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Dr. Sears on Ways We've Changed

A month ago, I snatched up an opportunity to chat with Dr. William Sears. THE Dr. Sears. You know, the one who, along with his wife, registered nurse Martha Sears, wrote "The Baby Book," which was pretty much glued to my body along with my first infant until I gained some actual experience -- and confidence.

Dr. Sears has been a pediatrician for 38 years. Pediatric medicine has become something of a family business for the Sears family. He's got two sons who also are pediatricians. Long before it was hip, Sears was a proponent of attachment parenting, encouraging moms to breastfeed, co-sleep and wear their babies.

So, of course, I had to ask: Has he seen a change in parents' attachment level to their children? How have we changed over the years? Here's what he had to say:

"Parents are more attached but challenges to be attached are greater. Today’s mother is much more savvy and much more educated about parenting. They are asking better questions. They’re challenging their doctors more. ... You see mothers wearing their babies in carriers and slings. They’re more connected. Having said that, the challenges are greater now. Mothers have much more time constraints and are spread so many ways."

Sears cited childbirth and breastfeeding as prime examples of our new connectedness. "When I started to practice, I was that crazy doctor who wanted mothers to breastfeed. Childbirth used to be the doctor taking the baby. Now moms say, 'I'm delivering'; 'I'm giving birth.' And they're "wearing [babies] instead of wheeling them."

"Nutrition is a big difference," Sears said. "Today’s moms are nutritional wimps. Older moms used to say: Here’s what we’re having."

Sears says he thinks parents are appropriately protective of their children. "I don’t think there’s an overprotectedness. There’s more today to be protective about. Playgrounds and streets aren’t perceived safe as much. They’re appropriately protective. Raising connected kids is just a big format of ours because the problems we still see in society is unconnected kids. Any way we can foster connection and promote attachment is the way to go."

How would you describe today's parents? Are we more attached to our children than our parents were? Are we appropriately protective or overprotective?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  October 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies , Relationships
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Comments


Never heard of Dr. Sears, but it is interesting that most of his quotes are about mothers...

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 28, 2008 7:11 AM | Report abuse

I too kept a Dr Sears book with me at all times for probably the first 8 months of my son's life. I can't tell you how many times I said, "Well, Dr. Sears says this and that's that." I breastfed, coslept, wore baby (still do for walks and such). DH really wore the sling more than I did - he's got long arms and could do stuff with it on where I could not. I think we are both "attached" to the kid and he is very affectionate and loving with us. Anyway, my opinion now is that Dr. Sears is right about a lot of stuff, but maybe not everything - for instance, we finally had to let the little guy cry some and put himself back to sleep so that we could all get some sleep.

Off topic - This whole pesky work thing kept me from checking back in yesterday, so I wanted to thank everyone for the suggestions about the food throwing issue. I think I *will* get some kind of mat for the floor and I also like the suggestion of saying no throwing and taking it away - I think we do that to some extent, but probably not consistently. And, I do think that it's a matter of playing and figuring out what he can control (like Mommy!?). I guess if he gets some food in the tummy, then we are probably OK. Thanks all! And sorry for the long post...

Posted by: VaLGaL | October 28, 2008 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Jezebel, if you knew Dr. Sears, you would not think it was interesting that he talks mostly about mothers. He is, after all, an OB-GYN as well as a pediatrician.

I read a lot of Dr. Sears' books, followed some advice but not others. I appreciate his views (and his wife's) on breastfeeding and nutrition, so-so on vaccines and some of the more extreme attachment parenting. We did sleep training, for example, but we also co-slept for months and months and "wore" our babies quite a bit.

On the protective vs. overprotective thing, I'd say as a society we're definitely overprotective. I try very hard not to constantly say "be careful" or worry about things that have a .05% chance of happening. It's hard, though!

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 28, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

I loved The Baby Book when my DD was an infant. It had so much useful information, although I was never as into attachment parenting as Dr. Sears recommended (sorry, but my kid was a bed hog.)

