Attachment Parenting, Anxious Parenting
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,
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.Published June 30, 2014. Last updated October 29, 2017.