Thursday, December 27, 2012

A little bit of neglect goes a long way

Today, we met some friends for dinner at a pizza place. They brought their kid along and my two brats came long for the ride as well. The other kid was around Ayaan's age so between interacting with him, eating his food and dipping into the book he had taken along, Ayaan largely kept himself busy and out of trouble.

Tarana, on the other hand, was full of beans. We recently discontinued using her high chair at home so she refuses them at restaurants as well and is making the most of her newfound freedom by moving around as much as she possibly can. I made a few half-hearted attempts to make her stay put but then, since our part of the restaurant was empty, I left her to her devices. She didn't venture far but seemed to think that popping in and out from under the next table made for great entertainment.

Now, this didn't bother me in the least but the other mom got very tense watching her play under the table, worried that she would hit her head on her way in our out. I warned Tarana that that might happen but didn't coax or force her into coming out. Of course, the other mom was right and Tarana did inevitably bump her head on the table. When she eyed me piteously, I gave her my regular 'I told you so' spiel and carried on with my conversation.

When we were leaving the restaurant, there was another incident. I told the kids we were leaving and walked on ahead, knowing they were following me. Suddenly, I heard the other mom gasp and I turned her around to see her pulling Tarana away from the glass panel, which she had apparently been in danger of walking into.

Now the fact that she was more vigilant about Tarana did make me feel a wee bit like a neglectful mother but it was a fleeting moment before I regained my equilibrium. I am not the kind of mother that wants to coddle her children from every small bit of pain and trouble that they can inflict on themselves. Let someone else try and hurt them and hear my inner tigress roar but I am happy to let them make their own mistakes and learn from it, especially when the consequences involve nothing more than a bruise or a scrape.

Part of this wisdom came with Tarana's birth. I have only two eyes and two hands. I cannot be everywhere. I cannot always stop them from doing injury to themselves. And I cannot always be there to catch them when they fall.

I will hold their hand while crossing the street. I will ensure balcony railings are at an adequately safe height. I will keep all glass breakables and heavy objects out of their reach. And I will watch like a hawk if I feel they are in an unsafe environment. But if they are in a safe space where there is little or no risk of serious injury, I am happy to immerse myself in a book or a conversation and let them get on with their business of pottering around.

I am sharing this great piece called The High Cost of "Accident Free" that really resonated with me. Some excerpts:
Young children need lots of practice learning to manage risks when the actual risk of injury is very low... When children don’t get lots of practice learning to trust their physical bodies, they are actually at greater risk of injury! The more they learn when they are small, the safer they will be in the long run, because they learn to negotiate situations that carry risk.
Children have a remarkably accurate internal gauge of what they can comfortably manage. The less we interfere with that, the more children will learn to listen to that voice of reason...  To force the adventurer to tone it down or to force the cautious explorer to push past their fears communicates one thing: your internal voice cannot be trusted to keep you safe.

13 comments:

  1. As parents we want to protect our kids but at the same time teach them to be independent and take care of themselves... Kids of this age learn and pick things quickly... Kudos to the motherhood.. nice post.

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  2. Nice post, rohini. I've been the target of many a baleful look myself when kids fell down from bicycles and all I offered was a kind "are you hurt?" :)
    Benevolent neglect goes a long way :)

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    1. And it is so much more relaxing than being on one's toes every waking moment!

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  3. Hmmm... that's a sane thought. The thing is we as mums are 'expected' to be all over the kids all the time. Thankfully I have twins and that makes it humanly impossible to do so. The kids just have had to fall and learn. I won't deny though that I have often felt guilty of not always being there. Thanks for lightening the guilt.

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    1. I feel guilty too whenever I comes across an over-enthusiastic mother who makes me feel like a lazy bum - but otherwise I am okay with my choice :-)

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  4. Totally agree. Healthy neglect, that's what it is!!! What doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger......

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    1. Exactly! And that quote is one of my all time favourites. Have kept telling myself that through my maid-less days in Hyderabad :-)

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  5. Hahaha sometimes your post just comes at a time when the same subject is on my mind. In my case, that "other" mom is my own and lives downstairs so it can get a bit much.

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    1. Ouch. Same problem with my mother, though thankfully she does not live downstairs :-)

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  6. Benign neglect has been my motto- we can't keep our kids wrapped in cotton wool. They've survived, and so have I, and their adulthood doesn't guarantee no worries anyway:)

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  7. Because you have been so prolific, I am reading your blog bit by bit. And this was one more awesome thing to read! I do admit that when I am around smaller children belonging to other mothers I feel very afraid and freaked out. I am somewhat better with my own child. I will admit that I am working on this aspect and agree with your opinion!

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    1. Totally agree when it comes to small kids that don't belong to me. Benign neglect goes flying out of the window then and I become the helicopter adult in charge.

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