Interview with Dr Sears: Attachment Parenting

We had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Sears when he was in Australia for an Australian Breastfeeding Association seminar! By Kristy Pillinger.

Has ‘Attachment Parenting’ changed over time?

It has evolved over time. The thing about parenting is that good things do not change. It is either right or wrong, black and white. It doesn’t change. I think what has changed is AP adapts to the changing lifestyles. For example, more and more mothers have other professions outside the home. Now in reality, that hasn’t changed as much as people think. My wife, Martha, was a so called ‘working mother’, in fact all mothers are working, and my opinion as a humble male and father, I think the profession of motherhood is the most lofty profession you can have. Every other profession is underneath that. Having said that, I think that what is actually better for many mothers now is that it is easier to say work and breastfeed because of the companies allowing it and the breastpumps are better than 45 years ago when our first baby was born – Martha was a nurse and I was a young struggling poor intern and we would juggle. She would work and nurse and bring Jim over when I was off work. That hasn’t changed.

Do Parenting labels get in the way?

I think labels can get in the way, yes. Because basically, I describe AP as “suppose you and your mate and your baby
were on an island somewhere and there were no baby books, no psychologists, no mother-in-laws, no body to give you advice. It is what you would naturally do – from the gut”. It is just instinctual parenting ~ no matter what label you give it.

Can you create a ‘rod for your own back’ when it comes to tending to your babies needs?
Actually, it is the other way around. AP is easier. It’s like an investment. You put your time in in the early years and you sleep better later on. Your child is healthier later on. You’ll have fewer therapists later on. Fewer psychological problems later on.
Psychological problems, in my opinion, are the most draining in parenting.

Anything I can do early on to prevent that psychological mess that many parents get into. So, is it more tiring early on?

Yes. But many mums when they get into it find that it is just easier; I don’t have to carry around a bottle, I don’t have to warm it to the perfect temperature, it’s just easier ~ much easier. That’s why one of the Baby B’s we added a few years ago was Balance. There were mum’s that were getting too tired out. There were mums that did not know when to say no to their baby. That’s why balance is important: what your baby needs most is a happy, rested mother. So if you, for example, at night time dread going to bed because night sleeping is more work than rest, then that is a ‘Red Flag’. You need to make a change.

To meet the needs of children, what is your recommended age gap for siblings and why?

Ideally, 2 1/2 to 3 years. I trust Mother Nature. When most (not all) women practice natural family planning, they are often
infertile for the first year and a half. Cultures who just do biological nursing, where most mothers nurse at night, so they are infertile (if they don’t nurse at night they are usually not infertile ~ they are usually fertile), babies normally come about every 2 1/2 to 3 years. So in my experience, I think they are close enough to be friends and play together but not so close that they drain the parents.

Do you support Baby Led Weaning?

We have always encouraged baby led weaning ~ it is part of AP. Newborn sleep patterns can be hard for new parents to adjust to.

What is your best advice to these parents?

My best advice is that you sleep how the three of you sleep the right next to mother early on, some sleep better in a co-sleeper
– which is a bassinet which attaches to the parents bed so that baby has its own space and mum and dad have their own space, but the baby is in arm’s reach of the mother. So that is usually the best for most parents, and then as baby gets older, the space between mum and baby gradually increases and periodically decreases. You juggle during the high needs times.

When should children move out of the family bed?
At any time, if you are wondering how to act, get behind the eyes of your child. Let’s say you were your child. Would you rather sleep in dark quite room, behind bars and separated from the most important person in the whole world or nestle close to mum or dad in the same room, inches away from your favourite cuisine? The choice is obvious. So, will they announce one day “I’m ready to move to my own bed”? Maybe, but eventually yes! Number 1 – if you start resenting going to sleep because you work rather than rest, then that is a red flag that says “I need to make a change”.

Some say that young children need to go to daycare to get ‘social interaction’. Do you agree?

