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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 22, 2014

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In Kids & Family Commentary

Attachment Partnering: the "new AP."

Attachment Partnering born from Attachment Parenting


When my boys were babies and toddlers, I loosely practiced Attachment Parenting, a style of parenting introduced by Dr. William Sears. Basically, Attachment Parenting (AP) is about forming a very close bond with your child so you can best understand his or her needs and, hopefully, raise a secure, empathetic person who is capable of having successful relationships.

There are many ways to do this; Attachment Parenting is only one approach. What I learned more than anything through Attachment Parenting my kids is the importance of being deeply committed and completely attentive with all relationships. Consequently, I coined my own term, "Attachment Partnering," which applies the basic aspects of Attachment Parenting to all bonds, particularly the relationship you have with a life partner / spouse.

Attachment Partnering and Attachment Parenting go hand in hand, but arguably, Attachment Partnering needs to precede Attachment Parenting so parents have a healthy bond as a foundation to provide healthy care giving to children.

There are eight principals to Attachment Parenting, all of which apply to Attachment Partnering: feed with love, respond with sensitivity, ensure safe sleep, use nurturing touch, provide consistent and loving care, practice positive reinforcement and strive for balance. Some parents define Attachment Parenting as including specific behaviors – referred to as "The Baby B's" – like breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby (co-sleeping safely), belief in the language value of baby's cry, beware of baby trainers and balance.

Many of the B's associated with Attachment Parenting are necessary to create or recreate deeper relationships with one's partner through "Attachment Partnering."

Bonding. In Attachment Parenting, it's referred to as "birth bonding." In Attachment Partnering, it's simply about bonding deeply early in a relationship. This means that married parents can start a new relationship – one that is rooted in closeness and communication – today or tomorrow that is different from the one they have now. Parents who separated or divorced and are starting new relationships can be certain to create a solid, deep bond with their partner early on. In either case, this means physical connections (from hugging in the kitchen to getting frisky in the bedroom.) It's about creating a closeness that is built through physical touch and open communication.

Continuing the bond through spending time together is essential. This gets tricky with kids, but fighting the urge to "tag team" for social events and scrape up money for a sitter or get a family member to babysit so both parents can go out is important. Also, spending time doing chores together is important. Rather than a "divide and conquer" approach, which is practical from a domestic productivity perspective, spending time working on the lawn or kitchen together generates conversation and connection.

Breastfeeding and babywearing are less likely to be incorporated into Attachment Partnering, but hey, whatever you're into, no one's here to judge.

Bedding close. Sleeping close to your partner is important. I co-slept with both of my sons until they were 5, and although it works for lots of people and that's cool, I wouldn't do it again. I believe that, ideally, parents need their own space not only for intimacy but also for "pillow talk" and end-of-the-day reflection or side-by-side reading. When done safely and soberly, co-sleeping with children is natural and comfortable, but sleeping next to your spouse with children on either side or in a little bed in the same room, might be worth exploring. In short, I believe that co-sleeping for attached partners trumps co-sleeping for attached parents.

Belief in language. This is true with baby, and it's true with partners. Listening to what the other person has to say sounds obvious, but it is actually challenging to just listen and stop thinking about what you want to say next and stop responding immediately to what your partner says. Pay attention to body language, facial expressions. Understand what your partner is saying non-verbally, just like Attachment Parenting suggests for babies. It's all right there, on his face, on her face. Just take the time to read it.

Beware of trainers. Attachment Parenting believes one should trust their instincts and not listen to those who dispense unsolicited advice. It's the same with partners. Most people, whether they admit it or not, believe that relationships "should" be a certain way. The fact is, there aren't any rules at all. Figure out what works for you and your partner, regardless of convention or lack thereof, and be happy. Anyone who tries to tell you that you're doing it "wrong" is actually commenting on their own uncertainties.

Balance. There is so much that could be said about balance, and the need for it, but really, it can be boiled down to a simple sentiment. Take time for yourself. Give time to your partner (he or she was around before the kids and will be around afterward) and give time to your children.

Attachment Parenting is a demanding style of parenting, which arguably makes Attachment Partnering even more necessary. Although I am not blaming Attachment Parenting for the demise of anyone's marriage, I do believe that having children – especially more than one child – can put a tremendous strain on a relationship. Some parents become more irritated, less romantic and in deeper question of the life their living versus the life they hoped to experience.

Although Dr. Sears stresses through his writings that there are no hard-and-fast rules and that parents must ultimately do what is best for their family, many have criticized Attachment Parenting for creating an unhealthy expectation of parenthood and spoiled / over-dependent children who believe they are the center of the universe.

However, like everything, moderation is the key and tailoring Attachment Parenting to fit the needs of one's family and picking and choosing "cafeteria style" what works and what doesn't is always the most comfortable. Following any practice blindly and militantly simply doesn't work.

Alyssa Hunt has practiced aspects of Attachment Parenting for four years. "You have to follow your gut, and not let the philosophies take over the reality of the relationship," she says.

Such is true for Attachment Partnering, too.

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