Meet Dr. Bill Sears, the Man Who Remade Motherhood

Sears, the father of attachment parenting, has converted hundreds of thousands of followers. But are some mothers taking his advice too far?

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For TIME’s May 21 cover story (available to subscribers here), I explored the personal history and legacy of Dr. Bill Sears, the father of a child-rearing philosophy called attachment parenting. As the author of 40-plus books on parenting and pregnancy, Sears is a familiar figure to many American mothers and fathers. Some parents subscribe to his theory that attachment parenting — characterized by extended breast-feeding, co-sleeping and wearing your baby in a sling across your body — is the best way to raise confident, secure children. Others think Sears is an antifeminist tyrant, or that his ideas are just totally unrealistic.

Sears’ most well-known parenting manual, a purple 767-page tome called The Baby Book, is ubiquitous, but his own story is not. In reporting this article for TIME, I was intrigued to find out how little had been written about Sears’ upbringing or how he came up with his parenting theories in the first place.

It turns out that he and his wife Martha had written a lot of earlier books about attachment parenting before The Baby Book, including one with an evangelical approach. I also came across a book the Searses wrote in 1982 based on another book called The Continuum Concept, which I traced back to a college dropout who had become fascinated by child care in the Venezuelan jungle. “We read the book and thought, Well, this is neat,” says Sears.

When I interviewed Bill and Martha Sears at their home in Southern California, we talked for a long time about their childhoods — neither of which resembled the kind of idealized environment the couple imagines for their supporters. Bill’s father abandoned him when he was a baby; Martha’s father died when she was young, and her mother suffered from mental illness. Their childhoods seemed to be lacking in affection and parental bonding, the very tenets of their teachings.

(PHOTOS: Behind the Cover: Are You Mom Enough?)

I began to realize that Bill Sears’ theories are based not only on his experience as a pediatrician and father, as most of his readers assume, but also on the work of others and on the Searses’ own upbringings as Midwestern Catholics. Martha acknowledged this in our interview: “You could say I’m reacting to my background.”

As I spoke with parents, especially mothers, about their parenting styles, I found that even those who didn’t know Bill Sears by name had been touched by the phenomenon of attachment parenting — whether as practitioners of some of its tenets or as critics. TIME’s May 21 cover story introduces readers to Sears, the man whose influence has shifted mainstream American parenting and brought us to a point where mothering requires more physical and emotional investment than perhaps ever before.

MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage on Attachment Parenting

4 comments
Mother2
Mother2

About the comment made at the end of the video: "...no evidence to show that wearing your baby in a sling or sleeping with your baby is really going to change how they turn out when they are kids or later when they are adults..."

Do we have to get a scientific research done about everything in order to have evidence provided to make a conclusion - even for those simply most common sense matters especially when it comes to every day life and those we witness around us continually. 

Shouldn't we all be able to make a conclusion on our own instead of waiting for another scientist to provide evidence for what's been obvious on this planet for ever: If I am loved and being taken nice care of, there is more chance that I will turn out to be a better and happier person. Haven't we all seen at least one animal taking care of their brood, patting them, being physically close to them? Why would human beings be any different - just ! because there is no scientific evidence supporting the obvious fact!? 

Common sense: Could we ask ourselves a simple question: when I need protection and nourishment, would I like to be close to my mother (the only person I know ) as often and as long as reasonably possible, or would I rather not?

Common sense: Every good and perfect thing, when done too much/long...may turn out to be harmful or bad. There may be less chance that sleeping with a baby all the time  for months or years, or wearing a baby in a sling all they long, will create a healthy relationship between them or a have the baby grow to be a healthy adult. Even the best meal in the world will cause some damage to our system sooner or after, if that's the only meal we eat every day. How can I prove this will happen to everyone. I cannot. But my common sense tells me it is more possible that it will, than that it will not.

A balance of ingredients, timing and duration is what we all need in our all life activities, including raising and loving our babies.

Dear Kate, 

I felt that your comment at the end, even if you did not maybe mean it, could cause many of us (especially young first time mothers) to think that these two methods are not really beneficial for their babies, or even, that being physically close to our babies is not important, and then, they might decide not to try them in their process of learning how to form a strong emotional bond with their little ones (Dr W Sears attachment parenting). 

I'd like, witnessing lots of mothers being confused and misinformed, to point out that these two methods are some of a many ideas how a parent can provide a baby with emotional and physical, and! mental support to have them grow happily and harmoniously. 

How they will turn out later will depend "on the village" (it takes a village to raise a child :):). 

TCarra
TCarra

The article isn't horrible, but the video is pretty bad. There are more than 3 tenets of attachment parenting. Also those practicing attachment parenting correctly will not find it exhausting. Do what is right for you!

Freshorses
Freshorses

Great to see this invaluable information so readily available. Informed choices is what I like to strive for.

Berlin
Berlin

I found this article inaccurate and surely trying to paint Sears with a specific image "evangelist approach", which to the many reading the "Times" I would guess this phrase has a negative connotation.

To be specific, the article forgets to mention that the Baby Book makes an association to Sudden Death Syndrome and certain parenting patterns. The book even gives a link to recent studies and more information on that topic.

The book also reveals, more than once, that the Sears family did not raise their first children with their "attachment parenting" method. But it was their 3rd child who brought into question their preconceived ideas of raising children and where their attachment theory was first put into practice with successful results.

Not to mention, the 30 years + of practice as a pediatrician...

Sorry, but your research for this article was very poor or you are purposely changing some facts.

Thumbs down on my behalf.