Attachment Parenting Causes Depression

There has never been any evidence (and by evidence I mean actual scientific research, not the shrieks of unhinged supporters) that “attachment parenting” produces any sort of positive results for anybody. Now there is evidence that it has a very negative effect on mothers’ mental health:

This study was conducted to provide quantitative data on the relationship between intensive parenting and maternal mental health outcomes including stress, depression, and life satisfaction. The first hypothesis was that endorsing intensive parenting attitudes would result in greater levels of stress and depression and lower levels of life satisfaction. Additionally, as Essentialism focuses on the primacy of the mother to the exclusion of other potential helpers in the family, we expected this scale to be related to lower levels of perceived family social support. The second hypothesis was that the endorsement of intensive parenting attitudes would predict maternal mental health outcomes above and beyond family social support, an already well-known predictor of well-being.

What is especially sad is that self-evident things like “mothers are human beings”, “having a life outside of child-rearing is necessary for maternal well-being”, “there is nothing that makes a mother a more capable parent than a father” still need to be proven by research.

Let’s forget about mothers, though. We are all used to the idea that a mother who doesn’t sacrifice absolutely everything for the sake of the child is a horrible human being. Don’t the children gain a lot from being physically tied all day and every day to a depressed, miserable, socially isolated woman whose relationships with everybody else are crumbling?

So, if intensive mothering is related to so many negative mental health outcomes, why do women do it? They may think that it makes them better mothers, so they are willing to sacrifice their own mental health to enhance their children’s cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. However, research is needed on child outcomes because, currently, there is not any data to support this assumption. In fact, young children of over-involved or over-protective parents often experi- ence internalizing disorders. In addition, research clearly indicates that the children of women with poor mental health (e.g., depression) are at higher risk for negative outcomes. Given that this study found that aspects of intensive parenting are associated with negative maternal mental health, then intensive parenting may have the opposite effect on children from what parents intend.

Apparently, it remains to be seen just how much children gain from this parenting strategy.

If you can’t get full access to the article, you can find some quotes from it here.

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55 comments on “Attachment Parenting Causes Depression

  1. I’m really glad people are starting to conduct studies on this. I know I’ve said this before but I think attachment parenting (which is generally attachment mothering) has underpinned a profound feminist backlash and supports patriarchy in the most insidious way. Most women want their children to be happy and well adjusted; and if an entire social structure sends a message that the only happy children are the children of “attached mothers,” mothers start sacrificing personal fufillment in the hopes that they will raise happy children. It’s important that people understand that happy children have mothers with careers, personal interests, and passions.

    • ” I think attachment parenting (which is generally attachment mothering) has underpinned a profound feminist backlash and supports patriarchy in the most insidious way”

      – Exactly!

      ” It’s important that people understand that happy children have mothers with careers, personal interests, and passions.”

      – I also want to repeat the saying I really love: “The best thing you can do for your children is GET A LIFE!”

      And a little personal anecdote. My niece Klubnikis asks, “Mama, why you work?” “Because I LOVE it,” Mama says. “It’s SO much fun. And I get many coins (Klubnikis doesn’t understand the concept of money very well just yet) for it.” “Ah!” Klubnikis says, looking enlightened. “I want work.”

      • I love this quote by Klubnikis. :) I cannot imagine how life must be with a mother who really tries to be happy with her life. This would have taken so much guilt and sadness away from me, and given me such a different perspective on life.
        The scary part is, women who lose themselves so completely in devotion to bringing up their children might never find themselves again. Losing yourself is not always reversible. I think this is what freaks me out most. It is clear that it is bad for any child to have a mother without identity and, in truth, without hope for herself.

        • “The scary part is, women who lose themselves so completely in devotion to bringing up their children might never find themselves again. Losing yourself is not always reversible.”

          – You are so right. The children grow up and then you either cannibalize their lives or face the need to recreate your own. And that might be quite hard after a long hiatus.

          • Exactly. Maybe attachment parenting is the reason that I see so many 30+ people around me still having hugely difficult relationships with their mothers, with mothers routinely crossing boundaries. That only rarely seems to happen with fathers.

