Mayim Bialik's Parenting Style

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By Paulette Cohn

Mayim Bialik is best remembered for her starring role on the NBC comedy, "Blossom," which aired on NBC in the early '90s. Following the series, she enrolled in UCLA, and now holds a doctorate in Neuroscience. That said, as the mother of two boys -- Miles, 4, and Fred 1 -- Bialik made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. To help with that, she has returned to acting, which she says has a more flexible schedule than being a professor or researcher, and this fall she has a recurring role as a high school guidance counselor on ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and will appear on two episodes of Fox's comedy, "'Til Death." When Mayim is working, her husband Michael Stone, a grad student, parents their two boys.

Bialik's style of parenting includes breastfeeding on demand, Elimination Communication, and having her children sleep with her. In addition, she plans to home school, she enjoys vegan cooking and baking and lives a green and eco-friendly lifestyle, which includes cloth diapers.
JustMommies: You practice Attachment Parenting, which is a little unusual in today's society. Can you explain what that means.
Mayim Bialik: It is only unusual in the sense that for the last 200 years it has been done differently, but for most of human history, people slept with their kids, kept them close to them, nursed on demand and were the primary caregivers for their children. I guess that is what our style of parenting looks like. It has been called Attachment Parenting. There are a lot of things that some people do that are not Attachment Parenting. It is a general umbrella term. Also, there are other things we do that don't necessarily fall into Attachment Parenting, like we do the Elimination Communication thing, which is teaching your baby or yourself, your baby's elimination cues from birth. We do things that are considered out of the ordinary, but we consider them evolutionarily beneficial.
JustMommies: Did you know before you gave birth that you wanted to parent this way?
Mayim Bialik: I didn't really know. My mom was pretty hip. She used soy milk for us, she worked at a health-food store, and she had a lot of holistic instincts, but it wasn't really encouraged in the community where she was raising kids. So I was raised with some consciousness of holistic living, but never pictured I would do a home birth and all this stuff. We had friends a little older than us -- a couple of different friends who had kids before us -- and they lived in Northern California, where this kind of parenting and these options are circulating more. We started learning about it through them and seeing their kids and started doing research before we even got pregnant. Once we had our son, we were enmeshed in this style of parenting.

JustMommies: In this style of parenting, does the husband have to be even more involved?
Mayim Bialik: Not necessarily. There are single moms who practice Attachment Parenting.
JustMommies: But you mentioned that the children sleep with you, so if you are married…
Mayim Bialik: A lot of people have separate rooms if the husband is sensitive to baby noise and stuff like that. For us, we have one family bed as it were. It is actually two next to each other because there are so many of us now.
JustMommies: Is there an age at which you put the children in a separate room?
Mayim Bialik: Yes. There is an age at which they wean from the bottle and an age at which they don't sleep with you anymore. We are hoping by high school [she jokes]. There is an age at which they desire independence, which a child will exhibit anywhere from age two to six or seven. For us, it has worked really well to follow our kids' lead. Also, if you are a nursing parent, sleeping with your kid is both easy and also facilitates a good milk supply and good bonding. That was also part of the motivation.
The idea is if you foster healthy dependence from the time they realize they are not in your body anymore, if you teach them that the world is a safe place because you are there, they will expect others to be sensitive to them as well. And, they will behave appropriately in terms of the things that they do to get their needs met. Hopefully, they will be more sensitive and more on the gentle side, because they won't need to scream and using crying as their first form of communication. That is what we found with our kids: Crying is their last form of communication. If we miss the early cues of hunger and sleep, even with our four year old, it usually ends up with a much louder communication. It has worked for us, but it doesn't work for every family, it doesn't work for every temperament of kid, but as I said, for our two, it seems to suit them very well. And it works for our family. Again, everything has to work for your family.
JustMommies: Because of the closeness to adults, do they become verbal much younger, so they can verbalize their needs?
Mayim Bialik: I don't know. Some people say that children whose needs are met this way … our oldest son signed, we taught him some signs … but people say that children whose needs are met this way don't need to speak because their needs are anticipated or communicated nonverbally. I don't know that there is a general rule. I make slow-moving, large, quiet people.
JustMommies: Talk a little bit more about how Elimination Communication works. You use cloth diapers and there is a band you put around it?
Mayim Bialik: That is a little trick that a lot of people have started using. You don't want to have to fasten a diaper every time your child goes to the bathroom, which at this age can be once an hour, sometimes more frequently. The idea is babies are born giving signals … that part of our wiring is that we give signals when we are going to go to the bathroom. With our first son, we started looking at those signs at about six months. With our second son, we figured since we were sitting at home and hanging out with him, let's see. He absolutely very early indicated when he was going to go to the bathroom.

JustMommies: So then you take him to a toilet or a potty?
Mayim Bialik: Baby Bjorn makes an infant potty. People use all sorts of things historically, again, and a lot of the world does this and can't imagine that we put diapers on five-year-olds. Obviously, there are different reasons, one being, if diapers are not in great supply and stuff like that. So we use cloth diapers when we go out. He is mostly dry, so it is helpful and he uses the potty.
JustMommies: Did you do a home birth?
Mayim Bialik: With my first son, we were home until nine centimeters and then we transported to a hospital. He was born naturally otherwise. My second son was a home birth -- a very fast and beautiful home birth.
JustMommies: There are provisions made in case there is a problem, right?
Mayim Bialik: Yes. We had a certified nurse midwife. Most uncomplicated births do go smoothly without any intervention. [With my second birth], it was such a fast labor, I was alone until pushing. Everybody was on their way. It was an hour and a half of active labor, so it was very quick. Three hours total. I had a three-day labor with my first son. It is not uncommon for a second birth to be faster.
JustMommies: Do you do no vaccinations, or do you select specific ones with your doctor?
Mayim Bialik: We have not vaccinated, but some people do selective vaccination. There is a recommended modified schedule that Dr. Sears has been recommending.
JustMommies: For home schooling, is that something you plan to do yourself? At four, wouldn't Miles really be in preschool?
Mayim Bialik: We are part of a home-schooling community. We are part of it because they also do days at the park and we have been learning from other parents. Miles, our older son, did sit in on a French class from the time he was three until now. It is basically learning what it is like to sit in a circle. He is a quiet guy, so he was happy to sit quietly. I also teach in the home-school community, but it is also being a part of a community and learning how people do it and what their lives look like. Theoretically, a lot of people wouldn't have put their kid into anything until kindergarten.

