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Ask Dr. Sears: Dad Thinks Mom Is Spoiling the Baby

Q  My husband and I are at odds over parenting styles. I believe in attachment parenting, but he believes this is just complete spoiling. What can we do to come to a meeting of the minds?
[ANSWER {You may be happy to know that research  -- and experience  -- has disproven the old spoiling theory. People used to think that holding a baby a lot and responding sensitively to baby's cries would lead to manipulative and overly dependent children. New insights into the long-term effects of various parenting styles have shown the opposite to be true. This might be a good place to start to win your husband over to attachment parenting (AP).

Show him the science. Most dads are hung up on their child achieving independence. They have been led to believe that the quicker you bring an infant into independence, the better. But rushing a child into separation from his parents misses an important first step: developing trust. Many scientific studies have shown that infants need a period of dependence so that they build a basis of trust in their caregivers.

Children who receive a high-touch and high-responsive style of parenting in those early years instinctively learn trust. Long-term studies have shown that AP children actually grow up to be more self-sufficient than those who don't receive responsive care. We list these scientific studies in two of our books: The Attachment Parenting Book and The Successful Child Book  -- What Parents Can Do to Help Their Children Turn Out Well.

Studies also show that a more distant style of parenting actually tends to result in undesirable behavior. Babies who are forced into a feeding and sleeping schedule in the early weeks of life, or who are left to cry alone in the crib actually turn out to be more clingy and more dependent. They grow up with a mindset of mistrust rather than trust. They are more likely to become anxious children.

Show him attachment-parented children. If you have an Attachment Parents International support group in your area, take your husband to a meeting. Or you could also attend a couples' meeting at your local La Leche League. I'm sure you will be struck by the kindness and empathy of the children. It's rare to see any sort of bullying among AP children. When one child falls, the other child is there to comfort.

These children are also easier to discipline. Let your husband see how the parents really are in charge of their children  -- some people assume it will be the other way around. Just the way AP parents look at their child can motivate the child to improve his behavior. The children know they can trust their authority figures, and the parents are able to read their child's behavior so astutely. Parents who practice AP know how to see things from the child's viewpoint, and they intervene before the child gets into trouble.

Trust me! Sometimes you lovingly have to ask your husband just to trust your mother's intuition. In fact, what really won me over to AP was watching the way Martha handled our children. Martha always dealt with discipline problems so well. I once asked her how she could handle tense situations with such ease. She responded, "I ask myself: 'If I were my child, how would I want my mother to act?'" Martha taught me that good parenting is really an exercise in reading your baby, getting into the mind of the child to understand their behavior. Maybe you can set the same example for your husband.

If you believe AP is the right style of parenting for your family, do your best to explain your feelings. Reassure him that this high-touch stage of baby care does not last forever. Husbands are often investment-oriented. Convince him that this is the best long-term investment you can put into your child. Put your time in now and see the payoff later.

Be a couple... You might be familiar with our Five Baby B's  -- birth bonding, baby wearing, breastfeeding, bedding close to baby, belief in baby's cries, and beware of baby trainers. In recent years we have added an additional Baby B, and that is balance. Healthy attachment parenting means responding appropriately to your baby. You have to know when to say yes and when to say no.

Sometimes mothers, in their zeal to do the best for their baby, forget to take care of themselves and their marriage relationship. Fathers might end up feeling left out of the mother-baby relationship. There are some mothers who become so attached to their babies that they leave dad out of the parenting triangle. You need to be willing to trust your husband's instinct, too.

Fathers also fear for the mother-father relationship. They worry that AP won't leave any time for romance. Make sure you have couple time together. In our family of eight AP kids, Martha and I always reserved a weekly date night and dinner for two. (Okay, admittedly in the early months it was oftentimes a dinner for three.) Find ways to make the most of the opportunities that arise. One family in our practice was bringing their baby into their bed, but in the early months dad couldn't sleep well because of the many normal night noises that infants make. Sometimes he had to sleep in another room. Occasionally, after tending to baby, mom would go into the other room and "surprise" dad.

...But be individuals, too. It's important that you and your husband agree on a parenting style. But that doesn't mean that you have to agree unanimously on how to react to every moment of your child's life.

There will always be times when moms and dads don't completely agree. The surprising thing is that children can benefit from this. For example, say your toddler starts to play on the monkey bars. You may issue a cautious, "Be careful!" while dad offers an encouraging, "Climb higher!" Both of you are correct  -- you want your child to be careful, but you also want him to have fun and strive higher. Another example: Sometimes mom will get so spooked by a baby's cry that they respond within a millisecond by anxiously scooping their baby up, whereas dad will amble over and pick up baby in a less anxious way and give baby the message, "No problem, baby, you can handle this." This helps baby learn to self-soothe. Again, it's a question of balance.

Eventually it will be your child who wins your husband over. When he sees how kind, caring, and well-behaved your child turns out, he'll realize the wisdom of attachment parenting. And, remember, children, like food, spoil when left unattended. }]