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Attachment Parenting

In reading through this site, you may have come across the term "attachment parenting" (AP) and wondered what is this philosophy and why are some of those who practice it so opposed to the parenting principles taught by GFI. Certainly not all "attachment" parents disagree with what the Ezzos teach, or are even concerned that others may parent differently from them. They go about their lives raising their children in the ways that seem best to them. This is perhaps how it should be; trying to live peaceably with others despite differences.

It is also important to keep in mind that not all attachment parents adhere to all of the tenants of that philosophy. As with any parenting philosophy, some practice the ideals with balance and common sense, and some are more extreme. How people implement any particular idea is a personal decision, recognizing that everyone must accept the consequences of their actions. Curiously, there is more similarity between attachment philosophies and what Gary Ezzo teaches than what one might expect. A discussion of the common tenants of attachment parenting can be found at the end of this commentary.

Some extremists, however, go beyond the boundaries of their own parenting preferences and create a personal war against those who hold to differing philosophies of parenting. They come from all walks of life and may be very vocal about their beliefs. Steve Rein, Dr. Matthew Aney, Robin Grille, and Kathleen Terner are the most notable attachment parenting advocates who have criticized the Ezzos' teaching on parenting. While they may not be the voice of the majority of attachment parents, these individuals and others like them have taken to the Internet and other media outlets with their criticism of Gary Ezzo's teaching.

Other attachment parents read this unfounded criticism and believe it to be true, thereby forming an opinion about the Ezzos without checking the credibility of the critics' statements. Then if these parents actually do read any of the GFI materials for themselves, they may read looking for things to disagree with. This leads to pulling statements out of context which alters the intended meanings in an attempt to authenticate already held opinions of the Ezzos and their teaching. An example of this can be found in an exchange between a LaLeche League leader and a GFI leader couple. Click here to read the entirety of the e-mail dialogue.

The criticism from the attachment parenting movement started as an attack on the Ezzos' teaching on infant feeding found principally in the book, On Becoming Babywise. As the book grew in popularity becoming a best seller, the criticism turned to character assassination of Gary Ezzo, some critics finding very sophisticated ways of distorting the truth. The efforts of these main critics also attracted others with similar propensities, finding Internet message boards and websites to spread their message. This kind of criticism goes way beyond a simple disagreement about parenting methodology, almost to the point of obsession.

One former AP mother shared that though she had never read a single Ezzo book, she was thoroughly convinced that the Ezzos were evil from reading posts on an attachment parenting forum. She also said she learned all of their tricks-how they would go into bookstores and hide the Babywise books, or put sticky notes in them warning other customers about them. She also tells what happened when she finally read the books for herself. We find it sad that the women on that forum would resort to such devious and mean-spirited tactics. Genuine philosophical disagreement is fine-we can all agree to disagree about the specifics of parenting and what is best for our own families. What we cannot understand is why these mothers would resort to drastic measures to discredit another parenting philosophy that works so well for so many other parents.

The tactics described above are only part of the story, however. Those who dare to post to their blogs or websites anything positive about the Ezzos or their ministry can expect to get a number of e-mails from angry attachment parents threatening them and insisting that they also post a link to Steve Rein's ezzo.info. We recently corresponded with one mom who has a personal site on which she shares books she has enjoyed. Among the many books she has on her site, are some parenting books, including the Ezzo/Bucknam "On Becoming" series. We wrote to encourage her, and asked whether she had received any negative feedback from having those books on her site. She wrote, "Yes, I have gotten some angry and nasty letters from people regarding the Ezzo's..." Again, from our perspective the concern is not that someone has chosen a different parenting philosophy such as attachment parenting. What we object to are those individuals who actively seek out those in support of the Ezzos teaching and attack them with anger and malice, often knowingly or unknowingly distorting what Gary Ezzo teaches. For examples of how individuals and pastors have responded to such attacks, see our others respond to the critics page.

The Ezzos dealt definitively with one radical critic in Australia. Robin Grille, an outspoken attachment parenting advocate who authored several libelous articles which were published in two Australian magazines and one newsletter. Lawsuits were filed against Grille and the magazines. The source cited by Mr. Grille on which he based his articles was a U.S. website; ezzo.info, which is owned and operated by Mr. Rein.

