Awhile ago, I started up a Tumblr called “Attachment Parenting Ryan Gosling” for shits and giggles. It got a pretty good following, which means that two really annoying things started happening: 1) Everyone wanted to criticize the “grammar” on the photos (Typos happen when you’re in a hurry, people. Get over it!); and 2) Everyone wanted to weigh in on what was and was not AP. In response to this picture –

Gosling_pin

– I got a bunch of comments about how purees weren’t AP and that I should focus on baby-led weaning. (Because, apparently, the only way your baby can explore foods on his own is through finger foods.)

In response to this picture –

Gosling_bothering

– I got a bunch of shit for linking violence to a peaceful parenting practice — never mind that it’s a fucking JOKE and shouldn’t be taken literally.

It all got me irritated enough to write this post about the idea of being “more AP than thou.” Any of you who practice attachment parenting know what I’m talking about. You post something in a forum, on a blog or on a FB page and you suddenly have dozens of women telling you where the AP line is and whether you’re crossing it. Like it’s some kind of club and you have to meet certain requirements for entry.

It’s ridiculous.

THIS is why so many women are saying that they are leaving AP or refuse to be identified as AP in the first place. It’s why a lot of women won’t even consider learning about attachment parenting. They don’t want to be associated with what appear to be a bunch of parenting extremists.

Here’s a truth that’s so simple and obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be said: There are many ways to be an attachment parent. There is no checklist of rules. There is no secret handshake.

Sure, there are guidelines like the Seven Baby B’s, but they are just that: Guidelines. This is no religion, and those aren’t rules that you have to follow to be accepted. The Seven Baby B’s are there to help you better understand the philosophy behind attachment parenting and the practices that can help you implement that philosophy.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t an attachment parent if you don’t bed share. It doesn’t mean you aren’t an attachment parent if you don’t baby wear.

You decide what works for your family, and you decide what meets your own particular parenting views.

Here’s what being an attachment parent means to me:

It means nurturing my child. It means meeting her basic needs, which include her emotional needs. For me, that meant not letting her cry it out as a baby as a way to “train” her to sleep or to adapt some other set of behaviors.

It doesn’t mean that she never cried.

There were plenty of times — then and now — that she cried because she was frustrated. Or because she was tired. Or because she was bored. Or because she just didn’t know how she was feeling.

Sometimes, all I can do is just be there next to her while she cries. I don’t see it as a failure because I don’t see my duty as making sure she never cries.

However, I also don’t just let her cry while I go about doing my other business. I am present with her, and I show her that I care. I show her that I am there to help meet her needs or just to help her process those feelings. It’s what I would do for any person I love. Why wouldn’t I do that for my child?

For me, attachment parenting has meant baby wearing and co-sleeping. Baby wearing has helped me to meet her needs for closeness while also meeting my needs for mobility and tending to other responsibilities, including working from home. It has offered a win-win solution for making sure we both get what we need. It doesn’t mean that I never put her down or that she never plays independently. In fact, she spends much of the day now playing independently, and she has no problem being dropped off with friends for play dates. We also own and use a stroller.

I know plenty of people whose children refuse to be worn and who are content to play alone. That doesn’t mean those parents can’t consider themselves attachment parents.

Co-sleeping saved my life when my daughter was a newborn, and it continues to be a way to help my daughter feel close when she needs it. As soon as my daughter would tolerate it, we started putting her down for the night in the bed alone. When she woke up, we laid next to her to get her back to sleep. Now, she starts her night in her bed, and most nights, she wakes up and comes into our bed. When she is going through growth spurts or developmental leaps, she wants to be with us more. Other times, she can sleep through the night by herself. (So much for your co-sleeping baby never getting out of your bed, huh?)

We have followed her lead with co-sleeping, and it has made life easier for her and for us. Everybody wins, and our bond is closer because of it. Again, I’ve known couples who wanted to co-sleep but their baby refused. It doesn’t mean that they couldn’t consider themselves attachment parents, and it doesn’t mean that their bond was diminished.

For me, being an attachment parent has also meant breastfeeding. It is the most nutritional food for her, and it helps to encourage a bond between us. For me, being AP also means allowing her to nurse until she decides she is done. However, I have put down limits where I needed them. For example, I stopped night nursing when it started to really interfere with my sleep and my overall mental health. I tried to be as gentle as possible and support her through the transition. Now she is down to only nursing to go to sleep. Should I decide that nursing her is causing me stress (which will ultimately impact our bond), then I’ll find a way to end it. Until then, I plan to let her decide.

Being an attachment parent meant that I tried out cloth diapers and worked to make as many of her foods natural and organic. I abandoned the cloth diapers half way into the second year, and I let in more hamburgers and candy than I would like. Whether you never touched a cloth diaper or don’t even know what organic is, you can still be an attachment parent.

I try to create a “yes” environment for my daughter. That doesn’t mean she never hears the word “no” or that she doesn’t have limits. Instead, I try to focus on what’s really important, and I offer her alternatives where possible instead of just telling her “no.”

I don’t believe in punishments, and I practice positive parenting. That means that we don’t spank her (hit her, swat her, tap her, whatever you want to call it), we don’t use threats, and we don’t use time out. We are hear to guide her, not to demand her obedience and not to punish her if she doesn’t comply. Instead, we focus on fostering a bond with her that inspires her natural desire to cooperate, and we focus on natural consequences. That doesn’t mean that she can do whatever she wants. She doesn’t get candy for dinner, she doesn’t stay up all night, and she doesn’t wander off wherever she wants when we are out in public. We don’t let her hit us or other kids. She has limits. We just take a different approach to enforcing them.

Everyone parents differently, even when they follow the same philosophy. Attachment parenting can look different in every family. The point is not to meet a checklist of criteria but to focus on creating a strong bond with your child and being responsive to his or her needs. If you’re doing that, then you’re an attachment parent.

No matter what, it doesn’t really matter what you call yourself at the end of the day. All that matters is that you are doing everything you can to be the best parent you can be to your child.