Review: Beyond the Sling Gives the Science Behind Attachment Parenting


Beyond the SlingBeyond the Sling

Image: Simon and Schuster

I am not usually drawn to read advice books by celebrities. But I made an exception for Mayim Bialik’s Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way. First, because the mention of the book brought jokes which made it clear that attachment parenting is still misunderstood, even among the well-informed GeekDad crew. And second because – c’mon, Amy Farrah Fowler!

Bialik is, of course, famous both for her roles on The Big Bang Theory and the ’90s sitcom Blossom. After that show ended, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. She also married her college sweetheart and had two sons, Miles and Fred. As she says in the book, she was drawn to attachment parenting because the families she knew who practiced it did not seem to be afraid to follow their instincts when it came to raising their own kids. What makes Beyond the Sling especially interesting is that Bialik uses her background in neuroscience to argue that the principles of attachment parenting “make sense evolutionarily.”

What, exactly, is meant by attachment parenting? Bialik quotes Attachment Parenting International‘s guidelines, which includes such advice as looking into natural birth options, choosing to nurse or make bottle feeding as close to breast feeding as possible, looking into co-sleeping (sharing a bed with an infant), and generally being sensitive, gentle, and respectful of your child’s needs.

And it doesn’t mean hovering over your children at all times or encouraging them to be clingy and dependent. In fact, meeting your child’s needs, especially before they become verbal, helps kids become secure enough to venture out into the world.

As Bialik explains,

Securely attached children separate from their parents easily, react well when reunited with them, seek out their parents for comfort and security, and prefer their parents to strangers. For adults, secure attachment looks like strong healthy relationships and self-esteem, the sharing of emotions, and the pursuit of emotional support when needed. This is the kind of attachment we want to foster in our children.

Beyond the Sling contains a lot of useful information about natural birth, nursing, and other topics for parents of babies. But for me, especially since my family is well past the baby stage, the most vital message is found in Part IV, “What Mommy Needs.” The kind of life choices Bialik describes can make parents feel like outsiders; it’s reassuring to read about how another mom deals with that dilemma. And of course, I was interested to read about how she balances being an at-home, attachment parent with working on a TV set several days a week. She also does a good job of describing ways other families balance work, child care — in fact, I would have liked to see more detail in this section, since as a homeschooling mom this is an issue I still grapple with.

I will say that it’s hard for parenting advice books to avoid sounding preachy, and in this Bialik is not totally successful. There are plenty of “your mileage may vary”-style disclaimers. But readers who disagree with her opinions — as I did when it came to using caregivers who aren’t family members (a necessity for my mental health in the early years) and vaccinations (she brushes over her “informed decision not to vaccinate our children”) — may still feel her tone is somewhat judgmental. It’s clear her choice has not always been easy – and reading between the lines, it seems her methods haven’t always worked the way she thinks it has (how many accidents can you accept before you admit that Elimination Communication is literally hit or miss?). But I applaud Bialik for using her celebrity to make the idea of Attachment Parenting better known and hopefully, better accepted.

The bottom line is, nobody can tell you how to raise your child. But Bialik’s main message in Beyond the Sling, that parents should feel confident enough to follow their instincts, is important. Too many parents are terrified of “ruining” their kids if they don’t follow the latest expert advice. I’ve been in the parenting game long enough to see the experts take a 180-degree turn in their advice (literally, when it came to putting babies on their backs to sleep) without batting an eye. By ignoring the fads and following your heart, parents are bound to do what’s right.

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