© 2020 Stephi Wagner, MSW

  • Stephi Wagner

An Open Letter to Lisa Sunbury

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

I am writing this letter to you today, Lisa, because I am deeply concerned by yet another example of your unchecked childism. In a post you made on Thursday (December 6, 2018) on your Regarding Baby business page (as of the time of this writing your post still appears), you normalize leaving a 6 day old baby to cry and scream without adequate care and support for an hour and a half.


To the parent who ignored their screaming and crying newborn baby, you said:

“You didn’t harm her in any way by trying to give her time to settle on her own."

Your words are wholly irresponsible.

Your words are 100% unacceptable.

Your words are the epitome of childism.

Special note: No matter how much Janet Lansbury attempts to describe your harmful response to the parent of this baby (which by the way qualifies as abuse on your part not only against this baby, but also against every other baby whose parent/caregiver encounters your post) as the "epitome of gentleness," you are still in the wrong, Lisa. And so is Lansbury. 

Janet Lansbury's comment on your December 6 post.

Before we really dive into your December 6 post, Lisa, let's run Lansbury's comment through a quick test I refer to as the Hypocritical Feminist Test. I understand that Lansbury calls herself a feminist, so this will be telling.

"There are people who seem to mistakenly believe that you can help women [the oppressed group] by shaming men [the group in power]. Your response to this man was the epitome of gentleness, Lisa."

Not feeling this? Me either.

If Lansbury would not speak this way on a post where people felt a man had behaved in a way that can be harmful to a woman, why is she speaking this way on your December 6 post where countless people (yes, I have screenshots of the countless comments you deleted) were sharing their concern for this newborn baby?

The answer: Lansbury's unchecked childism.

What Lansbury needs to do at this point is hold herself accountable for her harmful public comment on your December 6 post for centering adult feelings over the lived experiences of this baby and every other baby, and for ultimately perpetuating the abuse and oppression of babies and children.

Some learning for Lansbury and yourself, Lisa:

  1. Those who smile, nod, and speak with "gentleness" to those who commit abuse and/or perpetuate the oppression of marginalized groups of people (in this case children) are themselves guilty of abuse and/or perpetuating the oppression of marginalized groups of people. If being tolerant of those who choose to be intolerant was going to end oppression, it would have worked by now.

  2. Parenting professionals like yourself and Lansbury who smile, nod, and speak with "gentleness" to adults who perpetuate harm against children are themselves guilty of perpetuating harm against children, AND they will be called out for their childist efforts to protect the feelings and reputations of the adults rather than the children who suffer while oppressed by adults.

And now let's look more closely at your December 6 post on your Regarding Baby business page.

When I first read your response to Sabrina in which you assert that she definitely did not harm her newborn baby "in any way," I did a double-take. Here is what Sabrina said again:

"Just had an epic fail trying to encourage my newborn to self-soothe. She's only 6 days old. Because of exhaustion, I've mostly been nursing her to sleep, but today I thought I'd try to let her self-soothe for a nap.She would cry for 5 minutes, then soothe for 5 minutes, then scream for 10 minutes. This went on for an hour and a half, and eventually she was inconsolable. I know the RIE philosophy is to trust your child is capable of self-soothing, but I feel like I just broke trust with my child." - Sabrina

Lisa, as a parenting professional and leader in the RIE parenting community, you really should know better here. There is absolutely no honest way for you to claim that this newborn baby was not harmed by their mother's choice to ignore them while they screamed and cried for an hour and a half.

The truth you neglected to speak to, Lisa:

It is 100% impossible for ANY adult to claim that this particular newborn baby was not harmed by this parent's choice to ignore their cries and screams for an hour and a half. Children vary in their emotional experiences (yep, they are people, too), and they certainly are not a monolith. What's more, when we listen to children themselves and to survivors of this very experience in childhood, we know that it is much more likely that this newborn baby WAS harmed by this parent's choice to abandon them.

Please check your childism and your need to be perceived as the all-knowing expert, Lisa.

I know you consider yourself to be a feminist as well, so let's run your response to this parent through the Hypocritical Feminist Test, too.

"Dear Lisa, I just had an epic fail trying to encourage my wife to have emotional regulation. She's 33 years old. Because of exhaustion, I've mostly been sitting there and actually listening to her when she is upset about being hungry when I don't want to grant her access to food to eat (I control her access to food 100%), but today I thought I'd try to let her take care of her own feelings. She would cry for 5 minutes, then regulate for 5 minutes, then scream for 10 minutes. This went on for an hour and a half, and eventually she was inconsolable. I know the RIE philosophy is to trust your wife is capable of emotional regulation, but I feel like I just broke trust with my wife." - Dave

Would you respond to Dave as you did to Sabrina, Lisa?

"You didn't fail, Dave. You didn't harm your wife in any way by trying to give her time to regulate her emotions on her own."

No, you wouldn't. Why? Because you regard adult women as human beings worthy of respect and protection. But what about the women who live in younger bodies, Lisa? What about the millions of women who are children today before they are adults tomorrow? Why does your feminism and Lansbury's feminism exclude these women?

I can explain.

