4.21.2006

Highly Subjective Diatribe against Dr. Sears. Enjoy!

What a fabulous week it has been for feminist bloggy types like me. Mom 101 's meditation of the "f" word and her own feminist upbringing triggered a new round of dialogue over our feminist (or lackthereof) ways. Mrs Fortune picked up the torch, and offered her own perspective on why we still very much need feminism, and Kristen's post on the "sacrificial mother" syndrome (for me) resonated sharply in terms of this larger debate about feminism, mothering, and the cultural messages we are bombarded with.

And so this leads me to my topic. Why Dr. Sears is Evil Incarnate....

Ok, Ok, let me tone that down a bit. Let's instead call this a story of a recovering practitioner of attachment parenting. (And let me make my first disclaimer here--I am not against attachment parenting at all. I am against the notion that non-attachment parenting=bad parenting, or "detached" parenting. Some of my best friends practice techniques in attachment parenting, and all that... And I am sure with numero duo, I will be digging out the old baby sling)

I've been toying with a post on Dr. Sears and parenting manuals in general for a while now. For several reasons, I have been reticent about this one. While I might be able to have a bit of a bash at Dr. Spock or even What to Expect in the First Year without many repercussions, Dr. Sears instills much stronger emotions in people. His Baby Book (and numerous range of other "Books" on topics from Discipline to Christian Parenting) is less a reference guide to dealing with this new floppy human (green poo? see page 321) and more an ideological doctrine that outlines the values and attitudes you need to be a good parent. If Dr. Spock is the google of parenting manuals, Dr. Sears is the ideologue.

And let's face it, when you find yourself sitting at 3am in the morning with a wailing child who refuses to sleep/eat/calm down, what newbie parent is not desperate for some kind of cosmic guide telling us what the effing hell to do... Give us a leader, pleeeeease.

My first exposure to Sears came when I was newly pregnant with numero uno, chatting with a friend who had just given birth to one of the most mellow, sunshiney, pro-sleep children I have ever encountered (that's what my baby will be like). We were discussing a mutual aquaintance of ours who (gasp) was "ferberizing" her 5 month old. We both sympathized with that pooooor little thing who was abandoned to a scary crib and left to cry herself to sleep. Such abuse, such selfishness. In Dr. Sears terms, this was a child being forced into a situation of learned helplessness... Never mind that her mother was holding down a full-time job while racing to complete her PhD. She made her choices....

Fast forward several months, clasping my perpetually inconsolable baby, eternally hooked up to one of the hospital's most industrial high octane breast pumps (to aid my "low production") my "nursing station" surrounded by every single manual for parents you could get a hold of. My mother kept saying to me, in a light tone "darling, it's all very well, but he's not read any of these books."

Each time she said it, I became more deeply irritated and resolved to stick with the books. She was nineteen when she had me, but I was of a different generation all together, dammit. I was an academic and this meant I did research. I had read books, and I knew what I was supposed to do...

I think my mother looked at her psychotic daughter, who was alternatively pawing crazed through books, pacing up and down with a screaming charge in a Sears baby-sling, strung up to a supplementary nursing system, or sobbing over having to mix a precious ounce of breastmilk with poison formula, and thought "dear god, she is so toast..."

According to Sears, I was "blessed with a high needs baby" (for let us eschew value-laden terms like "fussy" or "colick" as they breed low self-esteem). He had a name for it, which meant there must be a prescription for dealing with said child, right? RIGHT?? And we tried everything in the long litany of tips Sears offered for dealing with such a child... Co-"sleeping" worked at first, because it meant I could lie down for a while--even if I was awake. This was preferable to the rocker, which was beginning to feel like it was welded to my behind. I even managed to figure out side-boob breastfeeding for a while. Nursing down never worked, mainly because breastfeeding my son was less a relaxing, soothing experience, and more like wrestling a small monkey who swiftly drained the boobies like count lacula and then looked up with an expression of "what next?" before going off into wails again. I wore my son as much as possible, even though he omitted bloodchilling yells, convinced that eventually the sling will induce the womb-like calm that he innately yearned. The list is endless, and anyone who is reading this who has had a colicky child might well be nodding right now.

