As a freelancer, I often don't know how much work I'm going to have at any given time until I have it. So, in deference to my (tight) budget, I didn't book my kids into camp this summer... preferring, instead, to "play it by ear" and save the money in case I didn't have much work.
The good news is that I've been flooded with work this summer. The bad news is that... I've been flooded with work this summer. (The adage about being careful what you wish for comes to mind....) We're managing; I have a sitter who comes three days a week, and let's face it---my kids aren't toddlers. At 8 and 6.5, they're pretty good at entertaining themselves while I sit at my desk and try to hear myself think over the din of a thousand Legos hitting the floor simultaneously.
Inevitably, though, there are days when they beg me to play with them, and I keep putting them off. "Honey, I have to finish this right now," or "I would love to, sweetie, but Mama needs to do her work."
So, no, I'm not locking them in the basement or ignoring them for days on end, but I do have some guilt over those times when I send them off to play and wonder if maybe, if I was a better mom, I'd be playing with them. All the time.
I've often wondered about the intensity with which parents are WITH their children, or the guilt they feel if/when they don't do this, and I think my friend has identified a key factor: "If you're lucky enough to be home with your kids, you should BE with them. ALL THE TIME." Conversely, I suppose, if you can't be home with your kids, you must somehow make up for this lack by BEING WITH them, even more, when you are home.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is crap. Arrant nonsense. An unattainable goal, and, moreover, it's BAD FOR YOUR CHILDREN.
She goes on to explain the concept of "benign neglect;" using her own mother as an example:
[S]he never, as far as I could tell, felt guilty for saying, "Go along and play now." Playing was something children did. She was young and lively. She could and did play with us - when she felt like it. And isn't that what play is? Something you do because it's fun? As soon as play becomes an obligation or a demand, it's not play any more, is it?
She wasn't an aloof parent, by any means, but what she practised, and what I have perfected, is the much-neglected and ESSENTIAL parenting tool of Benign Neglect.
Did you hear my sigh of relief, my vigorous nodding and maybe even a bit of pounding on the desk in agreement when I got to this part?
Of course, only in a parenting culture such as ours would this be seen as "neglect". It can also be seen as giving your children a piece of life independent of you, of encouraging autonomy, creativity and independent thought, of giving them the opportunity to develop as individuals. It isn't actual neglect, because you care, you are involved, you support, encourage, nurture, and challenge. You just don't micro-manage. You don't hyper-schedule. You expect that you can do one activity while the children play, and everyone can respect the other's right to do what they're doing.
I read that post, and sat back to consider this. In a culture where the days of "Bye, Mom, we're going out to play, see you at lunch," are long gone, perhaps we're too quick to assume that our children need us for everything. I'm too quick to assume that their undirected time is somehow lesser than the time I spend with them. Instead of viewing their independent play as a good and positive and necessary step in their development, I rush to get back to them, or agonize when I can't.
And I think I might be done with that, now. I'm a mom. I work. I spend a lot of quality time with my kids, and my kids also spend a lot of quality time being kids without me hanging over them. It's all good. For all of us.
Thanks, Mary P. I plan to wave the Benign Neglect banner proudly, from now on.
[Image source: Toy Loan]