I read a book! And because I read a book I feel the need to post about it since I deserve a pat on the back for making time to read said book with two young boys, running a small cloth diaper empire, and keeping up with Draw Something (just kidding, sort of). The book is Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way
Mayim Bialik has made a name for herself recently as a “spokesmom” for the Attachment Parenting way of life. She is an actor and mother of two boys. She is also the spokesperson for Holistic Moms Network and advocate for La Leche League. Oh and she also holds a PhD in Neuroscience (which she mentions a few times in her book. Sometimes ad nauseum but I guarantee you if I had a PhD in anything I’d find a way to drop that into every few sentences.)
I devoured Beyond the Sling in a span of three nights. Each evening after the kids went to bed I started reading until my eyes crossed. I was hesitant to read the book at all because frankly Mayim is on the “extreme” end of my parenting spectrum. She is fully committed to living an AP lifestyle in every fashion. I come in at a much more relaxed version of AP. I identify with many aspects of the attachment parenting lifestyle but I have never read a book on the subject until now. My own personal journey to “AP” started from my instinctual parenting style that happened to mimic the principles of AP.
The book is laid out in four sections: Part 1 is about Trusting Your Instincts. Part 2 is about What Baby Needs. Part 3 is about What Baby Doesn’t Need. Part 4 is What Mommy Needs.
I won’t go over the entire book and explain where I agreed with Mayim and where I found myself on another page. I will say I agreed with her more than I did not. Mayim will tell you over and over that this is not a parenting manual. She has a unique perspective (she does drop some knowledge on you about why an attachment parenting style works best- proven by neuroscience and how the brain of a child operates) and is very honest about her own life experience. Many would say she is preaching from an unreachable mountain top because she is a celebrity and has behind the scenes help from a personal staff of chefs, nannies, and housekeepers. On the contrary, it appears her finances are no better than many upper middle class families. Her lifestyle is frugal by choice and necessity and she admits in the book to only having vacations when they are financed by speaking engagements. If you were afraid to read the book for that reason alone then know she is coming from a place more like our own (except that she IS famous and DOES live in LA.) She is promoting a style of parenting that is not mainstream and she obviously believes in this lifestyle. Those who don’t might find her writing dismissive of other styles even though she often sneaks in a “and if you do, that’s ok.” for extra coverage.
Reading Beyond the Sling re-ignited the passion I have for sharing my experience here on the blog and elsewhere. I have two amazing boys and I credit the work my husband and I do to cater to their needs appropriately and lovingly. We don’t practice Cry it Out. I feed my son when he asks (by signing since he is not yet verbal.) I bounce my youngest son to sleep every single night because it is what works, what he likes, and it keeps us both happy (for now.) I just want to share some of the most poignant parts of the book that made me nod my head in agreement and expound on them with examples from my own parenting journey thus far.
Society puts pressure on babies to develop much sooner than they should. Babies are expected to speak early, sit early, roll over, and so on. Yes, Yes, and Yes! I recall as a first time mom how much value I placed on the milestones of my son. He isn’t sitting up and 80% of babies his age are sitting by now. He isn’t speaking and everyone else’s babies are talking, why isn’t he talking? I spent a lot of energy on these issues. One milestone “sleeping through the night” is one that Fletcher really hit “late.” If I were to tell myself then one thing that I know now I would simply say “put away the baby books, leave your message-board for babies born that month so you can stop comparing every move, and parent to your instinct and not to the advice of others.”
Natural Birth isn’t a choice for women who want to be “martyrs.” The act of giving birth naturally is amazing and one of the best experiences of my life. I didn’t do it for a merit badge. I did it because of the benefits for the baby and myself. I did it because I realized how many problems arose because I didn’t do it the first time. My baby was born too early (what I learned from my induction) and was a lazy nurser. I had a terrible labor that I can hardly remember because I wasn’t present. The differences between my two children are astounding and so was my own recovery period. Natural birth (and the care from my midwives I received) most certainly had a positive effect on my second son and I, who was born at home. The outlook by many that we choose natural birth so that we can brag is silly. However it is something to be proud of and is the biggest adrenaline rush I have ever had.
Breastfeeding is easy, even when it’s hard. Amen. Mayim experienced many, many, many issues with breastfeeding. I also fought to nurse my first son and relied on lactation consultants to get through. I am so glad we beat those first few months of challenges because afterwards we had a smooth sailing breastfeeding relationship. With my second son I still had problems. Had I not had a network of support I might have failed- it turned out that Everett was Tongue Tied and needed to be clipped in order to latch properly. It is easy and natural and hard and complicated all at the same time. But when it clicks you will have this gift like no other that never requires washing bottles (unless you are pumping part time or full time and for that you have my respect!) and never having to run to the store for more milk.
Babies want to be held (or worn.) Mayim points out a fact that some parents don’t expect and others refuse to believe or give in to- babies love to be held. I was also actually surprised that I had to be holding my first son every waking moment. There were times when he would be asleep in my arms and any attempt at laying him down o moving was met with fierce cries. So I sat. And sat. The luxury of baby number one. I called my husband and begged him to come home because I was starving and couldn’t get up to get food. Eventually I discovered babywearing and that opened up many doors (including those to the refrigerator while baby napped on my chest and I was hands free.)
