Martha Sears is an American Registered Nurse, an author, a wife, and most importantly, a mother of eight. When you google her name, it’s like being transported back to the 1950’s, where she (only) appears as the wife and co-author of Dr. William Sears. But we all know who does the majority of the actual work in hospitals, and most often it’s not who claims the most credit or gets paid the most.
However, the Sears’ co-authored books, or baby care guide and do a good job in leaving the one-size-fits-all authoritarian parenting methods of the 1950’s behind. Although she is the co-author of 25 books, Martha Sears often refers to herself as a “professional mother”.
The couple are perhaps most well-known for coining the phrase “attachment parenting” with their 2001 book The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. According to this baby care guide , the six B’s of parenting are bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding, belief in the communicative value of baby’s cry, and learning to beware “baby trainers”.
While their books and baby care guide (s) have become more secular in nature over the years, their 1997 book focused on parenting within the framework of the principles of Christianity. Because their methods focus more on respecting children than demanding respect from them, “The Discipline Book” stirred quite a lot of controversy, religious as well as philosophical.
In addition to coming under fire on religious grounds that their methods spared the proverbial rod, feminists have also taken issue with their methods. Feminist writer Erica Jong compared the Sears to
“condescending colonialists in love with noble savagery”,
and others have also voiced objections. Their claim is that because of the emphasis on breastfeeding until the child itself decides to stop, rather than being weaned by the mother, the majority of parental responsibility is assigned to women. Some have also questioned whether children raised according to this philosophy will be emotionally prepared to make autonomous decisions as adults.
A 2012 Time magazine cover of a picture of a mother breastfeeding a toddler fueled the controversy, as well as winning some converts.
Baby Care Guide and Methods
In the Sears’ method and baby care guide, belief in the communicative value of your baby’s cry is essential. Using the information communicated by their babies, parents then develop and maintain an individualized transition ritual which serves as the key to successful baby sleep training. Here’s a short video that encapsulates their view as well as offering a few suggestions. The controversial aspect of their baby care guide and advice on sleep training is the suggestion that babies sleeping with their parents, or “co-sleeping” creates a sense of security and should be encouraged rather than forbidden.
One of the things that parents love most about their books is that no program is either proscribed or prescribed, but rather, parents are urged to develop their own routines based on their own family’s personalities and preferences. According to an article in the Guardian, Michelle Mattesini, a mother of two, set up the Attachment Parenting UK website and runs an AP support group. She says that
“We have single and married mothers. Our youngest member is 21 and we have women in their 40s. There are people who are unable to breastfeed or find co-sleeping doesn’t work for them.”
In answer to feminist objections, numerous studies have proven the benefits of breast milk over formula as well as the emotional and psychological benefits of physical closeness during the bonding process. However, that breast milk can be pumped and put into bottles so that fathers can play a more equal role in parental responsibilities. Fathers too, can carry babies in slings to the office and learn to “multi-task”.
Here is an article about parenting in the fifties.