That attachment parenting TIME cover

Annie Urban looks at how it’s so easy for the MSM to use the idea of attachment parenting to throw some fuel on the mommy wars:

A magazine cover showing a pale blond slim woman wearing jeans and a tank top (Jamie Lynn Grumet) standing next to a child's chair, on which stands her 3-year old son who is suckling at her breast (her top is pulled down just enough to allow his mouth to attach to her nipple)

Cover Text: ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH? Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes – and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.

As I wrote in the aftermath to my participation in the New York Times “Motherhood versus Feminism” debate, parenting isn’t something that is solely in the mother’s domain, but the way TIME and others construct these “mommy wars,” you would think that it was.

If we do not talk more openly and frequently about the role that fathers can, should, and often want to play in parenting, then we will not see the societal shifts that are needed to migrate away from the conflict that women feel between their careers and their families.

Choosing a parenting style, whether it is attachment parenting or something else, shouldn’t be something a mother has to do alone. If she does have a partner, they should decide together how to parent the child and both participate in the parenting.

Take-away bullet points:

  • Motherhood is not a competition
  • Does the media really understand attachment parenting?
  • What about the fathers?
  • We’re all doing our best

In the PhDinParenting post that pointed me to the above article, Annie mentioned a few other aspects of the cover that fired up her obstreperal lobe:

My head hit the desk. Not because of the picture, but because of the headline.Mom enough?

Driving mothers to extremes?

Dr. Sears as my guru?


This morning, I woke up to a request to be on live television on one of Canada’s major networks at 11:00am. As the day went on, I got more requests for radio shows, for guest blog posts, for quotes for magazines and newspapers, and even an invitation to be on a reality television show about “alternative parenting practices”.

I said no.

I said no over and over again, both because I had other commitments and because I’m sick of making what I think is a valuable contribution and then having an “extreme parenting” label slapped onto it[…]. I doubt [blogger and mother] Jamie Lynne Grumet knew she was going to be positioned as the poster child for a parenting movement that is “driving mothers to extremes” or that she’d be held up as “mom enough”, while the rest of the world is obviously not.

Annie doesn’t point it out here, but has anyone else noticed how keen the media is to cast any male author who writes a book about something affecting women as a “guru”? Instead of maybe just being someone who happened to write a book/books that some people find useful? FFS, a quick look at the wikipedia page for Attachment Parenting shows that while Sears coined the term for a developing body of parenting guidelines, he hardly came up with the ideas all on his own, which are based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology, an area of psychology to which there has been a plethora of contributions from many, many researchers and scholars.

I’ve never read a book by Dr Bill Sears myself (never even heard of him until this week), but seeing as how he’s apparently written dozens of best-selling books about parenting over the last 4 decades, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that he is an effective communicator of large chunks of complex information, and that his how-to books are nicely laid out in a chapter form that flows well through the progression of ideas, and that they are also thoroughly well indexed. This makes his how-to books useful. Useful how-to books get recommended to others, and passed on amongst circles of friends. This is basically the point of how-to books.

Writing a really useful how-to guide doesn’t make the author a guru or a prophet or any of those other judgemental words. If it did then authors of the First Aid Manual or the Model Airplane Construction Manual would be gurus, but I don’t see TIME suggesting that, do you?

Categories: ethics & philosophy, media, parenting

Tags: , , ,

9 replies

  1. Actually the guy who wrote the first aid manual was made a saint.

    St. John?


  2. Thanks for profiling my writing at Care2 and on my blog.
    I have read several Dr. Sears books and they are good as a how-to (to some extent) and as a reference. I loved “The Baby Book” for medical concerns with my baby, since he is a highly regarded pediatrician whose parenting philosophy vaguely resembles my own. So when my child had a fever, I looked in his book (or on his website) to see how to manage it and when to go to the hospital. If I was worried about my child being constipated, I looked to him for advice.
    But the day-in-, day-out of parenting, I didn’t need a “guru” for and if I did, it certainly wouldn’t have been him. He has some useful tools in his attachment parenting “toolkit”, but I see it more as a philosophy that each parent needs to navigate through for themselves, while listening to the cues of their own baby and also understanding their own needs as a parent.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Annie. You confirm my suspicions about why Dr Sears is held in high regard being nothing as woo-filled as being a movement’s “guru” – he provides concretely helpful information for parents who want to do things differently from the mainstream style of parenting.
      It reminds me of the way some of the extreme religious apologists misunderstand why many atheists value the books written by Richard Dawkins. He’s not a prophet any more than Dr Sears is a guru – Dawkins is a scholar , rhetorician and orator. He’s a very effective communicator who provides useful information about the philosophical foundations underlying the building of a personally meaningful life outside religious traditions, and also provides a useful reference for the logical counters to some of the most common rhetorical tactics in religious arguments against atheism.

