Monday, May 21, 2012

Attachment Parenting ... Is it Biblical?

One of my favorite books of the Bible is II Timothy where Paul writes to his young son in the faith and says …. “Every time I say your name in prayer—which is practically all the time—I thank God for you, the God I worship with my whole life in the tradition of my ancestors. I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that last tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion. That precious memory triggers another: your honest faith—and what a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you! And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed—keep that ablaze!” 

I want to offer you some words of encouragement today. You know, over the course of our lives, we as women play so many important roles (Daughters, wives, mothers, career women, etc.) and it’s so easy for us to become defined by what we do instead of who we are.

I want to share with you some things that I have learned in my own life that will hopefully make a difference in yours. God has blessed me in many ways, but I think that my highest and best accomplishment in life has been being able to raise 4 wonderful children who all have a good relationship with him and are actively involved in Christian ministry in one area or another

 Recently on the cover of Time magazine this picture of a 26 yr old mom breastfeeding her 3 yr old son created quite a stir in the media. Although the picture drew the attention of many, few people probably actually read the article entitled “Are you Mom Enough?” The article discusses why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes and focuses on how Dr. Bill Sears, a pediatrician became their guru and has had a strong impact on the current attitudes and approach to modern-day parenting.

 I was drawn to read this article because of my own observations of the contrasts in child rearing today from that of my own generation. Having 2 sons who are married and 3 grandchildren, I have, like any good grandparent, tried to share from my wisdom and experience in order to help them avoid making the same mistakes I did in raising children.

 When I encounter young women in the workplace or in ministry, same thing … I try to offer words of wisdom from what I know from my own life experiences. “Don’t rush them growing up! Enjoy them while you have them.” “Now, certainly don’t let them sleep in the bed with you, you’ll regret it if you do.” “You’ve got to get that baby on a schedule, not let them control yours.” And yet, they never seem to believe me and they have to do it their way. I remember when my own mother told me “Why do you want to breastfeed? Don’t you think it will tie you down?” I was a bottle fed formula baby. Hmmm … Today we think quite differently on that subject.

 So where do we get our philosophies about child rearing today? And what does this new term “Attachment parenting” really mean? The concept sounds simple but in practicality this type of parenting asks a great deal of mothers.

 The 3 basic tenets are breastfeeding (sometimes into toddlerhood), co-sleeping (inviting babies into the parent’s bed or pulling a bassinet alongside it) and “baby-wearing” (where infants are literally attached to their mothers using a sling). Attachment parenting says that every baby’s whimper is a plea for help and that no infant should ever be left to cry. Attachment parenting says that the more time babies spend in their mothers’ arms, the better the chances that they will turn out to be well-adjusted children.

 You can easily see how these expectations could send anxious moms into a guilt-induced panic. AS IF we don’t have enough reasons already to feel guilty!!! So where does this idea come from? Who wrote the “Attachment Parenting” bible? Almost 20 yrs ago, 1992, Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician wrote The Baby Book. He and his wife Martha, both raised without their fathers, married and became parents to 8 children and wrote from their own experience in their books.

 Sears admits that he came up with his ideas about mother – baby closeness after reading a book by Jean Liedloff called The Continuum Concept. Jean dropped out of Cornell University and traveled around Europe and on an impulse went to Venezuela to search for diamonds. She spent a lot of time in the Venezuelan jungle where she watched the South American women caring for their babies. The infants were carried all the time and seemed to cry less and were well behaved and happy. She wrote that Western parents will leave a baby to cry “until it’s heart is broken and it gives up, goes numb, and becomes a good baby”.

 I found it interesting that Liedloff, despite her deep interest in the connections between mothers and babies, never had children and died in 2011 on a houseboat in California where she lived with her cat.

 Prior to The Baby Book, the parenting Bible was Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care which was written in 1945 by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Spock told parents to trust their instincts and said “You know more than you think you do”. I recall the pediatrician I had with my first baby giving me the same advice. He said “You are the mother. You know your child better than anyone else”. That gave me confidence in my own instincts and abilities in light of the fact that my own mother was largely absent during my child bearing years.

 Before that time, Dr. James Watson wrote Psychological Care of Infant and Child in 1928. His methods would sound almost criminally neglectful by today’s standards. He urged parents to shake a child’s hands rather than kissing them and put their children out in the backyard alone inside a fence. We have to be very careful that we are not putting unrealistic expectations on parents today. New parents already feel inadequate without having to suffer from Post-traumatic Sears disorder!!

 And what are the results? Do we see 20 years after these ideas about parenting began to change our culture, that we have happy, more well-adjusted children? No, what we are now seeing is a generation of young people who seem to have difficulty separating from their parents, are unable to set healthy boundaries in their relationships, who are very demanding of their parents and others and selfishly want to have their own way and have it NOW. And we see parents who often feel helpless and frustrated with their children and are basically either giving in or giving up.

 So what is the answer? The answer is that we need to look for some simple straightforward divine guidance in our approach to parenting. Now we can read scripture on what Godly parenting should look like, and the scriptural principles are many …. but I have found that there are some very basic principles that when applied, can change your attitude toward parenting. I have discovered that parenting styles fall into 3 major categories.

 The first is the Permissive style, which says “Have it your way”. Sounds like Dr. Sears doesn’t it? The child is in control. This teaches a child a lack of respect for any authority in their lives including God’s authority. Prov. 29:15 says “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”

The second type is the Authoritarian style which says “It’s my way or the highway!” The parent is always in control. The child doesn’t have a chance to practice making his own decisions and learning from his mistakes. Basically, it teaches a child, you have to depend on me because you can’t think for yourself. 

