Attachment and Martyrdom

I confess to a certain bias in thinking that mothers who follow the Dr. Sears method of ‘attachment parenting’ are Martyred Moms. I tend to be awed and puzzled by the devotion that I see in them. I wonder how, for example, they can sleep with their children until they ‘wean themselves,’ if ever. Assuming they are a different breed (not as selfish as I am?), I tend to stay away from conversations with them.

Here in the blog world, however, relationships are different and my assumptions get to be questioned.  A new feminist friend from Australia describes herself as an attachment parent.  Right there, I’m confused.   In a good way.

Here is what she says: “I think attachment parenting’s great weakness is a failure to adequately deal with the martyrdom trap. I don’t have lots of solutions yet but I think about this issue a lot, particularly from a feminist perspective.”

So, I’m just wondering if there are other ‘attachment moms’ out there who have thought about this. If you are doing the attaching thing (per Sears–I don’t mean garden variety attachment that we all experience) and you are not a martyr, could you explain how you do it?

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13 thoughts on “Attachment and Martyrdom

  1. I tried AP and couldn’t do it without being martyred. I feel like in some ways I am still living with the consequences years later. Maybe I was doing AP “wrong,” but I will say that the best thing I ever did was move my daughter out of the family bed and into her own crib at 9 months. If we hadn’t done it then I can imaging that she would be the kid who never left. There have been a number of articles lately about reluctant co-sleeping parents and that would make me one highly Martyred Mom.

  2. AP Unmartyred Mom says:

    I don’t think there’s a connection between AP and martyrdom. If it wasn’t working for you I think you were right to drop it; but for my family and many others I’ve come to know, AP is a great fit. Co-sleeping was something I did because it felt right, saved my sanity, and granted all in the house the most sleep—and I’m a stickler for needing 9 hours to function well! I slept with my first until she was a year; then transitioned her to her own bed in her own room quickly and easily. She’s now 3.5yo and still a great all-night sleeper. With my son, now 2, I transitioned around 18mo. All kids are different. AP does not require that your child dictate when and how transitions occur; only that you take the child into consideration, trying to do what you can both live with. For breastfeeding, I weaned the first at 17m and the second at 19m. Both probably would’ve been willing to go longer, but neither had a tough time weaning when I was ready and felt the time was right.

    The martyrdom you describe around housekeeping and intensive interaction with and supervision of older children has nothing to do with AP. I believe the media describes those who hover as “helicopter parents”. In contrast I think the goal of AP is to raise infants and toddlers to feel confident enough that their voices will be heard and their real needs met that they develop into capable, independent older children. This sort of responsiveness I find to be no more intensive than other forms of parenting in the early years; and it can pay great rewards down the road. I already see this in my daughter and in older kids I know whose parents subscribed to Dr. Sears’ AP.

    Many of the AP parents I know are also progressive types who are open to defying traditional gender roles. The women may do the breastfeeding (some also pump), but many of the husbands do a large part of the cooking and cleaning—mine cooks dinner every night, better than I could, and I haven’t cleaned a bathroom since I moved in with him 10 years ago. These are AP dads, some are SAHDs, and those employed outside the home share the childcare when they are home. I think having a partner who believes in AP makes it easier not to be martyred because of a shared belief in the value of caregiving.

  3. Yes, I agree with AP Unmartyred Mom.

    We also AP, are still cosleeping (Amie is 22 months), and Amie weaned herself at 17 months. We wore her in a sling a lot (rarely used/use a stroller), pick her up when she asks to be picked up, or asks for a hug. Which is less and less these days: she is finding her own way, confidently, and I think it has a lot to do with how we listen to her immediately if there is something she needs to bring to our attention. Though she has three language to juggle, she is a confident and early speaker.

    I will have to reassess over the next couple of years (of course, as always), but I believe the AP way will pay off later ,for her and us too. Of course, I don’t know about other children and their parents. But as for Amie, I think *she* is a more confident , happy and contented little person than she would have been if I had raised her, say, the way my parents raised me. And as for us, the parents, I think we are happier too.

    So AP is also to our (parents’) benefit, I want to stress that. E.g., the cosleeping. I am always amazed to hear other parents ask about whether we get enough sleep, or comment right-out that that is “overdoing it, don’t you think?” They mean “The Sacrifice!” They never seem to consider the advantages for us. Those are more than the ease of nursing at night, and the peace of mind… I mean the warmth of her little hand in ours, and the joy of hearing her talk about blueberries and rubber bands in her sleep… That sounds mushy, but at 2 am, it’s something we cherish (perhaps we need more sleep!). All kidding aside, I believe it nurtures US too. And again, I am speaking exclusively about myself and my husband: I am not advocating it for everyone.