  2. Finally, some studies proving what I’ve been seeing for the longest time!
    What scares me the most about attachment parenting (why is it called attachment parenting anyway, it seems to be dominated by one parent, with the other one being barely involved. Shouldn’t it be called attachment mothering?) is how it completely implodes the social life of the mother; if your entire life revolves around different brands of cloth diaper, homeopathic teething tablets, and making your own organic baby food, it becomes very difficult to carry on a conversation with somebody who isn’t involved in that culture. That means your group of friends you regularly communicate with shrinks more and more, until you’re left with nobody except other, like-minded people who can only chitchat about such things, and your children. That can’t be healthy.

  3. “Don’t the children gain a lot from being physically tied all day and every day to a depressed, miserable, socially isolated woman whose relationships with everybody else are crumbling?”

    God god, woman, you crack me up.

    I probably could be labeled an “attachment parenting” parent, though I object to the label because so many people have some kind of checklist that makes a parent “AP” or not.

    No matter the parenting choices, if an adult is a parent, they risk “losing themselves” in that relationship and its reasonable and real responsibilities. It’s really easy, from any parenting model that I know (friends or online), to let all the other rich elements of ourselves slide into weaker states. I don’t think it’s inherent in AP parenting more than in any other kind. Most parents I know (from my nannying days, especially) are effected and affected by being parents in terms of their mental health and personal identity.

    Stupid phone typing this may be fraught with typos.

    • “It’s really easy, from any parenting model that I know (friends or online), to let all the other rich elements of ourselves slide into weaker states. I don’t think it’s inherent in AP parenting more than in any other kind.”

      True. But “attachment parenting” actively encourages mothers to ignore anything that once made her life rich and meaniful. Attachment parenting promotes a model of the sacrificial mother as the best type of mother. Career women, women who decide not to breast feed, women who decide to pursue their own passions, are demonized under this model and the attached mother, the mother who has no life outside her children, is celebrated. I find it deeply troubling.

      • “Attachment parenting promotes a model of the sacrificial mother as the best type of mother. Career women, women who decide not to breast feed, women who decide to pursue their own passions, are demonized under this model and the attached mother, the mother who has no life outside her children, is celebrated. I find it deeply troubling.”

        – Very true. And one day the payment for all those unsolicited sacrifices will be exacted from the children. A real-life quote: “I stayed in a miserable marriage to your father for your sake. And now you tell me that you won’t even do a tiny little thing for me and give me a grandchild? Why have I been cursed by such ungrateful children?”

        NOBODY sacrifices without expecting some sort of a payment.

      • “Attachment parenting promotes a model of the sacrificial mother as the best type of mother.”

        That was also true of the 50s style rearing I had, sacrificing mother who left us absolutely no space.

        I thought AP was like what used to be called self-regulation, i.e. you let the child decide how much/when it wanted to eat (I had to have exactly 6 bottles of milk, spaced exactly 4 hours apart around the clock) and you did not ignore it if it cried after it was supposed to be asleep (my parents spent agonizing evenings in the living room letting us cry ourselves to sleep when we were only a few weeks old, because the doctors said we would be “spoiled” if not).

        What parenting style has huge amounts of toys that are spread around the living room and yard at all times? I can’t stand that. What kind of parenting style has the children up until 10-11 PM? I can’t stand that, either.

      • Huh. We have a different perception of all of that. In my experience, every version of parenting (or not) choices demonizes the other. The choices you describe are exactly the kind of checklist I was thinking of. If you do x, then you aren’t doing y and people who choose y will think badly of you. Substitute anything for x and y.

        My goal as a mother who probably lands more on the attachment parenting region of things is to know that any choice a woman makes about parenting or not parenting are valid. I’m not saying they’re all good choices. I’m just saying that I can’t know what someone else’s experience is so I can’t say their choice is “bad.”

