I got an advance copy of Beyond the Sling, a Real Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way by Mayim Bialik, PhD and, in short, I like it.
I’m saying yes to more things these days, and I like that too. I said yes to the publicist’s offer to send me this book, not because I’d heard of Mayim the actress (I’ve never seen any of her shows), but because the pitch was about Mayim the UCLA neuropsychologist and her take on parenting.
Then the book arrived and I found myself invited into not a brainy world, although Mayim is certainly smart, but a kind and sensible world. Mayim explains attachment parenting (full disclosure, I would consider myself an “attachment parent” and my own book to be an attachment parenting book) in a way that is the opposite of polarizing or strident. She gently guides us back to trusting our instincts—she invites us back into the cave and into the body. I couldn’t agree more.
Mayim also strongly advocates for being with our babies (i.e. staying home with them if we can). While she is earthy and realistic on this point for the most part, I felt the sting of guilt that I could not afford to provide Andy with more than the six weeks maternity leave her job allowed back when we were new parents. Mayim cites countries, like Norway, where maternity leave can be two years—and I want to sing in that choir, the one that awakens our own culture to this bright idea.
Life is rife with synchronicity. Just last week my older son was talking about how much a friend of his and his family love the TV show Big Bang Theory. This particular friend is a kid I’ve traveled with and with whom I love to talk about, amongst other things, math. I don’t know anything about math, but he does—and he has a way of explaining it that makes it graspable and interesting, at least to me.
This kid was sleeping over last weekend when I suddenly, dimly, put it together that Mayim was in his favorite show. I grabbed the book from the kitchen island and pointed to the woman on the cover and asked him if she was the actress from Big Bang Theory. He scrutinized the photo and then nodded. “Is she a good actress?” I asked him. “Yeah, she is,” he said with marked enthusiasm. “What’s she like in the show?” I asked. “She plays a neurobiologist who is kind of Asbergery and doesn’t understand other people. That’s where the humor comes from.”
I thought about this; brainy extrovert playing brainy introvert, sort of like Margaret Hamilton playing the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz, it’s often the truly nice people who can play mean, and perhaps it’s the socially adept who can best play socially awkward. And then I realized why, amongst other reasons, and at least for me personally, Mayim’s book truly has merit: it makes you feel that you are in the hands of a confident (but not overly-egotistical), loving, reasoned and firm (but not strident or negativistic), earthy, funny, authentic, intelligent, affable, famous yet seemingly normal, pro-social, compassionate, honest mother. And isn’t that where every inner-baby needs to be in order to grow safe, happy and go on to contribute optimally to the group?
I found myself, as a psychologist, utterly disinterested in squabbling over the fine points of attachment theory, or in “critiquing,” her point of view, but rather I felt re-connected to the dad I was some years ago, making dinner while wearing my baby in that blue and white striped sling, the warmth of my cozy boy against my body and the eternal beauty of parenting’s precious and sacred moments like love itself welling into my heart. My babies may be too big for the sling, but never too big for the sling that is my heart.
I found myself thinking about what a good job Mayim’s parents actually did—to raise a kid confident enough to make it in acting at a young age, and then confident enough to use her smarts to study neuroscience, and then confident and loving enough to step back from both careers to truly show up for her boys and just love them with full heart and soul… and then generous enough to write a book while parenting (that I have done and so I know it’s not easy).
I think that every parent ought to write a parenting book, and I suggest as much in my own book—it can really help us to clarify our own beliefs and thinking.
Maybe one day we humans will calm down enough, perhaps by virtue of a few generations of greater support and attunement for parents and parenting, to sing a common parenting song about attachment, attunement and community, like birds and their songs—arriving over the course of evolution at something that doesn’t change every fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile, amongst the fear-mongering and polarizing cacophony of parenting advice I hear Mayim’s voice and find it melodious. She acknowledges that her “book is hardly original” and that she lives and breathes in gratitude for the generations that came before her. This too is in keeping with where we want to get as a culture, away from experts and toward the natural acknowledgment that parents know what to do, provided they are supported to trust instincts—and each other.
In speaking about parenting, Mayim acknowledges that it has put a damper on her natural extroversion, as friendships with the many people she knows and enjoys had to diminish a bit. I found this interesting in that parenting moves us all toward the middle, toward each other—moving me out of my introversion to write and blog and speak and do workshops, moving her toward her version of relative introversion in book writing and promoting, but in which our paths cross virtually in a common passion to support parents to be more organically connected with kids.
If you are starting out on the parenting journey I would very much recommend Beyond the Sling, I think young moms and dads will find it warmly readable, calming and useful even through the bleary eyed and sleep deprived haze of life in the baby-lane—a book worth falling into a nap with as we strive, however exhaustedly at times, to be our best Selves as parents.
Corny as it may sound, and even though I’m pretty much all grown-up and parenting two kids in high school, one about to launch to college, Mayim’s good mommy voice mostly just made me want to be held. So, while baby gets to go beyond the sling, as a parent I’m glad for this virtual hammock for my parenting soul.