Alright, I’m going to take the parenting philosophy discussion to the next level. While I like the basic premise of Danielle Bean and others that we should all “do what works for our family,” I’m going to dare to say that the full-blown AP approach is actually harmful to families and should not be practiced by good Catholic parents. (Gasp!) Before I proceed, please allow me to emphasize that I do not speak on behalf of the other builders or anyone else with whom I am associated, except my husband who is even more extreme than I am.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Heart, Mind, and Strength Blog. If you’re not, they are a hard-core attachment parenting website, strongly advocating that AP is the one and only Catholic way to parent. Several months ago, Danielle Bean and Greg Popcack, Mr. Catholic AP King, debated about AP and whether it was or wasn’t the best way to parent. Many of the builders here followed the debate. Danielle Bean thought that many of the AP principles were all fine and dandy, but wondered how these principles could actually be practiced with a large family and with many babies closely spaced together? Greg Popcack actually stated that responsible parenthood required that a woman have children no closer together than every 2.5-3 years.. If AP didn’t naturally space babies this way, well then I guess a couple was “required” to use NFP to space babies this far apart?!? Upon reading this, red flags were immediately going up in my mind, as I question any philosophy that recommends a specific “spacing” for every family.
But on to my deeper criticisms of AP. Ultimately I believe the philosophy is child-led, rather than parent-led and it assumes that every want a baby experiences is good and should be met by the parents. Not meeting these wants means the mother and father have failed the child in some respect. The fundamental problem with this approach is that babies are born with original sin. While they are cute and adorable and very innocent compared to adults, the Church teaches that they are tainted with original sin, and so every desire of a baby is not necessarily a good that should be met by the parents. From the moment that a child exits the womb, parents must strike the delicate balance between comforting a child and building virtue through discipline. Every family will strike a different balance here, and many factors will affect the parents’ decisions. But strike a balance we all must do.
Another problem with AP is what it does to men. I’ve seen this scenario too many times. Man and woman get married. Man is supposedly head of household. Baby comes. Mother AP’s baby. Baby takes over family and marriage. Baby sleeps in bed and is comforted or nursed at every slight indication of baby’s displeasure. Dad leaves bed for couch. Man goes to work bleary-eyed wondering what happened to his life, and whether he’ll ever see his bed or wife again. This goes on for years and sometimes over a decade in AP households.
Instead of the old-fashioned Dad-Mom-Kids hierarchy where the marriage takes priority, you get the Kids-Mom-Dad hierarchy where the kids’ (often irrational) needs take priority. The attributes that men typically bring to family life—such as discipline, tough love, and objectivity—are cast aside as “selfish western values that thwart the mother-baby relationship.” In effect, you get an overly emotional and feminized brand of parenting that has no place for traditional fatherly input.
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not criticizing those that choose to feed on demand. I am not criticizing those that sleep with their babies. I am not criticizing those that chose to carry their baby in a sling, nurse their kid until they are 3 years old, or refuse to use a pacifier. Choosing to adopt one or a few of these AP principles is fine by me. What I am criticizing is the full-blown AP approach that people like Popcack endorse and consider the only good Catholic way to parent. I am contending that it is not the only way, and in fact, when taken to its extreme, it is actually a bad way of parenting. Yes, do what works for your family. But when doing so, be on guard for the dangers of closely following an AP philosophy.
I found this post necessary and important because so many Catholic communities are inundated with AP thoughts and practices. So many Catholic parents think that AP is the ideal, and they then feel guilty when falling short. This guilt is misplaced. You shouldn’t feel bad that your family functions on a regular schedule, your baby occasionally cries it out, your everyday life is more predictable, and you and your husband sleep well (and occasionally, together) because your kids are not in your bed.
Please note that this post is not meant to be comprehensive, and if there are particular questions or concerns about the positions I’m taking, I’d be glad to flesh them out. But since we were on the topic, I couldn’t resist giving my two cents.