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The Not-so-extreme Side of Dr. Sears

Photo credit: Leslie Bird

When the recent Time magazine issue that asked “Are You Mom Enough?” and the article that sought to answer “why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes — and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru” was first brought to my attention, my response was actually “Yes!” As a resident of crazy Los Angeles, I have met plenty of extreme parenting philosophy followers and I have always maintained that the actual founders of some of these philosophies are not nearly as fanatical as their minions.

I was lucky enough to get a chance to chit chat with Dr. Bill himself, and if you’ve ever dealt with the hardcore faction of AP or guilted yourself for not being the perfect parent and following his philosophy to the letter of the law, you might be surprised by what he has to say.

After a couple of minutes of idle chat where I told him about writing a chapter in Sippy Cups Are Not For Chardonnay that discussed Attachment Parenting and bringing up my love for Real Housewives of OC (hey, he lives there) I got down to it:

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor:  First off, I agree with you on a lot of points. I had a tough childhood and always knew I wanted to parent differently than I was parented. I stayed home from work for the first year because my mother worked and went to school full time and the effects of that have reverberated through my entire life. But I wasn’t able to breast-feed and I felt horrible about it. What do you say to a person who agrees with your philosophy but can’t follow all of your basic tenets?

Dr. Sears: This is why we came up with the 7 Baby B’s [you can find these on Dr. Sears’ website]. They are tools not rules. You take as many tools as you can with the resources you have. I can’t breast feed but I can wear my baby more or I can respond to my baby more. I wasn’t breast fed. I was bottle fed. I turned out okay. Also with our adopted baby she was the first formula fed baby but it didn’t agree with her so we had donor milk. This is an option for today’s mom. There are many way of meeting your babies’ needs.

SWT: What do you say to the extremists who have taken your basic philosophy but distorted it and made it an all-or-nothing proposition?

Dr. Sears: We’ve been very misquoted and misunderstood. Our goal is to convince moms and dads that this is a long-term investment. Our attachment advice is a way to give mothers back parenting experience that the years of detachment advice has taken away.

SWT: Such as Dr. Ferber? Although I also think Ferber has been misquoted and distorted. I don’t think letting your kid cry for ten minutes is going to hurt them.

Dr. Sears: Dr. Ferber and I actually trained at the same place. But what Dr. Ferber should have said wasn’t, “Put your baby down, don’t rock your baby to sleep, ignore your baby’s cries.” No one should give advice like that. The only person who knows their baby’s cry is the mom. Dr. Ferber hasn’t had a lot of babies. I’m talking with over 40 years of experience as a baby watcher.

SWT: So what about this quote from the article about a woman practicing AP parenting: “There are no date nights. Joanne doesn’t get away for afternoons to have lunch with her girlfriends. In fact, the only time Joanne has ever left either of her children in anyone else’s care was when she was in labor with her second child.” What’s up with that?

Dr. Sears: That is extreme. The last Baby B is balance — knowing what to give to your baby and when to find balance. They are not following the Baby B’s. We’ve evolved. 10 years ago we put in Beware of Baby Trainers (these are people who encourage sleep training, and putting babies on rigid schedules like Babywise). Then we added balance for the mother you mentioned. Baby needs a happy rested mom, baby needs a happy couple as parents.

SWT: So that woman is taking it too far?

Dr. Sears: This is why we put in balance! Both parents can help. I tell fathers to become an attachment dad. I was the token male on the View and I told them men can nurse. The women looked at me funny, but nursing means comforting.

SWT: But you know that a whole bunch of women are going to start making their husbands nurse using those little tube milk delivery systems because “Dr. Sears said it!” right?

Dr. Sears: (laughs) That will be another one of Dr. Sears misquotes.

SWT: Okay, think quick! To a woman who says, “I’m having trouble co-sleeping at night because my child is kicking me in the head repeatedly” how do you respond?

Dr. Sears: If you don’t look forward to going to sleep because you view it as work rather than rest, take that as a clue that you need to make a change.

SWT: That sounds so balanced! I have always used your philosophy but very loosely. My first daughter slept in bed with us a lot early on, but once she was too restless she moved to a crib. But she still crawls in bed with us in the wee hours of the morning pretty often and she’s seven. The twins slept in cribs early on and liked it that way. They can’t really fall asleep in our bed and believe me, we’ve tried.

Dr. Sears: Again, the Baby B’s are not rules. They are supposed to be helpful to the mother and baby to achieve a close attachment. If baby sleeps better in the crib, then that’s the right arrangement for you. Wearing your baby is supposed to be for the comfort and ease of mother. If you don’t want to wear your baby don’t wear your baby. You can do other things to achieve closeness.

SWT: Okay, lastly I need your thoughts on the ExerSaucer — you know that big plastic saucer you can put a kid in to play? These things were like crack to my babies and saved my sanity many times over. Are you for or against?

Dr. Sears: If your baby loves it, I think it’s great.

I love this guy! Isn’t this what we’re all really trying to achieve? A close bond with our baby and some much needed sleep and a shower. Can’t we all just get along?

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