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“The expectations that we have as parents really determine, I think, how sane we feel at the end of the day,” says author, actress and mother-of-two Mayim Bialik, an advocate for attachment parenting. PHOTOS BY DENISE BORCHERT
by Vivien Santana Hughes
As a mother of three kids ages 7 to 25, I’ve been at this parenting thing for a while. And over the years I’ve learned that there’s no one right way to parent, but there’s a way – often found over trial and error, and sometimes tears – that feels right to your family.
To Mayim Bialik, who earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, what feels right is attachment parenting. Best known for playing the title role in the ’90s sitcom Blossom and a regular on The Big Bang Theory, Bialik describes this parenting style as “an emphasis on things such as natural birth, breastfeeding, baby wearing and a belief in a baby’s cries as legitimate. Many people who practice attachment parenting also safely co-sleep,” says the married mother of two sons, ages 4 and 7. “We don’t all do all these things. But one thing you’ll usually find in common is not hitting children and not using harsh discipline.”
Bialik wrote Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way (Simon & Schuster, 2012) to share the core principles of this philosophy. Her writing is clear and candid, emphasizing that she does not have “easy” kids. “It was the best choice for our family,” says Bialik who, with her husband, is homeschooling their sons. “It may not be the best choice for every family. But for us, our kids have absolutely thrived.”
When did you first think this parenting approach would work for you?
I’d known about attachment parenting before, but there’s nothing like when that baby comes out of your body! A lot of people change their minds and philosophy about things. If not for the support of other women parenting this way, I probably would have given up on breastfeeding, on co-sleeping, on gentle discipline.
Tell us about co-sleeping.
I did not night-wean my first child at all and I night-weaned my second one when he was 3. And by that I mean he nursed four to six times a night. Part of it for me was adjusting my expectations for what my days looked like, especially in the early months. I wrote my thesis while breastfeeding my kid! It was exhausting and I would cry sometimes, but it was really worth it to us. My scientific, anthropological perspective is that babies sleep with their parents. That’s what primates do. It’s evolutionarily beneficial, it’s comforting, it’s safe. It’s normal to breastfeed frequently at night for a long time. It never occurred to us to even have a crib as an option.
The foundation I always come from is that I’m the adult and it’s my job to learn the language of my child. Meaning, if their needs are not met, they find increasingly louder, more complicated and sometimes more aggressive ways to get their needs met. Every child is good and wants to do good.
What challenges are you having now as your kids are getting older?
[Laughs] Our younger son just turned 4. As with our first, it is the hardest year for us. We did not have terrible 2s, and I actually don’t believe in terrible 2s. We had our challenges for sure, but 2 and 3 and 1 were fine and good and difficult. We have very high-needs kids. But 4 is the year that will literally bring us to our knees! The key is to not respond to the whining, but if we could just have a tape recorder that would say, ‘I can’t respond to that voice, the answer to that voice is “no”, please use a gentle voice….’
Chat Room columnist Vivien Santana Hughes is a former L.A. Parent editor and the mother of three – one newly employed university grad, one in college on a semester in Spain and (surprise!) a 7-year-old daughter. She’s grateful that her babies enjoyed sleeping through the night as much as she still does.
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