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Attachment parenting: It may cause more stress, less happiness

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Bob Brawdy/The Tri-City Herald/AP

(Read caption) Jennifer Licon holds her newborn son, Adalberto Miguel, at the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission in Pasco, Wash., back in May of this year.

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Here’s another shot in the debate over “attachment parenting," the newly popular style of American mothering (and yes, it almost always refers to moms) that includes “always-on” mommy behavior such as baby wearing, extended breastfeeding, and co-sleeping.

A study published recently in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that mothers who subscribe to this sort of intensive style of parenting – moms who feel, for instance, that they are the essential caregiver for their child, or that mothering should be child-centered with a constant stream of intellectually stimulating activities for the kid – tend to have more stress and lower levels of life satisfaction than other parents.

In the new study, researchers from the Psychology department at the University of Mary Washington – Kathryn Rizzo, Holly Schiffrin, and Miriam Liss – evaluated online surveys by 181 mothers with children under 5 years old. Their goal was to gain more insight into what has become known as the “Parenting Paradox.”

The Parenting Paradox is the discrepancy that’s been found in a number of studies between people’s idealized perception of parenthood (that it is one the most beautiful and fulfilling experiences in life) and the negative mental health outcomes often associated with parenthood. (More stress, less happiness, more fatigue, that nagging and constant desire to sleep past 6 a.m. for one day, just one day, please.)

The Mary Washington researchers noted, though, that there is quite a lot of debate about this paradox. While some studies have linked parenthood with these lowered levels of happiness, higher stress levels, and so forth, others have found no link between parenthood and psychological well-being. (These latter studies find that parenting is a tradeoff. As in, sure, the morning wake-ups are a drag, but then there’s that beautiful, smiling baby cooing in the crib. Let’s call it a wash.)

Perhaps, the researchers theorized, it was the style of parenting that led to the paradox, not the fact of parenting itself.

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