Family Matters

Did Attachment Parenting Contribute to Mayim Bialik’s Divorce?

The actress says it didn't, but we can't help but wonder

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Imeh Akpanudosen/Stringer / Getty Images Entertainment

Far be it from us at Family Matters to issue judgment on a person’s undoubtedly excruciating decision to divorce. For days, we’ve refrained from weighing in on actress Mayim Bialik’s announcement that she and her husband are calling it quits, cleaving her famously assembled attachment-parenting unit in two.

But two things made us realize that Bialik’s divorce announcement is ripe for the parsing: she is already in the public eye as a celebrity, where famous people’s choices are picked apart every day. And she has also been an outspoken and ardent advocate of attachment parenting, extolling the child-first virtues of this intense style of up-close-and-personal, wear-your-baby, breastfeed-until-middle-school approach to raising kids in a blog and a book she released earlier this year.

In other words, it seems fair game to wonder whether her parenting practices had anything to do with the demise of her marriage. Even Bialik felt compelled to preempt any musings about whether the way she raises her two young sons played a role in the impending split, addressing the topic in a statement that she issued:

The hands-on style of parenting we practice played no role in the changes that led to this decision; relationships are complicated no matter what style of parenting you choose.The main priority for us now is to make the transition to two loving homes as smooth and painless as possible. Our sons deserve parents committed to their growth and health and that’s what we are focusing on.

Our privacy has always been important and is even more so now, and we thank you in advance for respecting it as we negotiate this new terrain.

More than one observer has done a double take at Bialik’s request for privacy, however. Her privacy “has always been important?” Excuse me, but didn’t she set the Internet ablaze with a provocative picture on her blog of her breast-feeding her then 3-year-old son in the New York City subway? Breast-feed as long as you want, in my opinion, but promoting an image of you doing so, for the precise purpose of stirring up controversy, is not exactly a privacy grab.

(MORE: Mayim Bialik on Attachment Parenting: ‘Very Small People Have a Voice’)

In the wake of her announcement, supporters and detractors are lining up on both sides. That’s partly a result of Bialik’s outspoken nature and partly a result of the passion that attachment parenting (AP) engenders. You love it or you hate it. You aspire to fulfill all its tenets (let’s all sleep in the family bed until the kids finish high school!) or you eschew every last one. Or, quietly as in my case, you pick and choose and reject the label. Some nights, you welcome your kid into your bed because she’s just really cute and your husband’s out of town and you love falling asleep with her small hand on your cheek. Other nights, you dig in your heels and let her cry.

The problem with Bialik’s approach, in the eyes of her critics, is that she seems so darned smug and high-minded about this journey we call parenting. Bialik implies that those of us who choose not to embrace AP are, as writer Allison Kaplan Sommer puts it on site Haaretz, “raising insecure, emotionally arrested children in an inferior, unnatural, modern way.”

…While I’m sorry to violate Bialik’s wishes by linking attachment parenting and the split, I have to point out that for those of us who were made to feel like lesser parents because of our inability or unwillingness to devote all of our waking and sleeping hours to our babies, it really does feel a bit like a measure of turnabout.

Divorce is a choice that will subject Bialik and her husband to accusations of putting their own needs and happiness as adults ahead of what’s best for their children — that’s not the Attachment Parenting way.

And so maybe she can understand that even formula-feeding stroller-pushing working moms wanted a close emotional connection to our kids as much as she did — we just also felt, as she does now, that a very imperfect balance must be struck between our happiness and theirs.

On The View, the conclusion was more succinct. Co-host Whoopi Goldberg expressed disbelief that Bialik had once told them that she sleeps in bed with one son and her husband bunks with the other boy. Goldberg’s take? There’s little doubt that Bialik’s co-sleeping tendencies contributed to the break-up. Attachment parenting is not pro-romance, agreed co-host Joy Behar. “It leads to detachment marriages,” she pronounced.

(MOREMeet Dr. Bill Sears, the Man Who Remade Motherhood)

Earlier this year, Bialik discussed the ideas in her book about attachment parenting, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, with TIME. She talked about things that made sense to me (attachment parenting, she said, is “not all or nothing”) and things that didn’t (she and her husband made a conscious decision to not prompt their boys to say “please” or “thank you”). Ultimately, she said, attachment parenting is a philosophy that every parent interprets individually. “It’s up to us to make it work in our family structure,” she said.

Apparently, that structure is now changing for Bialik’s family. Which shows that no family, no matter how attached, is immune from the challenges and pressures that can lead to divorce. Whether or not her parenting views played a role in her decision to split with her husband, the question now is whether attachment parenting has made the breakup any easier for her children.

22 comments
MelissaJoyGodsey
MelissaJoyGodsey

This article is judgemental, misleading, and mean. You must be pretty unhappy or insecure with your parenting skills to leap at the opportunity to hit someone else below the belt when she's already down.

halos_kiss
halos_kiss

It’s one thing to love your kids, and want them to be close to you, but this is disgusting! Children need to grow up and learn to be independent, not dependant on mommy and daddy! Three year olds should weaning off the bottle and using a sippy cup, not hanging from mommy’s breast!

JonVanMeter
JonVanMeter

The acquisition of fame can put a huge stress on a marriage.....

ShaynaSomers
ShaynaSomers

Are you kidding me? Bialik's book is aimed at having parents trust their instincts! She says on page 5 of her book.."What I have discovered, and what I seek to share with you, dear reader, is this: you already know the majority of what you need to know to be an incredible parent." It's incredibly low to write an article blaiming her choice in parenting style on her failed marriage. Those who promoted attachment parenting aren't attempting to shut-down your parenting style. And yet...everyone is on the defense. Even when the facts are in front of them. You don't have to co-sleep or bed share to be someone who practices attachment parenting. However, if your bed is securely against a wall, this does not limit a couple from snuggling at night and still sharing their bed. And the bed isn't the only place to be romantic..in other ways if you get my drift. Divorce is hard enough, enough with the scrutiny. Or sha'll we all jump on the band wagon...perhaps when some people get divorced..the tension of hearing their little baby crying in the other room from the cry-it-out method has put strain on their relationship.

this.is.joeychan
this.is.joeychan

My spouse and I practice attached parenting, and our marriage is very solid.  So, her marriage had other problems.  

MarcBrazeau
MarcBrazeau

Family Matters is an odd name for a purple gossip column. This ranks below gossip - its just wild speculation and insult

.

SarahTuttle-Singer
SarahTuttle-Singer

Who has two thumbs and doesn't give a crap?

Maybe attachment ruined her marriage. Maybe it didn't. Who cares? 

Mayim never took a 'more attached than thou' attitude in her book or in her articles on Kveller.com. And believe you me, I am very sensitive to that kind of sanctimony. And even when I went looking for it in Mayim's writing, I never found it. 

But it's irrelevent. She's getting divorced. Like a lot of us.   

You're a good writer - no need to waste your time on someone elses life. 

kierae
kierae

Attachment Parenting does not encourage breastfeeding until middle school.  For crying out loud!  How come no one is bringing up her strict religious adherence.  Could this possibly be part of the problem?

Rachel13
Rachel13

One other thing I'd like to mention: I don't think the majority of people understand that one of the main goals in raising kids in the AP style is actually to promote healthy INdependence. The goal is to raise kids to be confident. So all the jokes and misconceptions about dependent teenagers and breastfed high schoolers is missing the entire point.

Rachel13
Rachel13

Perhaps snide comments such as "breastfeed-until-middle-school" and "let’s all sleep in the family bed until the kids finish high school!" cause parents who practice AP to be a bit defensive (or what may be misconstrued as being "smug"). I practice AP with my 18-month-old and have been since the day he was born. I do not adhere to everything than many Attachment Parents practice, but the main thing I take from the philosophy is to TRUST MY INSTINCTS WITH MY CHILD and to question any "advice" that feels off to me. I do not blindly follow the philosophy. I take from it what works for my family and I. Also, my son still co-sleeps with us but my husband and I probably have sex more often than the majority of couples. It's called getting creative.

