Attachment Parenting After 16 Years
Have you ever wondered about attachment parenting results past the first few years of life? My oldest son will be 16 in a few months. His brothers are 11 and 13. I’ve been practicing attachment parenting for nearly 16 years now and I’ve learned a lot along the way. When I was a new mommy trying to figure out how to parent in a way that was very different from how I was raised, I had a ton of questions.
What I wanted more than anything was to talk with AP parents who had older children, teens and adult children. I wanted to see what their children were like and what their relationship with their children was like. Yes, I wanted to know if attachment parenting worked or if I was ruining my child with this uncommon way of parenting. Now, 16 years later I have the answers to my questions and the humility to know that this is not the end. I still have a lot of parenting left to do, but I’m no longer worried that attachment parenting will ruin my child.
It’s important to me to not overgeneralize in this article. It’s important that you remember I’m one mother with three individual children and my life and our family’s circumstances may differ from yours. That means we can do some things exactly the same way and still get different results. Use my personal experience as a guide only. Your results may vary.
Every child is different and every family’s situation is unique, but I hope that sharing my experience and my attachment parenting results so far will help to encourage and warn other parents about the benefits and pitfalls of attachment parenting.
Why I Chose Attachment Parenting
When I was a child I kept a running list in my head of things I would do differently than my parents did. Sometimes it was silly stuff like not making my kids get up early on summer vacation to weed the garden and feed the animals, which I haven’t done, but now as an adult, I don’t think my parents were big ol’ meanies for making me do those things.
Sometimes, though, I’d list things like spanking and yelling. I vowed at an early age to never hit my children. For the sake of time, I won’t tell my whole, long story here. Frankly, it’s not much different than yours. I wasn’t legally abused and my parents loved me, provided for me and always wanted the best for me. I parent differently than them not because I love my children more, but simply because I have the benefits of parenting during the information age. When you know better, you do better.
Overall my parents used an authoritarian model of parenting with my mother being the main disciplinarian and my father never breaking ranks even when I could see in his eyes that he thought she was being too harsh.
Their parenting style created in me a fear of them, but did not create a healthy respect. I obeyed because I was scared of the consequences of disobedience. Often I wasn’t even told what the natural consequence of an action would be – only that if I did it, I’d be punished. And if I gave in to temptation and defied my parents? I lied, lied, lied.
Overall I felt disconnected emotionally from my parents as a child and don’t feel close to them now as an adult. I love them and I am respectful toward them, but I stopped desiring a true relationship (one in which I can be myself) with them decades ago.
It’s no wonder that when my oldest child was born and I experienced the overwhelming unconditional love that took my breath away I wanted to make sure this beautiful being never felt small, confused, inhibited, bad or alone the way I’d felt as a child.
Granted, I had no idea how to accomplish that. Fortunately, when I experienced issues with breastfeeding I stumbled across resources like La Leche League and Dr. Sears. It was then that I was introduced to attachment parenting. As I read more about attachment parenting, its principles and its goals I knew this was how I wanted to parent my children in order to give them the best physical and emotional start in life.
Instead of embracing the tough-love stance of raising a child to adulthood and booting them out of the nest with no option to return I wanted to closely guide them to adulthood, let them go when they were ready to leave and provide a safety net should things go awry.
I knew I’d found a way to break the Us v. Them cycle of parenting, in which parents see parenthood as a battle between their authority and their child’s strong will. I knew attachment parenting would lead to a truly respectful, loving and open relationship between myself and my children, which would ultimately lead them to become secure, productive, emotionally stable adults and positively affect their own relationships with themselves, us, their siblings, friends, co-workers, romantic partners and their own children someday.
How I Got Attachment Parenting All Wrong
Unfortunately, my best intentions weren’t enough. It’s time for me to get really honest with you. I’ve made some mistakes.
My biggest mistake was being an attachment parenting zealot. I was 22 when my oldest was born and, in my emotional immaturity, I often did things out of fear instead of logic. The same drive that led me to check and double check that my baby was breathing also led me to fear making any parenting mistakes that might screw him up later.
So, I over-parented. I found ways to make sure he was never cared for by anyone but me or my husband. As he reached toddlerhood I vacillated between permissive parenting and emotionally reactive discipline. I isolated myself from friends who spanked their children or let their babies cry-it-out because it hurt too much to watch. I neglected the important attachment parenting principle of balance and rarely practiced self-care, something that eventually had negative physical and emotional health effects for me.
I tried too hard to do attachment parenting by-the-book. And I don’t mean Dr. Sears’s books, which are awesome parenting guides and stress the importance of balance. I mean that I was so concerned about getting things perfect so I wouldn’t mess up my child that I missed the point of attachment parenting completely.
