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Attachment Parenting, Anxious Parenting

Attachment Parenting, Anxious Parenting

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I am a long time reader and FTWM (first-time working mom, because yes, we need MORE acronyms) who religiously read your pregnancy calendar and am now devouring your smackdown columns. I am starting to think I may need a smackdown myself, and here’s why: I am a pretty anxious person by nature. Remarkably, I wasn’t a terribly anxious pregnant lady, and have been able to mostly keep the anxiety in check as a mom, which I am pretty proud of. However, I have had one area where my anxiety seems to be running rampant, and I’m having a hard time figuring out if my worry is justified or if my anxiety-monster is just finding one thing to latch on to, as it is wont to do from time-to-time.

I have a beautiful 4-month-old daughter who I was able to stay home with for 11 awesome (if exhausting) weeks of maternity leave. My husband and I are fortunate enough to have family in the area and were thrilled when we received offers to help with child care. Since returning to work, we’ve been able to have care covered for every day of the week, so we’ve not yet had to use a nanny or daycare. We do pay our family a little money but it saves us a TON and we both were excited to have our daughter receiving one-on-one care from people who love and know her. She had a few rough weeks of adjustment as I eased back into my full-time work schedule, but now is generally doing well, napping okay and eating like a champ. Sounds great, right?

Here’s where I start driving myself insane. I am not one of those types to subscribe 100% to any “style” of parenting, but some of what I do aligns with aspects of Attachment Parenting (yes, the one with the controversial cover on Time Magazine) and I did some reading on attachment THEORY while pregnant and after giving birth. Everything I’ve read on the theory of healthy attachments in infants says that having a consistent caregiver that the baby can attach to once the primary caregiver (in this case, me) goes back to work is important for a baby’s future health in terms of being a confident, unanxious, normal human being. Too much change and inconsistency can apparently lead to a baby who is clingy and afraid or one that seemingly has no boundaries, even around strangers, both of which are not what any mom wants for her child.

So now I sit here and worry about whether my daughter is going to be damaged by having different people watch her on different days. We do have a schedule for them to follow, and they each return every week on the same days, but I know they’re each going to have their own quirks that will make each day a little bit different for her (plus, can a baby tell a Tuesday from a Thursday? Probably not). I would love to just have one of my relatives do every day of the week, but no one has that availability. So then it comes down to what will benefit her more, having loving one-on-one care from her family but with a different person on Monday versus Wednesday, or a day care (or possibly nanny, but that’s almost certainly too cost prohibitive for us) where she will get less one-on-one attention and may be in a foreign environment, but where there is a consistency in caregivers from day to day (I am assuming this is true of most daycares)? None of these options seem optimal, and I know compromise and flexibility are key to parenting in general, but I just can’t help feeling paralyzed by this decision for some reason.

So are babies resilient and totally fine with a little variety and I need to stop worrying about my current system, or is consistency key and I’d better get my daughter’s butt to a daycare before I ruin her forever?!?!?

Thank you for smacking me down,
Neurotic FTWM
And here is pretty much a perfect example of why I actively refuse any one specific label for my parenting style. (Other than “Good Enough Parenting.” I like that one.) Even though I did quite a few Attachment-Parenting(AP)-like things with my babies, I find so much about it to be unattainable/impractical for so many mothers and families. And yet AP in particular tends to create some of the most vicious guilt-and-judgement spirals this side of the mommy wars. If you don’t do X Y  & Z, terrible, awful things will happen, so why aren’t you doing X Y & Z? DON’T U LOVE UR BABBY WHY DID U EVEN HAVE UR BABBY IF U DIDN’T PLAN TO DO X Y & Z?

I am not an expert in child development or psychology, but I simply fail to see how being cared for one-on-one by a regular circle of loving, capable family members could POSSIBLY be anything other than awesome. This is simply not the kind of situation that attachment theory is warning about — attachment disorders form when there is abandonment, abuse, neglect and/or extreme chaos in a baby’s early life. Children raised in institutions or wildly unstable households, either where there simply isn’t anyone around enough to bond with, or there is a regular failing by the caregiver to meet the child’s (physical or emotional) needs. And even then, plenty of children raised in these less-than-ideal situations grow up into perfectly emotionally stable adults with the ability to form healthy relationships, to love and be loved in return.