The reason is this: Like the vast majority of other adult feminists, Lansbury and yourself both uphold a feminism that is adult-centering, hypocritical, and not-at-all-intersectional. You say you care about the wellbeing and futures of ALL women when the only women you actually care about are the women who have survived this patriarchal society long enough to live beyond age 17.

I want to be VERY clear on this, Lisa. Your feminism is NOT my feminism.

Your adult-centering response to Sabrina in your December 6 post is intensely harmful to babies and children all around the world who will one day identify as women. Rather than uplifting them, rather than centering children like you should be using your privilege as an adult to do, Lisa, you opted instead to speak for this baby and to ultimately cater to the the adults who pay you. This is the opposite of respecting children, and this is entirely outside of integrity.

Quick Fact: Your words as an adult parenting professional about the care and treatment of children have direct impacts on REAL human children, AND you are 100% accountable for your impact.

While Sabrina, the parent who reached out to you for guidance, certainly did not deserve to be shamed (i.e. "You are a mistake of a person!") and assaulted with harmful personal attacks (i.e. "What on earth is wrong with you?!") for their egregious error with their newborn baby, they did deserve to be told the truth, not for them, but for the sake of their child. And you failed to do this, Lisa.

Update: And every single day that passes without you addressing your failure to do this compounds your harm.

But this was not the end of your harm, Lisa. You went on in your December 6 post to say to Sabrina, "Know that you are building a relationship and instilling healthy patterns," to suggest that breastfeeding is not needed "for reasons other than hunger,"and to assert that babies are "whole, complete, capable"human beings. Let's unpack the rest of your harmful post.

1. Breastfeeding/Chestfeeding

Newborn babies who are breastfed/chestfed need to nurse often to establish and maintain milk supply. Basic physiological fact: It is NOT uncommon for newborn babies to need extended periods of non-stop feeding (cluster-feeding) in the first days and even weeks after birth. Please educate yourself, Lisa, about the realities of breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and check your toxic diet culture. Babies know what they need. LISTEN to them.

Breastfeeding/chestfeeding is NOT limited to meeting hunger needs. Newborn babies AND older children breastfeed for a multitude of entirely valid reasons. You are way out of your lane in your problematic pattern that appears well beyond this December 6 post (more on this soon) of attempting to determine for babies and young children when they should and should not feed.

For your review, here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons babies and children MIGHT breastfeed: hunger, thirst, emotional connection with parent(s), physical connection with parent(s), discomfort, pain, illness, etc. Again, please check your diet culture, educate yourself about breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and examine the highly concerning depth of your childism in this regard.

2. "Whole, Complete, Capable"

Human babies are NOT born wholly capable (although they are born wholly worthy of love, care and respect), and saying so as you did in this post implies that they have the ability to meet their own needs. This is truly dangerous, Lisa. If your erroneous assertion were true, we would see newborn babies dressing themselves to keep warm and moving themselves across rooms to feed. 

Please STOP presenting this childist idea that perpetuates negligent harm against children.

There is plenty of science that explains how human babies are born early to allow for bipedal movement and that they are in fact dependent upon the care and protection of adults to survive. Please educate yourself, Lisa. 

3. Sabrina Indicated They Were Present? Where?

Where did Sabrina indicate that they were present in any way with this newborn baby as they cried and screamed for an hour and a half, Lisa? We can conclude that Sabrina was with a clock, yes, and that they could hear the baby as they cried and screamed for that hour and a half, but absolutely nothing in your correspondence supports your statement to them that "it sounds like you were right there supporting her all the way."

Are you engaging in wishful thinking, Lisa, or is this more of the same pretty language you have an established habit of using to cover up your support for harming children to benefit adults?

As you know, Lisa, this letter is certainly not the first time I have made my concerns about your perpetuation of harm against children known to you and to others. Unfortunately, you responded to those call outs not with the careful introspection and accountability one would hope to see from a respectful parenting leader when they are called out by a children's rights activist and survivor of many of the very same childhood traumas you perpetuate.

Instead, you reacted with a disturbing display of adult fragility (i.e. "I'm a good adult parenting leader impacting the lives of thousands of children with x years of professional experience, and I must be wrongfully under attack because people happen to disagree with my actions and they are speaking up about that!") and outright malice that goes as far as threatening your own community members with reporting them to "local, state, and federal authorities."

Your fear-mongering post threatening your own group members.

It has become alarmingly evident that you are a wolf in sheep's clothing, Lisa. On the one hand, you speak about how babies and children should be lovingly cared for with attuned respect and that their needs and feelings must be regarded as entirely valid, but then on the other hand (and typically in hidden spaces such as your now secret, inactive Facebook group) a much different reality emerges. 

"I have dedicated my life to caring for, supporting, and advocating for infants, toddlers, and their parents." - Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

Could it be, Lisa, that your concern is not for the babies and children at all, and that you use words like "regarding baby," "respect," and "advocating," as a smokescreen for the real work you do to effectively maintain the mistreatment and oppression of babies and children all for the sake of keeping the adults whom you want to get paid by comfortable? If this is not your intention, it certainly is your impact.

