Attachment parenting, gender roles and (in)equalities of care


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This paper is based on doctoral research with mothers in London who practice a parenting philosophy endorsing long-term mother-child proximity, typically breastfeeding for a period of several years (known as ‘attachment parenting’).

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  • Charlotte Faircloth July 2007
  • Attachment parenting, gender roles and (in)equalities of care

    1. 1. Attachment parenting, gender roles and (in)equalities of care Charlotte Faircloth Department of Social Anthropology University of Cambridge
    2. 2. THE ABC’S OF ATTACHMENT PARENTING <ul><li>When you practice the Baby B’s of AP, your child has a greater chance of growing up with the qualities of the A’s and C’s: </li></ul><ul><li>A’s B’s C’s </li></ul><ul><li>Accomplished Birth bonding Caring </li></ul><ul><li>Adaptable Breastfeeding Communicative </li></ul><ul><li>Adept Babywearing Compassionate </li></ul><ul><li>Admirable Bedding close to baby Confident </li></ul><ul><li>Affectionate Belief in baby’s cry Connected </li></ul><ul><li>Anchored Balance and boundaries Cuddly </li></ul><ul><li>Assured Beware of baby trainers Curious </li></ul><ul><li>Sears (2001:4) </li></ul>
    3. 3. La Leche League’s Mission <ul><li>Our Mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother. </li></ul><ul><li>From LLLI Policies and Standing Rules Notebook, May 89 </li></ul>
    4. 4. La Leche League’s Philosophy <ul><li>Mothering through breastfeeding is the most natural and effective way of understanding and satisfying the needs of the baby. </li></ul><ul><li>Mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply. </li></ul><ul><li>In the early years the baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food. </li></ul><ul><li>Breast milk is the superior infant food. </li></ul><ul><li>For the healthy, full-term baby, breast milk is the only food necessary until the baby shows signs of needing solids, about the middle of the first year after birth. </li></ul><ul><li>Ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until the baby outgrows the need. </li></ul><ul><li>Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start. </li></ul><ul><li>Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby's father. A father's unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child's development from early infancy. </li></ul><ul><li>Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. </li></ul><ul><li>From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings. </li></ul><ul><li>From LLLI publication No. 300-17, &quot;La Leche League Purpose and Philosophy.&quot;) </li></ul>
    5. 5. A feminist organisation? <ul><li>Exalting women’s capacity to mother has contradictory implications for efforts to end women’s subordination, as some use a woman-centred perspective to empower women whilst others use biological essentialism to constrain women’s opportunities </li></ul><ul><li>Blum and Vandewater 2003: 297 </li></ul>
    6. 6. Charlotte: Can you give me 3 reasons why you wanted to breastfeed, and keep breastfeeding? <ul><li>Only three? I think there are social reasons, health reasons – physical, emotional, psychological… and the third one, political reasons I guess. On a physical health reason, there are a lot of things that are good for the baby and the mother. But…almost more important, is experiencing how breastfeeding fulfils so many needs of the baby, especially the newborn, and how it does it in such a perfect way. [To not use] what is given for free, for the best possible nourishment in so many levels, it is almost like a wasting of a resource… wasting the gift, wasting the opportunities… I think it is a bit arrogant towards nature . It is also linked to the political level… Not supporting the world, the planet the earth… just something you can exploit for your benefit and discard…. [Later she said, in terms of social reasons] …I think there was an impact from non-breastfeeding practices…and I think a lot of the problems that we have are linked to that, not just to pollution and all that stuff. I don’t know; the atomisation of society, the disconnection. </li></ul><ul><li>(Ivana, Leader Applicant, 38,breastfeeding her 3 year old) </li></ul>
    7. 7. Primates and Primitives
    8. 8. Mothering Magazine <ul><li>All basic needs [of the baby] must be met through a relationship with a caregiver . In order to maintain emotional equilibrium, babies require a consistent and committed relationship with one caring person. As you might expect, the research indicates that the person best suited for this relationship is the mother </li></ul>