Your daughter is getting plenty of consistency in the areas where it really matters. She is getting held. She is getting fed and changed and clothed. She is getting love and attention and has people talking and singing to her, people who will remain in her life for many years to come. She has a mother who comes home to her every night, without fail, and a mother who clearly loves her desperately and wants what’s best for her.

(It isn’t 100% clear from your letter, but the line “they each return every week on the same days” suggests that she is being cared for in your own home, so her environment is consistent? Not that being cared for in different locations would be a big deal either, but still. This is sooooo not the kind of “too much change and inconsistency” that creates lasting emotional problems.)

For the record: Just about all babies and toddlers go through clingy phases. Most of them will exhibit separation anxiety at some point, or start favoring one parent/caregiver over another, seemingly at random. And all kids need to be taught boundaries and be warned about strangers. None of this means their parents did something “wrong” in their early months.

A daycare, by the way, would likely trigger all sorts of other anxieties for you — picture a brightly-lit room with two adults and multiple babies, babies learning to self-soothe in cribs (or…failing to self-soothe, aka CRYING) because both adults are simply busy with other babies and so your daughter would have to wait her turn for a diaper change, a bottle, a cuddle. Once she starts walking, they’ll simply move her to another room, with two new adults and a whole bunch of new toddlers, never to see or probably even remember those original caregivers. And yet this experience would ALSO not damage her for life in the slightest, as she’d get all kinds of other great benefits like peer socialization and a regular routine and immunities to germs and so on and so forth.

(UPDATE: I realize my inelegant attempt here at making a general sort of example for the OP has hurt a lot of feelings. I’m so sorry! I used a daycare center myself and in no way believe it’s sub-par care or inferior to any other arrangement. I was trying to make the point that when your anxiety is cranked up to 11, you’re probably going to find things to worry/feel guilty about with ANY childcare situation — hell, even FT SAHMs aren’t immune from the guilt and worries that they’re doing things wrong or not “perfect enough”. That was what I was going for and grabbed daycare as an example since the OP mentioned it, and I’m sorry I did it sloppily and it came across as daycare bashing.)

If I may play armchair shrink: Is the root of all this worry maybe possibly coming from a fear of passing your anxiety disorder on to your daughter? Of your daughter growing up to be a “pretty anxious person by nature” like you, but with “by nurture” swapped in for that “by nature” part? DISCUSS.

You do what works best for your family. What works best for your family does not have to be what works best for other families. And remember that there’s a difference between “best” and “perfect.” Namely that there is no such thing as perfect, and that’s totally, 100%, completely okay. Tell that anxiety monster to STFU, because it’s Good Enough Parenting FTW.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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MR
Guest
MR

OP, rest assured, your daughter is fine. What they are talking about is not having a different person take care of her every two weeks type thing. You have a small set of people who watch her, and it is a routine. On Monday’s, person x watches her, on Tuesday’s, person y. It is always person x and y. That is CONSISTENCY. You are fine. Going back to work as a new mom is HARD. And anxiety inducing. And no matter what daycare situation you set up, you will worry. It takes time to relax and trust that. It sounds… Read more »

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

Just a thought from someone who is not yet a mom, but who was once an anxious child – this child care situation with multiple family caregivers actually may help make your daughter LESS anxious in the long run, because she can learn that having different people around doesn’t always equal bad, different play styles doesn’t equal bad, different soothing styles doesn’t equal bad, ect. As she gets older, she’ll have the wonderful benefit of being exposed to different communication styles, different methods of problem solving, different ways to appropriately express feelings, and so on. I remember as a kid,… Read more »

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

Great point!

Hope
Guest

I know that anecdotes are not data, but if it helps you letter-writer, here is how an assortment of caregivers works for us: Great! It works great! Our daughter spends Mondays with my mom, Fridays with my dad, Tuesdays through Thursdays at daycare, and the weekends with my husband and me. Occasionally, one of my parents will be out of town, or daycare will be closed, and she’ll spend the day with another family member, or a friend, or I’ll take a day of, or… You get the point. Her caregivers vary. And it’s fine! I think the important thing… Read more »

Andrea
Guest
Andrea

My son had a different caregiver every day of the week for the first year of his life. He is now five years old, and incredibly well-adjusted. He handles change very well and I attribute that to him learning to be comfortable with different people and environments…he is also very social. It will pay dividends when your child is older and doesn’t freak out every time you leave the room because they are comfortable being with different people.

