Sunday, November 8, 2009

At age 11, actress Mayim Bialik played the younger version of the Bette Midler character in the movie “Beaches,” earning recognition in the acting world. By age 14, she was starring as the title character in TV’s “Blossom,” playing a teen with a quirky fashion sense who deals with parental breakup and sibling struggles even as she tries to navigate her way to adulthood.

The show was canceled when she was 19 and Ms. Bialik attended UCLA, earning a doctorate in neuroscience.

She met and married her husband, Michael Stone, in 2003, and now has two sons: Miles, 4, and Fred, 1. She has raised eyebrows for choosing a unique path among Hollywood parents: attachment parenting and home-schooling.

In a recent interview, Ms. Bialik discussed her reasons for choosing to invest time and effort in children and family, even as she continues an active career in film and television.

“Before we had kids, we looked at what other parents’ lives looked like. We could resonate with those who had this lifestyle, sort of natural family living,” Ms. Bialik said. She and her husband decided to embrace a traditional family-raising style, “the way people always raised children, except for the last 200 years,” she laughed. Letting the children sleep together with the parents, nursing the baby on demand, using cloth diapers and eating a vegetable-based diet allows them to stay in touch with their children’s needs and be environmentally responsible.

“Our parenting style is to follow our own best instincts,” she said. “We go by gentle discipline. We don’t treat children like adults, but we treat them the same as we would all people, believing that if we are kind to him, he will be kind, too.

This lifestyle, she admits, requires sacrifice.

“We have to be home a lot, which not everyone can do, and we don’t have a nanny or other support, but we live this life because we believe in it.”

Home-schooling is a natural extension of their overall lifestyle.

“We see what our son is interested in, and gently introduce new ideas. We listen to him and try not to overwhelm him, or push him when he’s not ready. Our general rule is, ‘Don’t fight the kid.’ We don’t do flashcards or sing the alphabet song when he shows an interest in letters, but when he asks ‘Can I make a name card for someone?’ we write out the name and let him trace out the letters.”

The family honors their “conservadox” Jewish faith by keeping the kosher dietary laws, as well as Hebrew language skills and Torah studies. Ms. Bialik teaches two home-schooling groups each week, one in Hebrew language and one in neuroscience. Her son, Miles, has picked up the Hebrew alphabet simply by listening in on her class, to her surprise.

“Hebrew letters are also numbers, and it’s a phonetic alphabet, so once you master the sounds and vowels, you can read the Torah,” she explained, but she said she is in no hurry to have her sons jump into written language systems.

Blending traditional religious practices and holistic parenting seems to work well for the family.

“Our kids are pleasant, mellow, cuddly, sweet,” Ms. Bialik reported, “so people might want to give us some flak, but they can see that it works.”

Being around other home-schoolers helps the couple maintain their parenting choices. Ms. Bialik takes on acting roles from time to time, pumping breast milk to maintain the nursing schedule for her youngest, while her grad-student husband keeps the kids happy at home. She recently has had roles on “Saving Grace,” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and is a spokeswoman for the Holistic Moms Network.

While noting that home-schooling may not be for every family, Ms. Bialik said, “For those who believe parents know their child the best, and that every child’s needs are different, home-schooling works. I think we have to do what’s best for the family, without judging others’ choices, and let the kids be the proof.”

Kate Tsubata is a freelance writer and home-schooler who lives in Maryland.

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