  3. I think that is exactly what it is about Sears, tigtog, as well as he (and his family) being remarkably well-placed in terms of marketing (in this case themselves, as the embodiment of the practical application of a theory of human development). I found a lot of the Sears stuff amazingly reassuring in the early years, as I struggled to make sense of what I wanted my parenting and parent-child relationship to actually be, although the Wicked Fairy and I tempered much of the suggestions in their books with our own ideas about what was better for us (which the updated texts encourage, horrors! Totally strays from the Cult overtones of naysayers).

  4. It really does illustrate in chilling fashion how everything about birth and child rearing has been medicalised to the nth degree that there is such an outrage about families, and mothers in particular, listening to their babies and themselves and making their own decisions about what works for them.

  5. I think a lot of it is medicalisation and professionalisation (You need highly-paid nannies to tell you about The Naughty Corner!) – and that there’s also a really strong streak of being unable to see a parent-child relationship as anything but an oppositional one. Babies are “manipulative”, are always teetering on the brink of forming “bad habits”, need to be “disciplined”, need to be “controlled”, need to be “taught who’s boss”, and parents must avoid “spoiling” a baby at all costs.
    Collaborating with a baby/small child and listening to and respecting their needs must be wrong wrongitty wrong because children have no wisdom or knowledge, have no idea what they actually need, and must be constructed from scratch using a time-, schedule-, and detachment-based method. In this mindset, babies must be taught to eat, taught to sleep, taught “independence” (which for the most extreme proponents means insisting that there must be little or no parental contact for 10-11 hours overnight, sitting babies in a carseat or bouncer or cot all day except for timed scheduled feeds, and so on), or they the babies never ever learn these things “properly”. I think that many parents who practice more AP methods (of whatever “purity” level, feh) are pleased to find that the opposite can be true – these are, for many/most kids, basic developmental stages that just happen if a kid has a secure, consistent, loving base to work from.

  6. and professionalisation

    Yes, sorry, I didn’t mean to put the whole thing onto the medical profession. I meant it often starts with pregnancy and then just continues on. The parent as teacher thing seems to be well ingrained, regardless of the fact that with each child you are pretty much starting all over again with a completely new person with preferences already in place. Just as you can’t treat every student the same, regardless of whether you have been teaching for years or it’s your first time.
    I think it is often forgotten that babies have gone from an environment that is snug, climate controlled with food literally on tap, through a fairly big process whether plucked out via caesar or vaginally born, into a world where they are suddenly experiencing cold, hot, alone, hungry, tired, pooing, weeing, breathing and everything else all by themselves. It is any wonder that they want to be kept close to a familiar voice and heartbeat.
    I’m all for routines, and as children grow it is easier to guide them into routines that fit with the actualities of family life, but with babies you have to give a bit.

  7. I think that Time cover is a perfect example of how the Mommy Wars are created – not necessarily by mothers at all, but by outsiders playing ” let’s you and her fight”.
    Sears as a guru is utter nonsense from my experience – yes, he writes useful how to books, but attachment-style parenting tends to be transmitted parent to parent, particularly mother to mother, also now via blogs and web sites – but a distributed network of knowledgeable women is completely contrary to how Time likes to view the world.
    If my local ABA is any guide, the really popular “gentle” parenting how to books are by Elizabeth Pantley and Pinky McKay. And Sears is not, from memory, a particularly strong advocate of bedsharing – that would be James J. McKenna, who wrote an article actually titled “Why babies should never sleep alone”.
    I could rant for a long time about how attachment/continuum/biological/whatever-it’ll-be-called-next ideas about parenting are so totally at odds with Western culture that I should just stop this comment now.

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