When I went back to work, I was confronted with a whole new level of guilt. According to Sears, "The most important contributor to a baby's physical, emotional, and intellectual development is the responsiveness of the mother to the cues of her infant...." The effects of mother-baby separation "lessens the benefits of mother-infant attachment"

Cripes.... How selfish can I be? Although, I will tell you, at this stage of parenting I was beginning to get just a little sick of Sears. His anecdotes about how he and Martha brought their two month old to a black-tie formal affair in "a fashionable sling" began to induce much eye-rolling, as did the reassurance that I could potentially "work and wear"--bring baby to work, safely ensconced a sling. Yeah. Right.

What I was beginning to resent was not so much the litany of anecdotal advice--because aren't we all just fonts of that in the end?--but the way that this advice was presented to me as some kind of tested out methodology--something I should adhere to to fulfill my role as an "attached" parent. Anything that separated me from my child--working, having an evening out, taking a shower--this all put me dangerously close to becoming a detached (read, BAD) parent.

Other stuff began to piss me off too. For instance, Sears' colonization of certain terminology--"attachment" being the primary. Being "attached" to one's child, within this ethos, requires consistent and almost perpetual physical attachment--normally of mother-to-child, but this can be another caregiver (who, Sears reminds us, is merely a mother-surrogate). To sever this physical bond, and even worse, to do something as phillistine as the Cry-it-Out method, this was to induce "learned helplessness" in one's child. These terms come across as if they are tested medical or psychological concepts (especially when sleep-deprived beyond all sense). But, if you begin to delve into any of the critique of Sears that is out there, you soon realize that they are not. These are bolded terms that Sears uses (brilliantly) to endow his slew of anecdotal evidence with a hue of medical or scientific veracity. But you swiftly learn that one ideologue's "learned helplessness" is another mother's "learned independence" (or, in my case, ticket to sanity). Look for any research, studies, or experiments to back up Sears' unique claims about the developmental stages of infancy, and there are none. Zilch.

And then there's Sears' fondness for invoking "Africa" as a place where child-rearing was much more "natural" and unpolluted than in the West. After meeting two women from Zambia at a conference who carried their infant in slings (that colorfully "matched their native dress"--how charming!) Sears and Martha understood what innate mothering must look like, for, after all, "women in their culture don't have the benefits of books and studies about mothering hormones..." (Uhm, HELLO! You met these women at a fucking CONFERENCE. Or did you think that they just happened their way into your presence after leaving the mudhut for a long journey to the water well?).

Cynthia Eller (an author I shall be forever indebted to for making me feel vindicated about my feelings for Sears) also comments on this proclivity of Sears to invoke Africa and Asia as a place where mothering is more intuitive, where babies never cry, never forced to sleep in a "cage" (crib) are always worn, and who feed easily and lustily on demand. Eller states, that

"There's only one problem with this Sears-styled utopia: it doesn't exist. I've read a lot of ethnographies of tribal people and I can tell you that the whole babies-who-don't-cry thing just isn't true. Some anthropologists visiting some tribal groups say that the babies in these groups don't cry. But as often as not, somewhere later in their monograph they'll make a passing reference to a screaming baby keeping the whole village up all night. (Seems they've bought into the same myths the rest of us have, and try not to let the evidence get in their way.)"

And so, uhm, I can guess you can safely say that I am a little over Dr. Sears. And, of course, this story does have a happy ending. The screaming ball of terror who exited my womb over three years ago, well at five months he was sleeping for a grand total of twenty minutes at a time. His face was ridden in scratches, self-inflicted, which I have read in some actual supported research is a prime sign of sleep deprivation. And so one day we laid him down, clean, fed, and highly tired and crabby in his crib, and let him get on with it. I say "we"--my husband had to do it, as I agonized and gnashed my teeth. I was still in the ideological clutches of Sears, I had a nasty feeling that we were doing something deeply wrong.

I won't say it was a cakewalk--we had several weeks of agonizing sleep and naptimes as we tried to establish come kind of schedule. But after the first night he slept for solid chunks for 2-4 hours, the eternally crabby, "walk me around incessantly NOW," creature we had known was transformed into a smiling, giggling and far more engaged little being. The difference was quite amazing. By nine months he was sleeping from 6:30pm until 7 in the morning--we were gobsmacked. Clearly this kid was a sleeper. Who knew??? Three years on, there is not one hint of the colicky manic little dude that sent my husband and I reeling. Instead we have the most gorgeous, sweet-natured, and funny little guys around (no, seriously, he is the MOST. 'k?) Why, only last night did he ask us who "King Blind" was. (after 1 spousal unit accused another, in a muttered undertone, of being "fucking blind." Uh, yes. Time to clean it up. We know.)

