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
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.