Dr. Sears Comments on TIME Magazine’s Attachment Parenting Cover Article

by Guest blogger on May 17, 2012

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Guest blogger Dr. Bill Sears shares his thoughts on the much talked about TIME Magazine Attachment Parenting Article, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood.”

Hello parents!  The cover was risky but a brilliant hook by Time Magazine to attract readers, and they achieved their goal.  The writer, Kate Pickert, herself a new mother and one of Time’s most diligent writers, sincerely wanted to increase awareness of the Sears’ family contribution to parenting and family health.  She lived with our family for two days, followed me in the office, and spent hours with me on the phone in an attempt to be factual.  While the cover photo is not what I or even cover-mom Jamie would have chosen, it accomplished the magazine’s purpose.  And, as some attachment dads observed, finally a magazine displays a woman’s breast for the real purpose for which they were designed – to nurture a child, not to sell cars and beer.  Cover-mom Jamie is a super-nice person and highly-educated in anthropology, nutrition and theology.  I enjoyed the several hours I spent with her family and her kids shined with the social effects of attachment parenting.

Even though I’m used to being misunderstood and misquoted, as is attachment parenting (AP), I had a few concerns.  AP is not extreme.  It’s very natural and instinctual.  It’s the oldest parenting style in the world.  Nor is breastfeeding three years extreme, at least throughout the world.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends for optimal health children be breastfed for at least two years and sometimes recommends three years.

Another misconception was AP is difficult for the mother who works outside the home.  It’s just the opposite.  Women are the greatest multi-taskers in the world.  AP, modified to the parents’ work schedule, helps busy parents reconnect with their child, which actually makes working and parenting easier.  It’s attachment moms that forged the long overdue workplace-friendly breastfeeding-pumping stations and laws which respect and value the ability of a working mother to continue part-time breastfeeding.

Regarding the science criticism, it’s impossible to scientifically prove by a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized study (the gold standard in science) that AP works better than a more distant style of parenting.  You would have to take a thousand mothers who practice AP and another thousand who don’t, and see how their kids turn out.  What parent would sign up for such a study?   Yet there is one long-term effect that science does agree on: The more securely-attached an infant is, the more securely independent the child becomes.

I’m disappointed the article did not pay more attention to the bottom-line of attachment parenting: how AP children turn out – and that’s where this style of parenting really shines.  In my 40 years of studying the long-term effects of what parents do to help their children turn out well, AP kids generally are more: empathetic and compassionate, relate better to people, are easier to discipline, and are just nicer to be around.  When I walk into an exam room in my office, an AP baby, like a little sunflower, naturally turns toward my face and lights up.  I’ve yet to see an AP child be a school bully.  On the contrary, they are the ones who try to comfort a hurting child.

Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation.

Over my years of mentoring attachment parents, the main two words of feedback I have heard is empowering and validating.  My “helper’s high” file is filled with thank you letters such as: “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for validating what my heart and gut tell me is right.”  “Thank you, Dr. Bill, for empowering us new parents with your personal experience to help us enjoy our children more.”

As an investment banker dad once told me: “AP is one of the best long-term investments you can make in giving your child a greater chance of growing up happier, healthier, and smarter.”  Aren’t those the three main qualities we all want for our children?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy May 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

I’m thinking that most people aren’t upset about the whole attachment parenting but are more upset about the actual picture. Parents have the right to choose how they raise their children & if they choose to breastfeed their children til 3 than thats they’re right…but I personally find this cover disgusting…that child was put in such an unnatural pose…and more than likely there were several people around him making him feel like he was some type of entertainment. Had they sat this mother down in a chair, cradling her son, which is how the majority of moms breastfeed, than I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t have been such a stink about it. But Time magazine knew that wouldn’t get the attention they wanted so they did what they thought would….and they didn’t care if they exploited this poor child or not. Sad!

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Kayla July 31, 2012 at 10:00 am

I read an article on kellymom.com that interviewed all four mothers who posed. It speaks about their experience in the studio. Not only was it a comforting enviornment without many people, it only lasted a few minutes, and most of the photos are of the boy sleeping whilst breastfeeding and being cradled (TIME online uses one of those pictures). The reason you think it looks unnatural is because that photo wasn’t planned, they were moving around and it was an outtake.