        The women I know who either don’t have children (and have no interest in it) or who have children but work outside the home with enthusiasm and commitment all feel bombarded with criticisms. I’m a mother who would love to be “just a mother” (I would write, make art, cook, read, enjoy my friends and life, too) but I don’t have that kind of money. Because I don’t feel drawn to “a career” (money making and “success” as defined by mainstream society) I’m also bombarded with criticisms.

        I think the majority of people form opinions about other people’s choices because they feel differences threaten their feelings about their own choices. The way I try to live is that I need to be comfortable with my own choices, that way, when I encounter people who do things differently, it doesn’t matter what they think of my choices.

        My experience is mine; their experience is theirs. It seems counter-productive to focus on what’s wrong with other people’s choices. What’s the point? Why not just celebrate the fact that we all don’t have to do the same thing?

  4. “my parents spent agonizing evenings in the living room letting us cry ourselves to sleep when we were only a few weeks old, because the doctors said we would be “spoiled” if not).”

    Yeah. That’s the opposite of attachment parenting. As much as I disagree with attachment parenting, I think it generally comes from a good place and I think it’s MUCH MUCH better than “spare the rod, spoil the child” methods of parenting. I don’t know if anyone is familiar with the horrible “Pearl method” of parenting (they wrote _How to Train Up a Child_) And I can’t think of anything more vile and horrible than that book or method. If you aren’t familiar with it, it will make you lose your faith in humanity. I will take attachment parenting over the Pearl method ANY day. Anyone who practises the Pearl Method deserves to have their children taken from them in my book. I have a theory that many attachment parenting proponents were abused or neglected as children and are over compensating by perpetually and constantly adhering to their children.

    • ” I don’t know if anyone is familiar with the horrible “Pearl method” of parenting (they wrote _How to Train Up a Child_) And I can’t think of anything more vile and horrible than that book or method. ”

      – The Pearls are total animals. I hate them, too. Brr…. But they actually propose all the same things as AP: “baby-wearing”, co-sleeping, breastfeeding until retirement age. In my country, at least, they are celebrated as the founders of attachment parenting.

  5. You are right: Pearl parents and Attachment Parents propose a lot of the same things (homeschooling for one!) But as far as I know, there are some key differences. For instance, the Pearl people say that “infants cry to manipulate.” Which is insane. Whereas attachment parents won’t let their children cry for an instant (even older children.) But the biggest difference, as far as I can see, is in terms of corporal punishment: attachment parents NEVER advocate hitting their children (as far as I know). And the Pearl people advocate hitting infants. Can you imagine hitting an infant? It makes me want to vomit. So while both are bad, I think that people who think that hitting an infant is acceptable are very very troubled and gross and just bad people. They also advocate “spanking” a child until s/he stops crying. Ugh. So so so awful. Again, I have definte issues with attachment parenting but I don’t think those parents are sadists. Pearl parents are sadists.

    • ” And the Pearl people advocate hitting infants.”

      – Jesus. They are worse than I thought. It’s a crazy world where such people are not in jail and, instead, sell books and make tons of money. Now I want to vomit, too.

      ” I think that people who think that hitting an infant is acceptable are very very troubled and gross and just bad people. They also advocate “spanking” a child until s/he stops crying. Ugh. ”

      – This means they advocate torture. I have no words. I only knew of their AP aspects but I never heard of this part of their hateful philosophy. I’m now Googling this and seeing really horrible stories. Vile animals.

      • No, because you are supposed to implicitly understand that sacrifices were made and then become the kind of person who can live up to the ideals of the person who has you trapped in a guilt complex. I was supposed to be very conservative and right wing.

      • Also, thinking about it some more, (as I have already been doing for many years), the injunction I had from my parents was: “You need to adapt to the new conditions for us. Fit in and say what people want to hear.”

        This put everything on such an artificial footing to begin with that it became impossible to adapt.

        Along with this I was told, “You need to remain the same — right wing and Christian — whilst doing this adaptation feat for us.”

        • “the injunction I had from my parents was: “You need to adapt to the new conditions for us. Fit in and say what people want to hear.””

