Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I don't hate Dr. Sears

As anyone involved in parenting politics knows very well, Dr. William Sears is what might be called the grand-daddy of the attachment parenting movement--the guy who came up with the term, set out the central ideas and has a (vast) library of attachment parenting books, all to be found at a bookstore near you. As such, he is a divisive figure. Some people love Dr. Sears. Some really, really hate him. Some of them even write articles on why they hate him, like this rather wonderful piece by Cynthia Eller in Brain, Child magazine, which lays out the familiar charges against Sears and the attachment/natural parenting movement in general: sexism/misogyny, bad science, exhaustion, guilt trips, "noble savage" bullshit and all the rest.

Looking at Eller's article give me food for thought. Do I hate Dr. Sears? I mean really... actually hate him? Hate is a strong word. Would I wish him off the face of the earth? Honestly, it's a good--and complicated--question. Would I prefer to live in a world in which Dr. Sears and others like him had never existed?  For that matter, just what sort of parenting world would we be living in if ol' Bill Sears (and his ilk) hadn't Shown Us The Light with his parenting books and patented ring slings?

Anyone perusing the contents of the posts of my blog would probably guess (correctly) that I am largely sympathetic with the contents of Eller's article. Let's see, there's an article which I say some rather snarky things about baby led weaning, there are a couple of posts on nightweaning (of a baby under 12 months), Why I Like Nursing Covers, a thing where I say that I think that eating your placenta is kind of gross, a post about why I'm continuing to breastfeed my child after 12mo (but in which I also emphasize that I think the arguments made in favor of extended nursing are overblown, and manage to get in a few digs at KellyMom)... you get the picture.

Here's the thing though: If I write a blog post about Why I Like Nursing Covers (or something), it's not particularly because I'm trying to get other people to use them as well... some people use the things, some don't, I honestly don't care either way. It's just that there are already approx. 3,987 breastfeeding-related blogs talking about why you shouldn't use nursing covers (or, at least, being pretty sniffy about them). There aren't too many in which someone says things like "Actually, I like nursing covers! I use one all the time!" And the whole reason I started the damn blog was because I felt like the world of breastfeeding blogs and forums was excessively skewed towards certain viewpoints/mothering styles and that there needed to be a bit more diversity in there (well, that plus I wanted an excuse to practice my HTML skills, but that's a side issue). Also, it's about finding your niche: it's funner to write a blog that is actually saying something a bit different to what the other bloggers are saying.

Now, the funny thing is that if you asked the people who know me in real life about what "kind" of mother I was (especially people from back in the UK), they would probably make some vague comment about the fact that Emilie is a bit "alternative"... because she is still nursing her toddler and she uses washable diapers and all that kind of thing. Because the thing is, in spite of all the bad science and silliness and self-conscious hipster bullshit, there are so many things that originated from attachment parenting/natural family living which have enriched my life and my child's, and made mothering a much more joyful experience. Here are a few.