And the standing on the stool wasn’t an issue for most of us who breastfeed toddlers. Most of us have done it and they specifically said the reason was to show breastfeeding a toddler is different than breastfeeding an infant.

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Laurie B May 17, 2012 at 10:35 am

The only thing I don’t like is the way Dr. Sears always calls AP “instinctual.” No, it isn’t for everyone. For example, many people would intuitively assume that if you hold a baby too much, he won’t become independent.

At the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, keepers are now bottle-feeding and hand-rearing a baby snow monkey born last month. No monkeys in the troop have reproduced before, so the mother had not observed other monkeys raising their young. You’d think animals would have the right instincts, but she was neglecting her baby. He would have died if the keepers hadn’t stepped in. My point is that humans and other primates need to learn from good examples in our communities–we don’t all have great instincts about child-rearing magically implanted in our brains.

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Stephen July 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Maybe the monkeys are stressed because they are in captivity. Stressed animals often abandon their young.

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Wendy May 17, 2012 at 11:19 am

I can’t speak for other moms, but AP felt very instinctual for me. I found myself doing it, and then found it out that it actually had a name. I love that Dr. Sears points out, above, that AP does not exclude work-away-from-home moms. I work more than full time and have a long commute, and I’ve found cosleeping, full-term breastfeeding and other AP practices extremely helpful in keeping a close connection with my son. I don’t think I could have done it any other way, and I truly appreciate Dr. Sears’ specification that he’s offering tools, not rules, and that AP is adaptable to each specific parent/child set.

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Dawn May 17, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Attachment parenting makes so much sense to me. When I was a new mom, I was looking for a style of parenting that also suited my natural tendancies as a mom. Attachment parenting means being there for your child, nursing if you can, and giving your baby the attention he/she needs. It’s all good! While I would not nurse a child till age 4, and I was not able to co-sleep with my baby (just couldn’t relax with baby sleeping next to me), I think Dr. Sears is on the right track. I’d encourage any new parent (or old parent!) ;o) to read a couple of his books (The Baby Book; The Discipline Book) to name two that I really like. Thanks

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C how May 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Wow, that is moronic! Of course all animals are instinctual! Those apes were more than likely born and raise in captivity so their instincts are muted if not irraticated completely from the mere fact that they were not raised by their own kind in the wild. When something is told, shown, or impressed upon you by an outside source – that of course has no true knowledge of what they’re impressing upon, ie, men throughout time telling women how to rear a child – then for some reason as a society (and sex, meaning women) we believe it. Our society dictates to most of us what we should do and how we should do it – a form of brainwashing almost – and men rule our society, so I disagree, any woman with half a brain who listens to their heart, and follows their instincts will know if you hold a baby “to much” it WILL become independent.

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Jeanne @soultravelers3 May 17, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I am a HUGE fan of attachment parenting, child led, long term breastfeeding and did it with my child, but I thought this cover photo was sexualized, inappropriate and invites controversy and polarization.

Who would EVER breastfeed a child like that except to create a cover that would shock and disgust most of the American public?

Our child is now 11 and attachment parenting, family bed, long term …child led weaning etc were the best decisions we ever made and has helped our family and child thrive. We’ve been traveling the world non-stop for the last 6 years and think it also helped in keeping us all happier and healthier.

I hope the article is better than the horrible cover. You’d certainly never know the mother was highly educated in anthropology, nutrition and theology. Why didn’t they show her in a comfortable, intimate setting with her husband nearby? That’s more the normal pattern of long term breastfeeders at this age ( who are usually only doing it at nearly 4 at bedtime or awakening or when sick or injured).

The sexy cover with a large male child on a stool plays into all the negative stereotypes from people who know nothing about the benefits of breastfeeding or bonding.

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ank June 2, 2012 at 1:30 am

I like your reply!

