Thursday, September 16, 2004

Son of pioneers

Second-generation Attachment Parenting activist Bob Sears circles the wagons
By Vesna Vuynovich Kovach
In Isthmus weekly newspaper,
September 16, 2004

Bob Sears, M.D., has a lot to live up to as a pediatrician, father of three and champion of the high-touch parenting style known as AP, or attachment parenting. After all, it was his own father, pediatrician and parenting expert William Sears, M.D., who coined the term in the early 1980s.
For the last three decades, Dr. Sears the elder, with his wife, Martha Sears, R.N., have promoted gentle – but intensive – child-rearing practices that turn much mainstream advice on its head.

Examples: Toddlers can breast feed until they self-wean. And the phrase “Let the baby cry it out” simply is not in the Sears vocabulary.

Now Dr. Sears, 35 (along with his older brother Jim, also a pediatrician), is taking up much of Dad's duties, including making public appearances, co-writing books in the Sears Parenting Library (a thoroughly revised -- and controversial -- The Baby Book was published in 2003) and keeping up Web sites like and

Bob Sears is coming to town Saturday, Sept. 18 as a featured speaker at the Madison Birth Center's second annual parenting conference. What does he have to say to local parents?

Vesna Vuynovich Kovach: What was it like being raised by the canonical attachment parents?

Bob Sears: They didn't really figure out a lot of the details of their parenting style until their fourth child [of eight], and I was number two. What had the most impact on me was watching them raise my younger brothers and sisters. Seeing the bond they formed. Seeing how happy the babies were.

VVK: What is the Sears tradition, and what changes have you made to your parents' message?

BS: It's basically summed up in what's now eight “Baby Bs”: Birth Bonding, Breast Feeding, Babywearing, Bedding With Baby, Belief in the Signal Value of Baby's Cry, Beware of Baby Trainers, Balance. The one that I added was “Both Parents.” That's really critical. That both parents not only agree with the parenting style, but are equally involved with bonding and attaching to baby. That helps you maintain balance. It helps you avoid mother burnout.

VVK: Have you seen AP affect parents negatively?

BS: Only when things are completely out of balance. Some parents will get a toddler who will nurse all night long, not just for weeks but for months. Dad needs to step up and start to “father-nurse”: to wear, snuggle, and rock the baby. In the early AP writing, that aspect was ignored. Mom was just an all-night buffet. And got no sleep. Once we identified that trend, we started to make additions to our sleep-related writing.

VVK: I was surprised by the mainly neutral attitude toward circumcision in The Baby Book. How does that square with your otherwise super-gentle approach?

BS: I am anti-circumcision. My kids are not circumcised. When I helped my dad revise The Baby Book, I noticed what you’ve pointed out. I revised it completely to be ... slightly discouraging of circumcision. We chose in this book not to come out against circumcision completely since we try to stay mainstream as best we can so we can include as wide an audience as possible. My article on comes out more strongly against it.

VVK: Some see AP as anti-feminist: an artificially intensified mothering style that infantalizes and enslaves women, with “babywearing” tethering mother to the child, co-sleeping robbing her of dignified, comfortable, adult sleep with her partner, and AP-style solicitude in picking up crying babies just going overboard.

BS: Their observations are correct in that AP tethers parent and baby together. The issue is, is this a negative thing or a positive? Shouldn’t feminists give each parent the freedom to choose just how attached they want to be? One of the main concepts of AP is that each parent chooses their own way of parenting. It’s about freedom and not adhering too strictly to any one written philosophy (even the Sears philosophy), but rather using your own instinctual philosophies to decide what’s right and what’s best for you and your baby.

VVK: Do you teach AP to parents in your pediatric practice?

BS: Usually people come to us because we share their natural philosophy. They're happy to read in the books that we'll support them in their choices.

VVK: Some say AP is just a fad.

BS: How long does a fad last? Because AP is how most of the world parents. In many countries in Asia and South America, most in Africa, most parents co-sleep, they wear their babies with them, they have the nursing for an extended amount of time, they carry their babies, they don't let their babies cry too much. That's been demonstrated by anthropologists. You can't call something that's been around thousands of years a fad. My parents started writing about it 30 years ago and it's as strong as ever.

Second Annual Madison Birth Center Conference
Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004
Marriott Madison West
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.

For a complete schedule and information on registration and fees: or 608-821-0123

Speakers include Dr. Bob Sears and Ariel Gore (editor, Hip Mama: The Parenting Zine)

Topics include Attachment Parenting, Parenting Teens, Natural Pregnancy, Mama-blogging, Postpartum Depression, and Sleep and the Family Bed. Childhood Immunization panel. Journaling workshop.

Activities for kids include juggling, yoga, West African drumming, and a concert by Ken Lonnquist.