It’s the second day of the new year, which means — if you’re like me — that the resolution of being a better, more understanding, more perfect parent in 2013 was broken sometime before New Year’s Day dinner.
So I offer up an alternate resolution for the rest of the 2013: Be a more neglectful parent. I’m not actually advocating neglect — just a little less hovering, a little less worrying, a little less intervening. If we give it a try, we might just wind up with less gray hair and better relationships with our kids by year’s end.
I do not, for one minute, posit that this is an easier resolution to keep than being a more perfect parent. In fact, it may be harder. At least society supports the notion of perfect parenting. Mention in the carpool line that you intend to be a more neglectful parent in 2013 and face being unfriended.
You can blame Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and author of the parenting books “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” and “The Blessing of a B-” for giving me this harebrained notion. I mean, the woman wrote about a B- being okay. How much more counterculture can you get?
I spoke to Mogel recently about following the path to more neglectful parenting. Here’s what she suggests:
1. Don’t assume the worst. “We have become a society of good parents gone bad: loving, devoted, intelligent parents who keep saying to themselves ‘what if. . . ’ ” Mogel says. The reality is that this biological imperative toward overprotection — think mama lion on the African savanna — is not well-suited for 21st century life. “But still we use those same instincts to make sure our kid gets the best second-grade teacher or makes the right soccer team. It’s a little crazy,” Mogel says.
2. Don’t make your children assume the worst. Children live in a very different world from adults and that’s sometimes hard to remember. “Children aren’t nervous until we make them nervous,” Mogel says. So the antidote to assuming the worst is to spend time seeing the world as your child does — at any age. “Babies are mesmerized by lights. As a parent, you see lights in a new way when you have a baby,” she says. “. . . With teenagers, you had better have seen Gangnam Style by now. It’s not a coincidence that it’s the most-viewed YouTube video. It’s so inventive, so hilarious, so delightful.” Children give us the chance to see the world as a less hostile place, but we have to open our eyes to those possibilities.
3. You don’t want to be your child’s best friend. This idea never would have occurred to our parents, Mogel points out, noting that our parents may have struggled to correctly answer what grade we were in. Today, many parents can recite their children’s class schedule, teachers’ names and grades by heart. “We take their emotional temperature all the time, and if they’re unhappy, we’re unhappy,” she says. Mogel warns that we take our children’s lives too personally, in a way that isn’t healthy for them or for us.
4. Get outside. Want to engage in quality time with your child? Take a hike — together as a family. Even if it’s cold out. Mogel is a big fan of Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” (Algonquin Books, $15), a book about the power of using our five senses in a three-dimensional world that cannot be experienced on a tablet or in front of a wide-screen TV. It’s also a wonderful way to see the world through your children’s eyes. And if you’re the parent of a teenager, what starts out as a replication of the Bataan Death March might actually lead to some real conversation and — gasp — laughter.
5. Find another neglectful parent. Finally, support on this journey is critical. So Mogel advises finding “another somewhat neglectful parent; a person who refuses to overprotect, overindulge and overschedule” their child. On her Web site, Mogel has created a 13-step program called Overparenting Anonymous. It’s wise and witty and the concept of having a “sponsor” is empowering. After all, neglectful parents of the world must unite!
Grant, the editor of KidsPost, writes about parenting issues every other week.
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