          – I got this injunction, too! It was “fir in instead of us but don’t be too happy about fitting in because that’s annoying.” :-(

          • I got: “Fit in so that you can educate us about aspects of how the culture functions, but don’t you dare be anything other than the person you were when you left Zimbabwe, or more specifically our concept of that person. Otherwise, you will answer to us. I would be beaten and/or verbally abused.

            • “Fit in so that you can educate us about aspects of how the culture functions, but don’t you dare be anything other than the person you were when you left Zimbabwe, or more specifically our concept of that person.”

              – Exactly. It isn’t even you they engage with, it’s the concept of you, the idea of you. Oh, that is scary. Not how circumstances are different, reasons for emigration are very different, but the strategy is eerily similar.

              • My father had a superstitious notion that so long as the family would remain “together” in the sense of thinking in the same ways, the deity would assure us good luck and success, but if the family were to go in different directions, the dear Lord would no longer wish to bless us. This led to a lot of weirdness: parental hostility against maturity as a sign of something devilish, odd messages appearing from God at moments when my father felt least secure, fear that liberal ideas signaled the beginning of the spiritual rot (ideas including feminism), strange criticisms and condemnations. My father once narrowed it down: “You are creating a vibe in this house which is bringing everyone down” (“everyone” meant him). This whole idea of the one primeval unity, whereby an individualism casts a spell on other people’s well being, is extremely pathological at this level.

              • Seriously, it’s like you somehow discovered things about my family and are telling them to me. How can things be so similar?

                The scariest thing are these attempt to keep us all intertwined as one unhealthy entity. The idea that anybody is developing a life and connections of her own is seen as extremely threatening. A primeval unity, that’s exactly what it’s like.

              • I think that is how traditional families were, before modernity. But that is why I have always felt it such a risk to spend much time with my father, so long as he was pushing that ideology. He would find ways to make it work, by convincing others that I wasn’t to be trusted, or trying to portray my perceptions as wrong, in such a way that others would believe him. There was a high degree of subtle truth distortion and manipulation there, all veiled by “we’re just doing this for your own good”. It was almost a mystical formula, as it would incite others to support him rather than me. I was the one being destabilized by this. He looked as good as gold.

              • “There was a high degree of subtle truth distortion and manipulation there, all veiled by “we’re just doing this for your own good”.”

                – Oh, yes. Whenever I hear “I’m doing this because I want you to be happy!”, I have gagging reflexes. This is a very destructive formula but it’s impossible to teach some people that they are not entitled to want anything in anotehr person’s life.

              • I don’t think my parents ever wanted me to be happy, per se, but white people who came out of Zimbabwe did so with a lot of political rhetoric on their tail. The point was, we had to prove we were superior to the people who had taken over in the new regime. We had to be very bright and shiny and examples of civilisation, so that the rest of the world could see we were superior human beings, and this would justify the war that had been fought on behalf of white civilization. This was my parent’s generation’s views, but it was never mine. Even the assumptions concerning what was thought necessary were never shared with me. I was just pushed in that direction and punished whenever it was deemed I had fallen short. I was punished a great deal. Continuously, since nobody had told me what my goal was supposed to be, and I would have rejected it, had I known.

              • 2.

                Also, Australians seemed to have wind of the same idea — except they seemed to be working in the opposite direction to the one my parents thought they were working in (but weren’t). They had to show that whites from Africa were really incapable of doing anything. Politicized Australians are really insane, because they only see the faintest outline of an identity, not the individual.

          • Also, Australians have always had the attitude toward me: “You are not motivated to fit in, so let us give you some additional incentive, by way of some very strong micro-management and veiled suggestions that you are on the point of failing. That is, before you begin, and before we know anything about you.”

            A lot of assumptions there, but I seem to get them from this particular group.

            • You know, this is interesting because this is one part of the equation that I never experienced. I could never even begin to fit in with my own people. But the moment I arrived in North America, fitting in disappeared from my radar. I felt completely ordinary and accepted by default.

              • I feel that way with Japanese people. Everything is normal, ordinary and rational again — but when I hear Western people give me advice, I can’t understand what they are saying. They seem to be telling me what I already know, and then I have to puzzle it out: “Do they think I’m not doing X, or not yet doing enough of X, or just reminding me of something generally, or trying to imply something else, or make a threat, or warn me?” I’ve never guessed correctly.

