My husband is an attachment father. We definitely both have our strong points, but there are ways in which he is the more nurturing of the two of us. When he became the at-home parent seven years ago, we tested our assumptions about his nurturing even further.
Being an attachment father does not necessarily mean being an at-home dad, but, since this is how we have practiced attachment parenting, this is where I have made my observations. U.S. Census shows that 17-25% of children 0-4 years old have at-home fathers. Rebel Dad has crunched and analyzed at-home dad statistics even further.
My husband was definitely an attached father before he was an at-home father, though, so I’ve been wondering what distinguishes attachment fathering from attachment parenting. Attachment parenting works much better when it includes attachment fathering, when the second parent is also involved enough to be wise and sensitive to the child’s needs.
Research confirms the commonsense assumption that children are better off when their fathers are involved. In his article “The Astonishing Science of Father Research,” Jeremy Adam Smith summarizes research into whether fathers are as essential as mothers and how to get fathers more involved in parenting.
Research on attachment parenting specifically shows that physiology is not the determining factor in nurturing. Dr. William Sears, the well-known pediatrician who advocates attachment parenting, writes in “Bonding with Your Newborn” that
studies on father bonding show that fathers who are given the opportunity and are encouraged to take an active part in caring for their newborns can become just as nurturing as mothers. A father’s nurturing responses may be less automatic and slower to unfold than a mother’s, but fathers are capable of a strong bonding attachment to their infants during the newborn period.
On Dr. Sears’ own website, he tells the story of how he realized that he could (and should) learn more about his own children in order to communicate better with them. He learned to become an attachment parent. From this beginning much of the recent writing on attaching parenting, including attachment fathering, has emerged.
In my family, how have these seven years with my husband as attachment father while primary caregiver and at-home dad worked out? Multitasking is still a practical (perhaps even a neurological) impossibility for my husband. He does everything one thing at a time even when he does a bit here and a bit there. When he is distracted by the half-done task, I think he has a more difficult time stopping and listening and understanding what our children need. But, by force of will (rather than by nature or habit) he does usually manage to prioritize children’s need for sensitivity over the task at hand. Attachment doesn’t necessarily come naturally, but it still comes. I see this in the short interviews below.
Micro-interview with attachment parented 11-year old.
Do you notice a difference in the ways your father and your mother respond to you?
Yes, Daddy puts up with a lot more than you do.
Short-ish interview with attachment father of two.
Is attachment fathering any different from attachment parenting?
To me attachment parenting is compassionate mothering. I always figured I had to think myself inside a mother. It’s hard to put myself inside another man’s head, so I don’t really know what they would do. I always tried to think of what a mother would do.
Practically speaking, there are some things a father can’t do. An attachment mother would breastfeed. An attachment father has to figure out a way to comfort the child. I’m trying to think of times when you were teaching and I was out in the hallway or when I started taking the children to the grocery store on my own. Those are situations when you have to remind yourself not to ignore your child crying.
What is attachment parenting, then?
It’s the type of parenting that never leaves the child in any doubt that they are safe. That’s what gives them the confidence later.
Mothering.com, Dad forums.
William Sears, “Becoming a Dad: Dr. Bill’s Story,” Ask Dr Sears.
William Sears, “Bonding with Your Newborn,” Attachment Parenting International.
Jeremy Adam Smith, “The Astonishing Science of Father Involvement,” Mothering.com, June 19, 2008.
Dave Taylor, “My Journey to Becoming an Attachment Parenting Dad,” AP Parenting blog. A divorced single father who is dedicated to attachment parenting.