Really? He really said that? Dr. Sears was on the Today Show this morning with the senior editor of TIME, Jeffrey Kluger, and the Mom who posed for the magazine's current cover, breastfeeding her almost 4-year-old son, basically saying that no child who has been parented in this manner, which is called 'attachment parenting', ever turns out as a bully.
There were so many things wrong with this interview that I don't even know where to begin. I am sure there will be lots of blogging about it, so I am going to stick with some main points that I see over and over in my practice and go from what I know about them as a psychotherapist treating addictions, anxiety, depression and eating disorders for the last 25 years.
Aside from the problems I have with the statement he made -- that if you practice attachment parenting you will prevent against your child becoming a bully, something impossible to prove -- the focus of the interview was on babies, not toddlers or small children.
They never once talked about the differing developmental needs and challenges that kids present as they move from infants to babies to toddlers to children. I appreciate that the Mom kept emphasizing that 'attachment parenting' is not 'for everyone, or for every family', because hey, there is certainly enough guilt to go around, but for an expert like Dr. Sears to speak about bullying, which is such a hot topic, and offer parents a preventative option in his parenting books -- well I think that is just simply insane.
I wrote my book, Take the Fight out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child's Eating Problems, in part out of my years of work with individuals who got over their eating disorders, wishing to give their children tools that they hadn't had a chance to develop or practice.
That tool is learning how to manage and tolerate their emotions without disconnecting and soothing through either restricting over overeating.
Basically, teaching a child to 'self soothe' is one of the most important things parents need to give their children. Where this whole portrayal and simplistic interview went wrong is that, again, the focus was only on babies, while they totally missed talking about breastfeeding a 3 and 4-year-old. They acted as though a 3-year-old's developmental needs and challenges are identical to a baby's: All You Need is Love?!
The other outrageous aspect of this interview was how it touched on 'perfect parenting'. One of the biggest challenges to juggling all the balls necessary in parenting is the need to understand the importance of 'good enough'. This is not just an excuse, but rather a cornerstone of a child's developing ability to internalize his mother and his attachment to the mother in the face of his intense anger, disappointment and frustration at times. This is why it's so important to set limits. This is the beginning of a child learning how to 'self soothe'. Imagining that keeping a child on you 24/7 will give them the tools to manage these intense feelings and set them up well psychologically usually has more to do with the parent's need to feel needed than the child's needs.
Perhaps all we are arguing about is the timing of the separateness that is inevitable between parent and child. I definitely think that parents need to find their own way and do what works for them, but I think parenting demands flexibility, and more importantly, being able to separate out our own needs from those of our child's.
There is nothing worse than a 'holier than thou parent.' I appreciate the Mom on the interview revealing some of her exhaustion and anticipation of her son's weaning in his 4th year and stressing that this is 'not for everyone'.
But to take the issue and reduce it to such idiotic simplicity is truly the worst that journalism or any expert, (Dr. Sears) can offer.
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