You know I am direct, Lisa, and you speak to appreciating directness yourself, so I will be frank. If I were to share all my screenshot evidence of your harm against children (which extends far beyond this December 6 post), I would need to add author to my bio. In the meantime, I will continue to update the Childism Archives of this blog, so as many babies and children as possible may be spared from your harmful impact. It would save us both a great deal of time if you held yourself accountable and corrected your course.

Speaking of accountability, deleting countless comments that speak to your errors is NOT what accountability looks like, Lisa. Not even close.

Rapidly deleting comments that raise entirely valid concerns with the misguided parenting guidance you choose to share on your social media platform, attempting to dehumanize those who speak out and express their disagreement with you by labeling them trolls, and yelling at people to "GO AWAY" is not a good look, Lisa, not to mention the polar OPPOSITE of respectful communication.

Even people who sometimes agree with you and who were members of your group (before you blocked them without cause) have been writing me privately to express their disappointment in regards to how you have handled being called out about your childism. When people express their valid concerns about your harmful guidance and the very real risks it poses to babies and children,this is NOT the same thing as being "harassed," Lisa. Not by a very long shot.

Children comprise the largest group of oppressed people in the world, and all adults should be coming to the table to discuss their treatment and wellbeing. 

The concerns of thousands of people - activists, other parenting professionals, mental health professionals, other RIE leaders, early childcare professionals, healthcare professionals, lactation consultants, parents, etc. - in regards to your impact on children will not go away simply because you hope to silence them. This issue is far too big for that, Lisa. 

Mom shaming. Let's look at this, Lisa. 

I see that both you and Janet speak on your December 6 post as if the alternative to your harmful approach revealed there is to personally attack the parent by shaming them. 

"There are people who seem to mistakenly believe that you can help children by shaming their parents." - Janet Lansbury

While I understand that shouting "MOMMY SHAMING!" is a very common tool amongst parenting professionals in the parenting community (more on this soon) used to bypass conflict, big feelings, and ultimately silence those who attempt to center the very children these leaders claim to be advocates for, I would have hoped Janet and yourself might see through all of that logical fallacy.

Fun fact: People are not "mom shaming" just because they express a difference of opinion or concern in terms of how children are being treated. Furthermore, discourse about how children are being treated in a society that actively oppresses them (yes, ALL adults in our society oppress children and play a role in their oppression) is an absolutely CRITICAL part of dismantling the oppression of children.

With this in mind, please stop translating comments that read, "I disagree with what this adult did to this baby, and here's why...." to "This adult is a horrible, awful, no good person who hates their child!" and then proclaiming, "Mommy shaming!" This is childism in action, Lisa. 

When we seek to silence the voices of those speaking out for the wellbeing of children, we uphold the oppression of children that prevents them from being respected in our society in the first place.

As you will see in my example below, there are ways to uphold the rights of children without shaming parents who have made mistakes (ALL parents make mistakes while parenting). Here is one example of what you could have said to Sabrina who was rightfully concerned that they had acted in a harmful way towards their newborn baby without shaming them:

"Sabrina, I am so glad you reached out to me. I can hear that you are concerned about your impact on your new baby. As a parent myself, I can relate to your fear of having brought harm to them. What I can tell you is this: I am not your baby, and it would be outside of integrity for me to assure you that what you did is of no harm to them. I simply cannot know that. None of us can. I do know that babies cry to communicate, and your baby was working to communicate with you - they may have been hungry, thirsty, cold, or wanting connection with you. And ALL of these needs are 100% okay and entirely worthy of being met. While you cannot undo the past, you can apologize to your baby for not responding to them sooner (yes, babies benefit from sincere apologies, too), and move forward trusting that your baby knows what they need, that they are dependent on you right now for care and protection, and that it is not possible to meet their needs "too much." While I have never met a perfect parent, Sabrina, I can tell you that the ones who are willing to admit their errors and make shifts as needed for the sake of their children are doing important and much needed work. Best wishes to you both as you move forward together."

As my words here demonstrate, Lisa, speaking honestly about potential harm perpetuated against children and shaming the adults who perpetuate this potential harm against them is a false equivalency. It is more than possible to advocate for the rights and wellbeing of children without resorting to toxic shame tactics. To learn more about what shame is and what it is not, check out this video by famed shame researcher, Brené Brown.

On You Moving Forward with Integrity

Instead of continuing to run from your harmful impact on babies and children by maintaining your current approach of censoring your comment sections and blocking even more people who speak up about your impact from your Facebook group (yes, I still have access to RIE: Raising Babies Magda's Way and am well aware that you have reduced it from 41,000 members to under 12,000 at the time of this writing), I recommend you:

  1. Take time to really listen to what has been shared with you in regards to your December 6 post and several other harmful aspects of your work.

  2. Invest time and money as needed into educating yourself about childism, the mother wound, breastfeeding/chestfeeding, child development, shame, etc.

  3. Commit to healing your own internalized childism and mother wound that have lead you to offer this ongoing pattern of toxic childist guidance in the first place.

  4. Hold yourself accountable with a true public apology for the harm you have caused.

Until you are willing to hold yourself accountable for your own impact, the true depth of respectful relating with children will continue to elude you.

Do better, Lisa.