So now I sit here with a new little shrimp in my belly, and while I in no way feel like I have it all figured out, I sure as shit will not be the psychotic baby-manual reference librarian I was before. And if I am--Permission to shoot? Granted.

39 comments:

Kristen said...

Pure perfection, my dear Joy. I loved that.

You're going to laugh a little because I have his Attachment Parenting book, mainly as a way for me to feel better about when we co-slept with Q for awhile when she was not sleeping. I was trying to convince my husband that perhaps it was okay for her to sleep in our bed for a little while so we could get some sleep that was NOT in a chair.

However, the ideals these people (er, MEN) write about are so stressful - I think even more so for academics and intelligent women who want to do right by their kids and well, do their research. I held myself to such a high standard that it nearly drove me bonkers.

I remember my good friend (sans kids, but a child dev. specialist) was like - "If you are crying and stressed about her sleeping in the crib, why not just let her sleep in the bouncy seat..." - and from that point on, I just threw those damn books and did whatever worked. Fussing, some crying, and whole lot of trial and error.

I'm so glad you posted this!

ozma said...

Yes, to EVERYTHING. Dr. Sears enraged me from the start, while I was pregnant even. (Not as much as the "What To Expect" books. I almost had to arrange a ritual burning of those to exorcise my rage.)

Then, of course, after I had my baby I was much more vulnerable to that bullshit. (I had the super happy, etc. baby but then I was freaking that I could only screw her up if I made a mistake.) The solution to my guilt was to chuck the primary caregiver bullshit and realize that she is attached to a number of caregivers (and fortunately, to Daddy as much as to Mommy). I can't see how this has been anything but good for her.

I never could ferberize too well though. While I was pregnant, my husband and I laughed ourselves silly about the craziness on message boards about 'CIO' and the horror and trauma it caused. (That was one of the symptoms of pregnancy. I used to get punchy and laugh until I couldn't breath. Or I would cry.) One woman actually said she thought the reason her teenager felt insecure was that she let him CIO! The idea was that 14 years later, those 2 nights will rear their ugly head and explain every possible problem a person might have.

Still, I couldn't handle hearing her cry. Her crying (rare as it was) traumatized ME. I'm pretty sure it didn't have any longterm effects on her.

In other words, I loathe Dr. Sears' ideology but I did do many of the things he claimed we should do. (This is one way his ideology is clever--by masking itself as common sense.) For the first 7 mos. or so I was always with my baby. I coslept and breastfed and yadda yadda yadda. Still I know lots of people who didn't and my daughter doesn't have the confidence in her ability to put herself back to sleep that I'd like her to have and I strongly doubt that if I'd given her the same love and attention and security and done things differently, it would have made a huge difference.

OK, I wanted to give a deep analysis because the whole thing is so obviously ideology and so clever in the way it targets our fears and so forth but I have to run, to go WORK. While my baby is at DAYCARE.

Thanks though. Great post.

Mom101 said...

Epic and awesome, as expected.

In fact I think I recall first bonding with you over some sort of I Hate Sears posts on one of our blogs. Every time I look in that book, every damn time, there is something that makes me feel crappy. I had to read Michel Coen's New Basics book at 38 weeks, just to talk myself off the ledge that Sears put me on.

Meanwhile, I can't believe I haven't added you to my blogroll yet. I'm so bad with that. Consider it done.

sunshine scribe said...

Great post. Well said.

I was "blessed with one a high needs baby too". I hate sugar coating!

Any book that makes you feel guilty or feel judged is not okay. AT ALL. Especially one written by a man.

Kim said...

OMG, this post so rocks and I stumbled upon it on accident. I'll be sure to add you to my must reads and plug this entry on my blog because this has been an ongoing theme.
While quote on quote I practice attachment parenting, I also believe that the advice from so called experts is just stressful and detrimental to women. And some of the "theology" behind it and how if we don't do this or that will damage our children is just unreal.

Her Bad Mother said...

You described my experience perfectly. (Although, like Kristen, I too kept going back to Sears for confirmation that I was not mucking things up by co-sleeping and feeding on demand).

