You might know her as the infamous American television character “Blossom” from the early 1990s, but trust me when I say that actress, neuroscientist, and mother Mayim Bialik has bloomed and grown into so much more during the past 20-something years.
Bialik shared her life story to date in front of an audience of about 200 people – mostly parents, some with kids in tow, and that’s a-OK – last Sunday afternoon at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Bialik was out on tour promoting her book “Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way,” a collection of autobiographical accounts of her family’s experiences and adventures in attachment parenting (AP). In a candid discussion facilitated by television producer and current colleague David Goetsch (“The Big Bang Theory” – he’s co-executive producer and writer on the series; she’s a regularly appearing character), the audience embarked on a recount of Bialik’s life journey that’s ultimately redefined her as a spokesperson and advocate for the AP lifestyle.
Bialik discussed five touchstones in her life that have molded and continue to influence her as a person: Judaism, Acting, Science, Veganism, and Motherhood. The conversation between her and Goetsch might not have appeared to discuss or promote the AP lifestyle per se, but the message was clear: Bialik – and now her husband to some degrees, but not all of them just yet! – is a devotee to and leader inside of the AP movement. Bialik talked about how she breastfed both of her sons until (and well beyond) two-years-old. In another vein, she discussed co-sleeping and how it is defined in her family (family sleeps in one room, not necessarily always on the same sleeping surface as that’s called bed-sharing). Bialik and Goetsch quipped back and forth about elimination communication (EC) and the pros and cons (and ins and outs) of that challenging but extremely rewarding process. Of course she talked about baby wearing; it’s the name of the book after all! And most importantly, Bialik and Goetsch made the afternoon entertaining, judgment-free, and informative for us parents in the audience, no matter where we were on our own AP adventure.
At first, I was a bit disappointed that Bialik didn’t get into more of the how-tos of gentle discipline or other more formal tenets of AP. However, as the hour-and-a-half progressed, I became grateful for the direction that the talk took. It was interesting to learn the reasons behind what motivated Bialik to write her story for those interested in learning more about AP, and it was lovely to listen to someone talk about the topic in just about the least judgmental and non-threatening way possible for such a potentially divisive subject. She not only told personal anecdotes to support her personal reasons for subscribing to the AP lifestyle, but she being a neuroscientist also gave many evidential accounts of why an AP-based parenting path can grow the best human brains possible (her dissertation at UCLA was a neuroscientific investigation of Prader-Willi syndrome).
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m in no way an AP activist. In fact, I’ve never and don’t currently subscribe to the general practice of AP myself. We introduced solid food to T at six months old, though he did breastfeed part-time through 14 months, which is rather short time compared to truly devoted AP mothers. T wore diapers until he was three-years-old; EC calls for having kids out of diapers sometime around 12 months. I tried the baby-wearing thing, but after getting frustrated with about a half-dozen of those sling-thingies, I gave up (and T slept just fine in the car seat baby-bucket anyway, thank you very much). T’s vaccines are all up to date, and he’s had his fair share of antibiotics along the way, too, whereas AP-advocates would shy from the AAP recommended vaccination schedule and antibiotics in general. We introduced T to his own crib and bedroom at three-months-old, so obviously we weren’t big on co-sleeping. I shout, use time-outs, and generally am not that familiar with engaging in gentle discipline practices (other than to refrain from corporal punishments, which, yes, we do try our best to avoid). Yet having said all that, I left Sunday’s talk wanting to learn more about the things we might be able to change so we can try to do better – especially in the gentle discipline department – so I purchased Bialik’s book.
My main takeaway from Sunday’s program was this: We are all people with different backgrounds, different children, and different beliefs. Based on those experiences, we all will decide on the parenting path that works best for us, and we need to seek out a support system composed of like-minded people. That’s not to say folks can’t be friends and mix it up with people with different parenting practices or experiences – not at all! But when it comes to seeking support or advice, you aren’t going to ask the parent of mild-mannered 10-year-old girl twins how to best discipline your spirited three-year-old, only-child boy, right?
Is it you and your partner who wants the kids out of your bed, or is it your favorite aunt (the same one who had your cousins crying-it-out at the age of four months in their own cribs in their own rooms) passing passive-aggressive judgment on you for your sleeping practices? Are you embarrassed or inconvenienced about breastfeeding your toddler in public, or is it that your sister is rolling her eyes and starting the same (judgmental) conversation again when you need to take five on a mall bench to feed your two-year-old? It’s questions just like these that Bialik challenged us parents to honestly answer for ourselves and our kids so we can parent the best way possible – and judgment-free – in the sling and beyond.