JustMommies: What about preschool for socialization? Organizations such as Head Start?
Mayim Bialik: Obviously, it depends on the community and what kind of resources you have. If both parents are working, sometimes the best thing for a child is to be with adults who can take care of them and other children. It is a misnomer to say that children need this aggressive socialization from the time they are two or three, or that they need academics. My personal opinion is that children don't need academics at three. But, again, that varies. My parents are teachers. My dad is a public-school teacher and my mom taught nursery school my whole life. I come from a family that teaches and loves learning. I will also say that the home-school families that I know have busier social calendars than anybody I know that goes to school, so I don't feel that socialization is lacking. If you home school, obviously, the old notion of people in basements with white-faced children who haven't seen the sun in days is passé, but that is even what I grew up thinking of when I thought of home schooling. For us, it looks really different. In the community we are in, we are very fortunate. There are field trips, there are classes, it is a really vibrant school-like community. We have a home-school scouting troop. There are all sorts of things. There are also sports. Our schedules are really different. We can do stuff during the week when everything is quiet and everybody else is in school. It is all there. There are kids of every size, shape and background. It is a very diverse community where we live, so we are very fortunate.
JustMommies: Because you have a community of home schooling, if you get an acting job when Miles is old enough to attend fulltime, theoretically, can you leave him with the other moms?
Mayim Bialik: Theoretically. A lot of the activities we do like our scouting troop, it is really a home-school scouting troop, meaning we are with our kids while we are doing our activities. My husband is a grad student, so we take turns if I have an audition or, if I am working, he has the boys. We are in an environment where we are all schooling our kids together. One of the classes I teach, I take my boys with me because it is in a big house full of toys and, while I teach, my boys can run around. It is really nice. It is getting back to the way communities functioned for all of human history. We have lost that. In the last 200 years society has changed a bit, and we are trying to figure out how to meet the needs of our productivity and also promote healthy children.
JustMommies: You have your Ph.D. in neuroscience?
Mayim Bialik: I use it every day, but more in examining my children and the people around us. I am not doing a professorship or a research position, which is what you normally do with a doctorate in neuroscience.
JustMommies: You can teach the science classes for the home school?
Mayim Bialik: Yes. I teach a neuroscience class for middle schoolers. Again, that is more for the community. When it became clear to us that the best thing for our kids was for me to be nursing on demand and really the primary caregiver, definitely for the first year, it became clear that a career where you are expected to return to work after six weeks wasn't going to be compatible with that. Again, that is not to disparage people who make that decision. Everybody decides what is best for them, so that is what we decided: for me not to pursue that career in academia. I really haven't acted as an adult and, believe it or not, the schedule is more flexible and gives us more ability to be with our kids more of the time, so that is really what I feel our goal in life is: How do we have a career and a life that facilitates us being with our kids?
JustMommies: Have you enjoyed acting as an adult?
Mayim Bialik: It is picking up. I am doing a film and I have two guest spots on the FOX show, "'Til Death," and I have a recurring role on "The Secret Life of an American Teenager." It has been busy. Fortunately, it is usually just a day or two of work, but it has been busy and it is enjoyable. Obviously, the world is very different now than it was when I finished "Blossom." The Internet seems to be the marker for how well you are doing. I have been doing some writing for Tablet magazine online and for a couple of other Jewish Web sites and I am getting some nice speaking engagements. I am also the celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network.
JustMommies: Are you vegan, because that is something the Holistic Moms Network promotes?
Mayim Bialik: I don't call myself vegan in political vegan circles, because I do eat eggs if it is in something, or dairy if it is in something and I taste it, it is okay with me. Our son is raised pretty much the same. As I said, in political circles, vegans don't consider me vegan, but I don't eat dairy or eggs, or fish or anything with a face or a nervous system. If I am around vegans, I say I am a vegetarian who doesn't eat dairy or eggs. I also don't wear leather.
JustMommies: Tell me about your work with the Holistic Moms Network
Mayim Bialik: It is an organization I was told about by friends when I had my first son. Basically, a lot of conventional parenting is not supportive or helpful if you are parenting this way, so Holistic Moms Network is a built-in support group and they have meetings monthly, playdates and you are surrounded by a community of people who really can be your mentors in this style of parenting and you are able to help each other. There is also a huge component of non-toxic living and how to make our lives green and safe for our kids. Again, it is not for everybody, but it really helps fill the void for people who really care which cloth diaper is the best. You don't get that from your average parenting magazine. Obviously, Mothering magazine is something that we turn to, but in terms of having a support group, Holistic Moms Network is really fitting the bill for a lot of people. I have never been a spokesperson for anything, but this was so much fun and so easy because I was a member before I was even a famous mom.

Image courtesy: Denise Herrick Borchert

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