DaniGusto
DaniGusto

The fact that you deemed it necessary to hem and haw over whether or not it was appropriate to write an article on this topic is probably good evidence that you should not have. Maybe you should trust your instincts next time and stay away from your keyboard if you can't be respectful.

Ghanima
Ghanima

I agree with vrcplou.

I think some women misread 'Attachment Parenting' as 'Suffocate your children', because they have not worked out their own attachment issues in the first place.

According to studies, roughly half of the American population has one of the 3 insecure attachment styles (anxious preoccupied, dismissive avoidant or fearful avoidant). That means chances are rather high for any child born to have at least one insecure parent.

Considering that, everyone should work out their own attachment issues BEFORE having any children, and BEFORE considering whether they're gonna do AP. Because if they haven't first worked out their attachment issues, they will distort AP, or whatever parenting style they choose.

teklinika
teklinika

Bonnie, you are wrong when you say that you either have to do ALL of attachment parenting or none.  I learned about attachment parenting from Dr. Sears' book and he laid out the 8 principles of AP - and he said clearly that AP is actually a mindset about being oriented toward our babies, and not all AP parents will do all 8 principles.  My husband & I did AP and we found it much easier than conventional parenting.  If my baby was hungry, I didn't have to prepare formula - I just nursed!  If my baby cried, I put her in a wrap and wore her around the house or on a walk.  Sleeping with my daughter was amazing and made frequent feedings at night absolutely simple!  I don't understand all of this misinformation about AP and all this animosity towards it.  We loved doing AP with our daughter, and in making it easier for my husband & I, it helped our relationship.  The only downside relationship wise was the extended breastfeeding, because I really felt they were completely non-sexual until I stopped nursing (when my daughter turned 2).  But that was the only downside and there were so many upsides!

designchick77
designchick77

Bialik said in her book that she and her husband went on three dates in the first six years her children were born. She was EXTREMELY smug about it, basically saying that no, she and her husband didn't spend a lot of time together but oh well, that's what you need to practice AP and be the very best mommy you can possibly be. She seemed very judgmental, to me, about women who even situationally prioritized their marriages over their children. I would say that attitude was probably a MAJOR contributor to her divorce. 

We practiced some elements of AP with our son when he was a baby, including co-sleeping for a couple of years. However, we were more than happy to leave him with his very loving grandma and grandpa regularly so that we could spend time alone together. Sometimes our "date nights" were just DVD rentals and takeout, but it was still time together that helped us stay connected. I think if we had not had those times together, we probably would have split up as raising a child and working is hard and there were times we felt very frayed, especially because our son was pretty high-intensity.

One more thing. Bialik doesn't get to pick and choose, unfortunately, when she wants to keep her family's practices "private" and when she wants to make them public. Going on a million shows and writing a book about your perfect AP family is great, but don't expect that when something goes awry and some stuff happens that you don't want to talk about, people aren't going to speculate about it. She was the one who opened up her family life to public scrutiny, and now the house is out of the barn door. That's why so many celebrities are so adamant about keeping their private lives private.

Connie
Connie

She unwittingly described her own problem in the initial article announcing her divorce.  She said she and her husband never went anywhere and spent all their time with their children.  No surprise that her husband felt suffocated and that is the problem with "attachment parenting"  It's just code for smother your child.  I saw her on What not to wear and she had the baby around her neck.  Come on he was big enough to sit up in the cart.  I am a stay at home mom and I believe in being there for your kids but it doesn't mean that you can't go out on a date with your husband and get a babysitter. It would seem she let her life get out of balance and that ended her marriage.  Too bad.  Her saying it had nothing to do with it sounded defensive to me. 

GiftedWithADD
GiftedWithADD

Wow, you just turned a wholly biased opinion of Attachment Parenting (of which I am not an advocate, BTW) into a gossip column about someone's divorce. Your comments are misleading and based on the conjectures of a bunch of people who know nothing about Mayim Bialik's personal life. And when is Whoopi Goldberg (it's not "rape-rape") or Joy Behar experts on family relationships. This article may get you readers but it won't build your credibility among discerning, thoughtful adults. 

