I'm no expert, but I truly believe there is such a thing as paying too much attention to our kids.
This is how you do it honey! Let me help you sweetheart! What are you doing now lovey? Why don't you line up all the toys this way and then count them that way? Oh you're just wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Of course Mommy can play that game again and again and again with you for the third hour in a row angel! You have all my attention forever and ever and ever Amen.
I say these words and make these accusations with love. (And hopefully humor.) Because if you're like me, you've said these words too in the name of loving, supporting, teaching and guiding your kids. We all bend over backwards because we are parents.
But maybe we should just leave them alone more. Get off their backs. Let them learn ... on their own. Without us.
Years ago I read a fabulous piece that a friend of mine had written about benign neglect. You know, the tactic of harmlessly leaving your kids alone to figure out certain age-appropriate things for themselves. At the time, I had a newborn (my first baby) and thought: Oh please, I'll never do that.
Well I'm doing it. Because my kids need me to love them, support them, teach them and guide them, but they also need to learn how to function without me. Call it a necessary life skill that I want my kids to have. And I'm told self-sufficiency takes a lifetime to learn. So why not start now?
Here are my most favorite mindful ways I neglect my kids for the greater good.
1. Go play. (Now. )
How many articles have we read from child psychologists about the importance of free, individual play without the hovering annoyance of adults butting in? A ton. I'm choosing to listen to these bits of wisdom. Of course, my girls run up to me with their games and puzzles and coloring books squealing "Play with us Mommy!"—and I do. (Sometimes for longer than I intend to they're too much fun.) But I also am conscious to then step back a bit and say, "Now I want YOU to play. Go play. I'll be back."
2. Figure it out
Whether it's puzzles, games, coloring, trying to pour the water out of the bucket and into the tiny hole for the funnel in the water table, I've started encouraging my girls to figure things out for themselves more and more. "Try," I say. "You can do it." Obviously I help them if things turn frustrating after a few solid efforts.
3. I don't want to hear it
I will help you solve problems, but I am not an on-call referee.
"She stole my doll! She's wearing my shoes! She's looking out my side of the car window!" Guess what: I don't want to hear it. Save your breath. I'm not paying attention to petty things. (Yes, I actually use those words with my 3- and 4-year-olds.) That's not what parents are for. I will help you solve problems, but I am not an on-call referee (unless actions and reactions turn to hair-pulling and pushing, which will have them both end up in a major penalty box).
4. Look for it
"I can't find my bear!" (You heard that one too?) "It's on your bed. I just saw it," you reply. They cry. "No it's noooooooot!" "Yes it is." "It's NOT!" "Yes it is. Go look. Look for it. Look hard." After another trip back to the bedroom, lo and behold, the bear emerges. And my girl has a smile on her face from ear to ear that reads, "I found it myself." You sure did, kid.
The other day I was coloring with my 4-year-old (mermaids, if you must know) and she suddenly started instructing me to color her side of the paper. "You do it better. You color my side." Nope. Not happening. I have my side, you have your side. Your side is beautiful. "I want you to do it!" she passionately demanded. "And I want YOU to do it," I responded. "You do it and then show me what it looks like when you're done. I can't wait." And I got up from the table to finish loading the dishwasher. She pouted (and complained a bit), but I held my ground. "I want you to do it."
So I loaded my dishwasher. And she colored. By herself. Happily. Beautifully. Mindfully. Self-sufficiently. While I neglected her in the most benign way just five feet away.
And when she was done, she cried "Mommy! Mommy! Look!" And I did. And gushed. And ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Because she did it on her own.
Do you make conscious efforts to leave your kids alone?