Keeping in touch: Attachment parenting encourages physical contact with children

Elizabeth Garrett, with her son, Winslow Parker, 3 months, helps her husband, Ed Parker, strap on daughter Francis Parker during a playday at Watson Park. Elizabeth is in charge of a Lawrence attachment parenting group.

Francis Parker dangles from the rings as her father spots and encourages her.

Elizabeth Garrett didn’t always know she was going to be an attachment parent. It just happened that way.

“When my daughter was born, she always wanted to be with me. She wanted to be held, wanted to see what I was doing, and slept much better when she was with me,” says Garrett, a mother of two and a member of the Attachment Parenting Support Group in Lawrence.

At first, Garrett was frustrated and looked for ways to make her daughter, Frances, more independent. But then she read a book on attachment parenting. The parenting philosophy, popularized by William Sears, is based on the development of a strong physical and emotional bond between children and parents.

“I realized that her desire to be with me was natural,” says Garrett, “and instead of looking for ways to detach her, I could support this need to be with me … it really made sense.”

John Colombo, psychology professor at Kansas University, says attachment parenting has roots in psychological theory.

“It states that there are certain advantages for survival to an infant who forms an emotional or affiliative bond with a caregiver,” he says. “The bond also provides a ‘building block’ for social and interpersonal development later in life.”

While Garrett practices attachment parenting methods such as breastfeeding, allowing her daughter to sleep in her bed and practicing positive discipline, she likes that there are no definite rules to this philosophy. Rather, she says, it’s based on a child’s needs.

Madeleine McLaughlin co-slept with son Lucas until he was 19 months old because it made nighttime parenting easier.

“We tried moving him to his own bed, and he wasn’t happy,” she says. “And my husband and I weren’t happy. And we thought, ‘If this is working for us, why not do it?'”

When she gave birth to daughter Sophia, the time seemed right to move Lucas to his own bed. This time he was ready.

But even though he moved to his own bed, McLaughlin continued to nurse both Lucas and his younger sister until Lucas was ready to stop.

“One of the most beautiful things I found was that it really strengthened the brother-sister bond,” McLaughlin says.

She reflects that stages such as nursing and co-sleeping will pass in due time and there is no need to rush children through them.

“I’ve learned to cherish these times,” says McLaughlin. “They’re not going to be little forever.”