The Big Bang Theory star and real-life neuroscientist is putting her PhD to use with her new book, Boying Up: How to Be Brave, Bold and Brilliant, about the science behind being a boy. At home, the actress is a mom to two sons, Miles and Frederick.
"I think [Boying Up] is going to be used by a lot of parents and grown ups in terms opening up conversations," she tells ET. The book is a follow-up to 2017's Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular.
"There is a chapter on how boy bodies grow and there are diagrams, those things are in there," Bialik says of her newest offering. "Already our kids see billboards, they know what is seen as attractive. They know what kind of breasts the media prefers, right? So, I think it's important in Boying Up that we're talking about all aspects of body and development, and those should and can be used as jumping-off points for conversations."
Including, Bialik says, in age-appropriate discussions about the #MeToo movement that rocked Hollywood this year.
"I think it's important for there not to be fear associated even with difficult questions that they have. I talk really openly and honestly with my kids, so we talk about, 'What does it mean to be a feminist?' 'What does consent mean?' And you do it in age-appropriate ways," she says.
Bialik has long empowered her own children to speak up if they do not want to be touched -- even by their mother or other family members. Now, Bialik says those conversations are expanding.
"To be perfectly frank, the president has brought things to our consciousness that I didn't want my children knowing about, that I do have to explain to them," she admits. "We talk about the difference between a woman touching a man in a way he doesn't want versus a man touching a woman. What are the differences? What are the similarities? And I really make them get creative, meaning, what are some reasons that it might be different? Or what is it about men that might make them act this way? What is it about women? To me, it's really about making them part of the conversation and I think having them be aware."
But as any tried and true #BoyMom knows, it's not all serious. In fact, Bialik couldn't help laughing while addressing one of the messiest parts of motherhood.
"Boys pee everywhere to the extent that I sometimes wonder if it's coming out of other places other than the urethra," she jokes. "Because the directions that I clean -- you know that sprinkler toy when you're a kid? It's like, sometimes I wonder if that's what goes on when I'm not in the bathroom."
Bialik notes that her eldest son has even taken to science in an effort to defend himself.
"My older son thinks that there's some physics. That the angle that the toilet is going means when it hits, it ricochets -- he has literally tried to explain to me," she says with a laugh. "No, you're just careless!"
Read on for Bialik's take on the world of motherhood and how she's prepared to deal with the world of teenage dating! The interview below has been edited and condensed.
I want to start with when you were expecting your first. Did you have any preconceived notions about whether you wanted a boy or a girl?
Mayim Bialik: I was terrified to have a girl because being a girl was hard for me. I didn't feel like I fit in and even as I woman, I feel like I'm so quirky. So I was kinda hoping that the universe wouldn't give me the opportunity to learn about all the things that I did wrong as a girl, so I got a boy. And then I like to say that God must not have thought much of me, because I was not given any challenges with the second. I just got another boy, so we just did it that way. And I didn't know [during pregnancy] either time.
Did your notions change after you welcomed your first one?
I was and have continued to be very grateful for having boys and I have so many friends who have girls, and I love the process of watching little girls become young women. I love seeing that, but I would not want to parent it. It makes me very nervous and I think also the pressures with social media and all those things, I think it's different for girls and boys and I'm very grateful that that's not something I have to deal with yet.
Did you have any signs during pregnancy that you thought it was going to be a boy?
There are many old wives' tales in Eastern European Jewish families about how you can tell if it's a boy or a girl. I was told by one family member that if you look very unattractive while pregnant, it's a girl. And someone literally said, "This is a girl!" And I thought, "That's not flattering at all." Indeed, I had two boys.
I carried very differently. I gained a lot more weight with the first than the second, different angles, every dimension. So people said, "Oh, so of course your second is going to be a girl because it's so different." Nope, same thing. It can be different for other reasons.
We've asked a lot of boy moms about the surprises, challenges and rewards associated with raising little boys. The one thing every single person has said: Boys pee everywhere.
Boys pee everywhere to the extent that I sometimes wonder if it's coming out of other places other than the urethra, because the directions that I clean -- you know that sprinkler toy when you're a kid? It's like, sometimes I wonder if that's what goes on when I'm not in the bathroom. And you know, their dad, my ex, because he's a guy, he's like, "Oh, it's not a big deal." It makes me crazy! Because I don't want to make them sit. I do have friends that make their boys sit. I'm not ready to go there. But there's not really a way to punish a child for urinating everywhere. [Laughing] I tried putting down the mat thing, but I don't aesthetically like how that looks. We share a bathroom, so it's my bathroom too.
But you also don't want to sit in pee when you go...
Oh, you don't want to step in it! Sometimes it ends up on shower walls. You don't know how they do it. It's a problem. It is a definite problem.
Do you call them out on it?
Oh, yeah. You can hear me throughout the house, "Don't pee on the floor!" That's what it is for us.
Did you every try the Cheerio in the toilet? I've heard that's a thing.
No. My older son thinks that there's some physics. That the angle that the toilet is going, means that when it hits, it ricochets. He has literally tried to explain to me. No, you're just careless.
He's really committed to defending it.
Oh yeah, with physics too. Angles. It's ridiculous.
There's not an age that they grow out of this?