It seems like as a society, we're far more protective of our kids that we used to be. There are things that even my hyperprotective parents allowed that wouldn't be done today (riding in the way-back of the station wagon, leaving the kids in the car while running errands).

Posted by: newsahm | October 28, 2008 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I liked The Baby Book right up until Dr. Sears included information that is inaccurate and revealed his bias against birth control.

Breastfeeding cannot be relied upon for birth control, as Dr. Sears stated in his book, whether one follows "the rules" he states or not. My mother had her third child less than a year after I was born, and though I followed "the rules," I got my period two months after giving birth. (I knew better than to follow his advice, but pity those who rely on it!)

With that, he lost a lot of credibility with me, and I don't recommend his book as a result.

Posted by: owlice | October 28, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I haven't read Dr. Sears' book and don't agree with most of his theories. I didn't breastfeed, didn't cosleep, and didn't wear my daughter much at all. However, she's very attached to me and her father and very loving with both of us.

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | October 28, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I think we've become totally overprotective of our children these days. IMO, a big reason is the 24 hour news cycle. When something bad happens, we're bombarded with it constantly on TV, radio, the internet, and everywhere else. People have no context to understand actual risks.

Some things are defintely welcome changes, like seat belts, car seats, bike helmets, and such. But so much of it is totally unecessary and only serves to smother our kids.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 28, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

We were never huge fans of Dr. Sears and his books - nor was our pediatrician. Breastfeeding yes; DW nursed all four kids (for varying lengths of time). "Co-sleeping?" No, never. "Wearing your kids?" Not a big deal. Yeah we had a sling at one point but rarely used it; it made it difficult to get stuff done.

Hold the kids a lot when we were sitting down? Playing with them a lot? Sure, always, but some of his stuff was nuts.

Now that we're dealing with teens and college, I think I see way, way too much "parental attachment" to their kids. Let them grow; let them lead their own lives; let them be independent.

I used to teach as an Adjunct Prof at a local college; a friend of mine still does. He says that every semester, his Comp Sci 101 class (taught in a large auditorium) has at least a half-dozen parents sitting in with their kids. Sheesh - let 'em go!

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 28, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Gee, I have to say I'm disappointed. You had a chance to talk with Dr. Sears and instead of even just publishing the interview we get this precis. I will say that parents have been and always will be protective of their children. I happen to think that parents put their energies into the wrong things. They worry about abduction but don't require their kids to wear helmets. The worry about hormones in milk but don't use car seats properly. They worry about molestation but allow their children to randomly consume media w/o any critical thought about its impact. They get them a cell phone to be "safe" but don't keep track of who they are in contact with on the phone and the net. Its silly and misplaced really.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 28, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

I do think there have been changes in this generation in terms of parent-child relations. I'm suprised how much my girls share with me especially the seventh grader. I see many more tight mother-daughter relationships and mostly of a positive sort. I have no plans to accompany my children to college (!) but I do enjoy hearing about my daughters' experiences, worries and opinions. I have no recollection of having those kinds of conversations with either of my parents until I became an adult. My parents, even my stay-at-home Mom, had their own lives and certain expectations for their kids and it didn't involve much conversation between generations.

Posted by: annenh | October 28, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Not a fan of Dr. Sears. His use of "attachment" parenting and theories rubs me the wrong way . . . like as if you DON'T do those things your child will not be bonded with you. Which is hogwash.

My child and I are very bonded. She is a happy, healthy thriving toddler who very much loves her parents. We meet her needs, dote on her, and love her beyond anything I could describe. And, we did it all w/o co-sleeping, 24/7 baby wearing and I did not breastfeed (for reasons not up for discussion).

If attachment parenting (per Dr. Sears' description) works for you, Great! But, if it doesn't, you can still bond mightily with your child.