In the case of the magazines, the preponderance of the evidence so favored the Ezzos that the magazines quickly settled the law suit by running public apologies and acknowledging their regret for having published Mr. Grille's article. The Ezzos donated the settlement to an Australian children's medical non-profit.

The case against Robin Grille concluded a couple of years later following a judge's ruling that nineteen libelous imputations were accepted by the court. A settlement soon followed with a court read confession and apology which became part of the public record. Included in the court records was Mr. Grille's admission that his information came from unreliable U.S. internet sources, specifically steve Rein's ezzoinfo site.

We have taught the Ezzo material for over ten years and have never seen similar outspoken criticism toward attachment parenting coming from those associated with the GFI ministry; although it may happen in isolated circumstances. Gary Ezzo has been very clear in discouraging the practice of pushing parenting philosophies on others. The Ezzos advice is to allow the fruit of the philosophy (in the behavior and character of the family) to be the advertisement for the beliefs. Yes, the Ezzos strongly disagree with many elements of attachment parenting and with its root philosophies, but they are not characterized by identifying individuals who practice the philosophy for personal attack. They have necessarily responded to the unfounded criticism of some individuals, but they have not initiated personal attacks on others purely because they chhose a different parenting philosophy. We appeal to the leaders in the attachment parenting movement to similarly curb the tongues of their outspoken critics.

So, this page is an attempt to provide the reader with an overview of the attachment parenting philosophy, and to provide a comparison with the Ezzos' philosophy of infant parenting found in Babywise. We will also provide a reasoned response to those elements of the attachment parenting philosophy that we personally find most concerning. We hope to do this in a manner that respects those who practice the philosophy, while clearly laying out our reasons for disagreement. As former "attachment parents" ourselves, we have the advantage of our own personal experience to draw from in our evaluation. Having followed many of these tenants initially with our first three children we did find the results problematic, producing in our own family self-centered, uncontrolled, whiney and ungrateful children in a disordered home. But that is just our experience. You can read more of our story here. Others may practice the philosophy with different results, and we don't begrudge those who prefer attachment parenting methods, and only ask the same respect from them.

Some attachment parenting advocates claim that the feeding principles found in Babywise promote FTT. This claim is categorically false and clearly is an attempt to discredit a very reasonable and successful philosophy of infant feeding. A well-reasoned response to this claim can be found here, excerpted from a longer evaluation of the major criticisms of the GFI ministry by a chemistry professor and GFI class leader. (See this entire evaluation here--14 page PDF file.)

Origination:

While no one knows exactly where the term "attachment parenting" originated, it is widely attributed to pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears.
"Dr. William Sears is the nation's chief proponent of 'attachment parenting,' an approach to child-rearing that emphasizes physical and emotional closeness between parent and child. Advocates find Sears' views a welcome contrast to more restrictive and mainstream parenting advice, while critics say his philosophy translates into out-of-control children and ineffectual parents." From www.babycenter.com.

Definition:
"Attachment Parenting is a philosophy based in the practice of nurturing parenting practices that create strong emotional bonds, also known as secure attachment, between the infant and parent(s). This style of parenting encourages responsiveness to the infant or child's emotional needs, and develops trust that their emotional needs will be met. As a result, this strong attachment helps the child develop secure, empathic, peaceful, and enduring relationships." From "Attachment Parenting International," or API
Carleton Kendrick Ed. M., LCSW states in an article on the subject:
"Attachment parenting sees kids being separated from their parents too often and too soon due to an unwarranted and unhealthy belief that children should not become too dependent on their parents. Attachment parenting states that it is both normal and healthy for a child to be dependent upon her parents until she, not her parents, feels safe enough and independent enough to separate, be it a separation from the breast or the family bed." From FamilyEducation.com.
Descripton:

Dr. Sears' "Attachment Tools" or his "Baby B's" include "birthbonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, believing in the language of your baby's cry, beware of baby trainers, and balance." From AskDrSears.com.

The LaLeche League (LLL) Connection:

While the La Leche League is best known as a breastfeeding support and education organization, fewer people realize that it also advocates many of the philosophical tenants of attachment parenting as well. In the 6th edition to the La Leche League's book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, the authors state in the introduction: "we have attempted to put a philosophy about being a mother and nurturing an infant between covers."

