One-Minute Book Reviews

June 3, 2008

Do ‘Attachment Parenting’ Gurus William and Martha Sears Make Berry Brazelton and Penelope Leach ‘Look Like Conan the Barbarian and Nurse Ratched’?

Filed under: How to,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:16 am
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Since 1992 more than a half million people have bought The Baby Book, the influential infant-care manual by pediatrician William Sears and nurse Martha Sears. The Searses recommend carrying an infant in a sling — ideally, for “many hours” a day — as part of an approach to child-rearing that they call “attachment parenting” or “high-touch parenting.”

That approach comes under blistering fire in The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women (Free Press, 2004), a witty and irreverent critique of the unrealistic and guilt-inducing demands made on contemporary mothers, by scholars Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels of the University of Michigan and Smith College. Douglas and Michaels write of the Searses:

“When it comes to properly nurturing your child, these two make the likes of T. Berry Brazelton or Penelope Leach look like Conan the Barbarian and Nurse Ratched. The Sears philosophy is as simple as it is impossible: Reattach your baby to your body the moment she is born and keep her there pretty much until she goes to college. If you do not do this, your child will fail to bond properly to you and you to her, and the rest is a straight road to the juvenile detention center for her and the Betty Ford Clinic for you.”

Douglas and Michaels add:

“While Dr. Bill and Martha do acknowledge that working mothers are real and do refrain from saying anything explicitly condemnatory about them, the massive edifice of attachment parenting that they construct is one that no working mother can fully scale and conquer….

“Especially if you are accustomed to high achievement and to cutthroat competition, attachment parenting opens the door to standards of excellence that would put any law partner wannabe to shame.”

Read an interview with the authors of The Mommy Myth on Salon at Read an excerpt from their book at

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I’m not a psychologist, but I can pretend to be one in blog comments: That attachment routine looks like a sure way to make sure one’s child bonds to absolutely no one else, a quasi-stimulus deprivation approach.

    Great nurse Ratched quote.


    Comment by knightofswords — June 3, 2008 @ 12:44 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks, Malcolm. The Searses do encourage fathers, not just mothers, to “wear” their babies in a sling (which sort of makes the babies sound like a decorative accessory).

    But given their recommendation that you do this for “many hours” a day, I’m not sure how most working fathers or mothers could ever meet their standards. I also didn’t see in their book any evidence of long-term studies showing that compared, for example, babies “worn” for many hours a day with babies not “worn.” So the question behind your observation seems right on point: Without long-term studies, how do we know that the result won’t be just what you suggest (a baby bonded to no one but the “babywearer,” to use their word)?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 3, 2008 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

  3. This reminds me of a news item I saw yesterday of a woman who breastfeeds her kindergarten-age children.

    Comment by Amelia — June 3, 2008 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  4. Amelia: Funny you mentioned that. One of the claims the authors make for “babywearing” is that it makes breastfeeding easier … Jan

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 3, 2008 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  5. Proponents of attachment parenting also advocate “the family bed” where the baby sleeps in the same bed with the parents, or one adjacent to them, until he/she is 4 or 5.

    Comment by lisamm — June 3, 2008 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  6. Let me just go on record by saying that I think that is ridiculous 🙂

    Comment by lisamm — June 3, 2008 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks for mentioning the “co-sleeping,” Lisa. That caught my attention, too. The Searses almost seemed to be saying: Get used to not having sex in your bed (and having it only in other rooms) for years. And you would think that would cause its own complications, especially if you had other children around, wouldn’t you?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 3, 2008 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

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