By Mayim Bialik, Ph.D.
I don’t like labels. In my 35 years, I have been labeled: short (until I no longer was), flat-chested (until I no longer was), “Blossom,” (OK, I am still labeled that even though I technically no longer am), and now: “Attachment Parent.”
I know what you’re thinking: AP parents are self-righteous, privileged, over-psychoanalyzed martyrs who (especially if they are celebrities) pretend to have the time, energy, patience and abundant love to be with their kids all the time without giving them any limits, boundaries or sense of independence.
Did I cover it all?
I am here to say that labels mean nothing. And to prove this to you, I am going to tell you about myself; no labels needed. I have been married for seven years to my college sweetheart. We had our first son in 2005, and I nursed him on demand around the clock for 26 months – no pacifiers, no bottles, no solids until 12 months. Son No. 2 was born in 2008 at home, unassisted until pushing. He is still nursing strong and on demand, day and night, at almost 2½.
This is not some fandangled new Hollywood trend. We parent the way people have parented for hundreds of thousands of years. So hang on to your hats and prepare for a view into my household.
Birth. I believe that natural childbirth is a right and a privilege. Countries where midwifery is the main form of obstetrics, and natural birth and homebirth are viewed as the norm, boast the lowest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. Natural birth is not something to “try for” and feel bad you couldn’t do. Our country needs to step up to the plate in educating women about the benefits of natural birth, and we need to help women actually do it – not just hear about it.
We bed-share. Co-sleeping means sleeping close to your child. Bed-sharing means we all sleep on the same surface. We have two futon mattresses on the floor, since it’s the safest way to sleep for babies (there’s nowhere for them to fall if they are already on the floor!). It’s usually me and the little guy on one mattress and my husband and our 5-year-old on the other, although the 5-year-old bounces around throughout the night. Sometimes we all cuddle together when we wake up; it is something we never imagined we’d do until we had our first son, and it is intimate, fun, safe and beautiful.
Breast milk. It is a scientific fact that human breast milk is the best food, comfort and nourishment for human babies. Although there are rare cases when women’s bodies cannot produce enough milk, the human body is made to create and sustain a supply of milk to keep her baby alive. With the proper education, support and resources, almost all women should be able to build a strong milk supply and successfully breast-feed, barring rare genetic conditions.
If the baby fits…wear it! I wore my children in slings almost exclusively instead of using strollers. I tried a lot of slings until I found the one that fit my body and my lifestyle. I could go anywhere with my babies in a sling, nurse them and let them nap, instead of running home or driving them in a car to get them to sleep. Wearing our children facilitated nursing on demand and encouraged the emotional and physiological comfort that being close encourages. Our children were calm, content and secure when held close to my body and my husband’s.
We practice gentle discipline. That means we don’t hit our children or punish them. We have a lot of boundaries and expectations of our children, and we are by no means permissive parents. We do not use timeouts, we do not bargain (“If you clean your room, I’ll give you a cookie”) and we do not force manners on our children (“Say thank you!” and “Say please!” have never escaped my lips). Our children are not perfect, nor are they robots. They are both even-tempered children by nature, but they have plenty of opportunity to “act out” and “flip out” and “make mama wonder why she ever thought she was qualified to be a parent.” We have had great success with gentle discipline and our children are, by all accounts, full of empathy, aware of boundaries, and pleasant to take to public places.
I don’t need to use labels to tell you who I am and how I choose to raise my kids. I do not judge anyone, because that’s not what my job on this earth is. My job is to do my best for my kids: to be the best mama I can be to them.
The sisterhood and community of mothering and parenting has been lost because of how we have spread out geographically from our families of origin. The Internet has connected us in a way we never imagined, and in this way, I get to share with you what works for our little perfectly imperfect family. It may not work for you and your family, but I hope that it might let you see that some of us are doing our best in our own way; not because we think we’re better, but simply because it’s best for us.
Mayim Bialik starred in the early-1990s television show “Blossom” and currently appears on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” She earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007, and wrote her thesis on Prader-Willi syndrome. The spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network and a certified lactation educator, Bialik is writing a book about attachment parenting, and she has two sons, Miles, 5, and Frederick, 2. She will be blogging regularly at TODAYMoms.com.
Want more Mayim? Read her impressions of the Golden Globes at Kveller.com.