Many of the most vocal attachment parenting advocates (and many vocal anti-Ezzo/GFI voices) are leaders in the La Leche League organization. Martha Sears, the wife of Dr. William Sears who is arguably the nation's leading AP proponent, is a La Leche League leader. (From Dr. Sears' website.) Lisa Marasco, one very vocal GFI/Ezzo critic has been the Assistant Area Professional Liaison for the LLL of Southern California/Nevada. (From La Leche League's website.) Similarly, two of the founders of the API organization, and the ONLY two speakers listed on the Attachment Parenting International (API) website are both former La Leche League leaders. One speaker specifically states in her bio that she has "conducted workshops and led sessions on Attachment Parenting for La Leche League International." From the API website.

So there is no question that the La Leche League is closely tied to attachment parenting philosophically, and spending time on any AP website will show the similar priorities that are shared by both, namely, the priority of the "mother/baby" relationship (see more on this below), an emphasis (some would say to the extreme) on the "emotions" of the child, avoidance of any kind of spanking or other physical disciplinary measures, and a strong and fervent devotion to extended breastfeeding (beyond a year), not just as a source of nourishment, but as a way of life. Mothers may not understand that when they go to the La Leche League for breastfeeding advice, they are getting that advice mixed with a world-view built on attachment parenting - complete with all the philosophical underpinnings of that philosophy, including the birth trauma theory and permissive, non-conflict parenting discipline strategies.

The Ezzos and Attachment Parenting:

The Ezzos have expressed their concerns with the "Attachment Parenting Theory," though they do agree that babies are born with a capacity and a need for warm, loving relationships, and they believe that their philosophy of responsive parenting will help parents to meet their baby's attachment needs:
"It is important to note that the attachment parenting theory and the theories of attachment parenting are not necessarily the same. The first is a parenting philosophy driven by an interesting but unproven philosophical assumption - birth trauma. The second is a generally accepted truth that infants are born with both the capacity and need for warm, loving, and intimate relationships. When these relationships are secured from loving parents, the foundation for all future emotional bonds is established. On Becoming Babywise will help you connect with your baby and meet his attachment needs and more." On Becoming Babywise, (1998) page 32.

So Gary Ezzo and Dr. Robert Bucknam do not dispute that a secure attachment needs to be formed for an infant to flourish physically and emotionally, they simply disagree with AP theorists on the best methods for insuring that such a bond will occur. Furthermore, Gary Ezzo and Dr. Bucknam give an interesting history of the various theories of infant management over the last hundred years, including a discussion of how attachment parenting originated, and its philosophical roots. Click here to read this history of parenting theories in this century.

Curiously, while reading through Dr. Sears' The Baby Book (containing an interesting mixture of pediatric advice and attachment parenting principles), we did find many ideas that we firmly disagreed with, but we were surprised at how much we did agree with, and how much similar advice is given in Babywise. Strong emotions set aside, we suspect that if those vocal AP critics would read all the way through a Babywise book cover to cover with an open mind, as we did Dr. Sears' The Baby Book, they would find a lot more to agree with than they might expect. For example:

Similarities between Attachment Parenting and the Ezzos' Teaching:

1. Both Dr. Sears and Babywise state that breastfeeding is best for baby and should be the primary source of nutrition for at least the first 6 months.

2. Both Dr. Sears and Babywise state that nursing ideally should continue through the first year, and that after that it is a matter of parental preference. Some attachment parenting advocates (La Leche League included) take the position that ONLY the baby should decide when to discontinue the nursing relationship. Consequently, if the child does not initiate weaning, many LLL mothers nurse their children to 3 or 4 years and beyond. Dr. Sears does not take this extreme position, and though he encourages extended breastfeeding beyond one year he states, "Basically, when one or both members of the mother-infant pair are ready, it's time to wean." (The Baby Book, 1993, p. 188.)

3. Both Dr. Sears and Babywise affirm that a secure attachment relationship to a loving parent is the foundation for all future relationships in a child's life. Where they disagree is on exactly how that attachment relationship is developed.

4. Both Dr. Sears and Babywise affirm that a child's emotional health is important, but they disagree on exactly how to best nurture the child's emotional health. Mr. Ezzo/Dr. Bucknam believe that as a child grows and matures out of infancy, parents must begin to place more of their efforts in training the child's conscience as opposed to focusing primarily on the child's emotions. A morally healthy child will produce an emotionally healthy child.

5. Dr. Bucknam and Mr. Ezzo would agree with the La Leche League when they state that "The most important thing you and your husband can do for your baby is to love one another." (The Womanly Art of Breast Feeding, p 194).