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Angi May 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Laurie, I disagree. Maybe some parents don’t find AP instinctual but I think that the idea that we shouldn’t hold our babies too much is a concept that many people have been trained to believe. Babies are born helpless, they need someone to attend to their needs, not just for food and warmth but for comfort. The more time a mom (or dad) spends skin to skin with their baby, the more their natural instincts will come out. I have many moms in my new parent group who feel guilty about letting baby sleep on or next to them or wonder if their feeding/holding/picking up baby too much. This is not because their instincts tells them it is wrong, its because society tells us that to make our children independent we have to train them from a very young age to soothe themselves. This idea conflicts with the parents own desire to hold/feed/comfort their babies as often as necessary. Independence grows out of trust. Trust is developed by meeting our babies needs, not putting them on a schedule or training them to self soothe. If we look at more traditional societies, I think we will see that AP is the style of parenting most basic and we have come a long way from that in our two-income, gadget-obsessed world. Yes sometimes it is necessary for both parents to work but it is important to keep in mind what is important. Parents spend too much money on parenting books and baby gadgets too keep baby from needing them. (Train them to sleep alone, play alone, self-soothe, etc.) Baby gadgets, bottles, binkies, vibrating chairs, swings, baby monitors, etc. do serve a purpose but we must remember that these are substitutes for real human touch and interaction: breastfeeding, holding, rocking, carrying, and attentive parenting.

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Jenn June 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I think that you are arguing the same point as her, actually…. in her post she specifically said that we need to see better role models in our society, parenting in a more natural way, for it to become instinctual again. She was saying that many people have ‘lost’ their instincts in a sense, because they aren’t exposed to ‘instinctive’ parenting styles anymore…..

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jarrah May 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I don’t think they intuitively assume that if you hold a baby too much, he won’t become independent….I believe they’ve heard it so much that it has become ingrained. I also think there could be other factors in why the snow monkey mother did not instinctually care for her baby. Most notably that she is in captivity and she probably doesn’t have a hope in hell of progressing naturally and holding on to what should come instinctually to her.

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Michelle May 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Laurie B,
I think your point is interesting, and I do think that primates need to learn from good examples in their societies. But what if the examples have not been good? Such as the notion that holding a baby creates a less independent baby? Don’t you think that people feel this way because of the examples in their communities? If you were not influenced and thought about what actually feels right, I can’t imagine that anyone would feel that a newborn baby is better off left alone. I think people just are more in tune with what they hear and see rather than what they actually feel. I think this is what Dr. Sears is implying by saying it’s an instinctual thing, AP. I know for myself I literally felt sick hearing my baby cry. I also did not have a lot of family around influencing that feeling. I also really did feel that my baby needed to be next to me when sleeping. I could not sleep if she was in another room and I couldn’t hear her breathe. It felt really wrong to take a baby, that just spent 9 months inside of me, in a dark, warm, cozy space, and place her in a crib, alone. I do think I felt this way because of the lack of influence I had from other people who have been influenced for a long time by what authors have written in baby books, rather than what they actually feel. I feel as a society in general, we are out of touch with our feelings, and are more in touch with societal norms, and doing what everyone else is doing.
Snow mokeys evolved to live in troops. This most likely occured for a number of reasons but mainly because they live in cold climates and need other monkeys to huddle with to stay warm. It would make sense that the ability to nurse their young evolved as a learned behavior instead of an instinctual one. Traits evolve based on need and survival. Since they live in troops, their survival depends on other monkeys being around. This is what is natural to them. Instincts are inborn behaviors that are characteristic of a species. If you take a species out of it’s natural, evolved environment, you cannot expect them to do things the way they would naturally. For example, some animals instinctively hunt when in nature, but don’t when kept, and fed in a zoo environment.
I think All Dr. Sears is saying is that if women did not have tons of outside influence, family, friends, books, TV, etc, and were more in touch with how they felt, they would parent in a more attached way. I am not sure if he can prove this, but it has probably been concluded from 40 years of experience in hearing woman say that they felt better about what they were doing when living by attachment principals, rather than other methods of parenting that have been taught in the past, and have become extremely popular, like crying it out, and babies sleeping in cribs. This is not to imply that attachment parenting is for everyone.