I was a *freak* about the books. Took notes. Ain't nothing worth doing that you can't study for, right? Wrong. I wasn't happy until I followed my gut and tossed the books. And then just followed my gut.

This was going to be a part of Bland Ambition II - I'll have to defer part of that discussion back to you!

MrsFortune said...

Wait, you're pregnant!!! Congratulations! Gah, how did I miss that???

I have never read anything by Dr. Sears and I don't ever plan on it.

A few years ago someone told me they were doing "attachment" parenting and I was like, what other kind is there? Duh?

The ONLY child-rearing book I've read or owned is that "happiest baby on the block" book, and it's not really dogmatic in any terrible sense so I'm okay with it.

neva said...

joy! what an amazing post. it took me two days to finish reading it, but wow! amazing! (it only took me that long because i wanted to make sure i read every word...)

okay--not that you've asked, but here's my take on all that crap. oh wait. i just said crap. heh heh. well? that's what i think of this sears guy. he's full of crap. needless-to-say, i'm glad you came to your "senses" and followed your gut, because in the end? that's what parenting is all about. what your "gut" says is gonna work for Y.O.U.

my first child was jaundiced, and they took him off breast milk after 4 days (that's what they did 25 years ago) imagine my chagrin at trying to "express" my giant milk-laden boobs several times a day, only to have him refuse my nipple once the doc said i could start breast-feeding him again. oh well. he went on a bottle. not only that, he went on soy milk (something about projectile vomiting that made regular milk a bad idea...) he gained weight like a sumo wrestler, and started sleeping through the night at 8 weeks. no muss. no fuss. no colic. (not only that, but, with the bottle? daddy got to share in the "mid-night feeding fun". bonus!)

boy #2 was breast fed for... 4 days (hey, that's all i gave the other boy, i didn't want to play favorites here... and i figured as long as he had his colustrum, all would be well). he also drank soy formula...started getting some "runny" rice cereal at 4 weeks, which is also when he... started sleeping through the night. seriously. from 7pm to 7 am. he's was a month old.

the only parenting classes i ever took were in college, and i took those to ensure i didn't do a mind-fuck on my kids (my mother was an alcoholic and verbally abusive with me and my sisters...). other than that... i did what made sense. after both kids were born, i basically went back to school/work, mostly so i could maintain my sense of "self". and yes, i did feel guilty... sometimes i still do. but i also know i had a right to take care of myself--because, i couldn't very well take care of them without "me", y'know?

as i've said before, as long as your children know they hold your heart in their tiny little clutches... nothing else matters.

i'm no perfect mom... trust me, not by a long shot. still, i do believe that love/compassion/communication are the building blocks of any solid relationship, and, armed with those tools... how can you fail as a parent?

trust me, shit happens, even to the "best" mommies. but guess what? this is no contest. there is no right way/wrong way. there simply is what there is. i think you are not only wonderful/loving/intelligent in your approach to your life, i think you are brave. and my hat's off to you, darlin', cuz in my book, you ARE the ideal! : D

** by the way? i also ran 3-6 miles a day through both pregnacies... not something i'd necessarily recommend for most moms-to-be, but, i will say this: as i exercised, i noticed both babies "slept" a lot in-utero... which sure made it easy to "bounce" 'em to sleep after they were born! (oh, those bouncing baby boys!) on the other hand--i never "wore" them after they were born! (not that i didn't hold/carry 'em lots 'n lots 'n lots, mind you...) i guess i'm old, but i'd never heard of that concept until i read your post! (it wears me out thinking about carrying my kids more than i did, however, especially since they were both so big!)

[sorry this is so dang long...]

Michael said...

I am a SAHD and parent in a way that is largely consistent with what Sears has to say but came at it independently and did not even know attachment parenting was such a thing. Sears’ books were of some help to me in that they gave some validation for what felt relatively instinctual to me. I just wanted to mention that I recently read a blog entry that made fun of attachment parenting and criticized it from a very poorly informed position and was very aggravated by it. I think your blog on the other hand has made some very valid criticisms not necessarily of AP methods but of some of Sears’ ridiculous and often inconsistent claims. Thankfully most of the people who get interested in AP methods are smart enough to take some very good things from it but still rely on there instincts for what works well for their child and themselves.

debbie said...

excellent. isn't it funny how so many of us have gone through the exact same thing? ah, the bonds of motherhood. heh. i must confess, though, i only bought the sears book 'cause i liked the cover. i'm a sucker for good packaging! heh.

debbie said...

ack, congratulations!!! what wonderful news on number two...if you need any anti-dr.searsian advice on dealing with two, you k now where i am...

