Some know her as “Blossom,” and others as Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory,” but now Mayim Bialik is taking on a new role as the unofficial celebrity spokesperson for attachment parenting. Her book, “Beyond the Sling,” released last week, candidly and humorously answers questions about the practicalities of how her parenting style works, from the family bed (where do you have sex?) to gentle discipline (how do kids learn to share?). We caught up with the actress-turned neuroscientist-turned mother to find out just how she manages to get it all done.
Jspace: Do you see yourself as the voice of the attachment parenting movement?
Mayim Bialik: Gosh, I consider a lot of other people to be the voice of the attachment parenting movement—people like William Sears, and the brave leaders of La Leche League International, and Ricki Lake, who is one of the leaders in terms of educating people about natural birth. I have sort of become this unofficial celebrity spokesperson for this way of life, which is a burden I knew I was taking on. Many of us for years and years and years have been privately slammed and attacked, and I guess I knew that I was taking this on publically on behalf of all the amazing people who helped me get here.
Did you discover attachment parenting before or after you had your first son and developed your parenting style?
It was actually even before we got pregnant. My husband and I had friends who had kids before us and a lot of our learning about attachment parenting was from seeing these people who believed in home birth, and breast-feeding on demand, and gentle discipline.
Honestly it sounded crazy to us. These people seemed really consumed with their kids, and it was very bizarre. But what we saw even before we got pregnant, was as these kids got older, this really interesting relationship emerged. Our friends were not parenting by force, or by fear, they weren’t hitting their kids. Their kids believed that they had a voice. It’s not that the kids trumped the parent’s lives and desires, but that they believed that their opinions mattered enough to be able to communicate really effectively. And I think that’s what appealed to us.
Have you seen results with your own children?
A lot of this style of parenting is about lowering expectations of what it should look like and being at peace with this process. Our kids are not perfect. I wasn’t looking to have quiet children, or good children, or obedient children. But by not fighting with a baby in their first years about when they want to nurse and when they want to sleep, we had an easier way of life.
We had very high needs kids who demanded a lot of attention and care and holding, but it seems to have suited their temperaments well. Our older son, who’s six, eventually weaned, and can put himself to sleep, and says “please” and “thank you,” even though we didn’t give him time-outs if he didn’t. He expects big things of people, like love and kindness. He’s a really interesting person.
How has your Jewishness influenced your parenting choices?
I don’t know if it’s influenced it so much as my parenting is just a part of the Jewish person that I am. I feel like a lot of Jewish tradition is about teaching to each their own, and that’s something we believe very strongly.
I also feel like a lot of my environmentalism comes from being raised in a reform synagogue where tikkun olam was a very big part of our education. I do feel like this style of parenting is a very green and environmentally friendly way of parenting. Children who know that they’re loved and cared for will become part of a community where the world is loved and cared for. So I think that feels pretty consistent to us.
It sounds like you find that your Jewishness meshes with the theories of attachment parenting.
I know all sorts of Jewish parents who parent a lot of different ways. But there’s absolutely a sizable portion of halachic Jews, like me, who also believe in natural birth and breast-feeding and attachment parenting style. But there are as many kinds of Jewish parents as there are others, and I think a lot a people who claim to do the attachment parenting thing may look a lot like other traditional ethnic communities.
What will readers find most surprising in your new book, “Beyond the Sling”?
I didn’t write a parenting book about how you should parent your kids. I think a lot of people think attachment parents think they have figured it all out, and got it all right, and are judgmental, and if you don’t breast-feed, you’re a bad mom. None of that is true. It’s not lip service. I’m really not in a position to write a book to tell you how to parent. What I did is tell what works for us and why, and how my neuroscience background affirmed a lot of intuitive stuff that many parents are scared out of by conventional doctors.
You touch on this in your book, but what has it been like to switch back and forth between acting and academics?
Gosh, I mean, there’s a lot of similar skillsets needed. There’s a lot of suppression of ego and a lot of complexity to the social relationships in both academics and acting. Schedule-wise, my husband and I prefer this kind of schedule. I get to be with our kids a lot, and I was with them in their first years. I wasn’t planning to be a regular on a TV show when I went back to auditioning.
Speaking of your regular TV role, is it coincidence that you have a PhD in neuroscience and your character on “The Big Bang Theory” is a neurobiologist?
My first episode, she had no profession. They made her a neurobiologist after they brought me back in season four. Bill Prady, our creator and executive producer, said that way I could fix things if they were wrong.
You have been a very active representative of several Jewish organizations. What compelled you to this work?
I guess personal desire to be part of the philanthropic community, because of the way I was raised. I’m not as wealthy as people think I am.
Participating, especially as a young person, in philanthropic organizations, is why I got involved with JFLA. Now that I’m a more prominent person, I’m being asked to put a face on Na’amat, which asked me to do a PSA for them, and Chai Lifeline, recently I’ve been very involved in Gift of Life. I’ve made six bone marrow matches—six!—just from a drive that I did with the Macabeats and Matisyahu last Hanukkah.
But honestly I feel like it’s important to put a face on organizations, and a lot of times people want someone that they know and are familiar with. But I also feel very strongly and deeply about being part of the Jewish community and our desire to help other people. It’s the foundation of our peoplehood. Personally I feel that, and now publically it’s become something that I’m known for.
You are related to Hayim Nahman Bialik, one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry. Has his legacy influenced you at all?
He’s my great-grandfather’s first cousin. I grew up with an acute knowledge that I was part of a very important family in modern Jewish history. It gave me a lot of pride, and honestly I think it was very special. I grew up in an area where there were a lot of Jews, but I didn’t go to Jewish day school, and most of the people I interacted with were not Jewish. So for me, it did give me a little extra confidence and feeling of uniqueness.
I think it’s something that’s possible for the entire Jewish people. We all descend from some amazing people, whether it’s a couple generations ago, or thousands of years ago. It’s been interesting to see that I felt a real personal destiny for myself and my family, but now that I’ve learned more, and become a more observant person, I feel as close to Moshe Rabbenu as I do to that sort of legacy.
Do you have any recommendations for any of our Jewish readers also trying to balance motherhood with career and interests?
Honestly, and this is something I’ve said to non-Jewish publications as well, I feel like the Sabbath has been the greatest present. I feel like it’s almost more of a secular gift than a religious one. We work all week. For me, the only reminder that we are human beings and not human doings is the Sabbath.
It means really unplugging from everything that distracts me from my kids and from my responsibilities as a parent. I can’t do that every day. But I feel like if I can do it for 25 hours a week, it replenishes my resources, and really keeps me going. It’s sort of what guides my entire week, to get there, and then it’s what powers me through the next week.
It’s actually been kind of amazing. I took on Shabbos observance before I felt that way about Shabbos. I did it because, oh, it’s something I’m trying to do, and it was really only after doing it and become more frantic in my work life, that it became that important.
J-Connection: “The Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik is a Jew with a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and a PhD in neuroscience.
.ORG-Connection: The Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles offers interest-free loans on a non-sectarian basis to individuals and families whose needs are urgent and who may not qualify through normal financial resources.