The role of a lifetime

A TV actress with a PhD in neuroscience, Mayim Bialik, 36, takes on a third career as author with Tuesday's publication of "Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way" (Touchstone). Bialik, who starred in the '90s sitcom "Blossom," is a regular on CBS' Caltech comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," where she plays a nerdy neuroscientist. Bialik, who earned her degrees at UCLA, is married to her college sweetie, Michael Stone; they have two sons -- Miles, 6 1/2, and Frederick, 3 1/2.

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What is attachment parenting and why did you write the book?

I'm actually an accidental author. I was the spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network and a writer for a website called Kveller.com, which is a hip, irreverent Jewish parenting site, and I became this unofficial voice for attachment parenting. I was interviewed by Teresa Strasser, and she said, "I would never want to parent like you, but you make it sound so interesting that I'd like you to meet my book agent." Basically I wrote a little about my neuroscience background and how it has informed my parenting style, but I wrote the stories of the moms who parent like we do and courageously do our best in a society that doesn't appreciate a lot of attachment parenting principles.

The main principle, as identified by Dr. [Barry] Sears and Dr. [Jay] Gordon, is the notion that natural birth means something to the mother and the child. Breast-feeding is the natural, optimal way to feed a child. Sleeping with your child, wearing your child in a sling as opposed to pushing them around in expensive strollers, those are things that matter biologically and sociologically for the structure of a family. Other principles include honoring a baby's voice, meaning honoring a baby's cry and not seeing babies as manipulative. Attachment parenting is not permissive parenting, but the general notion is children have feelings that should be valued.

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As I'm sure you know, critics of sleeping with your kids include the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says it raises the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

The fact is safe co-sleeping is not difficult. The notion of babies being smothered is simply not true. And the benefits of sleeping together are profound.

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How do you make it safe and what are the benefits?

The benefits are it facilitates breast-feeding, and it encourages more rest. It allows for constant refreshing of the hormones that govern bonding with your baby. We have a mattress on the floor so no one has a risk of falling off.

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I thought breast- feeding was widely accepted as the better alternative if you can do it. I thought perhaps where attachment parenting diverges is on how long you do it.

Right, so childhood weaning is the term for listening to your child's signals and not enforcing a concept of weaning and when a child is quote, done breast-feeding. Again, there's a tremendous amount of variation, but in general, attachment parenting does support what we call extended breast-feeding. So to say that it is recommended that babies breast-feed exclusively for six months is the general global recommendation for baby and mother's health, but there's still a strong emphasis on starting solids at 4 or 6 months. Both of my kids did not have solids until after their first birthday.

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So how old were they when you weaned them?

I did not wean them. My first son weaned at 2; my second son is 3 1/2 and still breast-feeds. He doesn't breast-feed a lot, but I have not actively weaned him. We set a lot of boundaries around breast-feeding, so for example I wouldn't breast-feed my 3 1/2-year-old in the middle of the supermarket, where if a newborn needed to breast-feed, I would breast-feed them wherever they needed to. We tend not to breast-feed out of the house at this stage.

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Are you familiar with Erica Jong's critique of attachment parenting in the Wall Street Journal? She wrote that it victimizes women and said, "It's a prison for mothers and it represents as much of a backlash against women's freedom as the right to life movement."

I think we're seeing a new wave of, I guess, what's being termed feminist mothers -- women who feel empowered by being a parent and by making active choices and choosing to follow this aspect of biology. I understand academic and traditional feminism and do believe that for some women not having children is the answer. I also meet a lot of women and self-proclaimed feminists who don't want to parent their child and would rather someone else do it. Obviously, everybody gets to choose what works for them, but I think we live in a culture that is simply not supportive of mothering this way as empowering, as significant or as worthwhile. And when you look to countries like Sweden and Denmark and Norway, places that place a federal and local emphasis on appreciating parents, those are countries where you see the lowest rates of infant and maternal mortality.

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I'm sure there aren't too many neuroscientist-slash-actors out there. How were you cast as a neuroscientist on "Big Bang Theory"?

When I first appeared on the show, it was a guest spot, the finale of Season 3, and my character had no job. She was just a girl Sheldon was being set up with. The way Bill Prady tells it, our creator and executive producer, they figured, why not make her what I am so I can fix things if they're wrong?

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The TLC show "What Not to Wear" recruited you because they thought you were "a schlumpy mommy mess," and that was the first time they'd ever done that.

I was the first celebrity that they made over. Fred, my younger son, was 9 months old and was on the set off camera, nursing on demand. It was a week of craziness, but it ended up being positive publicity-wise, and it got me to understand some of the politics of appearance in this new Hollywood that I'd really been out of for about 12 years. I learned that it's important for everyone to see how skinny I am at all times. I learned what colors are good for me and what parts of my body are the best features to emphasize. I learned never to trust myself getting dressed again.

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calendar@latimes.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday, March 07, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction Mayim Bialik: In the March 4 Calendar section, the Sunday Conversation column with actress-author Mayim Bialik gave the wrong first name for an expert on attachment parenting. He is Dr. William Sears, not Barry Sears.
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