Posted by: liledjen4901 | October 28, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I am disappointed in Dr. Sears. Statistically, children are much safer than they were 30 years ago. There are fewer kidnappings (plus the effective Amber alerts), playground injuries (how many of us were on slides attached to blacktop?), and even car accidents (looking at per-mile accident rates). Dr. Sears is speaking out of paranoia rather than the facts.

Posted by: mlscha | October 28, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

I think the theory we are most comfortable with is this: we as a society are cleaner and cleaner every generation. The proliferation of "antibacterial" products continues to kill "bugs" and make "superbugs" at the same time. Add to that the vaccines that we get that most countries don't. Put it all together, we have one super-strong immune system and hardly anything to fight. So the body starts to look at food cross-eyed and considers it a threat. So it's not that we are more hyper-neurotic and are taking food allergies more seriously than they need to be. It's just that with each generation, more kids are born that have them. Case in point, my family: my grandmother was allergic to dust and that was it. My father's generation has dust and one environmental (an animal or perhaps weeds or something). My generation has dust, and several other environmental allergies (animals, pollen, weeds, trees, grasses, etc.). My children's generation (my kids and my cousins' kids) all have at least one food allergy PLUS gobs of environmental allergies.

If your family is lucky enough to have escaped this trend, count your blessings. But don't judge the families who have to grapple with runs to the ER, painful epinephrine injections, and the very real emotions associated with your child clutching his or her throat and struggling to breath.

Posted by: trezvani | October 28, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I think the theory we are most comfortable with is this:

Posted by: trezvani | October 28, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse


Who is "we" and who made you the spokesperson?

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 28, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

He says that every semester, his Comp Sci 101 class (taught in a large auditorium) has at least a half-dozen parents sitting in with their kids. Sheesh - let 'em go!

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 28, 2008 9:06 AM

A friend of mine is a lawyer and she said her firm gets calls from parents wanting to know why their kids were turned down for jobs. I'm not sure what's worse - parents who think this behavior is okay or their kids who think this behavior is okay. I would've been mortified if my parents called a prospective employer like that.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 28, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I threw all the baby books in the trash. They had little more than common sense antidotes that addressed small parenting issues. About the only thing they accomplished was to make Ms Whacky feel guilty about not standing on her head to get the baby to stop crying, biting, sucking her thumb, or whatever.

Besides, for a dude, to consult a baby book is like asking for directions. Unmasculine to the max!

As for the parenting style we had growing up in our families compared with the parental units of today's kids, I think there are some significant changes. The most dramatic difference I've noticed is that of the parent's purpose for having kids in the first place. I think we are abandoning the family model where the mother and father are the authority, the child the subordinate, and the sole duty for parenting is to raise children to be independent, productive, contributing members to society.

As for me, I happen to enjoy raising my kids. I liked sleeping with them when they were babies. I liked wrestling with them when they were toddlers. I like helping them out with their chores and going shopping with the daughters. In turn, they read me the comics, pick out my clothes to wear, and they generally help me out with the day to day tasks necessary for a comfortable life. I look at it as teamwork, and yes, my kids are my friends, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 28, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

The most dramatic difference I've noticed is that of the parent's purpose for having kids in the first place.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 28, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

LOL! Your "birth control" method is "pull and pray".

"I look at it as teamwork, and yes, my kids are my friends, and I wouldn't want it any other way."

What will you do when the kids leave the nest and the "team" disbands? Do you have any adult friends now?


Posted by: jezebel3 | October 28, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

As a family physician who practiced in the same community with Dr. Sears, I can say that he provided valuable lessons for all of us. We did have different views on some of the specifics. For instance, co-sleeping was controversial. But his emphasis on having the baby with you during the night led us to emphasize the importance of having the baby at your bedside rather than in the next room where it could "cry it out" at night. On the other hand, we all emphatically agreed on the importance of breast feeding.

Dr. Sears made it clear that health care professionals needed to look beyond the mere science of medicine and provide more support for the family unit.

