If the latest issue of Time Magazine is any indication, attachment parenting is a hot topic right now. And while it may be the breastfeeding toddler on the magazine's cover attracting the most attention at the moment, it is the definition of attachment parenting itself that most Americans don't quite seem to understand.

What Attachment Parenting Is NOT

There are many misconceptions surrounding the concept of attachment parenting. As a culture, we seem to operate under the misguided notion that attachment-style parenting is one in which parents — and particularly mothers — sacrifice their lives entirely for the good of their children, and compete over who can breastfeed the longest and make the most nutritious baby food.

But no matter what you hear at the playground — or read in an influential national magazine — attachment parenting isn't about competing with the mother next to you, nor is it about trying to live up to ridiculously unrealistic expectations that don't work for your family.

What IS Attachment Parenting?

Pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears first introduced the idea of attachment parenting in The Baby Book nearly 20 years ago. According to Dr. Sears, there are "7 Baby B's" — including bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedding with baby — which can help parents to form a more secure attachment with their infant.

But while Dr. Sears based these ideas on both personal and professional experience, he never meant for them to be interpreted as strict guidelines that parents must follow.

"AP is an approach," reads the Ask Dr. Sears website, "rather than a strict set of rules. It's actually the style that most parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way."

The Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting

When Attachment Parenting International (also known as API) was founded in 1994, the non-profit organization created their own set of attachment parenting guidelines, now considered to be the foundation of attachment parenting as we know it today.

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch.
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally.
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline.
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life.

At its most basic, attachment parenting is about making our children feel safe and loved, and about realizing that they have a fundamental need for our attention, our presence, and our respect. The fast pace of modern life makes it easy to place our children — and their myriad needs — near the bottom of our list of priorities, but attachment parenting reminds us that they belong at the top.

And ultimately, that's a reminder that most parents need. We all want to raise happy, well-adjusted children who grow into confident and independent adults. Attachment parenting is one tool, among many, that can help us to do so.

What do you think of attachment parenting? Do these principles work for you?