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Mayim Bialik Blossoms Into a Real-Life Scientist
Bialik, who just started a guest role on "The Big Bang Theory," took a break to talk to ParentDish about getting back into acting, raising her kids vegan, sharing a family bed and neuroscience (yes, neuroscience).
An edited version of the conversation follows.
PD: In an industry where actresses are often (and rightfully) called ditzy, you have a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
Mayim Bialik: No, I can't even act ditzy -- that's my problem! I'm told that I come off way too brainy when I'm trying to be cute.
ParentDish: It was just announced that you're going to appear on "The Big Bang Theory." Can you tell us more?
MB: I'm filming now. I'll be in the season finale, which will air May 24, and then I'll hopefully do the first two episodes of next season as well, and I hope more. ... I'm sort of excited because it's the first time I'm not playing some version of myself as a nerdy person. I'm playing a female version of Jim Parson's character.
PD: Even the topic of your neuroscience dissertation sounds intimidating, an examination of Hypothalamic Secretions and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome. So, clearly, you have the brains to do anything you want. What made you want to go back to acting after earning your Ph.D.?
MB: Oh, please! It's not that intimidating. [Laughs]. The kind of fun answer is that I've never acted as an adult and never really given it a shot as an adult. This is kind of my first time going on auditions like I did when I was 12 years old.
Also, as much as I'm tremendously proud of my degree and love neuroscience, I had my first son when I was in grad school and I got pregnant with my second son the week that I filed my dissertation, and my husband and I believe very strongly in the style of parenting that we practice, which really requires that I be with them the first year almost exclusively all the time. ... Believe it or not, to have me act once in a while and have my husband with our sons when I'm away, is the lifestyle that we're seeking to live.
PD: You practice attachment parenting. Can you tell us more about your parenting style?
MB: Attachment parenting is kind of a broad umbrella term. ... We practice elimination communication with our boys, where you train yourselves to learn their potty cues. We choose to bed share with our children. We have a one-bedroom house, so we really don't have another bedroom for our kids. It's hard, because 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.
PD: How long are you planning to bed share?
MB: Probably until like freshman year of college! [Laughs.] I'm kidding. I don't know. At this point, we have one large bedroom with a king-size bed and a full next to it, so we're finding the most amount of flexibility that we can around giving our older son the independence he desires. Up to now, it seems to be our belief that he craves closeness at nighttime as well as during the day. He's not showing yet any signs of a strong desire to sleep by himself, so at this point we're making it work in our house. At some point we may move to a house with another bedroom. I guess for most people that bed share, you use your child as a good indicator of when you should shift, and not necessarily your friend's pediatrician or your second cousin who thinks you're crazy.
PD: I'm sure you have friends and family who don't follow elimination communication. Do they dismiss it as just hippie parenting?
MB: Pretty much all of my friends and family don't! [Laughs.] Everyone has to decide what works for them. Hitting is not for me, for example. I will not hit my kids, I don't believe in hitting my kids. But, some people want to and that's how they parent their kids. ... I don't mean to compare pottying to hitting, I'm just saying that with a lot of extremes of parenting, people decide.
My parents were very, very dismissive [of elimination communication]. My mother-in-law, who's a medical technician, thought it was the craziest thing she'd ever heard, but she's now a believer. My husband thought that this was really, really not OK for me to be pursuing this line of parenting tool. He's not a touchy feely, "ooh, let's be in touch with our baby" kind of guy, and when our son [by age 1] would not pee in a diaper, he said, "OK, I believe it."
PD: Since you follow a vegan diet, are you raising your family vegan as well?
MB: My husband and I read "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer, and my husband has not eaten meat for four months. The boys do not eat dairy or meat or eggs. We also have a kosher home. It's actually helpful that my son understands that different people eat different things for different reasons.
PD: On "Blossom," your character was the pinnacle of '90s fashion, but in real life, you ended up with an ambush makeover on "What Not to Wear" last year. Are you keeping up your new look?
MB: For the most part, my life is about being at the park and going to the market and teaching in the home school community, and, for that, I still pretty much wear longer skirts and T-shirts and sneakers. However ... I have a much clearer idea of how I need to look when I go out in public. Now that I'm working more, I have better clothes to audition in, I feel more confident when I audition because I know that I can look the part and be competitive.
PD: It almost seems predetermined that child stars will end up as tabloid tragedies. How did you stay focused as a young actor?
MB: Although I started auditioning at 11 -- and that sounds ridiculously young -- a lot of the actors you see on television and in the industry started as toddlers. To be raised in the industry from toddlerhood on is very different than liking school plays and thinking you want to be an actor.
Kids and teenagers have problems whether they're acting or not. To say that because my grandparents were immigrants who worked in sweatshops and my parents were really strict, to say that that's why I turned out this way, I think dishonors the memory of Corey Haim or Andrew Koenig. I don't know that there's a formula for why or how. I have a strong work ethic, personally, and I'm a very disciplined person. But there are people who are those things as well, and if you have a mental illness, it's tragic whether you're in the limelight or not.
PD: You're best known for your role on "Blossom." Do you keep in contact with any of the cast?
MB: There's actually a semi-"Blossom" reunion of sorts on my episode of "'Til Death" that airs May 2, so that was super exciting to get back together -- I won't say with who!
PD: Do you embrace the show, or do you want to move on and never talk about "Blossom" ever again?
MB: Oh, no! That made me who I am. ... That shaped my teenage years. I have a lot of gratitude for having that opportunity. This is the job of dress-up.
People who act ... we need something. We choose this life because we need either other people to like us or we like the attention. There's something about this forum of communication that actors get, and I'm no different. I'm a neurotic actor like most actors are neurotic.
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