Wednesday, March 3, 2010


When I was pregnant with my son (now 15 months) I sat down with Dr. Sears' book. I probably did not fully grasp the true philosophy of attachment parenting. What I do remember is one statement in an early chapter that disturbed me at the time and haunted me since.

I remember reading that mothers who work full time and take time off for maternity leave have a high risk of attaching poorly to their babies. That instead of completely focusing on the role of mother they instead are preparing for the day they will leave the child. Preoccupied with their career they are unable to be fully responsive to the needs of the child.

I am sure many reader's blood is boiling right now. Now if I have mis-quoted Dr. Sears I apologize, but even if I did my real point is this: I think about this all of the time. When my son was a newborn and would not nurse, my sleep deprived hormone toxicated brain determined it must be because I planned to pump when returning to work. When he did beautifully with the transition to day care, I figured he didn't really miss me. When he runs to daddy when tired, I take it as further evidence of my shortcoming.

This is working mommy guilt and as a Mother in Medicine I did not invent it. Upon reflection I think overcoming this thinking is a unique challenge for the following reasons. First, I sacrificed a remarkable amount of sleep, happiness and personal well being to become a cardiologist. The idea that I could continue to sacrifice in a way that I would later regret is a true possibility. Second, in reality if I had to choose either my career OR motherhood it is not 100% that I would have chosen motherhood. This is perhaps difficult to explain but I feel like my work is a calling that I was born to do and is my mission in life. Finally, I am a master organizer/ planner. Indeed I was pre-occupied during maternity leave planning my return to work. But only because of my deep respect for how challenging it was going to be- and my desire to arrange help so that I could enjoy my son (an hopefully not kill anyone in my mommy-head state).

So I put this out there to share how my consideration of attachment parenting led to a judgment that is difficult to shake. The challenge to be a mother, as a full time physician, as a perfectionist, as a woman committed to caring when it seems no philosophy can be easily applied to my reality.


  1. JC - you are wrapped up in guilt. Untie the knots (pot/kettle). I realize, from personal experience, that trying to be everyone makes us become no one.

    Thanks for this post. I've been there. We Mothers in Medicine want everything. And we can have it. We are good enough.

    It's great to read and philosophize with the best. Take good information, and apply it to your own situation. But don't use it to make you feel guilty. You don't need another's philosophy for your own reality. You are living your own story. Yours, and yours alone. Use it, and trust yourself. You are doing the right thing, and your son will be hellaciously proud of you someday. He will be a better man, for all that you do.

  2. there are a lot of things about dr sears and his books that make my blood make working mothers feel guilty about leaving their children is just one of the reasons i do not encourage people to read the books. and his vaccine book, recommending an alternative vaccine schedule that is not based on any research or science...i think he is kind of nuts.

  3. Yeah, guilt = motherhood, or that's how it seems. But take heart, because you're helping a lot of people in your profession every single day, and your kids are going to see you being a good role model and realize that it's ok to be a working mom. Your son will be comfortable with that in his future wife, and your daughter will aspire toward her own career. It's a good thing, to have choices.

  4. I had to throw that book out.

  5. I enjoyed his books - but I had to filter what I was going to take from it. I felt that he was a great guide for me when I started parenting since I had a tumultuous childhood which is not what I wanted for my children. He gave ideas and suggestions I never would have thought of (sleeping with babies, no such thing as spoiling a baby, no crying it out). I am sure I could have gotten that information elsewhere, but I got it from him and i am thankful for it. Things that I have ignored because they just didn't work for me was the whole carrying a baby in a sling thing, and his breast feed or die attitude considering that I am a mother with low milk supply and reading those chapters just made me feel guilty for supplementing or stopping.

    Remember, he is writing from his experience with (8?) children and sharing that with his readers just like the writers here are writing on this blog about their experiences and sharing that with other mom's in medicine. I am so grateful to this blog for giving me a glimpse into the future - but of course I know that my future will be way different than all of yours. When I read the posts here I have to take what I can use and ignore what I can't use. There are no two lives that will be exactly the same - so we all have to write our own scripts.

