Monday, August 31, 2009


My mother said to me recently that I parent Ben as if he were a second child. I know she mostly meant it as a compliment, and I mostly took it as one. I'm not a worrier, and I'm lazy, and I'm in favor of as much hands-off parenting and child-led exploration and experimentation as is safe and feasible. The combination (in that order) means that I look for opportunities to let Ben do things for himself, especially when it means less work for me.

Right now, for instance, Ben is by himself in the living room, and I am in the office maybe 25 feet away. There are no closed doors between us, and I can hear him bashing around in his toy drawers, but I can't see him. I'm confident that if he came to any harm, I'd be able to intervene successfully. Part of my confidence comes from 15 months' knowledge of this particular kid. Part of it may well be misguided faith in the idea that if nothing terrible has happened yet, it probably won't.

I tend to notice my lax parenting style a lot more when I'm around people who don't live with toddlers. Other current parents of toddlers don't raise an eyebrow, which either means they're on board or are simply sensitive enough to criticism not to comment. Also, I don't know many other parents of toddlers. Parents of long-ago toddlers are most likely to draw my attention to my lack of concern, and I think it's in part because toddlers seem a lot more fragile to those not being persistently pummeled by them, not watching them face-plant and then get right up unconcerned not once but dozens of times a day. And I'm sure they seem particularly precious and vulnerable to people whose toddlers are long gone, turned into prickly adults who resent parenting advice.

It was too quiet in there, so I just checked on him. He moved from his toys to his books, and is now sitting on the floor paging through Moo Baa La-La-La.

I'm 99% confident that my style is the right one, and if I'm honest, I'd say I think it's not just the right one for me. I think more people should calm the hell down and stop letting fear rule their parenting choices. But it's easy for me to say, because I'm not a worrier. And while I'm glad I'm the kind of parent I am, if I really wanted to change, I'm not sure I'm capable of it.

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