A Bit of Benign Neglect

Sometimes parenting can get so intense that one comes to a realization that something has gone wrong, that all is not quite right. One can become aware of feeling suffocated, that one’s sense of autonomy and one’s center has been misplaced.
One thing which can quickly distort parent/child relationships is when a child (or children) becomes the center of the adult’s life and world. All waking thoughts, all adult conversation seem to center around What She Did Today. The child has become All, has become the reason for everything that is done in the family, from how the house is decorated to what we eat to what friends we have.
I’m sure I have thoroughly confused a lot of you. Many of you are surely thinking “Hang on – she’s pro staying at home with children! How does this work?!” Yes, indeed – I am strongly in favor of mothers staying at home with their young children and mothers or fathers with their not so young children. I’m in favor of homeschooling – got to involve parent and child at home together – and a decision having been made that this is what’s best for the child – right?!
Yes. But – a clarion call here at Christopherus has to do with family – not a collection of individuals – but the synergy of the family and how its needs are best met. If homeschooling is right for the family, then it will be right for each individual, children and adults alike. And if homeschooling is best for one child and the others go to school, then that could be fine too – as long as this works for the family overall. And if not…. well then some sacrifice might be in order. Who is sacrificing what for whom – well, that can only be revealed by the dynamics and destiny questions in each family.
Back to sacrifice – yes, staying at home with a small child can indeed be a sacrifice in many ways for a mother. And choosing how to run a family, how to decorate the home and what foods are eaten are all vitally important. But if she has done this willingly and in full conscious understanding that this is what she feels is best for her child, then she has an opportunity to embrace that sacrifice not as the act of a martyr but as a step toward personal growth. These decisions are made because this is what is best for us all at this point in time – not merely because this is what the 2 year old needs and the rest of us just go along with it. This isn’t the same thing at all.
If that mother feels positive about her choice and has accepted the painful journey of a stay-at-home-parent, then she will be more able to navigate the difficult path of living day in and day out at home with small children. And this is where we get back to my starting point.
If one is feeling martyred about staying at home with a child, then it could well be that one is more inclined to seek an outer reason for one’s martyrhood. The obvious prize in such an example could be the child herself. Here I am all day long at home, bored – there had better be a good reason for this…yes – my child! So I shall make sure she Gets The Most from my being at home…
And thus is laid the way toward a child becoming the center of attention and the child/parent relationship becoming skewed.
I am being rather cut and dry about all this – there are many nuances and situations which will lend a million different shades to each decision to stay at home with one’s children….But in general I feel that if the staying at home itself – the desire to make a home and carry the hard work of a homemaker, is the central factor behind such a decision, then the mother will be able to carry her homemaker work in such a way that the children will not be central – but will just be a part of it. They will bask in the warmth and health of an ensouled home and a mother who values her work and her choices and (it hardly needs saying) in the other parent appreciating and also valuing this choice and this work!!! Key idea here: choice. Not tradition or “better had” or “he says I must” – free, considered and conscious choice on the part of the adults involved.
Children raised where the mother is completely engaged with her task of creating a home are blessed because, while they are an integral part of the home and family and the mother’s all-embracing consciousness, they are not burdened by being the center of the universe, the reason for why and what a parent does. Such children can even be forgotten about a bit every day as the mother goes about her tasks – and this is where the value of a bit of benign neglect comes in!
Instead of being under the microscope, the children are simply “part of.” Instead of being why or what is done, they are just part of the consideration. Instead of feeling the the parent’s need for the child to fulfill whatever criteria – and however well intentioned – the children just live and grow and are part of the family.
There’s a huge difference here! To be the center of an adult’s world is so unhealthy, both for the adult and for the child and certainly for their relationship! What a heavy load for a child to carry to know on some level that every choice and decision in the household centers around him! What a challenge to live in a situation where it can seem that the sole reason the two adults involved came together was to raise him! How damaging to a child’s emergent sense of Self to be unable to find his Self in relation to a healthy centered adult because that adult is busy finding her Self in relation to him!
Many educators in Waldorf Early Years circles are very suspicious of attachment parenting precisely because they have experienced so many mothers who lose themselves completely in their baby whom they have placed at the center of their world. I too have seen this unhappy and unhealthy situation many, many times. But I feel that this is not the fault of attachment parenting per se (by which I mean the work of Jean Liedloff) but of how that work has been revised and has developed. Liedloff’s ideal was definitely benign neglect – that baby in a sling should be worn as Mom goes about her everyday important life. In the people Liedloff studied, the sling was both convenient so Mom didn’t have to fuss and stop her work to feed or comfort her baby and also was the best way to bring the child into the consciousness of the tribe.
While I believe that modern Western people do not have tribal consciousness, I do believe that such an example of benign neglect – Baby As Outerwear – does much to help modern mothers from relating to their babies (and then to their small children) in an overly “I” centered way. To be constantly referencing the young child in family decision – even if one does not consciously involve the child – is to bring her inappropriately and immaturely to a sense of Selfhood. Baby As Outerwear means the baby is there, is with Mom at all times, within her loving and caring aura. But Baby As Outerwear is not being directly addressed – she is simply “part of”. She is a part of the healthy nurturing life that her parents create. Her “I” is allowed to mature slowly whilst her mother does not lose her “I”, part of the root cause of feeling alienated and without center that so many mothers at home can feel.
And yes – there are pitfalls here – one can quickly leap from Baby As Outerwear to Baby As Discowear and think that babies can be worn to all and sundry adult events. But to think that is to forget those conscious decisions one made when choosing to bring a child into the world ion the first place and why one feels that creating a nurturing home is important. Not overstimulating young children is absolutely paramount to their health and growth – and thus we return to the ensouled ho
me. And that is where we find Mom – wearing her baby, peacefully working in the home and where, via her calm peaceful centeredness, she is able to maintain her bond with her children without making them the center of life. Her “I” is strong in its knowledge that she has freely made a right choice and the children’s “I” are not prematurely called upon.

Posted on January 11, 2008 in Family Life and Parenting

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