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

Just to echo what others have said, your little girl has the massive advantage of parents who treasure her and a small, very well-known circle of trusted caregivers who tend to her and her alone, in her home environment. I think you (and they!) deserve a gold medal. Separation anxiety is a funny beast; my eldest did not suffer from it in any way at all, not ever, whoever I left him with under whatever circumstances. My 2nd boy… not so much. He wasn’t good with strangers and once he’d decided he was scared of someone *even his wonderful, loving… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

Also, there’s not always great consistency of caregiver at daycare. My son was at a daycare from age 3 months to 6 months where almost every time I came to pick him up I was introducing myself to a new person. Consistent, excellent care in the morning, but not so much by closing time. We changed daycares, and now he has the same two or three people in the morning, and a different but consistent two or three people in the afternoon. It’s great. But especially for a little tiny baby like yous, I would go with the family caregivers… Read more »

leslie
Guest
leslie

I would agree with everything so far, being a follower of much of the theory of attachment parenting, but having to kind of feel about for what works for us and what doesn’t. I was just having this conversation with a friend yesterday about parenting styles and expectations of parents (especially moms), yet there is not the social support for moms that you might find in other places. Attachment parenting puts a lot of the responsibility on mom and dad, but humans are social, in many, many parts of the world (where attachment parenting claims to find its inspiration, though… Read more »

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

I agree with Amy, that your baby is fine, and I’d add that the adjustment to going back to work was a lot longer of an adjustment process than I expected. It took months to reach something resembling a new normal, as things changed with the baby and we figured out how to handle life logistics better. One suggestion: You might take the occasional day off to stay home with your baby. Having sent my child to daycare, DS got sick with some regularity, which meant DH or I was often home with him. I would have preferred he not… Read more »

traci
Guest
traci

I do have a degree in child development and my take is your kiddo is just fine. Since you have a regular schedule of caregivers your child does have consistency and so long as they are all meeting her needs in loving ways she will develop secure attachments with all of them. As she gets bigger it may be beneficial to have a caregivers meeting every now and then to get everyone on the same page for big things (ie this is how we’re handling potty training, this is how we’re handling discipline/guidance, etc.). That’s not even absolutely necessary. The… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

Thank you for sharing your professional perspective. Really appreciate it!

just me
Guest
just me

Mom with 3 kids here who had anxiety issues as well, of the diagnosed type. First off, as parenting styles are concerned, the only style I associate myself with is whatever works best for me and my family. What matters is that you and your husband can trust your guts with the set up you have and that your baby is happy and we’ll card for. Those things can happen in a center style daycare, home based, nanny, stay at home and/or your family situation. The key here is that out works for you and your family. I don’t believe… Read more »

Carolyn
Guest

I just wanted to say that I’m a SAHM and have always been the primary caregiver …. and my toddler is anxious anyhow 😉 So I just wanted to point out that sometimes even if you have all your ducks in a row, nature likes to throw in it’s 2 cents all the same. No matter your childcare arrangements, your child could still end up anxious and clingy because that’s just who they are. Different child in the same situation might be totally un-anxious and adventurous. There’s only so much you can control, so my gut says that if your… Read more »

Eiko
Guest
Eiko

I have a nine-month-old, and I totally remember what it felt like to second guess everything when my daughter was at four months. I agree — you have surrounded your daughter with people who love her. And you clearly love her. That’s what matters. PS: all the moms I know have stayed home with their babies for at least a year (thanks to Canadian mat. leave), all practiced some sort of AP, and all our kids have been through separation anxiety. My little girl is the most social animal ever and she still gets freaked out now and then when… Read more »

Amy
Guest
Amy

I also don’t think you have anything to worry about – its really great and pretty rare that you have free family care for your baby – and I agree with the other posters that your child will benefit from the love she receives from each of them. But I also have to agree with SarahB that the daycare comments were all a bit harsh and over-generalistic in a negative sense. My daughter has been in a daycare with a warm yet clean environment – good open space and natural light. She also has had dedicated caregivers that not only… Read more »