Margit Crane, Gifted With ADD & Good-Enough Parenting

MelaMom
MelaMom

Might I just say that your perception of  "...this intense style of up-close-and-personal, wear-your-baby, breastfeed-until-middle-school approach to raising kids" is not only laughably inaccurate, it makes you sound ignorant, ill-informed, biased and completely unequipped to write an article on such this matter. As far as this statement is concerned: "You love it or you hate it. You aspire to fulfill all its tenets (let’s all sleep in the family bed until the kids finish high school!) or you eschew every last one. Or, quietly as in my case, you pick and choose and reject the label. Some nights, you welcome your kid into your bed because she’s just really cute and your husband’s out of town and you love falling asleep with her small hand on your cheek. Other nights, you dig in your heels and let her cry." I have to tell you how completely out of line you are as both a writer and a parent. Since when do people have to commit to dogmatic devotion or complete rejection? Some of us agree with most principles, but feel that some are too extreme, therefore we reject those. We may choose to wear our babies, breastfeed and not spank, but we do choose to use other punishments instead of sitting down and having an open forum about every disciplinary moment. However, we do so as consistently as possible (within the reasonable bounds of fallible humanity).You, on the other hand, self-proclaim to have made parenting all about your particular mood at the moment. The goal of AP is to promote bonding between the child and parents, thus creating a secure environment for the children in which they will have reasonably predictable reactions to different scenarios in their lives. Does 'rejecting the label' make you feel superior to those who don't? Because clearly, you have a problem with those who choose to respond to their child's needs rather than how their child makes them feel at any given moment. That is called reactionary parenting, and is a direct line to the therapists couch for you kid. Congratulations. You are indeed a giant amongst parents. Of course, it's totally possible just so desperate to have people read your article that you wanted to throw out inflammatory language in the hopes of creating a following. Either situation is sad. Good luck, lady. You are going to need it.

vrcplou
vrcplou

I think attachment parenting can be done without destroying the marriage, but I just think you find more women (maybe) that practice AP that just tend to lose themselves completely in their children to the exclusion of their spouses/partners.  Our son slept with us for many years and breastfed longer than most, but we still made time for each other.  Some people lose themselves in their jobs, their hobbies, etc., some lose themselves in their parenting role, sadly.  As for Mayim's smugness, well, that tends to pass as your child gets older and you expand your world.  Although that sometimes doesn't happen either, as parents tend to cluster with like-minded parents.  I'm glad we practiced AP and still do, more or less.  My 15-year old is fine and well-adjusted.  But there are no guarantees, no matter what your parenting style.

this.is.joeychan
this.is.joeychan

@Rachel13 Exactly! AP is raising your young children close to you to create trust among parents and kids to later on create independent people.  It does not need to include EBF, bed sharing and baby wearing.  Those things help, but are not necessary in order to archive attachment.  

commentonitall
commentonitall

@MelaMom 

You spend quite a bit of time bashing the author and then you go and type this, "Because clearly, you have a problem with those who choose to respond to their child's needs rather than how their child makes them feel at any given moment."  I don't recall reading that statement in this article, nor did the author abdicate it.  It's an opinion piece and she included the extreme end of AP which does happen and mocked it a little.  You did the same exact thing that you took such issue with in your own comment.  It seems that you go so far as to have the stance that if you don't use AP then your child is going to grow up needing therapy and anything other than AP is considered reactionary parenting (another falsehood).  You were offended at an opinion in an opinion piece therefore you have concluded the author is not capable of doing their job.  You sound ridiculous.  Don't be so insecure.  If you use AP, then so be it.  Who cares what others think.  Also, to have more credibility in the future don't do the exact act you are condemning in the same breath, it makes you sound silly.

this.is.joeychan
this.is.joeychan

@vrcplou My husband and I practice attached parenting together; we make sure to have a balance so our marriage stays solid and our son grows up trusting us in order to be independent.  I can't imagine not practicing AP by myself, especially since I'm military and he gets to stay home with our son; that's why we practice it together.