My neighborhood is teeming with attached babies. They’re peeking out from elaborate wraps swaddled on backs and snuggled down in pouches tightly strapped to chests. After the lights go out, they’re sharing the family bed and breastfeeding off and on throughout the night.
Attachment parenting is all the rage, which goes to prove there truly is nothing new under the sun. It’s a return to the past that’s being touted as healthy, oh-so-Brooklyn, and the go-to model for modern moms.
The attachment parenting theory is that a parent who is consistently available, attuned, and responsive to an infant’s needs allows that infant to develop a sense of security, a base from which she can explore the world.
Children who are securely attached as infants, the theory goes, grow up with stronger self-esteem, are more self-reliant, have more successful social relationships, and experience less depression and anxiety as adults. All of which makes sense to me at an intuitive level as a daughter, mother, and family lawyer.
But the popularity of attachment parenting becomes problematic when you consider that this “healthy” child-rearing practice presents a severe limit to a woman’s career mobility (and mobility in general).
What about the woman who does not want to use her body this way, who prefers to have her baby sleep in his own room so she can rest more soundly, or have sex with her partner, or read a magazine? Or — and here’s the biggest problem — what about the woman who, like most of us, needs to get up and go to work in the morning, whose infant cannot be attached to her all day because she’s running the cash register, or cleaning the hotel room, or trying cases? Are we emotionally damaging our children because we have to work to pay the mortgage?
The notion, prevalent for so long, that fathers are inferior caregivers when it comes to babies and toddlers, is no longer embodied in our laws. And the cultural norm has shifted dramatically as well. Most of my clients, both fathers and mothers, expect that dads will engage in hands-on, day-to-day parenting right out of the gate.
I have represented fathers of infants who ache to spend more time with their babies. And I have represented mothers of infants who do not want to be always available to them, who want time away, who want the fathers to share the burden as well as the joy, and, most critically, who want — or need — to work. And if those parents are happier with a different arrangement than the one dictated by a strict application of attachment theory, doesn’t that benefit their children?
Maybe the popularity of attachment parenting will cause a cultural shift and drive young mothers out of the workforce, swinging the pendulum away from joint custody for young children. Maybe it won’t. But there’s no question that shifts in cultural norms affect the choices we make, and right now, from my window, I’m seeing an awful lot of babies attached to their mothers’ bodies.
Margaret Klaw is a founding partner of Berner Klaw & Watson, an all-women law firm located in Center City, Philadelphia, dedicated exclusively to the practice of family law. She writes and speaks frequently on family law topics and is the author of KEEPING IT CIVIL: The Pre-Nup and the Porsche & Other True Accounts from the Files of a Family Lawyer.