Ruminations from the shower

In the shower yesterday morning, I found myself thinking about attachment theory and attachment parenting. Is there a difference between the two?*

I googled it, and from a quick skim-through, I’ve determined that attachment parenting is relevant to the beginning stages of attachment theory, in two ways. First, the early years are where the attaching starts (umbilical cord to infinity and beyond!) (sorry, Buzz Lightyear took over the keyboard there), and second, attachment theory kind of (maybe?) started with attachment parenting and then evolved and shifted into an all-encompassing attachment theory.

I probably have that all wrong. Don’t quote me.

I do feel like I have a semi-firm grasp on what attachment theory is since I took a class under a (spectacular) attachment enthusiast. And I’m quite familiar with attachment parenting—I read lots of those books back in my lactating-and-bed-sharing prime. But what I was ruminating over in the shower was how I think that attachment parenting lacks attachment theory’s big picture and thus it kind of bottoms out in the preschool years. Or at least, from the books I’ve read and the ways I’ve observed it in action, it appears to bottom out then. But this can only be expected when the whole thrust of the theory is aimed at a particular stage of the game. Kids need us to be there for them at all stages of the game, just in different ways.

a cuddle and a time-out

As children get older, the attachment theory question—Will You Be There For Me When I Need You?—becomes more emotional, more fraught. Being present to set limits, encourage, challenge, guide, and teach doesn’t always give us the warm, cozy feelings that we got when toting Junior around in a sling. We are required to look through all the messy behavior—the tantruming, back-talking, eye-rolling, arguing, teasing, lying, hyperactivity—and ask ourselves, “What does it mean to ‘be there’ for my child right now?”

The answers are no longer as simple as a bared boob. And sadly, there isn’t much oxytocin involved.

That’s what I was thinking about while I got my shower yesterday morning.

*For those of you who are on unfamiliar territory with all this attachment lingo, here are a couple definitions (totally in my own words).

Attachment parenting is the belief that kids need to be attached (in a very physical sense) to their parents. This closeness provides security and gives the strength to come into their own as they mature. Or something like that.

Attachment theory is the belief that at every person’s core, there is a need which can be summed up with this question: will you be there for me when I need you? When we feel that answer is ‘yes’ (from whoever it is with whom we are relating), then we feel attached and secure and can function in a healthy way. When that answer is ‘no,’ watch out.

This same time, years previous: bean-y advice


  • Marie M.

    Oxytocin. *Sigh.* Wouldn't it be great to always have that hormone be with us forever. I'm not quite sure about "attachment" after the baby turns into a child. I just know I always loved my son. I was very lucky in that he was an "easy" baby and child. The teen-age years were traumatic. But I never stopped loving him because it was so difficult. In fact I was in pain seeing his pain and felt and gave all my love. So as I see it, love is unconditional — no matter what. I always wanted to "be there" for him. Is this what you mean by "attachment parenting". Sorry, I'm still fussy on this.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm…Just thinking out loud here…(or onscreen). I have to admit, I don't go in for attachment theory/parenting. I think there's a reason literal, physical attachment ends when the umbilical cord is cut. The wee beginnings of encouraging self confidence and independence starts then and there. That's not to say that kids don't need relationships–we all do–and the healthier the better. Funny how trying to teach my four reveals my own strengths and weaknesses in relationships. The journey together tends to strengthen the relationships in my family even more.

    Sounds like my boys need some relationship training right now…*sigh*…(and because I sighed, I do too.) 🙂

  • Shannan Martin

    A blog friend of mine just referred yesterday to "Blissdumb". Ha ha ha! Cracked me up.

    OK wait, I thought I was on a different post…

    As for this post (which I intended to comment on, as well), I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I think about attachment maybe more than the average person because our kids came from other Mamas, but I don't necessarily follow a particular "theory".

    I loved what you said about being there for the kids even when it's harder. (i.e. requires more than a bare boob – ha!) You're so, so right about this. It's tough work, some days!

    So, there you have it: A two-for-one. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I think this post was way above my thought process. I have no idea if I attached my kids or not…Oh, No! Maybe I need to go take another shower and think. Deep thoughts.

    Thanks for the thought provoking ideas! Great post as always.

  • Nicole

    I soooo agree. As they get older it means a different kind of patience then when they are small and lots (lots and lots) of talking things through. It's so worth it – to have a great relationship with them as they grow up.

  • Amanda

    I'm going to try and keep this comment small. This post hits home for me in soo many ways. I agree with the above. The problem is that when they are growing older its hard to determine their attachment needs?? I'm learning so far that this is one really hard area of parenting for me. I seriously just had a half break down last night because of some certain things we are working out with my 6yr old son.and so you have given me something to think about today and I want you to know how much I appreciate this post.

  • Kris

    I found Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting" to be VERY helpful in navigating the waters of attachment parenting post-toddler years. In fact, I would say it changed our lives. Check it out at

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    How long are your showers? Just kidding- I know you're a fast thinker:-). This is interesting and I was kind of waiting for you to give us some answers. I have no problem acting out my feelings of attachment (and seeing theirs) when my kids are small, but as they are growing, it is hard to determine their attachment needs.

Leave a Comment