent. Actually, I had no clue that I was one until a friend caught me expressing embarrassment and guilt over co-sleeping with my children well into their early childhood days. She then handed me a book based on Sears theory.
Attachment parenting is based on the premise that extended nursing and co-sleeping, wearing the baby in slings against your body at early stages, and providing nurturing physical touch and encouragement from infancy through early childhood has lifelong benefits for children. It enables them to grow confident and comfortable in their own skin and surrounding environment.
If you judged the practice based on an article featuring only Caucasian women, a casual observer could assume it may be something unique to that demographic. You would think African Americans don’t do it.
Everything that was instinctual to me that I did while raising my 9, 6 and 4 year old fit comfortably into the theory: I nursed each of my three children past the age of 1, and my youngest until she was nearly 2 years old. I endured all the critical and judgmental looks and questions from friends asking, “you’re still breastfeeding?” Knowing the benefits for reducing SIDS risk, ear infection, asthma, diabetes and obesity, it was a no-brainer for me, though among women in my racial group I knew I made the exception, not the norm. While 75% of US women start out breastfeeding less than 45% of African American women do, the CDC reports. Cultural discomfort plays into this number. Reports like a a 2005 Joint Center report indicated more Black women could do wonders narrowing the Black/White infant mortality gap.
Also, when my children were infants, rather than put them in strollers and buggies, I carried them in a sling to keep them close to me so they could nurse discreetly when needed. I gave them infant massages after bath time and consistently smothered them with comforting and gentle hugs.
My husband and I do not rely on spanking as an initial form of punishing our children and our use of “time out” as a primary form of discipline has worked for the most part. We have strict rules – and while kids will be kids and they act up once in a while we are comforted in knowing that they are secure and love us more than fear us. They also sleep with us on occasion, most times after starting the night in their own beds. They get hugs, and reassurance constantly and perhaps as a result they do right by us in return. They are honor roll students who receive scholastic awards and acknowledgments in school. They are smart, confident and have broad and expansive imaginations. They are curious and love to explore and are not afraid to approach any new situation.
I guess I can credit a lot of their positive development to attachment parenting.
Certainly, there are many more of us who probably didn’t know there was a name for it. Or that we and our ancestors and people around the way have been doing it for ages.
Of course, it’s not right for everyone, but that is okay. There is more than one way to raise a child.
If anything, the imagery accomplished what it set out to do: trigger dialog and get people talking on the issues, sharing their perspectives and experiences and start considering alternative means of parenting they may not have previously considered.
Once they get the image of a grown child breastfeeding out of their head.