The Joys of Benign Neglect

For a while yesterday morning I worked while Saskia “worked,” which is to say we set up an unplugged landline phone, a defunct, old laptop and some paper with a real pen as opposed to a marker. Later in the day, there was a period when I worked while the ninth grader did biology homework and Saskia drew. Both stretches were quiet and peaceful—and vaguely productive. I believe this is what is referred to as benign neglect.

Soon after our first was born, a postpartum doula handed us an article about benign neglect; the key point of the article was that ignoring children in this way—play on your own, go outside, figure it out—was less selfish of you than it was good for the kid. The article—if I remember it correctly—urged parents to adopt this practice for the sake of their children. Maybe the parents’ sanity was cited as well, I can’t quite remember.

The free-range parents talk about this, how good for the kids some healthy neglect really is. And it is, don’t get me wrong. Here’s what I was reminded of during our shared and easygoing quiet time: benign neglect, if that’s what you want to call it, is so freaking enjoyable—for me.

It was so pleasant I forgot to snap a photo, so here’s a recent one of Saskia being Saskia, which is also quite enjoyable to be around, except for when it’s not.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser's work has appeared on the New York Times, Salon, and the Manifest Station amongst other places. Find her on Twitter @standshadows

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