She’s still nursing her 3 1/2 year old, though she recently blogged about weaning him from the three-to-four feedings he was having every night. When I ask her how people react she says: “I know it’s unusual, but when you surround yourself with other women who are intelligent, educated, loving, have incredible children who they nursed well past three and a half, I can see that I don’t get to say what’s right for someone else.”
Mayim first won rave reviews as the young Bette Midler in “Beaches.” She starred in her own popular TV show “Blossom” as a teenager. Then at 19, she took the obvious next step and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience at UCLA studying hormones and bonding and OCD.
After marrying her college sweetheart, her life took a real turn. They decided to raise their kids as Attachment Parents along with a mix of other eccentric styles and strategies: diaperless parenting — even newborns who Mayim informs me pee every 15 mins; and unschooling, which she defines as “We homeschool, but we don’t keep any strict curriculum and we let our kids’ interests and attention span determine a lot of the course of what we do.”
You can tell Mayim doesn’t do anything half-way and she’s all in when it comes to parenting, too.
I met their adorable 6-½-year-old son Miles and their 3-½ year-old son Fred. How was he raised diaper free? It’s called elimination communication. Her husband initially was against it and told her it was crazy. But Mayim said she set out and successfully tuned into her sons’ arms flapping and other cues and held them over potties (with a fair share of misses, she adds). And the every 15 minutes thing still happens at night.
But she’s proud of the fact that she won over her husband and that her younger son sat on a potty before he could talk or walk or do much of anything. And she didn’t contribute years’ worth of diapers to a landfill somewhere.
Her husband, who was a fellow student at UCLA when they met, is an at-home dad who does most of the dishes and laundry (Mayim does bathrooms and kitchen cleaning).
They don’t believe in consumerism and she puts her money-savings where her mouth is. They live in a modest home. Her kids play Wii, but aren’t allowed to watch TV, except for occasional sports with dad. None of them owns more than a couple pairs of shoes. They cook vegan and don’t go out to fancy dinners.
Ironically, the most controversial part of what they do seems the most sweet and cuddly. They sleep in a big family bed (two futons on the floor, if you’re wondering).
I showed her a horrifying public service announcement from Milwaukee equating co-sleeping with putting a baby in bed with a butcher knife. She called it scare mongering and felt that both the PSA and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to have babies sleep in cribs are misguided.
The infant deaths in co-sleeping situations, Mayim says, are a socieo-economic problem that could be solved with better safety education. But while drinking and drugs and lack of safe sleeping equipment is part of the danger of sleeping with kids, so too is being sleep-deprived, which Mayim admitted to being throughout those early nursing months.
In her ample spare time, Mayim has managed to write a new book about her parenting adventures called, “Beyond the Sling” and I interviewed her about it for “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.” I kept doing the inevitable high school mid-term thing in my head: compare and contrast, compare and contrast. As I read her book, I kept thinking about my own three boys and how I proudly sleep trained them at 4 months (they’d slept 10 hours a night after the third night, no joke).
But one sucked his thumb for years to self sooth and the one still uses a pacifier. But my nerves weren’t frayed by sleep-deprivation and they are excellent sleepers. I wound up nursing them for 12, 10 and seven months respectively (no, thanks mom, I’m done)… But I had so much painful trouble the first time that I almost quit nursing, which is why I hate the cultural pressure on women to nurse and feel guilty if they stop. Oh, and all three of my boys wore diapers past their third birthday (one way past).
I didn’t know whether to be horrified or jealous of the way Mayim and her husband parent. It is serious commitment. She didn’t leave her house for the first 40 days of either newborn’s life. After the first week, I was out and about between nursing sessions with the help of baby sitters.
I’d give one of my older boys special time or I’d go to a quick lunch with friends (which Dr. Oz tells me is literally good for my health). Mayim hasn’t had a “date night” in seven years. At least I feel less guilty about neglecting my husband. They don’t go out to fancy restaurants anyway, because she believes in living frugally.
Some vocal feminists have taken to saying that this philosophy of parenting enslaves mothers (or stay-at-home dads) to their children. And though I think it makes sense when Mayim says we are “wired” to parent this way because it’s how primates and humans have parented for all time, I don’t know of many primates who have to show up at the office or the nursing job after nursing a toddler on demand all day and night with a baby sling.
We as parents all know it’s rough. It’s parenting. I certainly don’t exercise enough and I don’t have any “me” time. But as a full-time working mom, I often fantasize about what life would be like as a full-time parent. That said, I am amazed by any woman (let’s face it, it’s mostly women) who can home school an older child while wearing a baby sling and cooking vegan while running to the potty every 15 minutes and nursing on demand and keeping a house clean and sleeping with her kids who don’t sleep through the night even a little bit.
Mayim insists that parents are not sacrificing themselves or their marriages to their children. It’s a lovely concept, but it’s got to be utterly exhausting to say the very least. Mayim is the first to admit that AP is not for everyone.
But I think everyone will be intrigued by they way she does it.