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say. Great question!

  4. pegasus says:

    I totally agree with the previous post. I am definitely an “attachment parent”, and have really appreciated the advice of the Sears’ in working out a parenting style that fits my family. And then on the other hand, I work 70% time at a job I really enjoy, and I’m in school working on my MA. So, I have lots of time that is just for things that I love without my mom duties. I don’t feel at all martyred. In fact, I love the time I get to be mom to my daughter. She’s just over 2, and I’m still breastfeeding and she sleeps with us in bed. Those times are so meaningful to me that I don’t consider it a sacrifice at all. And all of us are thriving.

    I find myself in a somewhat opposite position from you: I feel like people who don’t do attachment parenting are a breed that I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t they want those wonderful bonding experiences that I cherish so much? I tend not to talk about parenting with people who don’t like sleeping with their kids, or who choose to never breastfeed, because they’re just not into it. I don’t get that at all. So I guess the lesson is maybe that we’re just all different.

    It’s true that my arrangement wouldn’t be possible at all if my husband weren’t every bit as involved in parenting and housework as I am. Maybe the trouble (i.e., feeling of martyrdom) comes in when people have more than a fair share of duties that they aren’t thrilled about. Those might include mom duties, home duties, or earning money duties. I’m just throwing out ideas here. Maybe I’m wrong. But I do know that being an attachment parent definitely doesn’t equate to sacrificing myself for my child. I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing much at all.

  5. pegasus says:

    I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit since I posted, and I have a couple of things to add. First, I am definitely a feminist. As is my husband. I know that you’ve at times said that a feminist mom is an unmartyred mom, so I guess you’re also wondering whether a feminist mom can be an “attachment parent” in the full blown Dr. Sears way. My experience is that, yes, in fact, it helps a lot in attachment parenting if you are a feminist. Or maybe it’s more correct to say that it helps the attachment mom a lot if her partner is also a feminist, and therefore the family unit can work out an equal sharing of the nurturing, housework, recreation, and income earning.

    So, I start to wonder what your definition of being a feminist and being a martyred/unmartyred mom are. I’m guessing that the two are not as equivalent as you imagine. For example, while I am definitely an outspoken feminist, I’ve never really felt martyred, or even pressured to be a martyr, in my motherhood experiences. I’ve been pretty comfortable establishing a lifestyle and parenting style that works for my family and for my work, and personal interests. And disregarding other people’s opinions about whether my decisions make sense to them. Now, granted, part of all of that is a recognition that I’m not going to have a lot of time to myself, and often not enough sleep, time at the office, etc. Parenthood is truly a lot of work. I don’t believe that there is a way around that. My priority is definitely my daughter, and I’m happy for that to always be true. Doesn’t feel like martyrdom at all.

    Another point is that the Sears’ are pretty outspoken that part of attachment parenting is balance, and that it’s critical to pay attention to your own needs, and those of other important relationships in your life. They’re pretty clear that at times it’s critical to be able to say no to your kids. They have to be good at that, with 8 kids and two full time jobs, not to mention all of the books they’ve written, lectures, appearances, etc. It’s about using a style that fosters the attachment between parents and kids, not about letting the kids take over the parents’ lives.

  6. Unmartyred mom wannabe says:

    Hmmmm… I read all the posts and I think I agree with pegasus who concluded that “we’re all different.”. I don’t know if doing AP means that you’re martyred if you’re comfortable with it. I think it’s when you read the Sears book and you feel compelled to do AP when it goes against your grain or otherwise feels uncomfortable. Then you are being a martyred mom because you are acting in a way for your child that doesn’t sit right with your own needs. For me, the Sears book made me feel very panicked and worried that there was no way I could live up to their ideal of an attached parent. I knew that I needed more space and more autonomy and I also strongly believed that it wasn’t the right model for me or my family. I felt like I would be a failure at it and there was no way that could be good for my child to have a mother who felt like a failure. But just like anything else, if you put pressure on yourself to be a certain way that isn’t natural, you will undoubtedly feel you come up short and are “less good” than other mothers. As a psychologist running groups for new mommies, I’ve been so struck by how everyone has to find their own way. For some, it’s AP. For others, it’s not. For some, it’s going right back to work. For others, it’s staying home. I think what’s more important than parenting style is one’s comfort with whatever style you choose or develop. It just didn’t work for me, but I have a lot of respect for those that it does work for. And I do think that you can be an AP and be unmartyred if you feel that you have that balance that we are all striving for.

