'Big Bang Theory' Star Mayim Bialik Honored by ADL as a 'Forward Thinker'
The actress was humble in accepting the Anti-Defamation League’s Deborah Award, but strong in defending her controversial views on parenting.
Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik said Thursday evening she was nervous accepting the Anti-Defamation League’s Deborah Award, which honors extraordinary women for philanthropic and civic contributions, because “I’ve never won anything” before.
However, she said she was happy and honored about it because it gave her an opportunity to thank the ADL “for being here for generations of people,” and because she understands whatever she has accomplished is what she was meant to do.
“I don’t think anything I do in my life is about me,” said Bialik. “It’s about what God has put in my path. That’s really what has driven me.”
Besides her role as outspoken scientist Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, and roles in movies and TV since she was a child actor, her attorney Shep Rosenman said in presenting the award that Bialik was being honored for her work behind the scenes with UCLA Hillel and the Jewish Free Loan Society, for teaching science to children (who like her own two are home schooled), for her writing on the blog Kveller.com and for setting an example as an observant Jew who keeps a kosher home.
“She so comfortably wears so many hats,” said Rosenman, who called her “an incredibly forward thinker in all areas of thought.”
While known as an actress by the public, Bialik also has a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA and is the author of the recent book Beyond The Sling,A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, which expounds on the theory of attached parenting which she practices with her husband and two sons, ages three and six.
The concept of attached parenting includes keeping children as infants literally slung across the body much of the time, nursing the child for several years, never hitting or severely disciplining the child and not forcing them to go to sleep on a regular schedule just because it is convenient for the parent, or what society says parents should do.
“Attached parenting is looking to encourage people to parent the way mammals are designed to parent,” Bialik said shortly before accepting her award. “There’s nothing weird or unusual about nursing a child, or about natural childbirth, or about sleeping with your child safely, so I actually think it’s kind of fascinating where we see conventional corporate medical institutions upset about things the body was designed to do.”
Indeed, Bialik admits her book, which is more memoir than parenting guide, has stirred up controversy among critics who say it leads to spoiled, clingy and manipulative children, and those who say it takes away from the parent’s personal time for physical and emotional intimacy.
“People go nuts about it. Absolutely,” she admits, adding that her intent with the book was to “show non -judgmental perspective, meaning I’m not telling you how to parent your kid. I’m telling you what works for us. I’m pointing out there’s no research to the contrary. There’s no research showing why you have to sleep train your kid to get them to sleep through the night as soon as possible. There really is no logical, scientific research. It’s simply kind of a convention in a society that encourages early independence because it’s what makes for an efficient society—we think.”
She also spoke about discipline.
“Gentle discipline is also one of the main components of attached parenting,” she added. “You don’t need to hit your children or even have hard punishment in order to get them to behave in society.”
Bialik said there is research that supports her parenting style.
“There have actually been a few studies recently in legitimate scientific journals talking about the difference between children who were held, rather than not held, as a policy,” she explained. “Also there is finally some long term research on hitting. The over-arching principal we’re seeing is that it does matter how you treat a child in those stages, and children who are hit do behave differently than children who are not.”
Bialik insisted she isn’t trying to convert others to her way of thinking, but she is pointing out that in a violent world where so many families and children are dysfunctional, there is room for new approaches.
“If everything was going great then we can say ‘let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing,’” said Bialik, “but I think as long as we have the infant and maternal mortality rates where they are and as long as we have all of these other social problems, I think we can still be open to learning about other styles of disciplining kids.”
Although she came from a reform Jewish family, Bialik and her husband (who is a convert to Judaism) have become orthodox in their religious practices. She even has a Torah study group that quietly meets with her on Friday nights in between the taping of scenes for Big Bang Theory.
In her acceptance, she quoted from one of her favorite Jewish scholars, the medieval Rabbi Moses ben Nahman Girondi, who is known as Ramban.
She quoted from a letter he wrote to his son, which has become famous in Jewish literature. One part of it read: “Accustom yourself to speak gently to all people at all times. This will protect you from anger – a most serious character flaw which causes one to sin.”
Bialik was one of three women who received Deborah Awards during a presentation held at the Skirball Cultural Center. The award refers to Deborah, a character in the Old Testament who was a Jewish prophet born in 1107 BC. Deborah became the first and only woman judge mentioned in the old testament.
The master of ceremonies for the evening was Jillian Reynolds, one of the stars of Good Day L.A. on KTTV in Los Angeles, who charmed the crowd as she described learning about the work of the ADL after making a remark about Jews on a broadcast that was meant to be a quip about co-host Steve Edwards.
Another of those honored at the event was Renee White Fraser, a social psychologist and founder of Fraser Communications, an advertising agency. She is active in numerous causes in Southern California, including efforts to address the homeless problem.
The final honoree was Debra Wong Yang, who was the first Asian woman to serve as a U.S. Attorney. She is now a partner at the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm in Los Angeles. She was cited for her many community involvements, including serving as a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission.