Dear Dr. Sears,
I've been wanting to write to you for over 7 years. I have a bone to pick with you and now the time has come. It's time for us to break up, Dr. Sears, and I can confidently say: it's not me, it's you.
I became a brand new mom at the tender age of 26. I studied up and prepared and birthed my baby the "right" way, in a tub full of water with a nurse midwife on a sunny Sunday morning. I loved her fiercely. Then I bought your big purple Baby Book (at least it used to be purple). With all it's talk of instinctual parenting, it spoke to me. It became my lifeline. It helped me understand my baby's "nursing personality" (I know I'm not the only one who remembers The Gourmet and The Nipper Napper). It reassured me when my baby cluster fed all night with reminders about regularly scheduled growth spurts. It praised me for holding my baby close in a carrier. It told me how much Tylenol was safe to give my teething 10 month old. And it gave me the rules for safely sleeping together and soothed my new mother nerves when my baby rejected the Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper that I had dutifully obtained. In fact, that co-sleeper was where the big purple book lived for at least a year. In arm's reach, indeed.
At that time. my family was solidly lower middle class. We had a huge mortgage payment and rather small paychecks. So, 3 months into parenting, despite the implication that "real" Attachment Parenting mothers stay home, I became a working mom. I nursed in the morning and I toted my Medela and my bag full of pump parts to the office, making milk for my baby on conference calls and business trips. I instructed various babysitters on the art of folding the cloth diapers I bought secondhand, and how to warm the BPA free bottles I ordered from a ridiculously overpriced website. I came home and wore my baby in the Ergo while we made wholesome dinners and later organic homemade baby food, and I nursed her to sleep in the family bed. I played by your rules as I understood them and tried my best to do it all. I was the self-sacrificing Mother archetype, and I didn't even know it.
I read in your book that holding my baby close would foster attachment, that sleeping with her would make her independent, that this would create a strong bond and make her feel secure. And always - always! - the promise that someday soon all of this would make her ready and willing to sleep on her own. I repeated this to myself when she refused to sleep anywhere but on top of us for the first 6 weeks. I repeated it when she woke every 45 minutes for at least the first 9 months her life. When she cried for hours on end and refused to take a bottle from the carefully selected babysitters. And I repeated it as she approached her 1st birthday and started waking for long periods of time in the dark of night to play and poke us in our bed. I grieved her babyhood when, just after her first birthday, I found myself pregnant again and had to nightwean her for my own sanity and survival. We still played by the rules though; her father slept beside her, and I nursed her through my pregnancy and well beyond.
My baby grew. Once she figured out how to walk from her room to ours, a nightly routine started that (with little variation) holds true to this day: a long bedtime ritual where we sit nearby so she feels safe, then she's up around the time we are ready for bed and we do it all again, then she's up again sometime in the night. She wakes up every morning in our bed but has anxiety and separation issues by day.
I felt sure I must be doing something wrong. I followed your baby manual to the letter of the law and still my baby was anxious and crying and sleepless. I toted her around to chiropractors, craniosacral therapists, and homeopaths, looking for the key to unlock the secure and independent child you told me lies within babies that are parented this way. I deeply internalized that I must have done something wrong, because the payoff you promised never came. Your method was failing me.
A few years later, there was a day when I talked to you on the phone. The organization I worked for wanted you to speak at a conference, and it was my job to call you. I set aside my pump parts (for my second baby this time) and dialed your number. Occupying a space in my mind somewhere between celebrity idol and neglectful mentor, it was all I could do to not angrily confront you or tearfully beg you to help me. I had not slept through the night even once in more than 3 years.
You made my young self a promise, Dr. Sears. You told me that if I followed your Attachment Parenting guidelines, if I met my baby's needs before my own, if I was a full time breastfeeding/co-sleeping/cloth diapering/babywearing mother, and an attentive wife, and achieved at my full time job - if I could only figure out how to be as good a woman as you describe your wife Martha as being - the payoff would be mine to enjoy. My baby would be happy and secure by day, and sleep peacefully on her own at night. It's been 7.5 years and I'm done holding my breath. I'm done.
So I am breaking up with you Dr. Sears. I am breaking up with you, and your whole family of baby rearing experts, your rules, and your implied vision of what a good mother - and an attached child - should be. Your books are full of empty promises, they paint a picture of a mother that few if any women I know could live up to. And they neglect to mention that children are born with personalities and quirks and issues that do not grow directly from their early parenting, but instead these qualities make them uniquely themselves. Your parenting philosophy left me physically and emotionally exhausted from striving to fulfill a fantasy of the perfect mother that it took me years to realize was just that: a fantasy. I've grown into my mother/woman self and I've decided instead to be a real world mother, a feminist mother, a working mother, and a woman who speaks her truth about life and parenting, and creates space for other women to do the same. And I've decided to raise a real child: a wickedly smart, fantastically creative, painfully sensitive, paralyzingly anxious, real girl child who will someday (if she chooses) become a real mother herself, whatever that means to her. Because parenting is hard, but living up to societal ideals and archetypes of The Good Mother is impossible.
- Marissa Potter