To paraphrase some recent statements from parents:
“Krissy, I just listened and validated and it was so hard not to tell him what to do when he clearly had a dilemma.”
“I usually help her with that part of her homework because I am an editor, it is like my reflex.”
“He needs me when he gets in such a low place, it is so hard for me not to join in with him emotionally when he is feeling that bad.”
“I’m afraid he might use (substances) again if he gets too overwhelmed, it is hard to say nothing.”
For many parents, refraining from habitual patterns – nagging, helping, fixing, telling, doing, reminding, managing, prodding – makes sense intellectually, but feels quite awkward and for some parents almost wrong. Parent’s responses of going into some type of action are hard-wired. Many parents feel even neglectful on some level when they don’t get involved in their child’s problem.
Well, I am here to remind parents that when parenting choices are intentional and conscious – you are actively parenting. Not doing is doing: parents are incrementally handing responsibility to their children to solve their own problems – what could be more empowering than that?
I recently used the metaphor of negative space in photography – any photographer knows negative space (space around the object) is just as important as the positive space (the object) in framing the photograph. Parents are actively playing a role when they listen, empathize, validate, ask questions, stay present, attune to their child and feel their own emotions. Parents are holding this space around the child and this is a critical, essential role, which is nurturing and allows children to tap into their own resources. It is not neglect.
Neglect is parents who sleep until noon. Parents who don’t know where their child is. Parents who don’t know what their child is working on academically, socially, emotionally, and so on. The parents I work with do not fall into this category – they are, if anything, over-involved. So backing into the negative space is supporting and framing the object – which is the child’s development.
When parents make choices consciously, then not doing is more powerful, productive, and effective than habitually going into action.