              • In terms of this issue of whether one finds getting along in Western society easy or not, I have begun to strongly suspect that having a Judeo-Christian outlook can help. It’s good to be able to see just about everything in moral terms. I’ve never had much interest in doing this. It’s not who I am and I can’t seem to relate on this level. Even when people go to the gym or something like that, there’s an implicit expectation of some kind of moral input. You’re supposed to be improving yourself or making yourself fit for the sake of society. It’s never just about what you are doing and doing it well. So I can’t seem to grasp this and I also can’t grasp the issue of how self-esteem fits into this project of making oneself morally better. I tread on people’s self esteem because I don’t think it’s an issue. You should want to learn a skill, not want to gain belief in yourself. I don’t know how to address the issue of belief in yourself, because I’ve only ever been able to attain that not in a social setting but by working alone — and usually against the grain.

  6. On maternal sacrifice, it is related to the idea that relationships take work and compromise. Of course it goes without saying that one needs to come to some agreements, one needs to maintain contact of some kind or the relationship will die, and one needs to take care of kids.

    But look how all this gets recast as martyrdom: sacrifice, work, and “compromise” (that seems to get applied to everything including self betrayal for the sake of keeping the relationship). It is as though this discourse were deliberately designed to get people to ignore themselves/what they really want/etc.

    • “But look how all this gets recast as martyrdom: sacrifice, work, and “compromise” (that seems to get applied to everything including self betrayal for the sake of keeping the relationship). It is as though this discourse were deliberately designed to get people to ignore themselves/what they really want/etc.”

      – I agree completely. This is something that I keep noticing and wondering about, too. Is this a Protestant / Puritanical thing?

    • ” Of course it goes without saying that one needs to come to some agreements, one needs to maintain contact of some kind or the relationship will die, and one needs to take care of kids”

      – When you really love a person or people, you don’t perceive it as a sacrifice. Doing things for people you love is very self-indulgent. :-)

  7. On whether it is protestant / puritanical, I am not sure but it may be. I have TWICE – once in the 80s and once in this century – flown to Brazil so that I could have a woman friend tell me, in person, that it was fine to turn down / break up with men who were nice people (nice and totally appropriate for SOMEONE) but that I did not want to be with. No American I knew was willing to put desire first and in both cases I was under heavy pressure to stick with the person. And the idea that you would WANT to do things for people you love does not seem to be in US mass culture — the discourse seems to be that you must conserve their love for you, and so you must do things for them that you do not want to do.

    • “I have TWICE – once in the 80s and once in this century – flown to Brazil so that I could have a woman friend tell me, in person, that it was fine to turn down / break up with men who were nice people (nice and totally appropriate for SOMEONE) but that I did not want to be with. No American I knew was willing to put desire first and in both cases I was under heavy pressure to stick with the person.”

      – You know you could always turn to me for this, eh?

      “the discourse seems to be that you must conserve their love for you, and so you must do things for them that you do not want to do.”

      – If they want you to do things you don’t want to do, then they probably don’t love you.

    • What I totally don’t get about US popular culture is the psychological assumption that if you spend time with someone getting to know them it must be because you envy them and are trying to get something from them. This attitude seems to be extremely common with anti-feminist men, who do not seem misogynist on the surface, but sure as hell are.

      • Yes, it is a common attitude, and it may be that many do actually think like that. What did you get out of it? is a common question and it is as though you should have gotten something more than enjoyment, or a new idea, or something like that (something you would have gotten from the interaction itself).

        • It’s a very weird attitude because it makes you realize that there is no point interacting if you don’t want to be impugned for having done so. I don’t know whether pop psychology or self-hatred leads to this logic, but there is an easy solution to it. Don’t interact with people you don’t know. Stick to yourself or to people who are like you. Don’t take social risks.

          • Or, don’t take people seriously if they start evincing this attitude. I think it comes from both self hatred and pop psych, and I think pop psych goes hand in hand with self hatred.

