Unlike numerous child stars who seem to fade into oblivion or become fodder for gossip rags, Mayim Bialik has stayed out of trouble by diving into causes she is passionate about. She’s a mom of two, a neuroscience PhD, a Holistic Moms spokesperson, vegan and an attachment parenting advocate. Oh, and did we mention she can still be seen regularly on the TV hit The Big Bang Theory? Her latest venture is a book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, about her decision to follow an attachment parenting style for raising her children. The book is written in an approachable, conversational tone. If you ever watched Blossom or Beaches (and how could you possibly grow up in the ’90s without having done so?), as you read this book you can easily imagine Bialik talking to you across the kitchen table, while sipping a soy latte perhaps. Divided into sections including elimination communication, babywearing, co-sleeping, when to use medical interventions, and how to avoid buying too much stuff for baby, the book touches on many “hot buttons” in parenting and are presented clearly, logically, and and always in Bialik’s confident voice, which at times turns humorous (such as when she discusses her surprise at just how often her firstborn wanted to be held) and very serious (such as when she is discussing her feelings on gentle discipline.)
Throughout the book, Bialik maintains that each family that follows attachment parenting is different, and her experience is just that: one person’s experience. I should say that, although my family co-slept for the first six months of my son’s life, I wore my son in a sling, had a natural childbirth, etc, I do not consider myself an “Attachment Parent” (we sleep-trained my son, and despite breastfeeding for 15 months, several of those months were not “on demand”). So this book review is neither by someone who has been drinking the AP Kool-Aid for years, nor someone who thinks that APers are a bunch of neo-hippies who want to nurse their children until they are teenagers. I’m sure, like many Inhabitots readers, I fall on the AP spectrum, but I know that each parenting experience is unique and distinct and may not follow a specific “style.”
One of the elements of Beyond the Sling that I appreciated the most was how honest Bialik is about the sacrifices she and her husband have made in support of the AP lifestyle. She and her husband are the primary (and pretty much sole) caregivers for their two children. She openly discusses her struggles with breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and the ways that she creates a balance in her work and family life. She doesn’t shy away from the less appealing, yet very honest aspects of her parenting decisions such as how truly exhausted she has been due to lack of sleep and how she has missed out on numerous social events.
Bialik is being brave to open up her family’s lifestyle to the public. She admitted during our recent interview that “It’s kind of hard to be a public face on this[Attachment Parenting], because there is not a typical face of AP, and for sure, my husband and I are not it.” Bialik’s intelligence is clear, and so is her ability to relate information: she and her husband decided on their current AP lifestyle after much thought, consideration, and research (much of which she conveys in the book). And theirs is, indeed, a very devoted, all-consuming AP experience. From following elimination communication from birth for her second son to using breastmilk to soothe ear infections and bug bites, some of her lifestyle choices, however rationally explained, are bound to raise eyebrows.
I admit that there were a few areas that I found controversial and less applicable to a typical person’s life. For example, Bialik devotes a section to “letting kids be kids” and not forcing certain elements such as saying “please” and ”thank you,” sharing, and her decision not to introduce academics in any form to her children until they were over five years of age (including not singing the alphabet song). While I agree that the emphasis of childhood should be on creative play and not flashcards and number drills (or flashing electronic toys), this felt a little extreme to me. I have a hard time imagining bringing my son to the first day of kindergarten without having taught him colors, numbers and his ABCs. I’m pretty sure it would raise a few red flags to my child’s teacher as well (an issue that Bialik won’t face as her family is homeschooling their children).
And while I found myself shaking my head at some of the sacrifices she has made, I have to look at them as just that-her sacrifices, her choices. I don’t think that hiring the occasional babysitter will diminish the bond I have with my children, and I know that co-sleeping was not the best option for our family for a variety of reasons, but I have to respect the idea that, as Bialik said in my interview with her, “ We all do the best that we can at the stage of life that we’re at.”
As a parent, I appreciate the attention and care Bialik has given to her parenting style as well as to providing a book that offers a personal, real-life perspective for other parents who want to follow a natural, loving way of raising their children. Since closing the book, I have tried to think about what kind of a parent I want to be, what I would or wouldn’t change about the way I am raising my children, about remembering the importance of their voices. I think the mark of any good book is that it makes you continue to think, to question, to probe, and Beyond the Sling did that for me. And even though some of AP isn’t what I am choosing wholly for my own family, Beyond the Sling is a positive, thoughtful book on how to nurture your bond with your child, your family as a whole and yourself. Whether or not you agree with all of Bialik’s choices, and every aspect of the attachment parenting lifestyle, the book offers numerous ways in which you can parent gently, lovingly and compassionately.