    So, my advice to you is to find the good information in that book and enjoy it, or chuck the whole book if it does not work for you. But definitely do not feel guilty for not following the guidelines written by one man with only his own experiences to go by. You are in good company being a working mom. There are a lot of us out there and we love our kids more than anything.

  6. When I read your post I nearly cried. You said what I have been thinking since my daughter was born. I read your words out loud to my husband, pointing out that I could have written this nearly word for work.

  7. Thanks for this post.

    I also chucked out this book after a few short chapters - although not as quickly as "What to Expect While You are Expecting".

  8. I was given dr. sears' book as a gift when I was pregnant. Reading it is one of the greatest regrets of my life. I am a pediatrician and I would never recommend that book to anyone.

  9. I had a similar experience w/ "The Happiest Baby on the Block". I was working full-time after my son was born, and my husband was in the middle of his pulm fellowship. So we'd get home b/t 6 and 6:30, dinner at 7, and kept our son up until 8:30 or 9 so we could spend some time with him. The book talked about how selfish it was of working parents to keep their children up too long instead of having a good 12hour sleep every night (our son got a 10hr overnight sleep and a several long naps during the day). I cried after reading that chapter, then promptly threw the book away. I have tried to avoid most parenting books since.

  10. Indymom,

    The big difference between Dr. Sears and bloggers is that Dr. Sears puts his writing out there are the thoughts of an "expert" with the associated value judgments therein.

    He may be an expert on how things ran in his household - though I would love to hear from Mrs. Sears directly.

    But he is not an expert on my child and my experience.

  11. Sometimes I think Dr. Sears is evil. The deeper I get into parenting (mine are 6 and 2 now), the less I rely on outside "experts" and the more I am interested in finding other moms who find the funny side of all this and help me laugh about it. I fantasize about flushing the book (or at least those pages) down the toilet, but it would ruin my plumbing.

  12. OMG. Yes yes yes yes. Thank you JC. This was/is the source of so much of my stress.

    Gizabeth, if only!! I think we all know that we are wrapped up in guilt. But (a) how to begin to rid ourselves of it? and (b) isn't guilt part of our professional training, anyhow?!

    (Plus the fact that, oh yes, a little one can't be scheduled... neither the due-date, nor the sleeping, nor the eating... a difficult reality for many of us mom-docs!)

  13. I didn't mean to sound patronizing. I thought about that, retrospectively. I think that when I read stuff like this, I come from a place of such empathy that I jump to save everyone. It is obvious that JC is aware of the guilt dynamic that these books set up. I remember tossing "Babywise," a book that someone gave me when I had my first child, in the trash can before I even got halfway through it.

    Scheduling a baby? Puh-lease.

  14. Ah, "Mommy Guilt." It is universal. I feel your post, I mean, "How Dare We???" try to have it all? I (apparently thankfully) never cracked open the first Dr. Sears book...mostly because I went through residency training alongside one of his sons, and he was a total entitled prick (and not very smart, to boot). So, have a kid that felt as though the world owed him? Not on my priority list.

    However, I did loosely use "Babywise" with both of my kiddos. Not to the "letter" as far as times go (as Gizabeth said above, "Puh-leeze"), but more as it pertained to general predictability of how things were to go. Sleep, diaper change, eat, play, back to sleep, with special interest pertaining to night time rituals (bath, book, rock, bed). I did find that both of my (very different) children do thrive on routine, and continue to do so to this day. I also agree with the premise that babies enter our lives as they are, and while accomodations need be made, our needs, as parents, are not less important than theirs.

    There is a comfort in predictability, and this is what I chose to take away from the parenting books that I read. My (now almost 6 year old!!) daughter is able to tell me, despite my crazy hours and parental absenteeism how much she loves me and wants to be like me. The important thing is to be engaged in the moments that you have together.

