Why Dr. Sears is Not the Father of Attachment

Dr Sears attachment parenting
Psychology versus parenting experts

When the Erica Jong, attachment-parenting-is-a-prison debate sprung up a while ago, I had a familiar train of thought nagging me. Through all the back and forth about whether attachment parenting — co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and eschewing of daycare — was putting an unreasonable expectation on moms, or whether it’s a lifestyle moms choose and should therefore be supported in, I always had the running thought:

Dr. Sears has co-opted the term attachment.

We think of his philosophy as the gold standard of what it means to be attached to our babies, but in fact that’s a limited view.

Attachment theory is the culmination of decades of observational and, more recently, neuroscience research. Attachment parenting is a technique. It’s a set of practices and tips — codified advice from a pediatrician.

Attachment (the psychology concept) has little to do with slings versus strollers, co-sleeping versus cribs, or even daycare versus staying at home.  Those very obvious, identifiable things are not what define attachment at all. In fact, in all likelihood they are totally beside the point. Here’s way:

Healthy bonds with our kids are formed in much more subtle ways — eye contact, touching, laughing, knowing that when mommy leaves, she always comes back. They develop over time and with consistency.  That’s why a few nights of sleep training against a backdrop of loving, nurturing parenting does not put a dent in your attachment. Babies are pattern detectors, and they need a lot of data to draw big conclusions. Our attachment with our kids forms slowly and surely over time and across thousands of interactions, not in a week.

We also misconstrue “attachment” to mean being fused or constantly with our babies, when a better word would be “attuned” — we respond to our baby’s signals both for company and for space. If your baby is happily playing with her feet and you let her alone to explore, you’re attuned to her cues. That’s part of a healthy attachment.

Just because something is good, doesn’t mean more of it is better.

Read more about attachment versus attachment parenting, and answers to questions like whether moms with babies in daycare are as securely attached.

Image: flickr/liquine

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