Rubbish! Rubbish! In daycare, children learn germs and bad habits. That’s it. The best school is at home. When a child has a foundation of parents, and the parents can choose which children their child can play with. The biggest mistake I’ve seen parents do is say “I want my child to be exposed to all kinds of different philosophies so when they get older they can make their decision.” No ~ doesn’t work. You have to get that child’s brain focused on a certain way of doing things “this is how we act; this is what we believe; this is how we talk; this is how we respect people; this is how we treat other kids ~ we don’t hit, we don’t bully; this is how we act” and that becomes part of the child’s brain ~ in the first 5 years. Then they go to school and can make their choices. But you send them with a foundation. If you don’t send a child to school with a foundation, germs and bad habits!

Do you think “shaping children’s behaviour” with punishments and rewards is consistent with AP?

First of all, discipline is a relationship. Discipline is having the right relationship with your child rather than the right techniques. So I think we shouldn’t be getting into all these punishments. When a mum and a baby are attached, the mother will naturally know how and when to discipline. Sometimes it is just the look that the child knows that means “this behaviour will not be tolerated. This is not how we behave”. So I think attachment parents don’t have to get into all these theories ~ they just instictively know. That’s why very few attachment parents need to spank ~ because they have found better ways.

How do we get balance when we live in such a seperatist society?

With this style of parenting, the culture we live in is very very challenging. We have the mum, dad and baby, and sometimes even just a mum and baby, with no-one else around. Throughout the world, it’s not like that all the time. They have a mum and a dad, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and uncle in the same house or neighbourhood. We need a sense of community because the
whole system was never designed to be a mum and a baby with no help. That is where your ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association), for example, and other communities you have here are important. That community will allow you to say “oh, you need a night out, I’ll watch your baby” and that can be reciprocated. So to get that sense of community, join whatever you have in your community and share childcare. It is very important, especially for mothers today.

How do you maintain the connection with an older child when there is a younger child that needs more attention?

The older child wants to feel special but the new baby comes in and takes all the attention and wonders what’s in it for them. Give the older child a job and a title. For example, if the baby falls and gets a little scrap on their hand, say to the older child “Ok, we are going to make you ‘Dr Molly’, you go and get a band-aid and put it onto Johnny’s little foot. Then sing him a song and pat his foot because you’re big and you know how to do this. He doesn’t know how to help himself, but you do.” This also works for picking out toys. You can say “We are going to pick out a toy for Johnny, can you help me do it.” This way, the older child feels special like it is their baby too.

‘Parenting is a long term investment. What you put in, in the early years, you get it back in the later years.’

Parents can get confused about the conflicting information about when to allow a child to watch television. What is your opinion on when a child should watch television and for how long? Maybe about 2 years of age ~ with their parents or caregiver. Short time, with interaction. Make it fun!

You have raised 8 children. In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes there is. In hindsight I, as a father, would have started a little earlier. Took me about 4 children to realise the father has a role right at birth too. And my first few children I thought “Well, it’s primarily mother, I’ll get involved when the child is old enough to throw a football”. So I would have changed and got involved earlier.

I think I would have done a better job at the spiritual growth of my children. I didn’t get involved early enough. But one of the nice things about AP is that you don’t have that many regrets. On the other hand, I’ve had so many parents in my practice say “I wish I would have breastfed longer”; “I wish I would have not let my child Cry It Out”; “I wish I would have worn my baby in a sling instead of being wheeled in a pram”; “I wish I would have …”. I cannot remember in my 40 years a mother saying “I wish I would not have breastfed for so long”; “I wish I would have never slept with my baby”. It doesn’t happen.

If you had 3 things to say to a new parent, what would they be?

1. Parenting is a long term investment. You put in in the early years, you get it back in the later years.
2. Follow your gut. In relation to discipline, before you act, you get behind the eyes of your child. Sit back, take 5 and
think “if I was my child, how would I want my mother or father to react?” My child does something upsetting, before you do anything, you say “if I was my child, how would I want my mother or father to react?” ~ and you will always get it right!
3. Take care of yourself, your relationship with your mate because what babies need most is happy rested parents.

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