Sleeping alone can be lonely. For babies and for adults. I was deathly afraid to sleep with my first son because co-sleeping had a very bad rap and still does. Afraid I would kill my son I endured exhaustion like no other. He woke 6-12 times a night to nurse and often I was up all night getting him latched, fed, and asleep. One day I napped with him when hubby was home. That translated to part time bed-sharing. Then full time. And then I was a co-sleeping parent. The joy co-sleeping brought me with my first son was unexpected. I loved waking to his baby smiles, baby kisses, baby cuddles. I enjoyed sleeping “all night” even though I woke a few times to nurse him. Is he scarred for life? I don’t think so. He sleeps full 10-12 hours nights in his own bed (read our jounrey to this point) and with no fighting. If the argument is that c0-sleeping fosters bad sleep habits down the line I don’t see it. He learned that his parents loves him, protected him, and would always be there for his needs. I think these ideas made him a more independent child. Crying it out, explained by Mayim in the book and many others in other literature, teaches children that their parents aren’t there for them when they need it.
Kids don’t understand the concept of sharing and Mayim doesn’t like forcing kids to share. I learned something new from this book: I also don’t like forcing kids to share. My gut hated interfering in playdates and on playgrounds when my son grabbed a toy from another child or one was ripped away from him. I felt very “helicopter” parent as I demanded he return an item or explained that the toy was taken from him so he should suck it up and share it. Either way it felt like I was teaching my child his needs or wants were less important than the other children’s. I am a total people pleaser, I bend at every request or acquiesce when really I don’t want to. For weeks I’ve contemplated this and wondered if my methods in public settings regarding sharing were teaching my son the same. Thankfully I read this book and the timely section on sharing. How will I handle this touchy subject amongst other parents when my son refuses to share a toy he is really enjoying? Well, Mayim has some ideas. Will I always choose this route? Probably not. But I don’t want my sons growing up thinking they come last. By setting the example in the home and with his brother I’m hoping both boys learn sharing when their brains best comprehend it. Fletcher gets the concept for the most part but Ev is still a toddler and so this section applied more to him.
“Illogical consequences” and Gentle Discipline. This section on gentle discipline both ignited my desire to master it and at the same time had me doubting the possibility of it entirely. I don’t spank at all or use any form or physical punishment. We do practice “time-outs” which Mayim doesn’t feel fits GD. The section that most inspired me was focused on “illogical consequences.” I saw myself in the examples given- “If you don’t eat your dinner you can’t go outside and play” would be a sentence spoken recently by me to my son. This technique works for me but I learned why and the reason left me wanting to change my tactics. I’ve been doing really well with more “logical” consequences and I have noticed these still work. It sometimes takes me a minute to figure out what the consequence is and so far some have been quite silly but this whole thing is still new to me. In general I am hoping to continue working on being less like my own parents were (yelling, raising my voice, enacting frequent punishments that were sometimes cruel or excessive) and more kind, level headed, yet effective in my discipline.
I did roll my eyes a bit when Mayim had quite a bit to say about “bribery” for children when trying to get a good outcome. I don’t like bribery but I use it. Maybe more than I should. I can’t think of a parent who hasn’t, especially in a pinch, offered a sweet treat or reward for good behavior. I can see where she is coming from in her reasoning but I can’t remove that tool from my parenting arsenal, sorry Mayim!
Keeping your relationships strong. I can’t say enough good things about this section. Many aspects of AP look, to outsiders, as a sure fire way to lose your husband, family, and friends. Sleep with your baby=never have sex again. Breastfeed past 6 months= never go on a date or vacation/ lose your boobs and your husband’s interest in them. Etc, etc. I will be the first to admit (and so will most other moms) that many of the non mainstream parenting choices can make other relationships difficult to maintain. But having children is bound to change your life and how you relate to your husband and friends regardless. I always tell myself (and my husband when he complains- yes he has and does complain about some of my choices) that this period of our lives is so short and also so precious. I get jealous when I miss some really amazing opportunities to go out but there will be more chances. There are some pretty sound advice nuggets on how to recharge yourself and your relationships with others.
It seems as if I am now worshipping the ground Maim Bialik walks on. I assure you I am not. I did find a lot of comfort and inspiration in this book. Most of my parenting desires and my style has been worked out as a second time mother but I would have loved this book as a first time mom when my instincts were in place but I didn’t have the knowledge or guts to follow it all. Parents who are finding that they question the conventional parenting advice they receive, who doubt that leaving a baby in a crib alone to cry, who think feeding a baby when they are hungry is not spoiling them, who need to hear that they aren’t weird but are in fact doing a great service by listening to their instincts- these are people who should read Beyond the Sling.
To those wondering, I did not receive a free promotional copy of the book. In fact I walked into a Barnes and Noble and paid $23.00 for the thing. Had I known Amazon.com was so much cheaper (affiliate link) I would have ordered online. Oh well! You can benefit! I’m “paying it forward” by sending my copy to a random winner. Just use the form below. Please only enter if you really want to read the book and plan to.