    9. 9. <ul><li>Chloe [Long standing Anglophone Leader]: Yeah. I mean I had never planned on staying at home with my child. I had a full time job, I was going to go back, and I did. And I quit 2 weeks later. It wasn’t easy to make that decision. It never occurred to me that I would quit. You know, that I would fall in love with this baby, that just wasn’t part of the plan. You know, I was going to pump my milk – by hand, as there were no pumps yet – and it works perfectly well, and that was working. But I just couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear leaving him . </li></ul>
    10. 10. That is what they are for <ul><li>I remember when he was born and started breastfeeding, and I did remember in relation to my breasts – because of our society and the culture we are in, and that sort of thing – thinking oh my god, that is what they are for …And so it wasn’t so much that I was wandering into the realms of extended breastfeeding, but more that, this is what I am designed for; to mother this baby. This is what I am programmed to feel and to do . You know, it feels natural, and there’s a reason it feels natural. That was the biggest stone that dropped really, yeah. It was amazing, not to know now I look back…. Those first three days in the hospital. You know, to realise what they are for. </li></ul><ul><li>(Megan, 41, breastfeeding her 4 year old son) </li></ul>
    11. 11. <ul><li>Patricia [30, breastfeeding her 1 year old son. Questionnaire response] The only downside I feel is that I have to do this on my own and although [my husband] is very supportive I am aware that part of him would like me to breastfeed less so that his involvement could be more, and [my son’s] dependence on me would lessen. I also feel that [my husband] has no support or source of information (or time to read), so that everything he learns comes from me (from LLL groups and reading etc) so that, for example, he was quite shocked when I said I would probably be breastfeeding for a few more years. He said he felt left out of the decision-making on that. Also breastfeeding is tied to almost everything else you do as a mother, most of all how you comfort your child and how you get them to sleep. So I feel quite responsible for being the driving force behind key decisions that we make about how we parent. </li></ul>
    12. 12. <ul><li>Lauren (42, breastfeeding her 2 year old daughter) Well, he has moved here on the sofa bed she is getting bigger and takes more space. So he moved here. And erm, we just sleep so badly the 3 together in the same bed. If he were in harmony with us it would be possible, but he doesn’t understand the harmony. I mean when she turns, I turn. I mean, that’s a bit of a clich é , but there is something in it. A man and a woman sleep together in a certain way, and a man and a baby and woman sleep together in a different way. And my husband just doesn’t fit into this threesome at all... Maybe it’s the, road to divorce. I don’t know, I don’t care. I’m fed up. My baby is my priority. And I have always said it. And I have spoken to my other women friends and they say of course your baby is your priority! It is biological. And I just think that it is maybe something men just can’t understand, and get jealous about or something. And I don’t know, maybe I triggers feelings of abandonment or something. Who knows? But my priority is definitely with my child. Of course I would love to split up from my husband, but I am financially dependent on him. </li></ul>
    13. 13. <ul><li>Virginia [24, breastfeeding her 17 month old daughter] I can’t explain it, but you just know that it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how I know, but I do. It’s just something I feel so strongly. You’ll know too when you have your own children. </li></ul>
    14. 14. <ul><li>Klein understands that it is not only the baby who needs to be filled, it is not only the baby’s desires that matter; the mother needs to be filled with milk and desire too... This is not a martyrdom or a sacrifice of one to the other, but a ‘full emotional understanding between mother and child’ [ Drawing on her own experiences, she says] You always want to stuff your fingers in my mouth while I nurse you; you want me to suck too …Y ou cannot speak yet, and I cannot speak with your fingers in my mouth, but we have things to teach each other, you and I, knowledge to share like a feast that has been divinely blessed. You smile at me dumbly, and I smile back, and we know what we mean.’ </li></ul><ul><li>(Sutherland 1999: 18) </li></ul>