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.