The sexist origins of attachment parenting


There has been considerable debate about whether attachment parenting is anti-feminist, placing as it does a tremendous burden on mothers to have an unmedicated childbirth, breastfeed exclusively for a year or years, carry a baby constantly, and let the baby sleep in the marital bed. So where did attachment parenting come from?

Bill and Martha Sears are widely credited as the originators of attachment parenting. They are generally reticent about its sexist, religious origins. They and others have promoted the idea that attachment parenting is the way children were raised in prehistoric times and that attachment parenting is supported by science. Neither claim is true.

The Sears deeply believe that attachment parenting is God’s plan for child rearing. As Martha Sears explains in her 1997 book, The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Childcare:

“We have a deep personal conviction that this is the way God wants His children parented.”

The type of parenting we believe is God’s design for the father-mother-child relationship is a style we call “attachment parenting.” Our intent in recommending this style of parenting to you is so strong that we have spent more hours in prayerful thought on this topic than on any other topic in this book… We have a deep personal conviction that this is the way God wants His children parented.

What else does God purportedly expect from parents?

From husbands:

God has given the husband the prime responsibility for making the marriage relationship work, which is as it should be since he has been made the head…

From wives:

“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything… and the wife must respect her husband.” The Greek word translated “submit” is derived from the same word meaning “to yield” in the sense of yielding to another’s authority…

What is attachment according to the Sears’?

Mother-infant attachment is a special bond of closeness between mother and baby. Mother’s care enables the young of each species to thrive and, for human babies, to reach their fullest potential. Babies come equipped with behaviors that help mothers deliver the right kind of care. God has placed within mothers both the chemistry and the sensitivity to respond to their babies appropriately. This maternal equipping is what is meant by the phrase “mother’s intuition.” It helps her get attached to her baby.

Elsewhere the Sears’ refer to the “science” behind attachment parenting, but the reality is that attachment parenting reflects the Sears’ fundamentalist Christian beliefs that traditional gender roles are part of God’s plan.

The similarity with the origins of both natural childbirth and lactivism is striking. In all cases, these represents the beliefs of traditionalists on the appropriate role of women in a modern society. Grantly Dick-Read believed that a woman’s natural role is as a mother; the women who started La Leche League believed that promoting breastfeeding was a way to keep mothers of small children out of the workforce and tied to the home; the Sears’ believe in hierarchical marriage and traditional gender roles as mandated by God.

Attachment parenting serves an important role in this cosmology. By tying women to the home and (literally through baby-wearing) to their children, attachment parenting emphasizes the subservient role of women, bars them from financial independence, and restricts them to their reproductive functions.

Attachment parenting has no basis in science and never did. It reflects a fundamentalist world view on the appropriate role of women, and as such, is deeply anti-feminist and retrograde. It’s religion smuggled into the mainstream in the guise of “science” and it has been remarkably sucessful at hiding its sexist, religious roots.