Elizabeth said...

The problem I have with Attachment parenting is that there are some babies, like my daughter, who just want to be left the heck alone. She does not want to be rocked, or held, or walked around, or carried in a sling. When she is tired, she wants to be laid down in her crib, usually awake, and will lay there watching the mobile and then fall asleep. Sometimes, when she starts fussing, and we know she's dry, fed and warm, we let her (gasp) keep fussing until she tires out and falls asleep. Because if we go in there and engage her in any way, she will want to get up and hang out, getting more and more crabby as she gets overly tired.

So in the eyes of Dr. Sears, we are damaging our daughter's psyche by letting her sleep in her own crib instead of in the bed with us, and by letting her hang out in her bouncy seat or swing during the day. How can one person claim to know what is right for every baby? I find it interesting that none of his claims are backed up by actual research. Thanks for the excellent post.

Chaotic Mom said...

I haven't been caught up in the feminism discussion until this post. THANK YOU! It was long and WONDERFUL. I don't even know what to say, you've done an amazing job with this topic. Your other commenters had great things to add, too. ;)

weaker vessel said...

Even though I know mothers, esp. first-time mothers, latch on to any system as a kind of mooring in the storm of new parenthood, I abhor fundamentalism in all of its ugly manifestations. Good job, joy!

zeldafitz said...

SING IT SISTER. Thank YOU. That's a brilliant post and I could not agree more. I think our moms really do hold some excellent kernals of wisdom. My mother kept telling me that babies are "little creatures of habot" and they rely on consistency. HELLO! I also really truly think the heart and truth of the matter is all these new "teachings" de-emphasize a mother's need for sanity, in thr form of time alone and sleep and rest, etc. Parenting alone without any bells and whistles is an act of selflessness all on its own. It doesn't need any neo-organic hype to make it MORE of a selfless act. My favorite piece of BS was a friend of mine saying she had read birth can actually be akin ot an orgasm.

Mmm hmmm. Sounds like a man thought that gem up too.

Rock on!!!!!!!

gingajoy said...

dear all, a mighty thanks for these comments. this post was a big one for me, so to see such detailed responses is really gratifying.

i do think that a lot of what Sears presents as doctrine of the *right* way comes to many of us as natural. but sometimes, when those things don't work (or backfire) we have to try other ways that feel right to us. and we have to trust ourselves in that.

for any attachment parenting folks out there, i'd like to emphasize that i have absolutely nothing against pretty much any of the techniques Sears advocates, and most of them have entered into my parenting repetoire at some stage. for me it is not about this, and more about the judgemental dogma that accompanies it.

thanks all!

shannon said...

Just wanted to say amazing post! It's such hard work making sense out of all the information that's available and so easy to feel like you're doing something wrong. I like how you broke it down for us. :)

Kim said...

Like Elizabeth I had a child that just wanted to be left alone. In fact he cried himself to sleep until nearly 2. He just did. Nothing was wrong. If you tried to hold him, he would scream worse and worse. We found out that he had sensory issues later on and were told that our holding him and forcing him to be in the sling made him worse, that was why he was bucking us so much. I felt like a failure though because I had this baby who didn't like my parenting ideals.

supa said...

fantastic post. i caused myself a lot of trauma and heartache trying to adhere to dr. sear's imperatives. i called him nasty names and wrote several posts about how crappy his book made me feel. I think babyhood is a spectrum, and while the AP stuff worked well for Owen as a newborn its usefulness wore off as he grew.

now that i'm not wallowing in new-mommy paranoia and fear, i can see how manipulative and judgmental some of his stuff is. but when i was lost and alone and looking for help, and that's all I found -- well, it made me feel like crap. I'm still resentful, obviously.

krista said...

I did enjoy that. Thanks.

I read Dr. Sears. I like him better than most parenting book authors. But i hear everything you said and can't say I disagree with any of it.

lildb said...

