Review of “The Man Who Remade Motherhood”

See Part 1 of my Time Magazine Series here. Coming soon… my own response to attachment parenting, and my personal view on extended breastfeeding. I apologize in advance if there are any formatting issues on your browser. WordPress, once again, is not cooperating for me between my editing page and when I click “publish.” I promise I really do know how to start a new paragraph.

Welcome to Part 2! (Finally!) I know I’m slightly behind the TIMES (haha, get it?) by writing my review of Time Magazine’s attachment parenting article a little late- but what can I say? I’m mothering a toddler. However, I feel that its important for me to respond. If you missed getting a print copy, you can read Time’s article called, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” written by Kate Pickert, here on Time’s Website (you’ll need a subscription to do so).

Summary

The article opens with Joanne Beauregard’s personal story of motherhood. She had quit her job to focus on becoming pregnant, had a natural home birth, nursed “from sun-up to sun-down” (wait, I thought all babies ate like that!), and co-slept. She went on to tandem nurse when she had a second child, and never left her children with a babysitter except “when she was in labor with her second child.” This mom is described as someone who strictly adheres to attachment parenting.

Pickert says that the foundation for attachment parenting is the principle that mothers and babies are meant to be close to one another. She goes on to say that “the practicalities of attachment parenting ask a great deal of mothers,” describing breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, and avoiding “crying-it-out” as rather high standards for parents to follow. Pickert notes that attachment parenting is debated to be at odds with feminism and with women in the workforce. She also expresses concerns that attachment principles could be enough to push any mother into guilt, fearing that “any time away from their baby will have lifelong negative consequences.”

However, Pickert made sure to clarify: “It turns out that many of Sears’ views are less extreme than his critics (and even many of his followers) realize.”

Pickert goes on to describe some of Sears’ and his wife Martha’s childhoods. This section serves to put a personality behind the face of the famous pediatrician. It also lends understanding of how the couple’s past experiences helped to influence some of their own parenting decisions.

Some of the Sears’ background includes having eight children of their own (one adopted, one with special needs), four hospital births and three home births, Bill’s training as a pediatrician, and Martha’s experience as a nurse. They had seen easy babies and difficult babies. They had personally witnessed unhealthy consequences of extreme crying-it-out, and observed that keeping babies close and calm helped them to remain more content.

Another of Sears’ major influences on his parenting style was a book entitled The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedhoff. This book described the author’s experience in the Venezuelan jungles. She said that the children there were carried most of the day, and they cried far less than their Western counterparts and were generally better behaved.

Pickert makes sure to clarify that controlled bouts of crying associated with sleep training haven’t been shown to affect brain development negatively, and also points out that its not whether you breastfeed or formula feed your infant that determines whether they’ll be well adjusted- it’s whether they feel loved and cared for.

Pickert says that attachment parenting is now spread widely throughout our culture, whether or not we are pro-Dr. Sears. She declares, “Parental common sense has a way of evolving, usually in a reactionary way.” She hints that attachment parenting was primarily born out the Searses’ reactions to their own childhoods.

Pickert says, “Although Sears’ guidelines for round-the-clock maternal devotion have drawn ire, it’s hard to argue with his overall message that babies who are cuddled feel secure. He surely deserves credit for promoting breast-feeding and the idea that the bond between mother and baby is critical. At the same time, though, his homespun language and sometimes vague or contradictory statements can muddy things, leaving mothers to overlook the nuances and take an all-or-nothing approach.”

Pickert expresses concerns over women who may try to meet the attachment parenting “ideal,” but feel as though they are inadequate for one reason or another. She says that these mothers “suffer from what two New York City parenting consultants call ‘posttraumatic Sears disorder.'” Pickert says that Sears has made it a point to stress balancing mother’s and babies’ needs in his most recent books to correct this misunderstanding of his stance.

Towards the end of the article, Sears gets a bad rap for “shades of sexism or naiveté” in his chapters on working moms. Pickert oversimplifies Sears’ message when she states, “Alongside advice about balance, the Searses also suggest mothers quit their jobs and borrow money to make up the difference.”
Pickert makes sure to include some standard journalistic juice with information regarding Sears’ messy desk and home. She even delves into the Searses’ range of income sources through the discussion of his various endorsements, sales of “attachment-parenting paraphernalia”, and the for-profit “Ask Dr. Sears” website. I brush this section off as the “dirt” or the “inside scoop” that all those magazines feel they have to include.
Pickert concludes the article with a description of Sears’ friendly office interaction with a several different patients, and finally his return home to his family. She gives the impression that family is most central for Sears, ending with the image of three generations sharing a meal together around the table.
Response
Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in the article. While “The Man Who Remade Motherhood” gives a general survey of Sears’s life and some aspects of attachment parenting, I felt it misses some major points and misrepresents others. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
First, Pickert fails to address the many longstanding parenting traditions that are similar to Sears’ principles, albeit a parenting style label. As I said previously, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping are practiced in many places all over the world. These are not strange ideas- it’s just that we in the US are unfamiliar with them. It’s a shame that Pickert hardly mentions the global and historical back-up for Sears’ practices.
Pickert generally represents attachment parenting as an extreme style throughout her article, when in reality Sears stresses to do only what works to create a strong bond for your family. One point that I really appreciated when I read The Baby Book was Sears’ emphasis on balance and his trust in parents’ intuition. He seems to believe in the individuality of families, and never prescribes his methods as The Complete Way to Parent, Without Which Your Children Will Become Hazards to Society. He says many times that his methods are meant to be “tools, not rules” to help parents and babies get to know one another better and create a strong early bond.
Interestingly enough, there are many moms (like myself) who find themselves somewhere in the middle. That’s not to say that some of Sears’ ideas can’t be useful! There’s no reason to assume that you either buy or reject attachment parenting as a whole package deal. While some mothers can certainly take an all-or-nothing approach, this can be said of any parenting style. It is the mother’s choice whether she will rely wholly on one outsider’s opinion or if she will take into account a variety of influences and find what works for her in her own family. Unfortunately, Pickert does not endorse the possibility of moderation.
I don’t appreciate the many criticisms of Sears’ view on working mothers. Sears actually provides a wide range of tools for weighing out what the right working situation is for your family, how to pick substitute caregivers, how to make the most of the mother/baby attachment even when the mother is working full-time, and various ways to save money to make it possible to spend more time at home. Yes, you can tell Sears leans toward encouraging moms to stay home. However, I don’t find him to be judgmental on the many moms who do have full-time jobs. Unfortunately, Pickert dismisses the wide range of options that Sears encourages parents to explore when it comes to working and parenting.
Finally, Time Magazine staged those parents who do practice the attachment theory as condescending towards families who do not. This mommy-judging, in my own experience, is not a phenomenon exclusive to any one parenting style, and it is unfair to point the fingers at one group of moms over another. On the other hand, there are moms within many differing camps who acknowledge the need for a multitude of parenting techniques in every mom’s toolbox. Every child and every parent is unique, and no book on how to raise your children has all the answers. (And you know what? I think most parents and authors will admit that!)
The cover mom, Jamie Lynn Grumet, said it well in her Q & A session with Time Magazine: “There seems to be a war going on between conventional parenting and attachment parenting, and that’s what I want to avoid. I want everyone to be encouraging. We’re not on opposing teams. We all need to be encouraging to each other, and I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at that.”
Thank you for that reminder.
What did you think of Time’s article on attachment parenting? Was it a fair representation? What was it lacking?  Do you agree or disagree with my points above? I appreciate your feedback!
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