  7. toni says:

    I’m interested to hear your responses to the very thought-provoking comments above. Is there some reason you are not engaging in a dialogue? I find it ironic that you said in your post that you avoid conversations with AP parents, and here you are, indeed avoiding them? Or maybe you are just busy.

    Anyway, I wonder where all your insecurity about what other people think of you comes from. Who cares what anyone else thinks (especially strangers) if you feel that what you are doing is right?

    I think I agree with pegasus that the dichotomy you set up between martyred/unmartyred is kind of a false one. Although I don’t have children yet, I plan to, and I imagine that when I do, I will be prepared and happy to make certain sacrifices for them. Otherwise, I won’t have any. They are, as peg said, a lot of work. And sometimes your needs should take a backseat to your children’s. They are in a needier place, a place of dependency on you, and you don’t have the same sort of dependency on them. So it’s only natural and right that you would treat them accordingly.

    P.S. since I assume you are not planning to have another small child, why are you interested in this subject anyway? It seems like the only thing it can do is make you feel justified in your past actions, or make you question them. Neither seems helpful to you since what’s done is done.

  8. Just a short note to toni that you are right that I am busy and wrong that I am avoiding conversation. I wouldn’t have raised the issue if I wanted to avoid it, right? Part of my mission is to encourage women to talk to each other, even when they disagree. So, I’ll jump in at some point, when I have something to add, but it’s important to let different voices be heard.

    Thank you, everyone else, for your thoughtful comments. I’ll welcome and publish more experiences with AP, good and bad.

  9. unmartyredmom – thank you for initiating such a worthwhile conversation.

    Here are some questions that spring to mind reading these comments – are non-AP mothers shy of reponding here after the majority of comments were made by AP-mothers? how do AP-mothers check with themselves that they’re not giving too much, burning out, especially when our ability to hold our boundaries is probably weakest when we’re tired? have your partners ever expected more of your mothering than you did of yourself? how did you negotiate this? how did you negotiate equal domestic labour with your partners? how do you decide when weaning is the appropriate time, when ceasing co-sleeping is the appropriate time etc? did you ever feel torn making these decisions between your own desires and your baby’s desires? have you ever felt guilt as a mother? where do you think your guilt comes from and why? have you found yourself judging another mother’s parenting decisions? how did you work through that in yourself?

    Well I have more as a feminist AP mother who has been stumped at times with questions but that is probably enough for starters…

  10. I don’t know if I’m attachment parenting enough for you. I do cosleep, and I plan to continue nursing until either I dry up or he doesn’t want to anymore. I baby wear. I don’t let him cry too long. But at the same time I have found some areas in the attachment parenting that really seems to exclude me. I am a single mother, for example, and I have read in attachment literature that I have already started out wrong because I got pregnant in a bad relationship, so now my child is going to have emotional problems the rest of his life. Wow. Would they have preferred I aborted? And I have read that I can’t form a real attachment with my son because I work full time, and a truely attatched mother would stay home with their child, or at least only work part time. Thats not really an option for me here. I mean, are single parents just not allowed to follow the principals of attachment parenting? I don’t know.
    I tend to take what works for me and leave what doesn’t. Most of it works pretty well. I cosleep because I don’t want to get up and walk out to his crib (which is in my dining room because there’s no where else to put it) every time he wakes up during the night. Its WAY easier for me to just roll over, put my boob in his mouth and go back to sleep. I breastfeed (of course for the health reasons, but also) because I’m too lazy to get up and make a bottle, and I certainly don’t want to be carrying all that stuff around with me. Its WAY easier to just pull my boob out. I baby carry because he fusses if he’s in the stroller too long, and he cries if you set him down to do something else. I don’t let him cry because the sound is irritating and heartbreaking to me. I guess I feel like my main reasons for attachment parenting are selfish ones (like you suggest your reasons for not parenting this way are selfish ones). I read there are lots of benefits for my son for parenting this way, and thats just an added bonus.
    Basically, I don’t feel like a martyr because this is what comes most naturally for me. Any parts of it that dont come naturally to me, I don’t use.

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