Since all of this hullaballoo about the TIME cover started I’ve been thinking to myself that if only we could show the whole picture of attachment parenting, people would get it. If we could give people not just a snapshot, not just these tidbits about never putting our kids down and never sleeping by ourselves again, but a full day in the life of attachment parenting – or better yet, several days – then they’d realize we’re not totally out to lunch.
Just as I was thinking this, I happened to open my iTunes movie list and there they were: Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg – the original attachment dads.
3 Men and a Baby, aside from being hilarious (25 years later and that peeing on the couch scene still cracks me up) is also pretty much a how-to manual of attachment parenting.
Let’s have a look at how many of the API’s 8 principles show up in the movie:
When a baby shows up on their doorstep out of the blue, our poor accidental dads are quite beside themselves to comfort her. They don’t know what to do. But they keep trying until they figure out what she likes. They never leave her alone to cry until she passes out. And when they try to give her to the drug dealers (admittedly not the best parenting choice no matter what your style is), they send her with the instruction that “she likes to be rocked to sleep”. They don’t care whether that’s a socially acceptable way to go to sleep. They don’t express fear that she’ll never go to sleep without being rocked. They just respond sensitively to her need to be comforted.
Once they finally get her to go to sleep, the attachment parenting just keeps on rolling. You may be wondering why you don’t remember seeing a giant family bed on the floor in the movie. Well guess what? You don’t have to bedshare to be an attachment parent. You just have to recognize that babies still have needs in the night and that those needs are no less valid because they occur in the night. So when Mary wakes up, she doesn’t get Ferberized, she gets a capella. Talk about creating a physically and emotionally safe sleep environment!
But for the record, in the movie Tom Selleck does bedshare and Ted Danson cosleeps (the baby’s bassinet is in his room, that’s cosleeping).
Clearly, there’s no breastfeeding happening in this movie as none of the 3 Men are in possession of breasts, but they still feed with love and respect. We never see the bottle propped up, one of the dads is always holding Mary while they feed her. In the scene where Jack (Ted Danson) is left home alone with Mary for the first time, he offers her a bottle but when she turns her head away, he respects her fullness cue and puts the bottle down. That’s the crux of how attachment parents feed their kids, no matter what food delivery system they use.
There are also a couple of really good examples of nurturing touch in this movie. The dad and baby shower scene is a classic. Bath time is a great way to bond and attachment parents know the importance of skin to skin contact, so why not get in the bath or shower together?
But of course the media portrayals of attachment parenting always focus in on one kind of nurturing touch: babywearing. They describe it almost as a shackling, holding mom hostage by strapping a baby to her. AP parents know that’s categorically not true. As Ted Danson shows us, babywearing allows us to cuddle our little ones while we get on with our regular daily tasks. Of course, most of us don’t spend our days foiling drug lords, but the point is we could thanks to babywearing!
Admittedly, our dads are
a little a lot overwhelmed by the task at hand when they set out on their parenting journey. But hey, what parent wouldn’t be? Especially when you have about 0.001 seconds to prepare! But they find their groove and soon manage to find balance in their personal and family life. They each find ways to fulfill their work commitments while providing consistent and loving care for Mary: Peter gets her a pink hard hat, Michael lets her hang out on his desk (and spill his ink… ah the joys of parenting!) and Jack wears her on his back at rehearsal. They still go out on dates. The fact that they exploit Mary’s cuteness for the purposes of procuring those dates… well nobody’s perfect!
So if this is attachment parenting, then what’s the big deal? That’s just it: there shouldn’t be one. Attachment parenting is, at its core, just about reminding us that it’s OK to follow our innate instinct to respond to our babies. It’s OK to make adjustments and compromises in our life in order to include the needs of the new person in that life. That’s it.
And what was the result of all of this here attachin’? The result is that three party-loving, serial-dating bachelors without an iota of childcare experience become caring, competent and confident parents within a few short weeks by following their baby’s cues and finding ways to meet her needs. Were they extreme? Didn’t seem so. Did they martyr themselves? Definitely not. Did they leave some of their free-wheeling ways behind them? Yes. Did they seem to regret that choice? Not even for an instant. They are, after all, very attached dads.