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Emily May 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I am a huge fan of Dr Sears. As a single mother of a three month old, I was desperately searching for literature to validate my way of parenting, since I didn’t have a partner to bounce ideas off of. I found Dr Sears randomly and read all of his books. For me, the ideas resonated perfectly with my instincts and allowed me to embrace what I was doing and believe in myself as a mother. My son just turned two and is a wonderful boy. We still nurse, still cosleep and I generally get on the floor to discuss a problem at his level. I believe in AP totally.
That said, Laurie B, who commented above, is right. Not all mothers have the instincts for AP and many women are taught by older generations that such treatment of a child is actually damaging. Reading the Time Mag comments on the extended nursing cover, I realized how unusual AP is. Unusual and wonderful. Funny that Dr Sears mentions that AP is not extreme, that was my first thought when I read the Time article. AP extreme? It is true parenthood–an art definitely lost in our culture.
That said,

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sharon May 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I agree that for a lot of parents today instinct and parenting are alien concepts. I did attachment parent all three of my children beginning before I knew of Dr Sears or any label. I consider myself to be one of the lucky parents who still possess instinct and could no more leave my own baby to cry in a separate room as cut of my own arm. I get a strong physical reaction to their discomfort or distress and MUST act straight away. Many of my peers did not feel any of this and what I was doing was really alien to them. I also ran an attachment parenting playgroup and the parents who attended had come to the idea in numerous ways. Some like me had no choice in the matter but others had read widely and weighing up pros and cons had decided that this method would result in the happiest healthiest children. It does make me sad for humanity that many of us has lost this instinct but glad that even without it some are still choosing this lovely way to parent.

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ank June 2, 2012 at 1:25 am

Dear Sharon, how can you be sure that what you are doing is good for the baby? What you FEEL that is good is a result of your personal frustrations and needs. Maybe you are attached to your baby more than your baby wants to be attached to you. I am not saying it is so, i am just saying it’s a possibility.

Personally I think a mother and a father do not have to learn WHAT IS BEST FOR THEIR CHILD, instead they have to learn HOW TO TEACH the child about HOW TO FIND OUT WHAT IS BEST FOR HIMSELF.

When you jump to “fix” it every time your baby cries, you are training your baby like Pavlov trained his dogs. Your baby will connect whining with getting stuff he wants. Soon he’ll have wants too, not just needs, you know? How can he or you tell the difference between these? Will it be a competition of who knows best again, or will it be a competition of whose feelings are better or will it be a discussion between equals in which each learns and lets go of some prejudices?

Instinct is a bit overrated i think. Yes, it helps you against cutting off your own arm, but it should not prevent you from cutting what needs to be cut in order to result in the creation of the other person, the one you have given birth to. You want to stay connected to it longer when it exited the wound — is that your wish or his wish, how can you tell? I know for sure it’s your wish, but i’m not sure about the baby. My parents were so sure they knew what was best for me. Now you are so sure you know what’s best for the baby. All that changed is the theory. I feel the need to change something bigger, more important, more fundamental, and that’s my view about the baby, giving up seeing him as an incompetent not-yet-full-person, to a competent person, a foreigner who just moved into this world and whom I want to help stay alive and gradually learn to keep himself alive. One of the important tools for survival is knowing the imminence of danger. Which doesn’t mean we need kids to be anxious or hurt. It only means we have to expect also side effects of our parenting style no matter how brilliant it may sound to us at this point. There are side effects to everything. Even to love and attachment. I’d be less preoccupied with my parenting style, and more preoccupied with my relation with the children. I’m only wandering on such websites to send people home to their kids and tell them to stop wasting time here, building new religions, or get into serious discussions and debates that consider the pro-s and con-s of everything and teach everyone to think and feel and behave congruently. I know no other source of mental health than the simplicity of our beliefs. For a clear definition of simplicity please visit this site for example: http://www.christopherlay.com/s12humcore0404.htm Thank you for your attention and fr allowing me to express my view and concerns. Regards, Ank.