            • But some very serious people evince that attitude. All the same, I now understand how crazy 99 percent of people are. They come at you with the weirdest ideas of which they are totally convinced. I would never have thought it possible but humanity has descended back to apes.

              • Apes certainly are less rational. Humans have become extremely crazy under late capitalism. They think everything is a trick and nothing true. They have no idea how to win back their self esteem. Apes don’t face these problems.

              • I think the apes were a bit more civilized at earlier stages, before mass media and mass marketing did their mass jig. I hope I don’t betray my naivete by stating that the British TV programme, Heartbeat, portrays reality as I used to remember it. That’s how Rhodesia seemed to me, as a kid. Everyone tried to be fair, restore people to their positions in society when they had had a hard time, that sort of thing.

                Now, nobody will believe what you say. At least, when I was out in the world, and hadn’t yet become so reclusive, that was my experience. You can say something and people will think you are attempting a sneaky trick or that there is some deception involved, whether deliberate or self-deception. It’s like the tower of babel.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heartbeat_(UK_TV_series)

  8. When we lived in California, I was surrounded by a lot of attachment parents. The most sad things to me about this large group of women I hung out with were: they no longer had sex (because the child slept with them), nor desired sex, they gave up their ambitions and often awesome careers for yoga pants and a permanent look of dissatisfaction on their faces, and they had to pretend to like their choices. But you could see — and they would often admit — that they were disappointed with their lives.

    As for me, I struggle with parenthood because I came from an insane family of abusive alcoholics, and I fear becoming them. But I manage to feel better about my relationships with my kids than many of my CA friends did because I have a life outside the kids. If I weren’t able to fulfill myself with work, I’d be a useless, depressed, miserable zombie. Now, I’ve never been a ray of sunshine, but at least I’m bearable when I’m working. My kids benefit from me being a working woman because I’m so, so much happier when I work.

    • “My kids benefit from me being a working woman because I’m so, so much happier when I work.”

      – Of course, they benefit greatly. You can tell them interesting things, you don’t smother them, you don’t expect them to dedicate their lives to fulfilling your expectations, you give them an example of a professional, successful parent, you don’t expect them to provide you with all your intellectual nourishment, and I assume from your comment that you address your tactile needs through a relationship with an adult partner. :-) Plus, nobody needs to see a parent in yoga pants 24/7. :-)

  9. @muster, so what do you think causes people to assume everything is a trick / deception / self deception? …cheap Freudianism? …altertness to the idea of deceptive advertising …knowledge that the news is doctored? …the sense of being in a simulacrum? …?

    • I think the primary one is marketing. People are promised something that they don’t end up receiving. For instance, Facebook is currently blitzing me with various self-improvement courses, some of which involve fitness training. These are very, very hyped. In one, you are supposed to lose a great deal of weight in ten weeks. There is no mention of the fact that building character, which is what people seem to be desiring through the symbolism of losing weight, takes a lot longer than this.

      The bourgeois ideology of individualism is also to blame. The cheapening of ideas as market commodities means we no longer give attention to history, social structures or psychological inter-connectivity as per these two. We think everything can be explained in terms of the goals of individuals, whose goals are always to market themselves. Any interaction becomes a pretext to use a sales gimmick.

  10. OK, on the marketing question, I see something. I went to this disastrous psychotherapy. The therapist was a member of Adult Children of Alcoholics, a 12 step group. I did not know anything about that and would not have had an opinion, except that I had to do a fair amount of thinking and investigation to figure out how his strange worldview worked.

    So here is the thing: in this group, which is Christian based but also *marketing* based — they recruit members on a customer recruitment model — people are trying to not drink (but may still be), yet have to present as not to each other; they are also trying to acquire a certain moral character, and the idea is that you should “fake” this until it becomes real. At meetings, people practice presenting themselves correctly, and privately, their individual counselors are constantly catching them in imperfections, hedging, and so on.

    It is a perfect example — people are constantly being scrutinized for falseness, while at the same time encouraged to give a false presentation in hopes that it will stick.

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