6. Both Dr. Sears and Dr. Bucknam/Mr. Ezzo believe that the parenting philosophies they promote are flexible and adaptable to individual babies and families, and that parents should take what they can and use what works for their family, and not follow their "method" as a rigid set of rules.

7. Both Dr. Sears and Babywise affirm that parents should respond sensitively to a baby's cry. Babywise gives a whole chapter to crying, helping parents to be able to know their baby and sensitively and thoughtfully answer the baby's cry and meet his needs.

Differences between Attachment Parenting and the Ezzos' Teaching:

1. The necessity of continual baby-wearing in a sling: Dr. Sears states: "While there is [sic] a variety of child-rearing theories, attachment researchers all agree on one thing: In order for a baby's emotional, intellectual, and physiological systems to function optimally, the continued presence of the mother, as during babywearing, is a necessary regulatory influence." (Referenced on Dr. Sears' website, found under "sling babies are more organized.")

Since there were no references to actual "research" we cannot personally speak to the validity of the statement made above about what all attachment researchers agree to. Without comparative double blind studies, the above statement made by Dr. Sears is without merit, or at the most, anecdotal. In our experience, while wearing a baby may temporarily decrease a baby's fussiness, constantly wearing a baby on the mother's body produces a baby who cannot be content for long outside of the mother's presence. This presents a special problem for dads, grandparents, friends and others who necessarily may need to hold or care for the baby. In working in a church nursery, we have found it EXTREMELY difficult to care for the attachment parented babies, particularly if they are left in the nursery when they are sleepy. They will not be distracted, will not fall asleep, and will not take comfort from anyone but mamma.

The Ezzos have this to say about infant slings:
"There is a time and place for backpacks, snuggles, and slings, such as when mom, dad, and their baby are out shopping, hiking, or taking a walk. But it is not a good substitute for the crib. In some third-world nations and primitive settings, mothers carry their babies in an infant sling as they move through their day. We have visited those nations and talked with these mothers. Their actions are not based on a need to create an attachment with their child nor spurred on by Freud's writing. For these mothers it is simply a matter of convenience and safety. Because where they go, the baby must go.

The promotion of the theory that the sling serves as an artificial womb and is necessary to help stabilize a baby's psychological passage into the world has definitely popularized it. This is why the sling is so popular in attachment parenting circles. In terms of biomechanics, carrying a baby in a sling many hours a day may increase neck and back problems or even create them. Like all pieces of equipment, use it thoughtfully. It is not a second womb." Pages 189-190 Babywise (1998).

2. The safety and benefits of the "family bed." Some attachment parenting advocates are adamant about baby and mommy "co-sleeping" to facilitate night-time breastfeeding, bonding with the baby, and to help the baby sleep well. Others take a more moderate approach and allow, as Dr. Sears does, that "Wherever all family members get the best night's sleep is the right arrangement for your individual family." From AskDrSears.com under "Bedding Close to Baby." While lying down with the baby may be necessary or helpful now and then, most pediatricians (including Dr. Bucknam) discourage parents from routinely co-sleeping with their babies.

There are some definite safety concerns to consider and parents should be aware that co-sleeping has been denounced by the AAP as well as the Consumer Product Safety Commission based upon the number of infant deaths that have been reported in connection with this practice. Co-sleeping advocates assert that co-sleeping has been practiced for thousands of years in other cultures. This is true; however it is also true that cases of infant mortality in co-sleeping situations are also reported in ancient literature, as far back at least as Solomon of biblical times. So these safety concerns cannot easily be brushed aside, particularly where tiny infants are concerned.

Another concern with co-sleeping and the related strategy of always nursing a baby to sleep, is the challenge of getting the baby to go to sleep if for some reason Mommy is not available, or baby must be left with a babysitter, grandparents, or even Daddy at bedtime or naptime.