    As the above commenters have observed, "Take the best and leave the rest."

  15. What a great post. This is something that so many moms in medicine share- the juxtaposition of motherhood, careerism, and perfectionism. One thing that I have started to see is how uphappy my own mother- a JD- is now that she is in her 60s and gave up a good 10 years of working life to raise kids. It was hard to ever go back in any real capacity, and now she struggles with feelings of lack of self-worth and unfulfillment at a time when she should be relaxing and patting herself on the back. I have no judgments towards her, only love and gratefulness for her work and sacrifices. But I take it as a clue to what can happen if you don't get the chance to follow your drive and passions outside of your family- you will feel empty, and your children will see that!

    I love seeing everyone's thoughts on this blog, rock on ladies!

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  17. I wonder whether it's possible (or even desirable) to get through the first stages of motherhood without reading one of these books? It sounds as though some things are useful, but that the judgmental aspects are nearly universal and may even outweigh the usefulness.

    I hope mommy guilt isn't universal! It sounds really terrible. What a shame that a group of such talented, intelligent, good mommies has to feel this way because a couple of morons wrote some parenting books. None of you doc-moms have *anything* to feel guilty about. Maybe the SAHMs feel guilty too? I wonder if there's just no winning the guilt battle.....

  18. about what Mommydoctor said in her post:
    Yes - a thousand times yes! I did something very much like what her Mom did - and at age 56, approaching the end of my working career and looking at what I have achieved vs. what I had expected to achieve...
    The feelings of regret are overwhelming sometimes.

  19. Kellie (General Surgeon)March 5, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    So many books on parenting are written either by men or by women who don't have a career. I read some (Happiest baby, other books on sleep) and in the end we did everything "wrong". I always nursed my son to sleep when I could. It worked well for us and gave me some nice one on one time that I missed out on during the day. The books warned that the child would never be able to put himself to sleep, but guess what? He was.

    I think that you need to do what is right for you and your child (as long as it it safe of course) and to heck with the books.

    Try to get rid of the mommy guilt (although I think we all have it whether we work at home or have an outside job).

  20. Is there a perfect baby book that doesn't make a mother feel guilty about elements of how she is raising her child? One can only feel guilty if one lets oneself. From my experience all baby books have information which is useful and not so useful for helping me to reflect on what I am doing as a parent and either make a change or keep doing what I'm doing. Most of the time the baby and I do the dance of determining what works best for us - no need to live by a book!

  21. Don't know about the new edition, but I treasured the first line in Dr. Spock: "you know more than you think you do." He got a lot of abuse in later years (mostly because of his politics) and I guess is now passe, but Dr. Spock's book was great when my kids were little.

  22. OK. So if Mrs. Sears has 7 other children...... I bet she was more than a little distracted when baby 8 came along.

    I think that whole train of thought (working mom's being distracted by work)is offense to stay at home moms... especially ones with multiple children. I have lots of patients with 4-6 children, most of whose husbands work a lot (to support the large family). I guarantee there is a lot of distraction in their lives as well.

    Point is we all work.... hard. Life is full of distractions. We just have to pour into our children the most we can, with the time that we have.

  23. I agree with the motto "take the best and leave the rest." I haven't read Dr. Sears book but I believe it was him that coined the term "high need" babies. My pediatrics training did not prepare me for having a high need baby. At all. Like any first time mother, I was filled with self-doubt but having this little monster baby made me feel all the more like a failure. I appreciated the fact that he was a pediatrician who was open about having a "difficult" child, "different" from his other 7 kids. He wrote about this child on his website and I was relieved to know that I wasn't the only "bad" parent in this world. Because of Dr. Sears, I stopped beating myself up and started to enjoy my child with her unique temperament and all.

  24. Most non judgmental baby book for me was the American Academy of Pediatrics "Caring for your Baby and Young Child".


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