I came SO close to setting the hateful Dr. Sears books that I possess on fire, and would have if my partner hadn't started behaving as though I was on the verge of doing something fairly crazy. So I stopped myself just before dousing them with lighter fluid. I can't seem to get rid of the damn things, though; I refuse to send them anywhere in the world where they may be read by some poor, easily misled new momma, who will then be tortured by their contents for any length of time. But since burning them seems out of the question, I suppose I could throw them away, but what if someone were to "rescue" them, and then the torturing would commence anew? I couldn't live with myself. So here they stay, hated objects that I eye balefully in passing. And Gingajoy, ginormous kudos for saying (most of) the things I've wanted to for months about that bastard's ideologueing. Rarrr. I mean, thank you.

Amy said...

OOOOOOh that nasty Dr Sears. Someone gave me that book when I was in the throws of nasty PPD after a really hard delivery via emergency C-section and his whole bit about having a small window to really bond with your baby and hold them after the birth made me cry and cry. My husb told me to throw it away. Congrats on #2- I'll be reading along- I've been contemplating #2.

Anna said...

Maybe the problem is "attaching" (heh) ideology and dogma to something like parenting. I don't know about anyone else, but for my "high needs" baby, what worked for first three months (nursing to sleep, co-sleeping part of the night) DID NOT work after that. I read all the books I could get my hands on for sleep solutions, breastfeeding, solid foods, etc, and finally came to the conclusion that all they could provide was opinions and suggestions (and in some cases, statistics), and I had to use my common sense and knowledge of my child to figure out what worked for HER. Go figure, kids are different!

Anna said...

Maybe the problem is "attaching" (heh) ideology and dogma to something like parenting. I don't know about anyone else, but for my "high needs" baby, what worked for first three months (nursing to sleep, co-sleeping part of the night) DID NOT work after that. I read all the books I could get my hands on for sleep solutions, breastfeeding, solid foods, etc, and finally came to the conclusion that all they could provide was opinions and suggestions (and in some cases, statistics), and I had to use my common sense and knowledge of my child to figure out what worked for HER. Go figure, kids are different!

Anonymous said...

I appreciated this post. As a man, and father of two daughters, including a very difficult eight-week-old who's been a far greater challenge as a newborn than our firstborn (and the firstborn wasn't easy), I find Dr. Sear's dogma on the "high-need" baby frustrating -- mostly, because it seems to almost completely overlook the needs of the parents.

If a 'high-need' baby pushes hard, hard, hard, and never seems to stop, it wears down the parents psychologically and physically, potentially to the point where the demands become so extreme that could backfire on the baby (Dr. Sears says high-need babies always get their needs met, which makes them happy. Of course, if the parents are unhappy, then no one's going to be happy).

Basically, Dr. Sears includes essentially nothing about specific coping strategies for parents of high-need babies -- just go to it and answer every 'need,' even if it takes out the parents in the process, he admonishes.

My other primary critique of Dr. Sears is the way in which The Baby Book, for the most part, literally writes fathers out of the picture. Illustrations of mom with baby outnumber those of dad with baby about 8-to-1, so too do the number of pages devoted to mothering vs. fathering. Or, for example, in a section of the book in which he focuses on how babies match up with "parents'" personalities, Sears abruptly goes from talking about "parents" to addressing mothers only. There's nothing at all about different father personality types matching up (or perhaps clashing) with babies' personalities.

Unfortunately, in this regard Dr. Sears is not unusual. There's almost nothing out there that addresses, in a systematic and deep fashion, the needs, concerns, questions etc. of dads who want to play a large role in raising their babies. The dominant message (including the message in "The Baby Book" that is "written by a man") is that dads are, at best, peripheral in, and at worst, essentially unecessary, to the raising of babies.

That's too bad, because it makes things very difficult for dads like me who don't want to be relegated to the periphery, and who could use could, specific advice on how to handle the difficult challenges posed by a 'high-need' baby.

On a sociological level, it seems to me that the categories of man and woman need to be broadened so that, for example, women are treated fairly and with respect in the workplace, and so that men are given a real and meaingful place in the raising of children, especially young children.

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Anonymous said...