  • Hospitals
    Some of us want to give birth naturally, some of us prefer a nice c-section with lots of lovely drugs (raises hand). But one thing we can all agree on is that lots of really, really positive changes came out of the natural childbirth "movement" which gathered steam from the 1960s or therabouts. Not just concerning the obstetric excesses of the earlier 20th century (routine forceps and episiotomies), but also the compulsory exclusion of fathers from labor wards, rigid four-hour feeding schedules and mandatory rooming-out of newborns. Some Japanese hospitals, by the way, have been slower to catch up with these trends; watching a friend of mine have her own breastfeeding experience nearly shipwrecked by her idiotic hospital a few months back made me realize afresh just how much I had taken for granted many of the things that lactivists talk about, and how thoroughly sensible and humane many (most?) of these ideas actually are.
  • Nice stuff, like slings
    I love slings. And so does Baby Seal. Babywearing fap is annoying--Baby Bjorns are evil, facing your baby forward will melt their brain, people who don't babywear love their children less than I do, all babies love slings and if your baby doesn't it's because you're Doin It Rong, etc., etc. Slings themselves are not annoying; they are fantastic and that's a fact. They are cute, they are fun, they are practical, they are cuddly. And if it weren't for Dr. Sears (who sorta started it all with his patented Ring Sling) and the rest of the AP/NFL thing, we probably wouldn't have these things to enjoy, and that thought makes me sad. Okay, strictly speaking I suppose it might be possible to wear a baby in a sling even if Dr. Sears and the AP/NFL movement had never existed, since it's not like these parties actually invented slings or anything. But you know what--they have sure done a hell of a lot to popularize them, make them available at ordinary baby stores, create enough of a market that there is a sling type to suit most parents and most babies, and make them common enough that you can wear one without being stared at as you walk down the street--well, unless you live in the middle of Bumf*ck Nowhere-ville, The Mid-West, possibly.
  • Breastfeeding revival; breastfeeding knowledge; oh, and nursing older babies can be nice too
    In the United States especially, breastfeeding really did fall out of favor in the middle of the 20th century, and a lot of knowledge was lost as a result. The natural parenting movement has played a huge role in creating textual and online resources that can help women to breastfeed. There are some less-than-stellar things about KellyMom (more on KellyMom in another post), but give Kelly her due: her advice about the establishment of breastfeeding in newborn babies--supply/demand, allow lots of time at the breast, check the latch, count diapers--has helped many women to breastfeed who otherwise would never have been able to share this interesting, special connection with their babies. Particularly interesting and special for me because Baby Seal will most likely be my only child (alas, alas), and I relish the closeness. And it makes me so sad to think that if it hadn't been for the example of other extended nursers online and in real life who have helped me see that nursing an older baby or toddler is not something "weird" or exclusively for women in developing countries, I would probably have weaned her by now and be feeling a terrible sense of loss... or perhaps, continuing to breastfeed and feeling dirty or guilty.
  • Joyless approaches to solid foods
    "Age: Five  months/Week 2/Thursday/11:05:26--Defrost 1.4 cubes of puree (comprising weird combination such as most people would probably choose to eat only in times of wartime food rationing, like lychee with courgette) and mix with 2.7 teaspoons of rice cereal. Feed it to your baby. If baby doesn't want it, play endless games of aeroplane hanger until you finally manage to get it into their mouth. HTH!!" OK, I may have mocked some of the excesses of evangelical BLWers at times, but I think we also have to remember that BLW probably developed in part as a reaction against bossy, guilt-inducing babycare gurus who made it sound as though dire things would happen if you didn't manage to get your child consuming exactly the right types of food in exactly the right amounts at exactly the right time. No, I don't think purees, spoonfeeding or cereals do babies any harm; but God, what an incredibly depressing way to think about food... which, after all, is supposed to be one of life's great pleasures.

I could go on.

Every now and again, I have to consciously remind myself that I'm in a privileged position in many ways, because I live in Japan. It's easy for me to roll my eyes when I see some mother online having a little white whine about how everyone thinks she's weird for nursing or using cloth diapers or whatever, and she feels so alone and judged and misunderstood in her parenting choices, and... But then, you know, I'm lucky enough to live in a country where nobody is going to look at you funny for using an Ergo, and nursing into toddlerhood while not exactly "mainstream" is common enough that you are unlikely to get any flack for it, unless you are going about it in a very extreme way (nursing your four-year-old on the subway etc. etc.). Every now and again, however, when I am talking to my own parents back in the UK, there are these weird little moments ("So.... how much longer are you going to nurse...?" "But you're weaning her off now.... right?") which remind me that a lot of what I am doing really wouldn't be considered normal in most parts of the west. So, no, I don't actually hate Dr. Sears. For what it's worth, Eller admits towards the end of her article that she doesn't really hate Dr. Sears either. For all the annoying excesses of the natural parenting/birth movement, we are all better off for living in a world where it exists and has made its mark and provided us with cool stuff, new ideas and above all, choices. It's possible--I think--to enjoy the cool aspects for what they are, without buying into some of the rather dodgy ideas which have got mixed up with them.


