Last week, Mayim Bialik best known for her starring role on the 90’s sitcom Blossom and her current turn as Amy on The Big Bang Theory—appeared on ABC’s The View to discuss her new book, Beyond the Sling.
Introducing her, Whoopi Goldberg called her parenting style “unconventional,” giving as an example Bialik’s “not sharing a bed with her husband, she co-sleeps with one of her children while her husband sleeps with the other.” “When did they get together and have the babies?” interjected co-host Sherri Shepherd disbelievingly.
That is one of the many questions posed—and answered—by Bialik in Beyond the Sling, which describes her parenting philosophy, a practice known as Attachment Parenting. As described by Attachment Parenting International (API), Attachment Parenting (AP) is a style of parenting which places emphasis on principles starting with birth and including breastfeeding and co-sleeping. Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician who is a familiar face on television talk shows and the author of more than 30 books on parenting, is a leading advocate and helped develop a lot of the theory behind AP.
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There are eight principles total, and involve preparing for birth; breastfeeding (or trying to mimic breastfeeding with bottle feeding if necessary); responding to your child with sensitivity; utilizing “babywearing” and breastfeeding to encourage “nurturing touch”; instilling “safe sleep” (co-sleeping is advocated); providing “consistent and loving care”; disciplining through positive and gentle means; and balancing the entire family’s needs. Bialik does make a point of saying in Beyond the Sling that “no one does all eight perfectly, nor do you have to subscribe to all of them to benefit from these principles.”
But a lot of moms who have tried aspects of AP (or thrown themselves and their families headlong into the practice) are finding it more stringent than Bialik would have you believe, and not the answer to their insecurities as parents.
Take co-sleeping, for example. While some believe that co-sleeping is a dangerous practice, Bialik describes it “indescribably wonderful.” But a mother like Janine had a different experience.
“I NEEDED MY OWN SPACE”
“I didn’t really get into AP until my daughter around 2 months,” says Janine. “I met a mom in my playground who was a hardcore devotee. She didn’t own a crib or a stroller, she did cloth [diapers] and co-slept. She really explained what AP was and how it makes your child more sensitive, faster to respond with empathy and more secure in their life. It sounded great!” Janine decided to embrace Attachment Parenting. “I got a carrier, threw my baby in bed with us, joined the NY AP group and prepared for heaven!” But “that didn’t happen,” says Janine. Both she and her husband found themselves waking frequently when sleeping alongside their daughter; the sleepless nights led to feelings of resentment towards their daughter, as well as trouble in the relationship between husband and wife. It “ultimately put a lot of strain on my marriage,” says Janine.
Read Related: The Benefits of Non-Attachment Parenting
Delfina, mother of toddler Elena, sees a correlation between AP and the tradition that exists in her Puerto Rican family. “ I know many cousins who were brought up ‘in the bed’ until like age 3 or 4. Many of them still climb in with the parents sometimes during the night up to age 10!” But co-sleeping didn’t work for Delfina and her husband. “We used the side of the bed co-sleeper and it worked really great for us but I definitely needed my own space and some good sleep after a while, so Elena was in her own ‘room’ at age 10 months.”
Another mom, Alana, says simply: “I love co-sleeping with my son, but not at the expense of sleeping with my husband. We take him into bed with us in the morning if he wakes up crazy early, or during naps, but I would never give up sleeping with my husband in order to co-sleep with kids.” Alana recalls a family she knew who slept in a family bed made up of mattresses on the floor. “That couple is divorced now,” she notes.
BUILDING CONFIDENCE: YOUR CHILD’S AND YOUR OWN
Jill, a mother of two, feels that co-sleeping with her son was incredibly beneficial to his development. Her son “slept with us when he needed us. I believed this made him the confident, strong child he is today.” Jill also “wore” her son (Bialik and AP advocate “wearing” your baby in a sling or a carrier). “I wore him everywhere because he responded positively to that,” she says. “He would nuzzle me, sleep on me…I felt us bond in a way I cannot describe in words. He was and is still able to play on his own without needing you to play with him.”
But Jill stresses that she doesn’t agree with every single aspect of Attachment Parenting. “I feel you shouldn’t be in every aspect of [your child’s] day… we need to build their confidence so they can go off on their own.”
And therein lies a problem that a lot of mothers have with AP and its followers. Bialik’s book stresses the importance of following your own intuition as a parent (Part I is titled Trust Your Instincts)—and even goes so far as to assure readers that “there are no ‘attachment police’ who revoke your membership if they catch your child asleep in his own bed.” But many moms who have looked into—and even practiced—AP find that that it doesn’t feel right to try and follow all of the eight principles put forth by the philosophy. And while Bialik assures her readers that they do not have to follow all of the principles, there’s something about having these principles put forth in the first place that sets up an expectation that mothers may find daunting—and frustrating.
Dr. Michel Cohen, pediatrician and founder of New York’s Tribeca Pediatrics, doesn’t subscribe to the theory of AP and laments the effect it can have on a parent’s self-confidence. In his book The New Basics, Dr. Cohen discusses the AP idea that parents should address their child’s crying “no matter what it takes.” “I have encountered many parents who followed this philosophy and literally drove themselves and their baby crazy with guilt and frustration when it didn’t work,” he says.
Ultimately, the AP’s eight principles can come across as a list of rules, and not being able to adhere to all of them can feel like failure to some moms.
FEELING GOOD ENOUGH
The introduction to Beyond the Sling sets this tone. Written by pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon, author of multiple parenting books including Good Night! The Parents’ Guide to the Family Bed, it starts with the words, “We can do better.” He goes on to say, “I’ve seen far too many articles and books about so-called good enough parenting. Why settle for ‘good enough’?”
This can feel like a blow to mothers who find comfort in the concept of the “good enough mother,” an idea developed in the 1950’s by psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, and pediatrician D.W. Winnicott which theorizes that being a loving and devoted parent is “good enough,” and that mothers should trust their instincts and accept themselves as imperfect.
In Part II of Beyond the Sling, the first chapter is titled Baby Needs a Smooth Birth, and Bialik talks about “unnecessary interventions” like C-sections, episiotomies, and the induction of labor.
“Reading that ‘baby needs a smooth birth’ made me feel like I failed right off the bat,” says Luz, who was induced with Pitocin after her labor got off to a slow start and eventually had a C-section when doctors became concerned she and her baby may have come down with an infection. “Of course I wanted for us to have a smooth birth, but above all I wanted it to be a safe birth. I listened to the doctors and followed their advice, and ended up having a C-section. So did I fail my child right away?”
DROPPING THE LABEL
Mothers who want to trust their instincts, feel comforted as “good enough” parents, and yet also employ some of the techniques of Attachment Parenting may find that dropping the label of “AP” and simply trusting in their intuition as loving mothers may be the key to assured, successful parenting.
“Wearing” your child because it feels right, having your baby co-sleep or sleep on his own depending on what works for the family, and believing in your intuition as a loving parent, doesn’t need to be labeled as a philosophy or a set of rules.
“I think at some point, hard-core attachment parenting becomes about fulfilling the parent’s need instead of the child’s need,” says Alana. “To me, being dogmatic about any sort of ‘parenting style’ can come at the expense of really just listening to your own needs and your child’s needs.”
Dr. Michel Cohen puts it this way in his book The New Basics: “ I assure you, you are attached. Just trust your instincts.”