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sharon June 2, 2012 at 1:46 am

Thanks for your interest Ank,
My babies are now grown and as they grew I found that my instinctual ‘gut reaction’ to their distress naturally lessoned and I have had no trouble letting them make their own decisions and move through life in the way that suits them best. I am no by any means suggesting my parenting style is perfect or the only way but forcing independence on an infant before it is ready (and yes the cues are fairly clear when they need more space) is not only unnatural but is being found to be damaging to the brain and has implications for their mental health further down the track (do some googling).
As for sending people home to their kids, well I am home with my kids, they were just asleep ;)

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ank June 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm

All right, Sharon, i feel your empathy and tranquility, I have no doubt you are far more than just embracing an ideology. I really appreciate that.
Thanks!

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bornjoyful May 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I’d have to know more about how the mother monkey gave birth and whether she was left to feed and bond or whether from the beginning of labour she was watch and interfered with , the baby monkey taken frm her and weighed etc. From what is written above , it is not possible to conclude that the mother monkey had no instincts nor that the reasoning is that no other monkeys had given birth.

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ank June 1, 2012 at 10:04 am

If health organizations recommend things it does not mean I have to believe them. I can believe in WHO i want :)
If there is no research that demonstrates attachment parenting works I can think of at least two reasons. “Who would become part of such a study?” is not one of these reasons — because ten thousand families can take part in an inquiry about their parenting style and then according to their answers they can be split into control group and AP group to test the statistically significant differences between them. What concerns me is that such studies haven’t been made because it takes effort of mind to conceptualize AP in terms that can’t be misunderstood, that is: scientific well defined terms, operational terms that can be measured. Therefore, not making studies about this essentially leads to great controversy, and who started this controversy gets famous and rich because his books are sold to thousands of adherents for whom he sounds revealing, and even by non-adherents who need to read him before they can critically think about him. Just because it’s “old” doesn’t mean it’s good. Just because an expert says it, doesn’t mean it’s good. Just because millions feel comfortable with it, doesn’t mean it’s good. You see, crime is quite old, experts build environmentally destructive technology and millions of people smoke and take drugs. That’s why I don’t feel forced to believe experts, traditions and large numbers of people yelling out the same thing. And I don’t need a study either, not to raise my children anyway. All I need for that is empathy. This word fits in two centimeters, not in thousands of articles and book pages. But the willingness of some to research this topic would be beneficial not to convince us to practice AP, but for deleting our prejudices about it, as now we’re just a large bunch of hypnotized people.
Regards,
Ank

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Kristi June 14, 2012 at 9:09 am

I am another example of a Mother that believes in attatchment parenting and for me it was pretty instinctual as well. I didn’t even realize there was a name for it until recently. Just because Dr. Sears labeled this type of parenting does not make it new. I feel that it fits into authoritative parenting, which was named in the 1960′s, but existed far before that. There may not be studies that show AP as being better, but Psychologist do believe that authoritative parenting is best and in my opinion, they go hand in hand.

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Gennie Roussell July 26, 2012 at 1:19 pm

The article itself infuriated me. I thought the general tone was very negative and biased. I also think it took many of your ideas out of context and made them sound extreme. How unfair :-( I have a lot of respect for the ideas and information provided by the Sears family and my life as a parent has been much richer thanks to the AP philosophys we adopted. My son really is a very happy boy and when we do separate, he’s so confident I’ll return that he could care less if I leave! He’s so much more independent, healthier, loving, etc. I have truly grown with him and feel so bonded, a feeling that seems instinctual and so “right.” I wouldn’t trade our relationship or practices for any other. Choosing not to return to work and maintain our mother-child bond to the fullest extent did make things difficult financially, but with some creativity, I figured it out. And in the end, I would rather be poor financially than emotionally. Our kids are only children once! When I did squeeze work into our lives, it led to some very funny stories which still make me laugh! My fiancee and I worked opposite shifts to avoid leaving the baby and one time our shifts overlapped a couple of hours. So there I found myself, selling mattress toppers with my sleeping child hidden behind my display with me! I didn’t get a call back for that temp agency and I’m going to guess they saw the stroller via the in-ceiling cameras, but…oh well! Life is what you make of it and my heart often aches for the many people who just do what everyone else around them does. We broke the mold and it’s extremely gratifying :-D

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