Hebrews 12:10 says “Our fathers disciplined us … as they thought best: but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” The verses go on to say that no discipline seems pleasant but later on it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.

 That leads us to the style of parenting that most closely models the one used by our Father in heaven and that is the Authoritative style. This parenting style says “Trust me, here’s the way, I know what’s good for you. You can choose not to follow the path, but also know there WILL be consequences.” This teaches the child self-discipline, self-confidence, and self-respect.

 The Authoritative style allows children to learn from their own mistakes, but lovingly extends grace and mercy and guides them back on the right path. Jeremiah 19:11 says “ I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”

NOTE: Discipline is different from punishment. Discipline lovingly corrects. Punishment produces shame. “The Lord disciplines those He loves. …. If you are not disciplined then you are illegitimate children” Hebrews 12:6, 8

No matter how many biblical principles we understand, in order to successfully implement them, it is important that we identify any obstacles which keep our blind spots hidden. I see 2 obstacles that if they were removed, would help parents to more successfully raise their children.

 1. Trusting in worldly “experts” 
 We have been given a parenting Bible which is the only real reliable source of truth. The world offers many ideas, but God’s word is the one standard for determining what is actually true. To look anywhere else for basic parenting principles will lead to trouble.

 The apostle Paul emphasized this when he pointed out that those without Christ lack genuine wisdom, and what they offer as valuable, God regards as worthless. He says that “ …the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight … the thoughts of the wise are vain.” (I Cor 3:19-20)

 2. Fear of repeating one’s own past negative childhood 
 Some parents approach to parenting is to right the wrongs they experienced as children themselves. The frustration they feel from childhood memories creates a blind spot. These feelings are often rooted in a variety of childhood hurts.

 • A child growing up in poverty, as a parent now wants to indulge children with what he did not have, but can’t understand why they turn out self-centered and ungrateful.
 • A child who was never allowed to play or participate in social activities, may overindulge children with sports and recreation.
 •  A child who’s parents were strict or abusive, ends up being extremely permissive.
 • A child who was never allowed to speak his mind, takes the opposite approach and finds her children are sassy and smart-mouthed.
 • A child who was always told what to do without explanation, now is determined to offer full explanations to their children, but find the children are unable to obey without arguing.

 Parents who were victims of poor training are right to avoid the mistakes of their parents, but we must guard against rejecting solid biblical principles, just because they seem close to what we experienced.

 You know it’s interesting that in preparing this study today, I was reminded of how the body of Christ is also a family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 Galatians 6:1 describes the correct attitude of believers when exercising church discipline: "Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself." (NLT)

Matthew 18:15-17 clearly and specifically sets forth the practical steps for confronting and correcting a wayward believer. We have to be very careful to exercise gentleness, humility, love, spiritual maturity and submission to the Holy Spirit in restoring a fallen brother or sister.

 The goal in anything we do should always be reconciliation and restoration. God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ has given us a ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18) As believers, God has not only given us a ministry of reconciliation but he has called us first to minister to our husbands and THEN to our children. Attachment parenting says Children must come first!

 We need to remember to always keep our focus on God’s Word, our standard for living and when we are obedient to the Truth, it will begin to change who we are and in turn that will change the way we live and it will not only have an impact our families but everyone around us. “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” II Tim. 1:13-14


  1. With love and respect,
    I strongly believe that if you researched attachment parenting a little bit more, you would not equate it with permissive parenting. Building a strong attachment does not have to mean we let them 'run the show'. I believe we were created to breastfeed and be close to our children, and there are plenty of scriptures to back this up. And then in turn, in order to successfully breastfeed, we need to follow our biology (as he created us to do!) and nurse on demand, and have lots of skin to skin time. The bible references nurturing at the breast, not just feeding :) The thing is, for infants, there is no difference between needs and wants. As they grow and learn, that changes. I am a Christian woman who believes in attachment parenting, but I have strong boundaries for my children and they are very well behaved. Articles in the media are not a good way to learn about attachment parenting, there are some great books on the subject. Dr Sears is not my Guru, he is just the most famous of the authors who writes about this subject.

  2. Anonymous,
    Thank you for your comments on this article. I respect your opinion as I know you do mine. Just to provide further clarification, I am a strong proponent of breast-feeding having nursed my own four children including one who arrived 3 mos. prematurely and never learned to adapt to the breast. I agree with you that breastfeeding and building strong attachments with our children are important and biblical. However, my article was an attempt to explain the trends that I have observed in those who tend to take advice offered by modern day experts to either extreme, whether permissive or authoritarian. I believe there must be a healthy balance in all things and that our source of balance is always found in scripture. I applaud the fact that you are able to recognize the importance of setting healthy boundaries in raising your children. Thank you for reading my article and thank you again for sharing your comments.

  3. We are doing everything we can to give our son the foundation and understanding he needs to succeed in his faith. I've been reading a great new book by Dr. Tony Evans. One of the goals of the book is to help parents grow in confidence as they discover their worth as a parent based on God's Word. It’s called "Raising Kingdom Kids: Giving Your Child a Living Faith." He says, "It's far easier to SHAPE A CHILD than to REPAIR AN ADULT. Raising kids who recognize and retain their identity as children of the King launches healthy adults who have the capacity to stand strong in their faith." Equipping and guiding our children starts with us, parents! This is the most solid, thorough, inspirational and affirming parent book I've ever read! I love it and HIGHLY recommend it for all parents!