Hidden Perils Of The Attachment Parenting Movement

Europe is increasingly turning to this approach of child rearing that sees kids and adults as equals. It may have unforeseen effects on children — but even more so on parents.

Erm ... Mom ...
Erm ... Mom ...

BERLIN â€" They breastfeed their children until they are toddlers, carry their offspring close to their body rather than pushing them around in strollers and allow their children to have a say in what's best for them. The parents who practice so-called "attachment parenting" pay very close attention to their children to support the development of their individual personalities. This approach to parenting has found many supporters in Germany, but there are also many critics.

Sina Jacobsen and her husband are dedicated to this parenting method. They allow their daughters, an 8-month-old and a 2-year-old, to sleep in their bed, and both will continue to be breastfed for as long as they want. "This guarantees a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone," says the 25-year-old mother from Barmstedt.

She wants to give her children the feeling that they can always count on their mother. She is convinced "that if the fundamental need for closeness is satisfied, it enables children to start something new more easily. If that's not the case, then they will be chasing that need for closeness for the rest of their lives."

But the older the children get, the more odd these parents become to outsiders. "Why breastfeed a child of 16 months? That's old enough to wean them! You can't always carry your daughter around! A child has to learn to go to sleep on her own!" These are some of the typical comments that Sina and other attachment parents hear regularly.

The fear of overindulging your child is deeply rooted within us, says Frauke Ludwig from Hamburg. She tries to encourage parents in her courses to show their children unreserved support. The less babies cry and the more parents pay attention to their children's signals and approach their needs sensitively, the more mentally stable and self-confident their children will be. This is the basic idea of "attachment parenting," developed by U.S. pediatrician William Sears.

Growing numbers of German parents have embraced the method, evidenced by the numerous blogs and Internet forums in which mostly parents share and discuss their experiences of attachment parenting.

More than one way

There is no question that children need an attachment figure to develop well. "This is a universally accepted fact, but there are many different ways to provide this and huge cultural differences as to what is understood under the term "attachment,"" says psychologist Ariane Gernhardt of the University of Osnabrück.

The modern German middle class is increasingly trying to model an egalitarian parenting in which they regard their children as partners and friends. "They want their children to be happy and, above all, to spare them from having negative experiences," Gernhardt says.

Although it's quite possible that ideas about what represents good parenting are good for neither the adult nor the child, says Gernhardt. For example, it's important for children to learn how to deal with difficult situations.

The constant expectations of perfection that parents place upon themselves are a burden. Which is why Gernhardt meets exhausted and despairing mothers during her parenting sessions that are offered through the University of Osnabrück. "These women are often very educated and very well-read," she says. They often come wondering whether they've failed when things don't go to plan or if conflicts abound.

Children aren't the only one with needs. Parents have them too, and it is these needs that children have to accept as they get older, critics say. The demands placed on parents, and especially mothers, are burdensomely high with attachment parenting. Always being present imposes restrictions on women and forces them back into traditional female roles.

In fact, the perfect realization of attachment parenting in the traditional nuclear family often leads to burnout, says attachment parenting supporter and author Nicola Schmidt, who hails from Berlin. "Humans are simply not designed to take care of a baby 24/7," she says. Which is why she encourages parents in her books to get together and support one another. And she says it's never helpful to be dogmatic in your parenting approach.

"Children do not have buttons you can press," says Schmidt, who emphasizes that there is no single recipe for producing a happy child. Your child will not automatically grow up to be happy if you breastfeed for two years and constantly carry him around in a sling strapped to your body. Providing security and trust are much more important factors. "Every family will have to find a way to do so in a manner most appropriate to their personality and circumstances," Schmidt says.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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