I was reading about attachment research in Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and remembered a conversation I had not long ago with another adult. I had mentioned something about how so many of my homeschooling friends were attachment parents (read this if you don’t know what that is), and this person responded, “Aren’t their kids all clingy and shy? Wouldn’t they benefit from being away from their parents more?”
I answered what I had seen: They look pretty much like normal kids to me. In my small sample of humanity, the attachment kids are no more “attached” than other kids when it comes to public behavior. Some of them are quite clingy. But I’ve known plenty of “non-attachment” kids who are clingy. Some of them are very independent, just like many “non-attachment” kids. They are who they are, who they would have been in any case, being brought up in a loving family.
My own family is a perfect case in point: I like to joke that when I gave birth to my first child, the doctor made a big mistake. She gave my husband the scissors and asked him to cut the umbilical cord. Really, she should have left it to a professional! My first child is just now, at 13, permanently separating that umbilical cord. Between the ages of 1 and 4, he pretty much spent all his time attached to an adult’s elbow, literally. His grandma liked to say that she was a perfect adult to hang out with him, since the skin on her elbow was so loose! When I delivered him to his preschool room, I would detach him from my elbow and his teacher, the wonderful Cari, would offer hers in exchange. Throughout his childhood, he felt a deep need to be near, to touch, to be comforted.
Then there’s his sister. I don’t put a lot of stock in birth stories, but that girl shot out so fast the midwife had to draw on her quarterback skills. This is a girl who ran into the library parking lot the first day she could walk, and hardly noticed my absence the first time I left her at preschool.
My two kids came out on the two opposite ends of the spectrum, and I simply responded to their needs. Amusingly, at 9 years old, the girl who shot out of me at birth is now on the clingy side, refusing to go on errands in the grocery store (one of her past favorite pastimes), declining to carpool with other families, and requiring cuddles and hugs throughout the day. Her brother is now a confident young man who has no problem doing things on his own.
I think the research on attachment is very interesting, and I think parents who adopt the ideas of attachment parenting are doing what feels right to them. But I also notice that they are largely responding to their kids’ needs as all good parents do. I hadn’t read about attachment parenting when I noticed that my fussy first baby liked to be carried all the time—I just responded to his need. And attachment parents are just as happy as any others, I’ve noticed, to let their little ones run off hand-in-hand with a “big kid” who wants to take care of them.
I wonder what it is about parenting that makes us sure that people who are doing it differently than we are will most definitely screw up. Perhaps it’s that we’re all aware that this is the most important job we’ll ever do, and the consequences of a screw-up are so immense. But I think it’s safe to say that as long as we’re loving parents who respond to our kids’ needs, we’re doing the best we can. And perhaps instead of seeing the choices that other families make as an attack on our own choices, we can just be sure that they, too, are loving parents doing the best that they can.