Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cage Fight: Attachment Parenting VS Free-Range Parenting

I follow Lenore Skenazy's blog Free-Range Kids and today she had a post that talks about the infamous TIME breastfeeding cover and the philosophies of Attachment Parenting and Free-Range Parenting. She references Bonnie Rochman's TIME article about the free-range holiday of Take Your Kids to the Park . . . And Leave Them There Day.

Rochman's article celebrates the liberating philosophy behind free-range parenting and would be great, except for this one part:
You might call free-range parenting the antithesis of attachment parenting. Or perhaps the antidote.
What? Free-range parenting is the "antithesis" of attachment parenting? Do we really need to make this an internal version of the Mommy Wars?

Boxing Gloves

To be fair, Rochman does go on to say "It’s not that free-rangers technically couldn’t be attachment parents, but they believe that once kids get old enough, it’s good — nay, essential — to let them be."

But her use of "technically" and her earlier pitting of one against the other suggests to me that she doesn't think they're very likely teammates. Or, at the very least, she knows that creating this kind of tension between mothers is exactly the kind of thing likely to drive controversy (and page views). 

Which is frustrating because my parenting is informed by both free-range and attachment philosophy, and I see absolutely no conflict between the two. In fact, I think that they are natural corollaries, at least in the way that I envision them. 

I don't really label myself an "Attachment Parent" or a "Free-Range Parent" because I--as I suspect is true for most people--am simply a parent trying to do the best I can in raising my kid. But that doesn't mean that I don't value different schools of thought and take into account differing ideas as I make those decisions. 

There are many parts of attachment parenting that have informed decisions I've made. It was attachment philosophy that informed my breastfeeding relationship, my decision not to use cry-it-out methods, my acceptance of co-sleeping, and my use of baby slings. I am drawn to attachment parenting because it emphasizes creating a bond between parents and child that instills confidence and trust in one another. 

Which is why I think it fits so nicely with free-range philosophies. Free-range points of view inform my decision to allow my daughter to climb on the playground unassisted so that she can test her own abilities. It was also with free-range philosophies in mind that I depended primarily on floor play instead of devices that restrained my daughter's movement as an infant. As she gets older and more capable, I anticipate more free-range parenting decisions.

But I've been absolutely heartened by the comments on the Free-Range Kids post. Commenter after commenter has come forward to say of course you can be both an attachment parent and a free-range parent. Several people have pointed out that attachment parent lays the foundation for free-range parenting. If you know that your child has a firm bond built on trust and confidence, then s/he is much more likely to be capable of the independence inherent in free-range decisions. 

So can we please, please, please stop boiling down all these "movements" to overly-simplistic labels and stereotypes and recognize that most parents are making well-rounded decisions based on their own experiences and philosophies. I know very few people who grab ahold of a "movement" and form their entire parenting identity around it.

We take what works, we leave what doesn't, and we hope that we're giving our kids the tools they need to grow and thrive. I'll wear that label. 

Photo Credit: KWDesigns


  1. I posted in response to Lenore's post but I'll say it again here: I really despise that people collapse AP in with helicopter parenting when in fact they are not one and the same. I know helicopter APs and helicopter mainstream parents. AP is about responding to the needs of infants and children so they can feel secure and then they will be truly confident and ready to take on the world when the time comes. I'm a total free range parent and a total AP -- there is no conflict to me.

  2. My favorite analogy is John Rosemond's on the game of tag. In tag someone is 'It.' 'It' tries to tag the children before they can get to home base, often a tree when I was growing up. At first, kids don't venture far from the home base tree. When they get older, faster, more confident of their surroundings, they venture further. So it is with infants. When a child starts to venture out from mom, he constantly looks back, checks in, tags up. Only when the child is sure that home base is always there, then a child starts to venture out. (Similar holds for rules, schedules, and familiarity.)
    Too often AP parents, however, don't let the venturing start. AP and helicopter parenting aren't the same thing, but helicopter parenting often develops from AP.