Posted by: dmccanne | October 28, 2008 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"I think we are abandoning the family model where the mother and father are the authority, the child the subordinate, and the sole duty for parenting is to raise children to be independent, productive, contributing members to society."

Call me old school - that's still my family model and I'll never abandon it.

Whacky, I like a lot of the stuff you post, but this one is just, well, whacky.

I'm not supposed to be my children's friend. If after they're independent, productive adults we can develop more of a friend-like relationship, that would be great. But that's not my priority.

For what it's worth, I'm far more involved with my kids than my father was, but that's largely attributable to his military service. It was really hard for him to be involved if he was in Vietnam or Korea and we were in Denver; or if he was suddenly ordered out into the field for a month at a time. He was pretty good when he was home, but he was gone a lot.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 28, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"I'm not supposed to be my children's friend. If after they're independent, productive adults we can develop more of a friend-like relationship, that would
be great. But that's not my priority."

I like to think that my priority as a father is to provide the essentials for my kids, and teach them to know love and serve God through the way they treat others as well as themselves. If they grow up knowing that they are loved, they will have a pretty good chance of leading a happy, fulfilling life.

Turning my kids into widget makers is a secondary priority, and I don't see the point of waiting untill they are independent to form a personal relationship with them. Sounds like a good way to miss out on a lot of good, wholesome family fun.

I know several parents that have special needs children. Some of these kids, through no fault of their own, will never be productive enough to live independently. I wunder what the priorities are for the parents of these kids?

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 28, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

If they grow up knowing that they are loved, they will have a pretty good chance of leading a happy, fulfilling life.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 28, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse


Evidence?

Posted by: jezebel3 | October 28, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Whacky,
"I like to think that my priority as a father is to provide the essentials for my kids,"

I agree

"and teach them to know love and serve God through the way they treat others as well as themselves."

Certainly laudable. We try to do that, too.

"If they grow up knowing that they are loved, they will have a pretty good chance of leading a happy, fulfilling life."

I think that knowing they are loved is a necessary but not sufficient condition. They also need the skills to earn a living of the type that they want.

I tell my kids that it's not all about money, but money is necessary for a lot of the things that it is all about.

Or as somebody once said (sorry, can't find the source): "Money is like manure. Put it in a big pile and roll around in it, and all it does is stink. But spread it around carefully and wisely and it leads to great returns."

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 28, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

jezebel, although I've seen teenagers overcome family adversity in many different forms, generally the kids that have been abused/neglected/hated aren't members of the happy crowd. The prisons host a high concentration of these unfortunate folks.

But if you are looking for evidence, you'll have to search on your own. I'm too lazy to google it and post a link to a study that supports my theory.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 28, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

jezebel, although I've seen teenagers overcome family adversity in many different forms, generally the kids that have been abused/neglected/hated aren't members of the happy crowd.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | October 28, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Your kneejerk approach to parenting comes with no guarantees, either. It sounds like you are trying to somehow remedy your unhappy childhood and adulthood through your kids. Does that sound healthy? It's a balance - LOL!!


Posted by: jezebel3 | October 28, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

fr dennis5:

>A friend of mine is a lawyer and she said her firm gets calls from parents wanting to know why their kids were turned down for jobs. I'm not sure what's worse - parents who think this behavior is okay or their kids who think this behavior is okay. I would've been mortified if my parents called a prospective employer like that.

Oh, you and me both, Dennis! Helicopter parents are those who never want to let go. Baby birds leave the nest. Why can't these parents realize this?

Posted by: Alex511 | October 28, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

"Your kneejerk approach to parenting comes with no guarantees, either"

Parenting comes with no guarantees, period. Kneejerk approach or otherwise. We all do the best we can, according to our experience and personality.

And frankly, I don't see AB's and WW's approaches as being mutually exclusive or even contradictory. You can have a loving and friendly relationship with your children and still raise them to be independent, productive, contributing members to society. I don't see why it has to be an either/or proposition.

Posted by: emily8 | October 28, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

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