Helicopter parenting and “Tiger Mom” philosophy still make headlines, and the “I Was Spanked and Turned Out Fine” memes pop up on our
feeds, for sure. But if you look at the mainstream parenting landscape as a
whole, modern parents are decidedly embracing kinder, gentler philosophies
about raising kids than past generations.
What was once seen as “spoiling” is now known as “responsiveness.”
What was once called “discipline” is now labeled “abuse.” And then there’s the
rise of modern parenting techniques like Positive Parenting Solutions, Peaceful
Parenting, Conscious Parenting and Mindful Parenting. (And of course there’s Attachment Parenting, practitioners of which will feel wholly validated by the end of this
All of these philosophies, in one way or another, encourage
parents to be sensitive to their children’s needs and to meet them with
respect, compassion and presence (rather than seeing their needs as being “manipulative” or unimportant.)
And according to a recent study published in Child Development, insensitive caregiving during a
child’s first three years can affect a child socially and academically all the
way into that child’s early thirties.
But how exactly do researchers define sensitive
caregiving? It’s “the extent to which a parent responds to a child’s
signals appropriately and promptly, is positively involved during interactions
with the child and provides a secure base for the child’s exploration of the
The interesting thing about this research is that sensitive
parenting affects a child’s life just as much at 32 as it did during the
toddler years. So the way we respond to our babies can have far-reaching
implications into their future.
Luckily there are resources out there for parents who
gravitate toward a more compassionate, respectful approach to our tiniest
humans, despite the warnings of coddling and spoiling. Despite the eye rolls of
mother-in-laws. Despite the stresses and difficulties of being a human that make it hard to stay tuned in.
I get a lot of slack for being an ‘attachment parent,’ but I don’t do it to fit into a club or something.
For instance, gentle parenting is a UK-based movement with advice and resources for
new and veteran parents alike, whether you have a newborn or a teenager.
According to the site, gentle parenting focuses on
“empathetic, compassionate parenting because we know how important childhood is
and the far-reaching and lasting effects of the way that we raise our children.”
But unlike other parenting movements that tend to have a laundry list of
criteria in order to “belong,” gentle parenting is open to anyone, no matter
how you feed or diaper or sleep at night.
“I initially gravitated toward [gentle parenting] as a young
mom. I felt under-prepared, and the idea that mothering was natural resonated
with me,” said Ellisse Tracy,
an active member of the gentle parenting community. “I think gentle parenting
was kind of an extension of attachment parenting, starting out mainly as a
decision to not use CIO [Cry It Out] and then turned into … respecting my
daughter as a person.”
In many ways, all of this certainly does echo the attachment parenting movement, as well. While mainstream ideas of AP philosophy
tend to hone in on the more sensational aspects (like breastfeeding 6-year-olds
and sharing a bed for life), that’s not the point. Those who follow an attachment parenting lifestyle, even very loosely, are simply responding to their babies’ needs and
developing a close emotional and physical bond.
So when you look at the recent behavioral and neurological
research (including the Child Development
study cited above), practicing attachment parenting doesn’t seem like the most damaging thing you
can do. In fact, it just might be the opposite of damaging.
“I get a lot of flack for being an ‘attachment parent,’ but
I don’t do it to fit into a club or something,” said Jessica Lovitt, a
stay-at-home mom of three. “It’s what feels right in my gut.”
Lovitt says that many family members criticize her for not
only baby-wearing and co-sleeping, but for quickly responding to her baby’s
“With my first kid, everyone told me that she was crying and acting up because
she knew I was wrapped around her finger, as if my infant was playing me for a
fool,” she continued. “She is wrapped
around my finger, and my heart! Now that I’ve been a parent for almost seven years,
I know that my gut instincts are right. When my baby needs me, I’ll be there.
Science seems to agree with her, too. Maybe we all need to
shed the philosophies and fear-based warnings, and just show up when our babies
need us—but with sensitivity, gentleness and compassion. That’s the key.