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...