Grouchiegrrl
Guest
Grouchiegrrl

I was studying when I had my son, and so from literally the day after we brought him home I had to leave him with others to go to class. We literally have a village helping raise him. I was very nervous about the same kinds of things as you, but my friend, who has a phd in child development showed me some research that basically said that one or two is not the optimal number for a child to attach to. It shouldn’t be 20, but the optimal number of people for any child to have a primary care-givers… Read more »

EP
Guest
EP

Amy, I have to say that I feel quite hurt by your comments about daycare. I understand that you are trying to point out to OP that no situation is perfect, but the judgement and negativity in your description is totally unlike anything that I ever would have expected from you. As a full time working mom with an infant in daycare, there are certain areas of the internet and comment sections that I know to avoid to keep my sanity. Your blog and this column have never been one of those, but this post stings, perhaps more than usual… Read more »

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

I also found the description of daycare rather hurtful. I am a FTM who’s getting ready to start work again next week and my almost 3 month old will be starting daycare. I would love to have family members watching him, but my parents are the only ones I would trust and they both work full time. When I visited the daycare last fall I got the impression all feeding, diaper changes, etc were done on demand and the babies seemed content. I certainly hope that he’s not left in his crib to cry for hours on end. Amy, I… Read more »

Diane
Guest
Diane

Rachel, I wouldn’t worry about daycare! I remember the awful guilt I had when I started back at work when my son was three months old. No one could care for him better than I could, right? But now that he’s 15 months and able to express himself, I see how much he loves the ladies at his daycare. He kisses them and gives hugs and whenever I come to pick him up he’s either being snuggled or playing with one of his friends. He couldn’t be happier. I don’t think Amy’s comments were meant to be hurtful (I am… Read more »

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

Consistency and predictability are really important for infants and toddlers. They feel more secure and confident when they know what’s happening, what’s going to happen next, and that their needs will be met throughout the day. And your daughter has that! If all of your caregivers are following the same schedule, more or less, then she will feel perfectly secure. Someone familiar to her, someone loving, is taking her through her familiar routine in a familiar space. The fact that it’s a different person each day of the week isn’t what matters. It sounds like a great set-up for her… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

I’m no child psychologist either, but I swear I read an article once (from someplace reputable, maybe The Atlantic?) that talked about one of the hallmarks of a well-adjusted child being that the child has/had a variety of adult caregivers.  It makes sense to me – a child will learn that grandma does things a little differently than the babysitter who is a little different than mom, but that he/she is ok/safe/happy with all of them.  We also split childcare between my husband and me, my parents, and a day care.  Once your baby gets a little bit older you… Read more »

c
Guest
c

As a reader of all the books when I was pregnant, and then a new mama with a baby who would.not.sleep, I am familiar with reading EVERYTHING and becoming a basketcase about it (did you know that one of the leading sleep books implies that insufficient sleep during key developmental periods is linked to criminality and imprisonment?! Hello anxiety!). My husband, the reader of nothing, reminded me that (1) the authors of all of these books make a living selling these books and telling you that you’re doing it wrong/they have to solution is key to that enterprise, and (2)… Read more »

Due in Weeks
Guest
Due in Weeks

I so needed to read this/hear this advice today. Most in my social circle are Attachment Parenting adherents and I think there is much about AP that I like. On the other hand, it can be so strict and is not sustainable for many families. I plan to go back to work for both financial and personal (career, fulfillment) reasons but the message from many AP is “babies needs come first always and if they do not why did you choose to have children in the first place.” Don’t even get me started on the “you cannot let babies cry… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

Just remember that “Attachment Parenting” is a new term, but the concepts have been around forever. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you are with your kid 24/7. The people who are telling you that, and that your kid comes above all else are zeolots. Attachment parenting comes in all forms. It can just mean, wearing your baby, or breastfeeding on demand, or just listening to your baby’s cues, or it can be some form of all of the above. It can also mean that you wear your baby, but still let other people watch them, and maybe you half bottle,… Read more »

Martha
Guest
Martha

I’m jealous of your situation! You have family caregivers who come by on a consistent basis. Don’t worry about different caregivers being there on different days. What AP means by lack of consistency of care is essentially having a string of strangers take care of your baby so that baby never forms a bond with any one caregiver. That’s not what you have.

