In February 2000, Fox Television premiered a reality show called Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? Some commentators suggested at the time it was the nadir of American cultural expression. One thing was for certain; it drew a ton of viewers – twenty-two million in all.
I was one of them, as were a number of my seminary dorm-mates. As most of us were gawking and shaking our heads at the spectacle, my friend Vijay observed, “What’s the big deal? Back home in India, this would not be so strange.” He pointed out that marrying someone you’ve barely spent any time with, while unusual in the West, is still common in some Eastern cultures. For all the show’s faults, he reminded me that some things that are weird to me might not be weird to someone else. Often, neither is right or wrong – just different.
Let’s remember this amid the current national conversation about attachment parenting. Last month’s Time magazine cover showing a nearly four-year-old boy standing on a chair and sucking his mother’s exposed breast has sparked some very strong reactions. If you haven’t caught wind of the debate (especially raging online), the startling photo is supposed to exemplify attachment parenting. It’s a style of child-rearing which stresses as much physical and emotional closeness as possible between parent and child in the first several years of life. Breastfeeding, “wearing” a child using a carrier, and sleeping in the same bed (or adjacent beds) are some of the encouraged practices. Proponents believe this parenting style results in not only a close “attachment” between parent and child, but also in physically healthier and emotionally more confident children.
Attachment parenting has also drawn strong criticism. Allegedly, it requires a humanly-impossible amount of time and energy, and it spoils children because parents do too many things for kids that they could do themselves. In the aftermath of the Time magazine cover, a clear segment of the population is also saying that breastfeeding really is not natural (and borders on creepy) after the child’s first year or two.
Let’s show grace. Except for abusive situations, let’s give other parents room to train up their kids as they sense the Holy Spirit leads them to apply Holy Scripture. After all, the Bible says much about parenting in general, but not about its modern applications. For example, do the commands to discipline kids require us to spank them? Parents can legitimately disagree. Or, more relevant to this post, when scholars tell us that Hebrew children were usually nursed until they were three years old, does that mandate us to do the same? Again, we can believe differently.
Personally, my wife and I practice a modified attachment parenting. We believe in psychological attachment theory, yet we don’t feel it’s realistic for us to go all-out with attachment-parenting practices. So we try to do enough things we feel will help our girls to become well attached. So far, by Abba’s grace, we’re pleased.
As Vijay reminded me, a lot of things aren’t right or wrong – just different. It’s as true about parenting as anything else.