Also, having personally observed the effects of routine co-sleeping on the child (having co-slept with our first child for 3 years) and having several children with whom we did not co-sleep, in our experience the baby ultimately gets a better night's sleep when he sleeps in his own crib or bassinet, and as a result he is more well-rested and more enjoyable to be around during the day. Mommy and Daddy also get more sleep and are much more able to patiently meet the baby's needs (as well as the needs of any older siblings) during the day.
Babywise states the following:
"It is common for children in third world countries to sleep in the same bed with their parents. In most cases, this is done for pragmatic reasons: there is only one bed and often only one room. For modern America, the family bed finds its roots in the birth-trauma theory. As stated previously, the practice allows for the constant presence of the mother, as required by the theory's hypothesis."
After discussing the safety concerns with the family bed in great detail, Babywise continues,
"Sleeping with your baby creates needs, but doesn't fulfill them. Your child won't be any more secure, feel more loved, or have any greater advantages in life than a child who sleeps alone. What the nighttime parenting advocates gloss over are sleep problems created as the child grows older.
For more from the Ezzos on co-sleeping with infants, click here.

3. The safety and efficacy "cue" feeding. While this type of feeding philosophy goes by other names, including sometimes "feeding on demand," or "demand-feeding," or "cry cue feeding," they all represent the idea of feeding a baby on cry and hunger cues alone, without regard for a routine or a schedule, and without taking into account the length of time since the previous feeding. Whether the baby ate 5 hours ago or 5 minutes ago, a parent is advised to simply observe the cues that the baby gives to determine when to feed the baby. Certainly all babies should be fed when there is any indication that the baby might be hungry. However, as Babywise points out, the obvious danger of "cue" feeding is that not all babies do a good job of signaling hunger cues, especially premature or sick babies. Without some kind of routine, and some sense of how long it has been since the last feeding, a quiet and non-demanding baby may be in danger of undernourishment. So observing and getting to know the individual baby and establishing a routine that fits that individual baby's general hunger patterns (as the Babywise PDF plan teaches), along with the flexibility to feed the baby whenever the baby is hungry, regardless of routine (as Babywise suggests), just gives the parent some additional tools to get to know their baby and to help adequately nourish the baby and meet his needs.

4. The wisdom of making the "mother/baby" the "primary" relationship in the family. Contrary to what is found on p.194 in the La Leche League's The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (that "the most important thing you and your husband can do for your baby is to love one another"), the same book states that "In a language that is irrefutable, biology makes it clear that the mother-baby relationship is primary and should not be set aside." (P. 389) While the mother/baby relationship is indeed important, it should never eclipse the husband/wife relationship, which is the true "primary" relationship in the family. On a side note, in all of the families that we know who have followed the attachment parenting philosophy, the mother has been the one to introduce and encourage (or even adamantly insist) on this philosophy of parenting in the home - usually as a result of her exposure to LLL materials or support groups. New fathers, not having read the books, and not knowing all the particulars and potential problems with this philosophy, either take the mother's word for it and go along with her, or they find themselves in constant battles with their wives over her strongly held views. We have seen this subtle undermining of the husband's role as leader in the home damage many marriages. The Ezzos believe that the marriage must be nurtured and is the priority relationship in the family. It was the first relationship established by God, and all of a child's security needs are contingent upon the perceived strength or weakness of the parents' marriage.

5. The wisdom of non-conflict parenting, ruling out the use of spanking. Attachment parenting teaches that any form of physical punishment such as spanking is emotionally abusive and will harm the "attachment relationship" with the parents. Therefore an attachment parent would never use physical punishment, even when it comes to safety training, such as teaching the child not to run out into the street. Martha Sears recommends when a two year old child approaches the street to yell "Ahhhh" in a panicked tone of voice, and then grab the toddler and carry "on and on" vocalizing fear about his being in the street (from p. 522 in The Baby Book under "Making Danger Discipline Stick").

Spanking is not addressed in Babywise, which is a book for parents of 0 to 6 month olds. However in Growing Kid's God's Way and other books and classes, the Ezzos do teach that spanking, when used properly, is an option for a parent who can use it with consistency, with control, and without anger. Spanking in scripture is associated with wisdom training. It is used not to control behavior, but to amend inner attitudes of the heart and is only used for acts and attitudes of rebellion. Over the years we have rarely encountered a parent who does not spank at all, though we know of many who have used it inappropriately, which is why Growing Kids God's Way does address the proper versus improper use of spanking as a disciplinary tool. (See the differences between "cultural spanking" and "biblical chastisement" here.) Spanking, like other consequences such as loss of privileges or restitution, places a value on an offense, and can be a valuable tool in training a child's conscience. The appendix on Cultural Spanking Theories in GKGW offers a thoroughly reasoned discussion of the arguments for and against spanking.



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