First of all I'd like to say that it doesn't appear that you've actually read the Attachment Parenting Book very well, and if you feel you have read it through you probably shouldn't admit it, because Dr. Sears very clearly indicates in all of his books that there are no yes and no's, that you are not a bad parent if you don't practice attachment parenting, etc. Furthermore, Dr. Sears even states in his "Fussy Baby" book that there is no rigid "yes or no" to whether a baby should ever cry it out, but he does say, and I agree, that our job is not to stop the baby from crying, just to respond to the crying. He indicates that with all babycare, we should give the baby as much as he needs, but not to the extent that we wear ourselves out. This is the reason that Dr. Sears receives so much criticism, because people don't actually take the time to read what he has to say, instead they look at the 7 foundation blocks that might possibly foster a connection between parent and child, and they either feel guilty because they did not do those things (which is not his intention to make people feel this way, and he admits that he did not do these things with his first three children, and they are fine), or they may be too lazy to fulfill their job description - respond to baby's cries. He specifically mentions that it is not a good idea to jump up at every whimper, especially not with anger or anxiety, and that if you are feeling angry, over sleepy, or beyond control, you should either get help or let the baby cry. He says that if you resent anything you should change it, and that what baby needs most is a happy mother, that means, take a shower, even if baby cries, get some sleep, even if baby cries, etc. Now I want to make a special point for you because I think you may be misunderstanding Dr. Sears all together. I have a 6 and a half month old baby who, in the first 3 months, acted like yours. He was difficult to breastfeed because for some reason he cried at the breast, he didn't like the confinement of any type of baby carrier, he didn't want to be put down, he didn't want the person holding him to sit still, and he didn't like to go to sleep at night, not in a crib anyway. I came from a divorced family where I was spanked and there was lots of anger. Sometimes his crying made me feel angry. I felt like I needed help in order to be the type of mother that my son needed. I wondered why his crying bothered me so much, and that I couldn't leave him crying, I always wanted to comfort him. So I looked for help, and I came across Dr. Sears' books. Dr. Sears' advice saved my life and has brought me closer to my child. I began to wonder who ever made the silly rule that babies had to sleep alone in a crib anyway? What was wrong with them needing us? We are their parents? The fact that they can't walk demonstrates that they should be held, and if we have other things to do, we should wear them. But then- I couldn't get him to like the sling. I kept trying it, day in and day out, I said to myself, if he is going to cry while I try to take care of myself, it is better for me to be present then for me to leave him alone, it's okay for him to cry in my arms, but it is not okay for him to cry alone. Now I am the only person I know whose baby sleeps at night. He goes to sleep easily and only night nurses, but he does not have to be comforted back to sleep. I wear him every day, I wear him while I eat, I put him in his megasaucer while I take a shower. When he was younger, he would not have accepted the megasaucer, now that he has been carried and worn so much, he wants us to put him down sometimes. For the first three months, I rarely went anywhere because I couldn't stand hearing him cry in the car seat. I could have taken everyone else's advice and just let him cry there, but instead I found out what soothes him at home, and brought it to the car. It was my own voice. A tape with my voice on it. Dr. Sears let me know through his books that it was okay if my baby was still crying, that I was not a bad mother if I couldn't stop the crying, and that having the attitude of "stopping the crying" is unhealthy, it is better to have the attitude of being responsive. There may be a time when crying it out is the only option, but it has never been practiced in my home, and it always seems to me that I have the "fussiest" "highest need" baby alive.

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Anonymous said...

I've been feeling very similarly to this about the Dr Sears books. I think that one Major thing he misses is that an overtired or exhausted baby has a very difficult time effectively emotionally attaching to his parents because he Just Needs Some Sleep. And some babies, mine included, are too overstimulated by rocking, etc., to either fall asleep or stay asleep for any useful length of time.

MorganMoon said...

I just read your post after reading Cynthia Eller's article on the same topic in the brilliant Brain, Child Magazine. I'm an 'AP parent' but I've always felt slightly uneasy about Dr Sears...something about his tone just didn't sit right with me. Your blog has articulated these problems for me and helped me to realise I was bordering on becoming dogmatic... I also had a hard time reconciling some of the ideas of AP with my feminist beliefs. Fortunately I have a couple of friends whose babies DO sleep in cots and cannot settle by being rocked/slung etc, they need to be put down, and this has opened my eyes to the fact that babies are individuals and need parenting suited to their own temperaments. Because my own baby was a so-called 'high needs' baby, I found that attachment parenting methods worked for us, and co-sleeping was our saviour. But I think there are huge problems with inducing guilt in mothers for not following some prescription to the letter. And as a former academic who's studied anthropology, I always was suspicious of the 'this is how natural parenting happens' idea. Thanks for putting it all so well!

talynch15 said...

