Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review - Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way

Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way


Mayim Bialik

Category: nonfiction, parenting, Attachment Parenting, families, celebrity

Synopsis: Bialik explains what Attachment Parenting is, its benefits, and what it looks like in her family.

Date finished: 19 March 2013

Rating: ***½ 

Comments: Having read books in the past about attachment parenting (though I’m not sure it was called such), I knew that it wasn’t likely the parenting style that I’d choose in my life. Regardless, I wanted to read this book with an open mind, without judgment, and not dismiss any part of what she says out of hand. After all, Bialik assures us in her first chapter that “this is not a judgmental book. This is not a book in which I explain to you why what you have done or want to do is wrong…”
     Well, both of us failed in our attempts (read chapter 7 on “Elimination Communication” and perhaps you won’t blame me). But I think we both get points for effort.

     Briefly, attachment parenting is based on the following principles:
  •      birth should be natural with as little assistance from the medical world as possible
  •      babies should be breastfed
  •      parents should be sensitive to a child’s needs
  •      bonding happens through touch (baby wearing, breastfeeding, etc.)
  •      families should co-sleep (everyone in the same bed)
  •      parents should be the primary (preferably, only) caregiver
  •      discipline should be gentle (reasoning vs. spanking)
  •      your needs and your child’s needs should be balanced
While I think critiquing a mother’s parenting philosophy is dangerous territory, there are some things that I had to wonder about. Although Bialik presented her philosophy with candor, intelligence, and sincerity, there were times I just wanted to shake her. We all use what we want to back up our parenting philosophy. Some use the Bible, some subscribe to a certain pediatrician or book, and some, like Bialik, use scientific research. This seems the most wishy-washy of the options considering you can find studies to back up any position—even harmful ones—you want to hold. For instance, as I understand it, attachment theory is based on the idea that if all of a child’s needs are met quickly and sensitively from infancy on a child will form a strong bond with its parent/s, thus making his future independence easier and seamless. In other words, baby sets the schedule, and parents facilitate it.
     Opponents to attachment theory would say that the kind of dependence where a child is never left to his own devises, is never left to cry or play alone, will grow up to be narcissistic and needy, unable to meet his own needs because he hasn’t the tools to. To illustrate this: Bialik’s children were both well over one year old when they learned to walk (at least one walked at 17 months, page 166); both were over three years old when they stopped breast-feeding (weaning was child-led, not parent-led); and both of her children were over three years old when they learned to talk. She explains this—I think it’s fair to say—delayed development, away as just slow developing. What would be cause for alarm in some circles is “just the way he is” in others. But I have to posit that all of us non-attachment readers are thinking, “Maybe your kids aren’t walking because they’ve always been carried. Maybe your kids aren’t talking because they’ve never had to ask for anything.” (Or more crassly, “because they’ve always had a breast in their mouth.”) Of course, this is not child abuse, and her children are sure to catch up to other children their age, but the point is, she doesn’t think they necessarily should be like other kids their age, and she doesn’t think her parenting has any effect on delayed development. They are simply slower than other children. Perhaps yes, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe that.
     With her PhD in neuroscience, she often bases her defense of attachment parenting on hormones and evolution. Evolution is another slippery slope, though, because she’ll use it to back up one opinion but ignore it when backing up another. So, while she’ll tell you that breastfeeding and co-sleeping have been done throughout human history up until very recently, making an argument that we are hardwired to do these things, she does not discuss the notion that perhaps humans are “evolving” beyond the need for it. Isn’t it possible that we’ve evolved beyond the need for co-sleeping? Isn’t it possible that our ancestors co-slept because they needed to keep baby safe, and warm, and now that we no longer have to ward off predators and have reliable heating in our homes, we don’t need to co-sleep? Isn’t it possible it was never about human bonding and only about human preservation? 
     I found it odd that someone with her education couldn’t better anticipate her reader’s questions and head them off at the pass. Perhaps she didn’t want to, but I came away feeling that my questions weren’t addressed, and therefore, weren’t valid. Now, I know it’s not her job to validate my parenting beliefs nor defend hers, but in the pricklier parts of the book, I think some of this was necessary, and it was likely a missed opportunity for her.
     She spent a long time talking about teaching children to share and how she thinks this is a silly idea. She doesn’t think her child should have to give up a toy because another child wants it. She doesn’t think she should have to tell him to share and he should obey simply because that’s the way it’s done in polite society. And she has a point. I’ve heard this debate before. Many times. It’s a big thing out there, in case you didn’t know. What I think parents on both sides are missing is that the problem isn’t with the child who has the toy and doesn’t want to give it up when another child fixates on it. No. They problem is with the child who thinks someone should give up a toy because he wants it. There’s where your behavior modification needs to come in, people! That’s the kid who should be told to “share!” if anyone is. But I digress…
     One more thing. Shortly after the book came out, Bialik and her husband announced they were divorcing. The newscaster or writer (I forget where I heard or read this) said it was not due to attachment parenting. I remember thinking that was a strange statement at the time, but now I can understand how this kind of parenting could wreak havoc in a marriage. Although Bialik wrote quite a bit about how she and her husband were in agreement on their parenting, and how attachment parents need to keep their marriages strong, I now wonder if this was a factor in the breakup. Any marriage that puts the children ahead of the union will navigate rocky seas and be more likely to wreck upon the rocks.
     So, in conclusion, this was a well-written account of how one family uses attachment parenting to raise its children. It offered much food for thought, and there were areas where I agreed with her wholeheartedly, such as physical punishment being unnecessary and illogical. In the end, we all just want to have respectful, intelligent, and happy children. Each family must get there on their own, listening to and following their intuition.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Only if they are looking for information on this type of parenting or for variations on parenting theories.

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