You love babywearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping. That automatically makes you an attachment parent, right? Not necessarily. You can create a unique parenting philosophy that works for your family—and buck the standard (and stress) of having to “choose” a path.
The big contenders
Here are a few parenting styles you’ve likely encountered on your mothering journey—or at least read about on the internet. Some are practiced interchangeably, while others are a method all their own.
Authoritarian parenting An authoritarian parent’s favorite phrase: “Because I said so.” Parents in this category tend to have high demands and expectations for their kids, but aren’t necessarily nurturing in nature. They make the rules, and they expect their offspring to follow them—end of discussion.
Much like authoritarian folks, authoritative moms believe in rules and regulations for their families, but they’re more open, forgiving and supportive than authoritarians. These parents are often assertive, but they aren’t restrictive, and they explain the reasoning behind their rules (typically with care and patience).
Practicing a very hands-on approach, attachment parents are sensitive to their child’s needs and signals and actively work to form a strong attachment between mom and baby by responding immediately to their wee one’s needs and keeping them close throughout the day and night.
Indulgent or permissive parenting
Little discipline, low expectations for self-control and maturity, extreme leniency … these are characteristics of an indulgent (also known as permissive) parent. They often play the role of “friend” more than parent, and are generally highly nurturing toward their offspring.
The mom who is constantly peering over her child’s shoulder and dusting him off after a fall is frequently referred to as a helicopter parent. In her eyes, a child is fragile and needs constant supervision and guidance. As her child grows, she will likely continue to hover over his actions and activities.
Many of us were free-range kids without realizing it: The go-ride-your-bike-and- come-home-for-dinner philosophy is still common in some circles, and is even gaining popularity despite the many fears that exist for parents today. This style encourages moms to step back and simply let their kids enjoy life—without all the worry that tends to consume us.
Slow parenting Think playing should be a kid’s only concern? You might be a slow parent—and that isn’t an insult. These stop-and-smell the roses moms allow the wee ones to set the pace, and they encourage exploration without a lot of technological intervention. As the name states, they encourage parents to slow things down —schedule less, enjoy more.
Concerted cultivation parenting
Want your child to reach his full potential? We all do—but parents who practice concerted cultivation take it a step further by providing a heavy dose of “organized enrichment opportunities” (i.e., extra-curricular activities) for their children. Their tots will likely have a full schedule from a young age, and partake in several different classes and lessons.
Pick and choose
If you don’t necessarily fall into one of these categories, there’s no need to worry—a lot of moms don’t, and even more simply choose not to. For example, I’m a little authoritative —I do expect my children to follow our family rules, particularly those concerning safety, although I am very open about why those rules exist—and I’m also a huge fan of attachment parenting. I’m touchy-feely, and I love the bond I have with my children because of our closeness in their infancy.
I’m also a little bit of a slow parent. Just recently, we’ve tried to simplify our schedules to encourage more free time for our family. (In case you’re wondering, it’s been heavenly!) I’m also just a touch free-range: I think it’s important to let our kids experience life, no matter how terrifying that prospect is.
So as you can see, it isn’t necessary to pick a single style. Simply do whatever works for you! And if you don’t know just yet what’s going to work—you have plenty of time to figure it out.
Finding your fit
Some aspects of your parenting philosophy will probably be established already, just based on your own personality. A mild-mannered mama typically isn’t going to be comfortable going authoritarian on her kids, and a type-A gal might go nuts in a slow parenting household. Also, keep in mind that some aspects of our parenting style we can’t control as much as we’d like. For example, I love my parents’ laid-back, don’t-push-it style, and it’s one I’ve tried to echo in my own parenting. However, I’m naturally a little more uptight than they are—funny, since I wasn’t reared to be that way at all—and I sometimes find myself to be less easygoing than I would like. Even if you aim to embrace a particular style, try to roll with the punches and accept yourself just the way you are.
You’ve likely also observed other parents—your own, as well as friends and family members in the role—and picked up on a few practices you either want or definitely don’t want to emulate in your home. It’s good to aim to be like women you think are great moms, but keep in mind that different families produce different results (even with the exact same routines). Sometimes you have to go your own way.
Change is good
It’s possible to get so caught up in trying to do things “correctly” that you become a bit rigid and do more harm than good. Let’s say you’ve done your research, read the books, talked to the moms, and you’re convinced that this attachment parenting thing is the way to go. But then as you’re putting it into practice, you begin to get frustrated. You’re tired of co-sleeping, tired of feeding on demand around the clock, tired of never having a break from your baby … but since it’s what you deemed “best,” you have to stick it out, right? Wrong! Much of parenting is trial and error. It doesn’t matter how much research you find telling you how wonderful something is—you can find positive research to back up almost anything, if you look hard enough. If a practice isn’t working for you, or it’s stressing you out, explore another avenue. Believe me, if you aren’t happy, your baby isn’t either.
You might also have to change your parenting style as your family grows, to suit each of your children’s individual needs. What works for your first baby might not work for your next; it’s amazing how each little creature is born with a unique personality all his own. Achieving motherhood doesn’t mean you’ve “grown up”; rather, your evolution has only just begun. As your children learn and grow, so will you, and together you’ll take on each step of the parenting process.
No matter what route you take, you’ll find a lot of naysayers in the game, spouting advice and opinions from every direction. It’s important to stand strong in your beliefs and not let others sway you or fill you with guilt. If you aren’t comfortable defending your parenting style, simply try to avoid those conversations altogether. (Heed the advice you’ll likely give your child in the years to come: Be the bigger person and walk away!) As a mom, you have to learn to hold your own and be comfortable in your own skin. We’re all only human, and while many aspects of parenting are instinctual, much of it we have to figure out as we go. Your style and parenting practices don’t define you, you define them—and you can be a great mom any old way you choose.