That reflection reeks of bitterness. There is a reason why Dr. Sears is an expert at the subject. He can put things in practical language and influence people to parent in the most effective ways, while maintaining flexibility if it doesn't work perfectly for your baby. As a child development instructor and parent myself, the materials that Dr. Sears has constructed are effective and mostly right-on. It just appears that when people are frustrated that one particular theory does not work for them, they throw it out and call it crap. Well, unfortunately, there is a best way to do things, and a series of alternative methods that are pretty effective and work per the child. The concept of attachment parenting has been proven in neurological research to create the strongest brain development, not to mention that children develop better as the parent is right beside them. It might cause mom and dad to slow down a little bit and make some significant decisions regarding schedules. In our culture, we just like to pass babies through this stage with as little fuss as possible, getting frustrated the whole way through. We will send them off to nannies for hours and hours, let them stress out and not comfort them. Well, this lack of attachment will show later as the child grows. Trust me...I see it every day in the children I work with. Parenting is stressful and so difficult, it's almost as hard as having a strong marriage, but I suppose if we don't put in efforts at developing a strong marriage, then our parenting skill and desire will likely follow suit. Whether people like it or now, Dr. Sears attachment theory, read with patience and persistence, is the best material available.

talynch15 said...

On another note, it is said to hear moms say, "Dr. Sears makes me feel so crappy." Is that Dr. Sears' fault or our own, for being so sensitive as to blame other people for believing and implementing his strategies and when they don't work getting upset at someone else. For more information on attachment read - Clinton and Sibcy "Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do."

Anonymous said...

Everyone PLEASE remember, Dr. Sears, who had the benefit of nannies, etc, was/is SELLING/endorsing the products he tells guilt ridden new parents they NEED to be good parents/follow his ideology--the sling, the co-sleeper. I find this a very obvious conflict of interest and immoral. This is the most despicable thing-he, who has the benefit of money/mentions nannies in his book, is judging others, to make them feel guilty, so he can get them to buy his products so he can make more money!!!

Anonymous said...

I wish I had read your blog before I had my baby. I depended on Dr. Sears and felt awful when I couldn't hold my baby the way Dr. Sears said I should. Needless to say, Dr. Sears will be gathering dust on my bookshelf when our second baby arrives.

Kristine said...

I love what I've heard from dr. sears so far, and i don't use cio unless i feel there is no option (like i'm doing something for the house or my other daughter, or driving). every once in a while you can let your child cry by him/herself, but for the most part it's not right, especially for extended time periods and especially at very young ages. what some call "independence" as a result of cio, i call a sad baby who has learned his cries won't be responded to. there's a reason a baby's cry upsets its mother...to answer them!

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is SUCH an old post of yours... but 4 years later, it still did me so much good to read it. Thank you and your commenters for letting me know that I am not the only one who is not picking up what Dr Sears is putting down.

That guy is a master manipulator and he gives me the creeps. His best ideas are the ones he's stolen from generations of common-sense moms and dads and his worst ideas are psychological atom-bombs that tear at the parental psyche with death threats and guilt. Shame on that guy.

Oh, and his failure to understand the scientific method would make me terrified to let him treat my kid for an ingrown toenail.

Amy Kristo said...

I am so happy to have happened on this post! It's nice to see I'm not the only one that feels Dr. Sears' books are a sort of psuedo-religion that can instill guilt onto any non-adhering parents. I bought his baby book and the What to Expect First Year, thinking I'd use his more. But, after finding it wasn't so much a guide as an instruction manual, without key information I sometimes wanted, I've shelved it and switched to the more "mainstream" What to Expect (which, ironically, I hadn't expected).

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Darwy said...

I personally loathe Dr. Sears due to his misguided and misleading vaccine book, so it doesn't surprise me that his 'attachment parenting' premise is a bunch of hooey as well.

All my kids had their own beds/cribs/bassinets and LOVED sleeping in them. You could drive a lorry through their rooms and they MIGHT roll over.

The best kind of parent is one that can get the sleep they NEED (if not the amount they WANT) and have an avenue to relieve their stress when necessary. You can't have a happy child when both parents are strung out, stressed out and beating themselves up over a perceived 'poor parenting episode'