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Is Attachment Parenting New? (Live from API 20th Anniversary Symposium)

 I just submitted this to for publication, but you get a sneak peek!


I am writing from Pathways to Child Flourishing, Attachment Parenting International’s 20th Anniversary symposium.


Peggy O’Mara (founder of got hung up in the mass flight cancellations do to a fire in Chicago, but spoke via video. One of the things she focused on is the term attachment parenting (AP). I frequently encounter people who get hung up on this name. O’Mara shared that when she started her parenting journey, “In the 70s there was no name ‘Attachment Parenting’ just a desire to parent more naturally.” I am so grateful to live in a decade where we have a vernacular about gentle, responsive parenting. Moms and dads, feel empowered by common language; don’t feel limited by a label! O’Mara succinctly said that, “Attachment Parenting is not about rules but a way to see the world.” When you feel limited by attachment parenting as a label, embrace that one of the eight tenents is balance. Some things will work for you and your family, others won’t. The heart of AP is not checklist, but a desire to parent from the belief in the innate goodness of our children and ourselves.


One of the goals of this symposium is to address this reality that while research and science clearly support the ideas of AP, many of us who advocate AP (from researchers to educators to parents) spend a huge amount of time and energy correcting misconceptions or feel the need to reframe or defend our choices. So far this morning, Dr. Darcia Narvaez spoke on moral development in children and adults from an anthropological perspective, and Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett presented research on the benefits of breastfeeding, not from the milk-content standpoint, but on the physiological benefits to mothers.


One of the questions that I run across is this ideas that attachment parenting is some newfangled trend–and thus should be discounted. In reality, something like attachment parenting has been around as long as people have been around.  At the Pathways symposium, Dr. Narvaez presented* the Konner Hunter-Gatherer Childhood Model.

See the model’s points in bold below, followed by my view on modern applications.

-Soothing perinatal experiences

The perinatal period lasts from several months before birth to one month after birth. Obviously, the hunter-gatherers were not going to an OB for regular ultrasounds and labor inductions at 41 weeks. Their pathway was going with the flow. Now, there were some good, empowering things (birth as natural function versus medical event) and some really, really bad things about this (high infant and mother mortality). In this age of options–OB or midwife, home or hospital, epidural or not, vaginal or surgical delivery, meeting baby’s nighttime needs via safe bedsharing or crib–making soothing choices for pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum has the potential to be even more possible than for our prehistoric counterparts.

- Held or kept near others constantly

- Prompt response to fusses and cries

- Nursed 2-3 times per hour initially

Babywearing is the first thing that comes to mind for me on these next three points of the model. While I don’t have to worry about a wild animal sniffing around if I leave baby on the living room floor and he cries out, I recognize that baby needs to be close to me. I am his safety, security, food source, and even his biological regulator for breathing and temperature. A baby is defenseless, so keeping him on me in a carrier makes sense (and doubly so for those of us who have older kids who aren’t yet up to the task of appropriately tending to baby).

Now let’s get honest about that nursing thing. Read the bullet point again–that’s not once every 2-3 hours, this is 2-3 times each hour at the beginning. Whew! While my oldest son was that newborn that could nurse 24/7, my body was not up to the task of that frequency. Let’s just say the words popped blisters and leave it at that. But, I get the point of this vision of nursing: watch your baby not the clock, offer a breast as one of the first strategies to sooth crying, and don’t worry about nursing too much. Babies have tiny tummies that need frequent fillings. Nursing while babywearing (while still observing all safety rules) and safe bedsharing are ways to meet baby’s frequent nursing needs.

Frequent nursing and proximity to baby keeps crying to a minimum, which has added physiological benefits for baby and caretaker: less cortisol (stress hormone) and more oxytocin (the so-called love hormone, released during nursing and skin-to-skin time).

To continue on the breastfeeding track, here’s the next Hunter-Gatherer Model point:

- Nursing continued for 2-5 years

A term that I love for this is full-term nursing, which I take to mean reaching or transcending the age that the World Health Organization advocates, “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.” In the U.S. in 2007 only 22% of babies were breastfed at 12 months, so going until two–or as long as is mutually agreeable thereafter–is even smaller. Yet, breastfeeding after infancy has great benefits! Somehow, our culture has forgotten the simplicity and normality of offering breastmilk as part of a well-rounded early childhood diet.

The last three characteristics in the Konner Hunter-Gatherer Childhood Model are the three that I struggle the most with:

- Frequently cared for by individuals other than mothers

Free play in nature in mixed-age groups

Positive social support: high social embedeneness

As I’ve shared before, I feel limited by Silo Parenting, the opposite of the historical alloparenting model where grandparents, older siblings, and others all help to care for a child. A dear friend grew up in Columbia and shared with me that although her parents both worked, she was always taken care of. There was an aunt, uncle, older cousin, etc. to help get the house and kids taken care of. This kind of extended family care is wildly different from my single-family-home lifestyle.

Something intrigues me about living more as a tribe (even as complicated as I’m sure that gets sometimes). I’ll confess that I occasionally whittle away my kids’ naptime daydreaming about intentional community–or at least having a dear friend move into the house next door and share daily life. The kids could play self-contained together in the back yard while one parent cooks dinner and the other one does some work from home and others are on or off-site. Then we eat together and share the highs and lows of the day, clean up (while the cooking parent gets some time to him or herself), and then retreat to family spaces for bedtime. Throughout the days, kids of all ages teach and learn from each other through play and exploration.

Ok, back to reality…not only is the alloparenting/tribe model very different than my silo style in terms of home life, compare this to today’s educational model of sitting in a classroom of same-aged kids for six hours a week at age three and thirty-five hours a week at age five. It’s a different era now, I get it, but Dr. Narvaez pointed out that single-age environments actually increase competition rather than cooperation. This also puts kids with peers more than elders (meaning anyone older, from teenager to great-grandma), which makes life lessons that much harder to learn. (Gabor Maté addresses these ideas in Hold Onto Your Kids.)

It’s these last three that I see just as much value in as the earlier points, but they are so wildly countercultural it is hard to know where to begin engaging them. Throughout human history, we’ve benefited from amazing advances from sanitation to fetal surgery, from hand-to-mouth living to (relative) affluence. But, as much as we’ve progressed, would we do well to embrace these most ancient parenting traditions? When we contemplate that hunter-gatherers have occupied 90% of human history, are not these the genuinely tried and true methods? Is there a way to capture the best of modernity and the best of the past?

*In her talk, Dr. Narvaez referenced Konner (2005): Hunter Gatherer Childhood Model; Dr. Hewlet and Lamb 2005; Naravae, Panskepp, Shore, Gleason, 2013


About More Green for Less Green

Hi, I’m Pamm. Welcome to my little slice of the web! As a progressive Evangelical female pastor and crunchy homeschooling mom, I’m never quite what anyone expects of me. But, hey, that’s what makes blogging interesting, right? Join me as I try to wholeheartedly parent my three little boys, slowly fix up the trashed foreclosure we bought in 2009, and live simply.

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