Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Open Letter to Mayim Bialik: Why Can't We Be Friends?

Dear Mayim,

I hope you'll forgive me for calling you by your first name, but I can't help but feel like I know you. You see, you and I grew up together. No, we didn't live in the same neighborhood or attend the same schools. This relationship is purely one-sided: to me, you will always be the girl who played Blossom. This isn't a bad thing--Blossom was by far the smartest, hippest, savviest, and most confident girl on TV in the early 90's. They just don't make girl's role models like that any more, to the detriment of Miley Cyrus fans everywhere. And it wasn't just your TV persona--judging from what I saw in interviews, you were pretty hip and savvy yourself. I admired your unwavering, uncompromising, you-ness. You didn't wait for others to hand you your self-esteem. You took it as your birthright, and nerdy, insecure girls like me were inspired and emboldened to do the same.

But we arrived at adulthood along very different paths. You went on to gain a Ph.D. in neuroscience while I delivered pizzas, taught preschool, and went into debt to finance my liberal arts degree from a state college. I'm not saying that my way was "better" or gave me some profound insight you are lacking. I don't begrudge you your good fortune or opportunities in the slightest. I'm just pointing out that our respective paths taught us each very different lessons and, as a result, we approach parenting from different perspectives. Yet I'd like to think our core values are still in alignment--we both care deeply about the earth and preserving its resources, we both want humane treatment for all animals, and we share the belief that children are our most tangible investment in the future of our planet and the survival of our species.

So why do we find ourselves on opposite sides of an impenetrable wall when it comes to parenting? Do our families' respective sleeping arrangements and meal habits really matter so much that they would strangle a potential friendship before it is formed? Does the fact that I had a C-section while you had your babies at home make us the Capulets and the freaking Montagues?

It hasn't always been like this. In a past interview you said, " ...everyone does things differently and that’s OK. It’s very important to us to raise nonjudgmental children who don’t go finger-wagging." You were also self aware enough to acknowledge that "...a lot of people hear that term [attachment parenting] and automatically get turned off or automatically assume that you think you're doing things better than them."  Based on statements like these, I think we could get along despite our differences as parents.

But then I read the intro to your new blog on TODAYMoms. You start out by condemning labels and distancing yourself from the term attachment parent...but then you go on to state all the ways in which you are, indeed, a full-on attachment parent. You say you don't want to judge anybody, but you also say that "natural" childbirth should be the norm and that "almost all women should [emphasis mine] be able to...successfully breast-feed, barring rare genetic conditons." Mayim, when you say things like these, women who prefer to give birth in a hospital  or who choose to bottle feed feel like you are attacking their parenting choices. Your attitude has changed from: "this is how I choose to raise my kids" to "this is the right way to raise all kids, everywhere."

I think I know how this happened. When you first started revealing your particular, somewhat peculiar, parenting choices, the sanctimommies piled on. I'm sure there were plenty of fingers wagging at you as thousands of moms felt it their duty to tell you every little thing that was wrong with every little detail of your parenting plan. No doubt you felt a bit defensive; after all, you made these decisions consciously, with your children's best interest in mind. What right did these people have to judge you? So you did what anyone in your position would likely have done--you looked for support from like-minded people. And, thanks to the internet, you found it in spades. Not only are your choices acceptable, your support group assured you, they are deeply, fundamentally, right.  But by this logic, people who make different choices are simply, flat-out wrong. Such is the danger of the echo chamber, where extremism is born.

Mayim, I respect your right to make the choices you feel are right for your family. But if you refuse to extend the same courtesy to others, you run the risk of alienating readers like me, with whom you may have more in common than you realize. I have a feeling that if you and I met as total strangers, in a park with our children perhaps, we would strike up a lively and enjoyable conversation. Let's not let the sanctimommies of the world ruin our chance to get along, and to model for our kids a very important lesson: that just because we're different doesn't mean we can't be friends.


Sane Mom

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