You probably know Mayim Bialik from "The Big Bang Theory" (or "Blossom," if you're old). But if you're a parent, you may well know her as a notable practitioner and advocate for a form of child rearing known as attachment parenting (a subject that we've reported on in the past, here and here). It's always dangerous to try to summarize anything as complicated and emotionally charged as an entire style of parenting, but loosely put, it's a philosophy that endorses a mix of practices including long-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and child-carrying (as opposed to stroller use) in an effort to (among other things) foster a secure, nourishing emotional bond that will last for the lifetime of the parent-child relationship.
She told Yahoo!'s omg! site this weekend that she's tired of strangers approaching her as a precursor to a fight about parenting. And if you're a parent, you know what she's talking about.
While there are a few parenting practices that are universally endorsed — not, for example, leaving your baby in the car seat on a hot day while you go grocery shopping, but just about everything else falls into some sort of ambiguous gray zone. From nutrition to breastfeeding to educational practices to sleep schedules, there's no aspect of a young child's life unworthy of comment, argument, and sometimes vicious debate.
This seems to be because children are seen as a sort of shared resource, to be collectively protected and cared for, a hangover from the "it takes a village" hey-day of child rearing that has mostly receded into a nostalgic fog. It's loving in theory (and often in practice — one of the things a new parent experiences and appreciates is the kindness of strangers), but it can lead to awkward interactions. My wife has been approached multiple times by total strangers who feel empowered to inquire as to her breastfeeding practices. That she is then congratulated for doing the right thing for our child (as opposed to the pro-breastfeeding lecture she might have gotten for saying, "oh, we feed him formula,") only slightly dampens our annoyance at being subjected to the Parent Your Child MY Way police.
Now, there's evidence that breastfeeding has real health benefits, particularly for the first month (and quite possibly for the first six, and so on and so forth in a declining line up until college graduation). But to what extent do we have the right to ask (or even demand) that other people do something to potentially enhance their children's lives?
It's possible that the mom in question may have a medical challenge, or be an adoptive parent, or be unable to produce enough milk to help her baby thrive, or any number of other personal stories that make breastfeeding (or exclusive breastfeeding, or breastfeeding until the child can ask for milk in eloquent complete sentences) difficult or impossible. Having to work a 9-to-5 job and a second job to make ends meet could be among those factors — not everyone can schedule lives around feeding and pumping.
As for Bialik, that her status as a celebrity and public advocate for attachment parenting should lead to occasionally heated conversations with total strangers can't come as a total shock. But personally, I won't be judging her. I've got a baby to raise. Turns out it takes a bunch of work.