Underparenting is the fine art of staying out of your child’s way. Don’t rush to her rescue the moment she cries. Don’t tie his shoes for him, no matter how hard he whines. Don’t help him climb the playground equipment or do his math homework.
We all know this stuff, right?
Well, if you don’t, you can take a class on it at Resources for Infant Educarers, which is a cool organization that works with parents and babies to foster independence and secure attachment. They’re very interested in promoting freedom of movement for infants, among other things. No walkers or jumping toys, lots of small climbable structures to explore. They do neat work.
New York magazine shares one mother’s takeaways from the RIE class, in a peppy article aimed at moms with little ones. Here are my thoughts on underparenting throughout childhood.
- Don’t ride to the rescue. Don’t rescue them from every pitfall with your adult skills and resources. This is just as important for school age kids as it is for babies. Just like your toddler can find her own way off the slide, your 3rd grader can figure out her own math problems.
- Let them fail. Standing between a loved one and the consequences of their actions is practically the definition of codependence. At any age, kids can take responsibility for some part of their own experience. It’s OK if they get a bad grade because they didn’t study, or miss a fun outing because they need to clean their room.
- Let them grow. Kids will take on more responsibility and reach for more freedom as they grow. Whether it’s the three-year-old demanding, “I do it myself!” or the 10-year-old who thinks she’s ready to stay home alone, finding safe ways to say yes to your kid’s growing edges will lead to an easier and healthier dynamic for you both.
- Stay out of the way. Give kids space to do kid things: to be bored, to play make believe, to fight with their siblings. Let them work through some tough experiences on their own so they can learn their own boundaries and limits.
- Teach rather than do. Instead of cleaning your child’s room, show him how to do it. Encourage your kids to take risks to try new things. Share your skills with them instead of doing stuff for them.
The downside to underparenting: sometimes you look like a jerk. When my kid takes a tumble and I don’t immediately run to her, I get some sketchy looks from other parents on the playground. If I’m reading a book instead of pushing my kids on the swings, same deal. My daughters dress themselves, which means they go out in some pretty crazy outfits. I’ve traded the image of perfection for the reality of a pretty awesome relationship with my very independent children.
I’ve been doing it this way for 8 years, because it’s what feels right to me as a mom. I’m very involved with my kids lives, but I also want us to have our separate things. As a work-at-home mom, that separation is crucial. I can’t be entertaining my little darlings every moment of every day. So I’ve lived this lifestyle as a “free range parent” and as a “simple living parent” and now I’m happy to embrace the notion of “underparenting” as a word for it.
What do you think of underparenting? Is it an important idea or just another parenting fad?