Confessions of an Accidental Attachment Parent

Once you get sucked in, it’s hard to back out

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I’m pretty sure that wearing both your children for most of the day for several years counts as attachment parenting. But I’m here to tell you that, at least in my case, it wasn’t some kind of premeditated choice. Really, I was just trying to go grocery shopping. Putting the toddler in a backpack and a newborn in a sling seemed the safest way to make it up the three flights to my apartment alive.

Most of us don’t choose to be one of those mothers. By “those mothers,” I mean whichever kind of parent you made fun of before you had your first child. But the next thing you know, your four months of maternity leave has turned into eight years, four of which you spent wearing overalls.

(MORE: Why Breast-Feeding Isn’t the Bugaboo)

How did this happen? Nobody gave me an attachment-parenting book. They didn’t need to. I lived in a neighborhood where breast-feeding is so revered, flaunted even, that you can’t get through an afternoon without encountering an exposed mammary. So you nurse and you keep nursing wherever and whenever the mood strikes, but there’s a catch. As it turns out, public breast-feeding is the gateway drug to attachment parenting. If your child happens to take to breast-feeding, you do end up pretty attached, and keeping that newborn fed isn’t just a 20-minute refueling every two or three hours. It’s a nonstop buffet.

Naturally, after a while, dragging yourself out of bed to slump in a rocker for half the night seems ridiculous. I think you know where I’m going here. Yes, the family bed. It’s like moving from pot to cocaine. You are so tired, and it’s so easy. Of course, if you’re an accidental attachment parent like me, you kept the crib for daytime napping and as a fig leaf in case someone from out of state visited. So many of these so-called choices are nothing more than a slow stumble into a habit that doesn’t seem like such a big deal if you run with a certain crowd.

(MORE: Quiz: What’s Your Parenting Style?)

And that’s where new motherhood is just like high school. You’re terribly insecure and way too affected by what other people are doing.  In the end, the person who needs to learn to self-soothe is mostly you. And even though it would make sense to ask your own mother’s advice, that’s the last thing you want to do. Parenting was so different then, they didn’t even have the word parenting. So you look to the women around you and, yes, books, but really, we’re just awash in rumors and conflicting opinions. So if you can find another mother who is doing whatever you’re doing to get the kid to sleep or eat or talk, you feel better. Women who go back to work need one another. And those of us who stay home are quite literally lost without one another. Surely, intragroup sniping happens because we’re trying to reassure ourselves that whatever we’re doing is the right thing — and that means whatever she’s doing has to be wrong.

But when kids hit adolescence, you can’t tell which were attachment babies and which were in day care. They all drive us mad in their own unique ways, their failings and successes being their own, not yours. Inevitably, those dividing lines between mothers begin to fade when kids become teenagers because we all get the same queasy feeling when we see them hurtling off into an adult world we’re sure they’re not ready for. Clearly, it’s just as hard to let go even if you weren’t an attachment parent, accidental or otherwise.

MORE: Cover Story: The Man Who Remade Motherhood

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Attachment Parenting

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