Attachment parenting has evolved from a parenting philosophy to a parenting identity.
What do I mean by that? I mean that the specific parenting choices associated with attachment parenting — natural childbirth, extended breastfeeding, babywearing — have become the greater part of the identity of many women. Consider Allison of The Alpha Parent, Tracy of Evolutionary Parenting, January of Birth Without Fear and other women who blog incessantly about why their parenting choices are better than yours. They have constructed their identity not simply around their children, but around the specific choices they have made in raising their small children to school age.
When your identity revolves around parenting choices for babies and small children, what happens when those children grow up, and, inevitably, away from their mothers? In other words, what happens to an attachment mother when her children no longer want to be attached? I worry about those mothers and, even more, I worry about those children.
Of course, attachment mothers can stave off the day when their children no longer want to be attached by having more children, and by homeschooling the ones they have, but eventually even that has to end. What then?
The central task of parenting, and one of the most difficult aspects of it, is to teach children to be independent adults. That means gradually withdrawing to the background and letting your child negotiate daily life with friends, teachers, and coaches. It means letting your child solve his or her own problems, even if you think you could do it better and more expeditiously. It means letting your child accept the consequences of his or her actions, even if you could erase those consequences through your intervention. It means letting your child face emotional hurt and disappointment, even when it is incredibly painful for you as a parent to do so.
How are attachment mothers going to handle these transitions when they have convinced themselves that letting a baby cry herself to sleep will cause brain damage, or that a family bed is an appropriate place to welcome a child on a nightly basis. Will they let their children grow up? Will they let them become independent? Will they let them “detach?” And if they do, what becomes of these women who have defined themselves by their parenting choices? Will they have any identity at all when their children become independent or will they resent that independence and attempt to stifle it?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. We’re living in the midst of it right now, and most attachment mothers are years away from these milestones. We know that in the past many women experienced sadness and depression around the “empty nest” because their primary identity was “mother,” and although they are still mothers, there is no one present to actively mother. I suspect it is going to be much worse for attachment mothers, not because they have chosen attachment parenting as a way to raise children, but because they have chosen attachment parenting as a way to define themselves.
Who is an attachment mother when her children have “detached”? Can she let them detach? Or will we have raised a generation of children incapable of independent existence because their mothers are incapable of defining themselves except with reference to their children?