See, attachment parenting is an intuitive way of parenting. That means it may look a little different for each child. For example, my oldest son wanted to nurse for comfort and nourishment every 40 minutes as a baby. My middle son nursed only for nourishment. My oldest son preferred falling asleep in his own crib from about 4 months old, while my middle son needed help falling asleep and preferred co-sleeping until he was three.
Because I knew the benefits of co-sleeping, I worried when my infant slept better in his crib than he did with me. I worried when nursing didn’t calm my 16-month-old the way it had calmed his older brother. My perfectionistic mindset and my fear of damaging my child caused me unnecessary anxiety. I wasted precious time with my children worried about doing something wrong as a parent!
Fortunately, I didn’t continue in this mindset. Life happens, young parents grow up and eventually, you simply can’t hold on to perfection – thank goodness! When I let go of the idea that I might inadvertently screw up my children I became the calm, confident, intuitive parent that my babies needed. And that, attachment parenting or not, is the most important thing.
Attachment Parenting Results After 16 Years
Enough about me! Let’s talk about my kids. I know that you want to know how practicing attachment parenting has affected my children. You want to know when they finally stopped nursing and co-sleeping. You want to know if they are spoiled brats or clingy, anxious teens. You want to know if they are perfect angels who are the epitome of health and emotional well-being who will save the world because they were raised in positive in an environment of non-violent communication.
Well, let’s get one thing straight – my kids are normal kids. Attachment parenting definitely gives them some advantages over their peers who are raised in colder, authoritarian environments, but attachment parenting is not a magical way to create super-humans who never face physical, emotional, or mental obstacles.
I have a child with Asperger’s and one with ADHD. My teens have normal mood swings. My children have worked through normal childhood anxiety, hot tempers, learning to use their words, sibling rivalry, not wanting to clean their rooms or brush their teeth or eat their veggies.
The difference is how we communicate about their challenges, mood swings, anxieties, tempers, mistakes, arguments, and desires. I don’t punish my boys for being moody. I don’t require first-time obedience. I lay out expectations and give them choices as often as possible.
See, attachment parenting is based on mutual respect – I have earned my children’s respect not because I’m the adult, but because I was first respectful to them by meeting their needs and by not assuming their infant cries and toddler tantrums were manipulative. With this earned respect came an earned trust.
When I tell my boys my expectations for them – for example, brushing their teeth, eating a healthy dinner or speaking kindly while explaining their way of seeing things – they trust me. They know that I’m not making up arbitrary rules just to lord my authority over them.
When they say they don’t want to do my x, y or z request, it doesn’t threaten my authority. I can listen to their reasons for not wanting to comply without feeling as if they are disrespecting me. And then, we work together to find a solution. If I insist on things being done a certain way, they trust that there’s a damn good reason that I’m not budging.
The child-led weaning, the co-sleeping, the baby wearing, the attending to nighttime cries, the gentle discipline and all of the other attachment parenting I did when they were babies, toddlers and preschoolers didn’t make my children somehow easier than other children who are parented differently. It simply created a respectful – not fear-based – relationship between me and my children.
The boys don’t do what I say because they fear punishment. They do what I say because I don’t make a big deal of everything, so when I do insist on something they know it’s truly a big deal.
If I had to do it all over again, would I follow the attachment parenting philosophy? I can emphatically say YES!
I know, I know . . . you want to know how long it took before my boys became more independent. I mean, if you don’t eventually force a child to stop nursing, co-sleeping, using diapers or throwing tantrums will they ever do it on their own?
Yes. Yes, they will. While I’m happy to briefly share my experiences in specific areas of attachment parenting, you must remember that every child and every family situation is different. Each of my boys had a different timeline for independence, although none of them is heading off to college still nursing or needing me to wipe his bottom.
My oldest was days shy of his 4th birthday when he stopped nursing. My middle son stopped three months later at 26 months. I was 8 months pregnant with my youngest at the time. My youngest nursed until he was 15 months and stopped abruptly after he bit me and I yelped loudly. I tried to interest him in nursing for another 6 weeks after, but he never nursed again. I pumped for a month or two, but quickly lost my supply and after 5 years and 9 months of nursing, I was done.
My oldest was going to sleep in his own crib by 4 months old. He’d join me for co-sleeping around 1 AM until he slept through the night at 11 months old. My middle son co-slept with me or his older brother until he was between 3-4 years old. My youngest son co-slept and then room shared until he was almost 10 years old. He’s now 11 and has slept in his own room for over a year with no issues. He simply said he was ready to sleep alone in his own room and that was that.