 

Lauren
Guest
Lauren

Regarding what the OP said about children with multiple caregivers ending up clingy–I would say it’s just the opposite. When a baby just has Mommy Mommy Mommy all the time, THAT creates a clingy baby who is unwilling to adapt to any other situation/caregiver. Attachment parenting or not, that seems pretty undesirable to me. You can’t be with your baby 24/7, and it’s wonderful that you have family to watch her!!! I work full time and my mother and mother-in-law alternate watching my son and it has been VERY beneficial in terms of separation anxiety. He is completely comfortable in… Read more »

Martha
Guest
Martha

I’d urge the OP to read about alloparenting and the role of non-parental caregivers in many places around the world. Your daughter is so fortunate to have a loving community of caregivers!

jill
Guest
jill

(quick rundown: 4 kids; 5, 3, 1yo twins, all have been at home with me since day one) I think your daycare arrangement is fine!  You can’t be home, but family is the next best thing and your little one will be all the better for spending time now with the people who love her.  Your family is benefitting from getting to know your daughter, and she will benefit from getting to spend time with family and I think it’s a win-win all around. As far as the daycare ‘controversy’ (that totally isn’t controversial) I don’t think Amy meant any… Read more »

Athena
Guest
Athena

Being a stay-at-home mum who sends child to daycare anyway for socialisation, I don’t really have a lot to comment on this one, just one particular thing stood out. You asked “can a baby tell a Tuesday from a Thursday? Probably not”. Actually, in my experience, probably yes, at least after a little while. Why? Because Tuesday is *different* from Thursday, and it *keeps happening*. My little one was around 4-5 months himself and showing clear knowledge that Thursday and Friday (where his other mama comes home late) were different from Every Other Day – and that even though she… Read more »

Ida
Guest
Ida

I’m working full-time and have two kids (3yrs & 11mo). I get the worries you seem to have, I experienced something similar (I think) when my oldest started daycare. What was really helpful to me (and eventually led to a change of daycare provider) was the books by Meredith Small and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy – yes, anthropology made easy. I would in particular recommend this book:  http://www.amazon.com/Our-Babies-Ourselves-Biology-Culture/dp/0385483627/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404304496&sr=1-1&keywords=meredith+small  In short, it isn’t a bad thing for your baby to have more than caregiver as long as the group of different caregivers remain the same. That calmed me down – and lo… Read more »

Susan:)
Guest
Susan:)

I think having a variety of caregivers will probably be more helpful as she gets older. She’ll know that different people have different ways of doing things, but it’s all okay. I’m actually a bit worried about my four year old niece. I’ve taken care of her since she was born, and she’s never had any other caregiver besides me and her parents. I’m worried about how she’ll adjust when she starts school this fall. She’s really attached to me!  And she doesn’t do change very well either. I may be writing a letter to Amy myself soon!

slydegirll
Guest

Thanks for the clarification on daycares, Amalah. I try to keep it low-key online, but I wanted to say hey! I chose daycare OVER family or a nanny, because I want the socialization/schedule/educational aspects/same caregiver every day/learning from peers/nutrition/immune system development/so many other things that my daycare offers that I/family member sans the right training/nanny by herself in my home with single child, etc. might not offer. I prefer my babies to learn self-soothing at a much earlier age, build a strong relationship with peers and adults other than myself/immediate family members, etc. from pretty much the get go (not… Read more »

wyomom
Guest
wyomom

My now 3.5 year old had me for the first 8 weeks (so jealous Canada!) Then an awesome in home daycare that we couldn’t afford when our job situation changed so she was with a friend a few hours a week for a year then in a more standard daycare part time, then at a really awesome preschool full time . She is well attached, sociable and much less anxious than her nature would have suggested at 2 years old. I would love to leave her only with family but her child care providers have all become as close as… Read more »

jess
Guest
jess

What’s interesting is that AP style is often framed as being the most natural/in tune with traditional parenting practices. Yet in many traditional cultures children are raised with several caregivers.