Eight Isn't Enough
Despite decades of sleep deprivation ("There was a time when we had two in medical school and two in diapers," recalls Bill, 62), the couple have also managed to churn out 31 child-rearing books, which together have sold more than 1 million copies. Their most recent, The Successful Child, a guide to helping kids make good choices, was published in March. But their best-known volume remains 1993's The Baby Book, still in print. That 675-page manual was the first mainstream parenting guide to advocate such bonding techniques as carrying infants in a sling and sharing a bed with them at night.
The latter suggestion has made the Searses—he's a pediatrician, she's a registered nurse—as controversial as they are popular. Though common around the world, bed-sharing is not endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which warns that some babies have been accidentally smothered by sleeping parents. Nor is the practice necessary for establishing closeness, many experts insist. "Babies will become attached to the people who love and care for them," says New York-based psychoanalyst Louise J. Kaplan.
But the Searses say experience shows that infants who get constant snuggling are likelier to grow into well-adjusted kids. "I use my office as one giant laboratory," says Bill, whose two oldest sons, Jim, 35, and Bob, 33, have joined his 5,000-patient practice. (Son Pete, 27, will come aboard after completing his medical residency.) "Half of what's in the books is what wise parents have taught me." The other half comes from closer to home. "I remember sleeping in my parents' room," says Matthew, a high school junior, who also plans to become a doctor. "It made me feel safe and secure."
For that comfort he has sister Hayden, now 24 and a singer, to thank. She is not only the inspiration for her parents' 1985 book The Fussy Baby but the reason they adopted bed-sharing. "She taught us that you have to parent according to the child's particular needs," says Bill. "Hayden needed to be with us morning and night." Says Hayden: "They never made me feel bad about needing more attention."
Bill and Martha wouldn't say that of their own parents. Bill's father abandoned the family shortly after his birth, leaving Bill's mother, Lucille, a dress-shop manager in Alton, III., to support her only child. Martha's father, Leo McMenamy, a farmer in St. Charles, Mo., drowned when she was 4. Her schoolteacher mother, Genevieve, Martha says, "wasn't there for me emotionally."
After graduating from high school in 1957, Bill attended a Jesuit seminary but later decided medicine was his calling. He worked his way through St. Louis University Medical School as a teacher and janitor. In 1965 he met Martha at the bedside of a heart-attack patient. "He didn't make it," says Bill, "but we did."
They wed eight months later and headed to Children's Hospital in Boston for Bill's internship. Drafted halfway through the program, he fulfilled his duty as a cardiology researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. In 1969 the family—by then including Jim and Bob—moved to Toronto, where Bill did his residency at the Hospital for Sick Children. In 1976, with Pete now in tow, the Searses relocated to Hilton Head, S.C., where Hayden was born. There, workaholic Bill became a small-town doc—and, he says, a more attentive dad. He also wrote his first book, Creative Parenting, published in 1981.
That year the clan moved to California, finally settling in Capistrano Beach. In 1983 Erin—now 19 and a music student—was born. Then came Matthew, 16, and Stephen, 13, who was born with Down syndrome. Nicknamed the Greeter for his exuberant friendliness, Stephen "taught us to practice what we preach," says his father. "He was a special child who needed a special kind of parenting." So was Lauren, now 10, who was adopted as a baby. Allergic to formula, she thrived on breast milk provided by Martha (then 47 and still nursing Stephen) and her parents' patients.
Asked for proof that their methods work, the Searses point to their offspring. Bill recalls being struck by his success two years ago, walking Hayden down the aisle at her wedding. "Here's this beautiful, mature, caring woman and I'm having flashbacks of her in our bed, our fussy baby," he says. "I thought, 'I don't regret a minute I've lived through. These are great kids.'"
Lyndon Stambler in Capistrano Beach