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How attachment parenting may be harming your marriage

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

Putting your spouse second

One of the more highly touted and often-scorned parenting styles of this decade is attachment parenting, which places the needs of the infant or older child at the very top of the list. The constant contact (baby wearing) and potential years of breastfeeding might make Dad feel left out.
Attachment parenting

Is it possible to practice attachment parenting and still treasure your marriage?

Attachment parenting may be the biggest parenting movement of this decade. While most parents agree that establishing a close, nurturing bond with their children is the ultimate goal of parenting, not everyone supports the movement. Recently, rumors surrounding the breakup of actress Mayim Bialik's marriage cast blame on attachment parenting philosophies. We wondered, what is the effect on a husband and wife's relationship when the children's needs are always put first?

What is attachment parenting?

The basic belief behind the attachment parenting movement is that the development of the nurturing bond between parent and child is of the utmost importance. Co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby wearing and bathing together are just a few of the ways people choose to bond with their babies through attachment parenting. Proponents even advise against much child care from people other than parents during the first three years or so.

While the idea that your children should be loved and nurtured seems obvious, many people don't feel that the constant contact involved in attachment parenting fits into their beliefs or lifestyle.

"While the effects of this bonding on children are being debated in many professional and social circles, the effects on the parents' relationship also needs to be considered," shares Donna Yates, a life coach who has been helping people for over 25 years. "Most marriage and family counselors would certainly question the effects of this practice on a marital relationship. Any interpersonal relationship requires time spent nurturing each other, and the practice of attachment theory can seriously cut into that together time that can mean so much for each person," she adds.

Working in tandem

A few of the moms we spoke with felt that their style of parenting — what others may call attachment parenting — just feels natural to them and their spouse.

"We have just done what has come naturally and works for us, refining it with each [baby]," shares writer Kimberlee Bradford, who is currently expecting her fifth child. "But we aren't hardcore shove-it-down-your-throats types, and I am sure some of the things we do aren't considered AP [attachment parenting]. I don't know that it has had any impact on our marriage, though, since we have always agreed on things anyway," she adds.

Janelle Hanchett, founder of Renegade Mothering, shares her thoughts about raising her kids with her husband. Their family seems to revolve more around each other, not just around the kids.

"Last night, I came home at 11 p.m. to find all three of my kids in bed with my husband," she shares. "All my kids were breastfed until they were 2 years old, when they weaned themselves and I had my third baby in a horse trough in the living room. This style of parenting has worked well for us, though to me, I'm not really following a 'philosophy' but rather that which feels right and good and natural to me," Hanchett says. "I am 99 percent sure our style of parenting is the reason we have strong, confident children. Not that other styles can't produce strong, confident children, but in our particular family, I believe it is critical for us to engage with one another in this manner. For example, my husband works a lot, so my son being snuggled against him each night is the time he reconnects with his dad, and I know it renews both of them," she adds.

Not always easy

One mom we spoke with shared that following what feels natural for a mom isn't always easy on the marital relationship.

"Attachment parenting has been great for me and my kids," says Sandra, a Texas mother of three. "However, I can't say the same for my husband and myself. He wasn't on board with co-sleeping at all, which has led to some issues between the two of us. He relented, but he eventually moved to his own bed. Now, I sleep with the kids and he sleeps down the hall. It's a pretty sad situation in terms of our relationship with each other, but honestly, my kids come first," she adds.

Experts weigh in

What do parenting professionals think about the issue? We asked Dr. Fran Walfish, Psy.D. — child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent — to share her thoughts.

"No one ever really knows what goes on behind closed doors in someone else's home and marriage," Dr. Walfish shares. "It is quite possible that Mayim Bialik and her husband both agreed on attachment parenting as their choice for raising their children. In many cases, this can indeed strengthen the relationship," she says.

Dr. Walfish used to oppose the concept of attachment parenting, but she has a new perspective since meeting Bialik — who explained and clarified the principles of attachment parenting.

"Please help your readers remain open-minded. We have become a nation of judgment. That position keeps us at a distance from our own vulnerabilities and the opportunity to learn and grow together," Dr. Walfish adds.

"Partners need private time to be someone other than Mom or Dad," shares Yates. "If this private time is not available because children are always present, the strain on the relationship is going to take its toll. People do not enter into committed relationships with the idea that all of their personal needs will be put permanently on hold for the next 18 years," she says. "People commit to relationships because they get good things from those relationships and because they enjoy being with and spending time with the person they have made their commitment to."

If you have a situation where one partner is really pushing the marital relationship aside for a prolonged period in order to spend more time with a child, the spouse who is left out is bound to have feelings of neglect.

Gina Hassan, Ph.D., is a psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with pregnant and postpartum women and with lots of parents who practice attachment parenting.

"[Attachment parenting] can strengthen the relationship if both parents are committed to this style of parenting, take pleasure together in giving to their baby and are committed to finding creative ways of honoring and nurturing their relationship while together practicing attachment parenting," she says. "It can certainly be harmful to a relationship when partners are not both on board with this parenting philosophy and/or [if] they neglect tending to their relationship, but this is not a given of attachment parenting — [it's] just a common and unfortunate mistake," Dr. Hassan adds.

Tell us

What do you think? Has attachment parenting helped or hurt your marriage?

More on attachment parenting

Attachment parenting and adoption
Dispelling the myths of attachment parenting
Is attachment parenting right for you?

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