Friday, October 23, 2009

Benign Neglect

Tom and I are not so much good with the whole landscaping thing. We don't know what to do, and on the rare occasions when we do get a glimmer of an idea, we don't know how to do it. Our lawn is a mess. That's what you'd think if you drove by my house. That's what you'd think if you were trying to sell the house next door (sorry, neighbor). But guess what? I met our neighbors lawn service guy while I was out getting the mail today. He started with a spiel, then kicked at my (way too long by suburban standards) grass and said, "Your lawn is actually surprisingly healthy." I said something about that being because we let it get so dang long and to my immense surprise he said, "That's probably it. Most people cut theirs way too often and keep it way too short." Who knew? We've been practicing benign neglect on our lawn.

That's a term I hadn't thought about in a while.

When I was in grad school, I had to do some observations in various NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units). As a student observer, it was made very clear that I was authorized to observe and ask questions, but I was to have no actual contact with the babies and I was not to interfere or intervene in any way. Some NICU's had a separate observation room, but in most I was allowed to be on the floor.

On one particular night there was a baby that just wouldn't stop crying. It was a strong newborn cry, and it was relentless. Nobody made any effort to comfort him. There were several nurses on the floor doing paperwork or casually checking on other babies. Why was no-one comforting this child? After a few moments, my agitation must have become evident. A nurse approached me and nodded towards the crying infant. "It's bugging you, huh?" I nodded. "It's called benign neglect. We're very aware of him, I assure you, and we know exactly how long he's been crying." At this point, another nurse came over and finally comforted the little guy. He started to calm relatively quickly. "He was quite premature and his lungs are working hard to develop. Crying is great exercise for his little underdeveloped lungs. We don't let him cry TOO long, but we do let him cry. We're happy when he cries. Did you notice how strong that cry was?" I nodded again. She continued, pride evident in her voice, "It wasn't that strong a couple days ago. His parents are going to be really pleased. They can't stand to not comfort him when he fusses, so we're all glad when he chooses to wail like that when they're gone." By the time our conversation was over, he was quiet and seemed comfortable.

And I'd learned a valuable lesson.

Sometimes the best thing to do - and often the HARDEST thing to do - is nothing.

I've slowly, slowly learned (am slowly, slowly learning) this lesson with my own kids. Sometimes my intervention causes more harm than good. Sometimes I need to step back and let them make their own mistakes - even if it means they're going to end up crying. Sometimes a little neglect is the kindest thing.

Now if someone could find a way to assure me that neglecting exercise was in some way benign...

18 comments:

Erin Bassett said...

Love that story about the baby...such a great reminder.

Congratulations on your healthy grass!!

Stopping by from SITS.

Housewife Savant said...

Benign neglect - ignoring something for its betterment...
I have a PhD in that.

Having the lawn guy compliment your grass must be like having your heating/cooling man tell you he's never seen such a well-kept system, or having the plumber sing the praises of your pipes, or your ObGyn saying that you've got an outstanding vageene.
It is NOT the same as your waxer marvelling about your hearty moustache. The shampoo girl should never tell you how dirty your hair is, nor should your dentist remark that your teeth are getting longer.
That's not the same at all.

Badass Geek said...

What an awesome but tough way to learn an important lesson.

Thank you for sharing this.

M said...

I think benign neglect just might be the most tricky of all parenting maneuvers. Just as I was reading your post I was waiting out a screaming baby who was refusing to sleep. It's so hard to fight that instinct to run in and comfort them, ESPECIALLY when you know that NOT doing that is what is best for them. It's also hard to realize that benign neglect is something that is essential to parenting, and better off learned while the baby is still young. I'm convinced that the first two years of the baby's life is nature's way of testing everything in us, just so we can adequately prepare ourselves for the years after. Oh, so much to look forward to...

You always have the most thoughtful posts. Thanks for sharing!
M :)
http://Mandthe2Henrys.blogspot.com
http://HomemakerPhD.blogspot.com

Gibby said...

Wow, I always learn so much from your blog. Benign neglect. Genius!

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

I love your insights! Today, in honor of your post, I will do nothing! I will sit on my arse and eat popcorn and let me daughter watch videos all day long. Woo-hoo. This benign neglect stuff rocks! ;-)

kys said...

I try to do nothing when my kids are fighting and let them learn "conflict resolution". When things start breaking and boys start bleeding, I have to step in.

BONNIE K said...

The hospital story does make sense. But I have had such bad experiences at hospitals when I go to the nursing desk, to tell them my friend or family member needs something, and there are 5 or so nurses, all very busy with their paperwork, just blatantly ignoring me. I always think aren't they there to help the patients?

carma said...

I must show my husband the part about not mowing so frequently. I am always getting on him for this!!!

Remember that recent news article about exercise not helping with weight loss = benign neglect :D

I say take it easy!

MiMi said...

Oh man. That would be SO hard to ignore that crying baby. But it makes sense what they were doing. I've heard that crying is great for underdeveloped lungs.
Now. If the same principle applies to lawns...our lawn must be the healthiest lawn ever.

otin said...

Benign neglect should be the title of my autobiography!!! haha!

JennyMac said...

wow...this is thoughtful and well written Tammy....benign neglect. Ahhh..so much ahead of us since ours is only two.

Pam said...

It is terribly hard to know when to intervene with you kids and when to practice "benign neglect". It's so much easier when dealing with things like lawn care, housework and exercise.

Unknown Mami said...

Son of a gun that baby story has me crying and there is no one here to benignly neglect me.

mama-face said...

I am in integrate that term into my daily life. At least I will have a name for what I don't do.

The crying baby=that is so interesting.

The trick is knowing how and when to use such a powerful benign action. Especially with our children.

Sandy said...

What a story. Good that you were there long enough to benefit from the nurse's explanation.

I've always said one of the hardest parts of being a parent must be watching your child make a mistake knowing full well it's a mistake and not being able to, or in this case, just not stopping them.

blueviolet said...

That's true about the lawn. I think it's more prone to weeds and disease if it's short. It's too bad though because it looks so good when it's short.

Awesome analogy with the kids!

Vivienne said...

My oldest was in the NICU for 9 days and the nurses were always happy when he had the hiccups.

HH is trying to get me to learn the "benign neglect" thing when it comes to the kids with their school work. Hard to do, especially for a control freak like me...