I know grown men for whom this is still a problem, don't you? [Laughs]
Switching gears here to talk about a serious note of raising boys. It's an interesting time with the Me Too movement being as prevalent as it is, with so much talk about what feminism means. How do you raise your boys to be conscious of those issues?
I think that the first thing is we're not afraid to talk about these things and I think it's important for there not to be fear associated even with difficult questions that they have. I talk really openly and honestly with my kids, so we talk about, "What does it mean to be a feminist? What does consent mean?" And you do it in age-appropriate ways. We've been talking for years since they're very little about, "If you don't want to be touched, even by me, meaning even if your mom wants to touch you in a way that you don't like, you get to say it. You get to speak up." And as they've gotten older, they hear things in the news. To be perfectly frank, the president has brought things to our consciousness that I didn't want my children knowing about that I do have to explain to them, so there are age-appropriate ways to do it. We talk about the difference between a woman touching a man in a way he doesn't want versus a man touching a woman. What are the differences? What are the similarities? And I really make them get creative, meaning, what are some reasons that it might be different? Or what is it about men that might make them act this way? What is it about women? So to me, it's really about making them part of the conversation and I think having them be aware of what goes on. Where are the times in their life that they already hear what girls prefer? What boys prefer? All those things, to me, are tied in. We're really seeing the result of years and years of us kinda not exactly knowing what to do and in particular, with boys, and that was the challenge in writing this book. How do we address that in an age when children are learning about consent even earlier than we did?
Is there an age that's too young to start having these conversations?
I think there's a lot of variability and I can't speak for other people's kids. I can speak for my kids and what I learned is that, once you have a younger sibling, they're also hearing things in a different way than the older one did because they're around the older one. It's funny because my older son is sometimes protective, you know, like, "Fred doesn't know about that yet, Mama." But I think that's also important because these conversations are happening. They're happening on schoolyards, they're happening when we're not around. So I also feel like, as it is with even telling kids about their bodies or how sex works, you kinda want to get to them before the rest of the world does.
And what is the best way you think to start those conversations?
Oh, in the car when they're a captive audience and they're strapped into their seats and you're driving somewhere for a long time. [Laughs]
That's it! And they'll say, "Mama, please can we listen to music? Please, instead of talking?"
No, you're gonna hear about consent!
One more question about consent! And then we get back to the radio.
I understand you have made some templates in your book about how to have these conversations?
I think Boying Up is, even possibly more than Girling Up, I think it is going to be used by a lot of parents and grown ups in terms opening up conversations. So, there is a chapter on how boy bodies grow and there are diagrams and those things are in there. And it talks about how every penis is different, just like breasts are different. These are all things that are important for kids to know, like I said, before they get out in the world. Already, our kids see billboards. They know what is seen as attractive. They know what kind of breasts the media prefers, right? So I think it's important in Boying Up that we're talking about all aspects of body and development and those should and can be used as jumping-off points for conversations.
How do you deal with it when they just giggle through the whole thing?
You know, obviously giggling means something's funny, but it also means something's uncomfortable. It's also important to gauge it. A lot of people think of me like I must be this really dominant, like, telling my kids what to do. I actually have really learned to listen for cues. That's one of those cues. You know, babies will go like this [covers her face] when things are too much. Sometimes kids and boys in particular might get uncomfortable, so you also want to kind of light touch it. I think that's important, too. You have to know when too much is too much. Some boys in particular can get very overwhelmed by a lot of information coming at them at once. Some men, as well, in a different way than women, do. And so those things show up really early with boys. The things that we often think about with men like, "Oh, they want to go to their cave." You'll see that in nine and 10-year-olds. That's actually a normal part of boy development and that's a big thing that I learned from this book. Even though I want my kids to constantly talk to me and tell me about their feelings and hug when they're upset, they sometimes want to be alone, and that's OK. It's not about my needs. They often don't want to be physically touched when they're upset and that's true for men, as well. It's also true for some women and some girls. But again, the generalities of kinda that process, that's kinda what we see in boys.
Now your boys are approaching teenage-dom. Are they interested in dating? How do you feel about that?
I don't like to think about that! No, my older son I think is more aware of girls and he's more aware of what he wears. I've noticed that that has shifted. We're not a particularly fashionable family, which is fine, but I've noticed even small things. He's taking more notice or if we're going to friends for Shabbat dinner, even if we're not going to synagogue, he'll want to put on a dress shirt. Normally I'm kinda chill if we're eating at someone's house. He's like, "No, I want to look nice." So to me, that's kinda an indication that he's starting to see where he fits into the larger world. My younger one just thinks it's all hysterical and so, you know, it's like "Ah, girls, it's so funny." He's still more interested in, like, burping jokes. So we're pretty safe there.
Are you gonna lose it a little bit when they bring a girl home for the first time?
Oh my gosh. We're part of a homeschooling community, so we basically know all the kids that our kids socialize with now, so there's not a lot of surprises. But I think it will still be another level of my role as a parent to think of myself as like, "Oh, I'm not just his mom. I'm his mom and there's another female in the picture."
Before I let you go, I have to ask for one piece of advice for a first-time mom-to-be.
Trust your instincts, they're there for a reason. They're gonna be right more than most people would have you believe.