  1. Interesting post (as always - I really enjoy this blog). I agree that hate is a strong word, and I also agree that some of the things Dr. Sears brought into favor are good (big fan of slings and normalizing nursing over here...). But I can't forgive him for the judgment, patronizing tone, misogyny, etc. that he has brought into the parenting world along with the more positive stuff. I have to believe someone could've brought the positive aspects of AP into the public eye without starting the mother of all mommy wars...

  2. I don't hate Dr. Sears. I have, however, grown increasingly disgusted with him and his devotees (even those who claim never to have heard of him) over the years.

  3. You know, ladies, I do know what you mean. My feelings about Dr. Sears are complex. On the one hand, so many good things have come out of the movement started by him (see above). But then I see stuff like this http://ideas.time.com/2012/05/10/the-science-behind-dr-sears-does-it-stand-up/ and I get mad on behalf of mothers who have been made to feel like crap when they are stressed and vulnerable and desperate. Grrr.

    Oh, one more thing: Estherar, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MAINSTREAM PARENTING?? It was a great blog! You haven't any thoughts of starting it up again? If blogging feels like too big a time commitment, you know what, I'm pretty sure I could find some people who might be interested in joint blogging. All the fervor over the last few days about the Time magazine cover (FFF, loved your post on that BTW) makes me feel that now more than ever, we could really do with some more sane and sensible blogs on parenthood.

  4. Awww,thanks (blushing). What happened was that I got busy, and also around the same time developed tendinitis in my right hand that put me in a brace and curtailed my typing ability for several months. There also was a large explosion of rational parenting blogs at the time (several of which I'd linked to) so a lot of what I wanted to say was already being said. I have to admit that Darcia Narvaez and TIME's recent expose on AP have been tempting me to return back to blogging, though.

  5. I do love this blog a LOT!

    But, I can't give credit to NCBers when it comes to hospitals. Most of the best changes, that help the most moms, have little to do with NCB, such as: improved CS techniques and the availability of CDMR, improved epidurals and pain relief, better rooms that are more like spas, with TVs, wifi, room for husbands, babys rooming in by choice, and nice, private bathrooms. They might be going after NCBers with birth balls and jacuzzi tubs, squat bars, but those are of limited use for the majority. A few things are pushed by NCB, but are also pushed by health professionals, such as LC availability, skin to skin, kangaroo care.

    Women in general, and medical professionals specifically, have done the most to improve maternity carre, but like anything, obstetrics and hospitals have evolved along with society. The belief that patients should be involved, listened to, and that they are consumers to court, is common to all medical care as well as in maternity. Some things have changed due to improved research, done independently of NCB (like no routine episiotomies). Other things have changed just because patients demand better services, overall. (I don't see NCBers demanding TVs but we love them)

    Thinking that hospitals would be exactly the same as even 10 years ago, let alone 40, without NCBers is a mistake (Im not saying you think this, just making a point!). Even assuming they drove the changes we like is missing how all of healthcare has improved and become more patient friendly over the years. The marketing people may have taken note of the crunchy-trendy things and use them to look progressive, but that doesn't mean the evolution is due to them.

    I am confident we would have just as good care with no NCBers, and we would have the advantage of less
    guilt and the other negatives that are related to that movement.

    As for Dr Sears, he lost me with his deadly advice about PPD and his bad attitude towards women. That I can buy slings I like conveniently doesn't change his destructive attitudes that cause much heartache among women. Besides, we live in a market economy, more carriers were likely to occur anyway, along with the
    explosion of baby and child gear. The good parts of AP existed prior to AP but were claimed by them, so I don't think AP would be missed much either.

  6. I just discovered your blog and holy crap! I love it! And you're on Ravelry also? Even better. I seriously LOL'ed at your Mayim Bialik parody. This is such a nice refreshing change from all the hippy-dippy mommy blogs. Healthy skepticism and a sense of humor? Yes please.

    I have a Facebook friend who's very into attachment parenting, and of course, the attendant shaming of working moms like me who obviously don't love their children enough to stay at home with them and breastfeed them till age four. I kind of want to post the "Why I Hate Dr. Sears" article just to see what she says.

  7. "I kind of want to post the "Why I Hate Dr. Sears" article just to see what she says."

    DO EEET. If she has a right to post her views on childrearing, so do you... right? :D