My oldest was about 26 months old when he was out of diapers for good. My middle son was about the same age but struggled with encopresis (co-existing with his Asperger’s) for several years. My youngest son was out of diapers by 2.5, but often had accidents during the day until he was between 3-4. They all wiped their own bottoms efficiently by age 6.
No one was still having tantrums at age 5. You have two choices – you can spank and threaten the tantrums away or you can teach your child how to communicate effectively. Either way, the tantrums are going to stick around until your child learns how to use his or her words and deal with his or her big emotions. You can help teach them how to do that and be understanding as they learn to get it right or you can force them to stuff their emotions and that built up crud can seep out later in life. Either way, it’s coming out and all humans have to be taught (disciplined) how to deal with big emotions. Punishment (which is not discipline) will never teach anyone how to deal with their emotions in a healthy and productive way.
Attachment Parenting – What I Would Do Differently
I Would Chill the Heck Out
When my oldest boys were ages 2 and under 1, I parented out of fear. By the time my youngest came along, I didn’t have time to hover and overthink every parenting move I made. I was in survival mode for a few years.
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t waste my time worrying. I’d do what I knew was right (calm, punishment-free parenting) and stop trying to do everything perfectly out of fear of damaging my children. I’d be a better, less intense mama.
I would absolutely not worry about getting my babies to nap alone. I’d babywear more and fret over cleaning the house a lot less. I’d sit on my behind and hold my babies and let the world collapse around me. In hindsight, I know what really matters in that season of life and it’s not neatly folded laundry.
I Wouldn’t Give Unsolicited Parenting Advice a Second Thought
When older, “wiser” moms (of the Dobson-advice variety) told me I was spoiling my baby for holding him as much as he wanted to be held or nursing him on demand, I would thank them kindly and leave the conversation. I wouldn’t spend one more moment worrying that my attaching parenting ways were going to leave me with bratty children. I now have the evidence that those well-meaning mamas were wrong.
I Wouldn’t Kid Myself that Attachment Parenting is Easy
Attachment parenting isn’t easy when you don’t have any examples to follow. It would have been easier to sleep-train my babies. It would have been easier to stop nursing when I dealt with all of my breastfeeding issues. I would have been easier to spank my children into instant compliance instead of using gentle discipline. That’s why parents do those things. Because they’re easier. However, if I wouldn’t have been dealing with the first two things I listed above, AP’ing would have been easier than I allowed it to be.
I Wouldn’t Have Spent Any Time Feeling Sorry for Other People’s Kids
How other people choose to raise their children is none of my business. I understand that the hormones of pregnancy and my natural sensitivity made it difficult for me to ignore that my friends were sleep training their babies and whacking their toddlers for every little offense. But, ultimately, those babies and toddlers were loved and cherished as fiercely as my boys were and they’ll be okay. They are okay.
Yes, their parents are now lamenting the teenage years in ways that I’m not, but ultimately they and their children will have good relationships and happy lives.
This is important, mamas. You can set an example through your practice of attachment parenting, but when you waste time feeling sorry for other people’s kids you start doing things like judging their parents and offering unsolicited advice. That’s not cool. And it’s not helpful. Unless you know a child is being legally abused, figure out a better way to use that energy. Focus on your own kids . . . unless of course, things are perfectly perfect in your own home. Right?
Don’t Give Up on Attachment Parenting
If you feel attachment parenting is the way you want to raise your children but you’re being swayed by critics who have never practiced AP, stay strong. Find support from other moms who are parenting this way. The online support I had from other moms was crucial to helping me stick with it on days when my family and friends were giving me grief about child-led weaning or gentle discipline.
The open, non-combative, respectful, secure relationship I have with my children now was worth going the extra mile when they were younger. Our family dynamic is one of cohesion, teamwork and positive communication instead of the parent-as-dictator, fear-based, emotionally insecure model that many of us grew up with.
I’ve grown as a person through attachment parenting and I’m thrilled with the people my boys are growing up to be. If you feel attachment parenting is right for your family come join the conversation in my private Facebook group for attachment parenting support.
Attachment Parenting Resources
Check out these articles I’ve written about attachment parenting.
Is Attachment Parenting Ruining Your Life?
Does Gentle Discipline Work?
Is Attachment Parenting Ruining Your Life?
13 Alternatives to Spanking Your Child
My Husband and I Disagree on Discipline
How to Discipline Without Using Punishment
Be sure to read this article from Dr. Sears about attachment parenting results.
Want to go more in depth? Read these books:
Playful Parenting (This book was a godsend in the toddler and preschooler years!)
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (a must-read before your children are older so you can develop a positive, open relationship with them before they are teens)
ALL of the Your ___ Year Old books (Read them all. They were eye-opening and so valuable to me as a first-time mom!)