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When an Attachment Parent Has to Detach

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I don’t think I ever called myself an “Attachment Parent” — I certainly never used the shortened, more informal “AP” label — but I suppose that’s what I was, what I am.

It’s just that labels come with these inherent rules and measuring sticks, you know? Are you a “real” Attachment Parent if you try a “cry-it-out” sleep-training program out of sheer desperation? If you stop breastfeeding before his 2nd birthday, are you enough of an Attachment Parent to talk “AP Philosophy” at play group? Are you the right kind of Attachment Parent if you wear your child in a BabyBjorn, rather than, say, an ERGO Baby?

You see what I’m saying. Cultural labels come with checklists or standards to meet, and assumptions about how we must think or act on all related issues. But whatever — for all intents and purposes, Attachment Parents are my people. I get them. I understand it from a neurological, research-based, common-sense perspective, sure,  but it goes further than that. So much further, that it veers into somewhat unhealthy territory.

I feel a strong, visceral, highly emotional tug to the attachment style of parenting — co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby-wearing all day. It’s not just that it was healthy for my developing child (which, thank goodness!), but that it felt good to me. To me! At my deepest, most primal level, that physical and emotional attachment is fulfilling some kind of basic need. When I heard it’s impossible to spoil a newborn with too much love and attention, I was suddenly in my element. I could’ve inhaled that baby right back into my body, I loved him so. If it were up to my emotional instincts, I would dote and smother and attach … forever.

It’s no wonder I gravitate toward being an attachment parent; I’m an attachment personI already told you that I have caretaker tendencies and codependency issues, and that’s the other side of the “attachment parenting” coin. It’s the side that leads to enmeshment and over-bonding — which isn’t emotionally healthy for anyone involved. Except this side has a different label: Helicopter Mom, or Codependent Mom.

Whether we like it or not, our kids eventually need us to detach. And for those of us with attachment issues beyond an attachment philosophy, it can be seriously hard.

According to Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., “Although I believe in the primary importance of ATTACHMENT PARENTING during the childhood years (up to ages 8 – 9) and all the ways parents must hold a child close for reliance on a secure dependence to be established; I equally believe in the importance [of] DETACHMENT PARENTING during the adolescent years (starting ages 9 – 13) and all the ways parents must let the teenager go for a confident independence to grow.” Pickhardt goes on to say that, although beneficial in the earlier part of a child’s life, “highly attached parents of children can have a devil of a time not excessively holding on, hovering over, and helping out in adolescence when the time for more parental detachment arrives.”

Holding on is easier than letting go.

Even though my son is only 5 years old — far from the adolescent stage Mr. Pickhardt refers to — I can already feel the wheels in motion. I’ve started to mentally prepare myself to detach, otherwise I’ll never be able to do it. It’s not like a flip will switch on his 9th birthday and I’ll suddenly be able to let go physically and emotionally. I’ve been practicing since he first clumsily waddled away from me.

Month by month, I’m slowly inching backward, loosening my grip, making a healthy space between us. But that space — detachment, in general — doesn’t have to be cold or neglectful or unnecessarily painful. I’m trying to fill that space with love, attention, and acknowledgment for what’s best for him. Attachment used to be best, but now he needs acceptance.

Rather than attach myself to him physically, I can detach with love and let him fall down, make mistakes, develop his own relationships. Rather than attach myself to him emotionally, I can detach with love and allow him to have his own feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Rather than attach, I can accept. Let go.

What does an Attachment Parent do when the attachment period is over? Hopefully we can reluctantly and consciously detach.

And then we get a puppy.

 

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