Intentional benign neglect: part of thriving in December

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Last time I wrote about some of the things I’d aim to do and not do to take a step back from the Christmas / end of year hype and make sure I have time for what’s important, including self care. I wrote more about it on my last blog post.

Today I wanted to expand on this – especially in terms of what I’m trying not to do. And this is promoted in part from discussions around the ongoing problems of trying to do it all (including

But first, a recap. One of my main aims was to ensure I ensured I looked after myself better than normal. And I’m pleased to say there have been improvements:

  • Along with a little more incidental exercise this week (it was Jump rope for heart week at the kids school last week, so I had to try each night as well), I’ve managed two runs and two group fitness classes in the past week. This is very unlike me and although I struggled through the fast paced cardio / strength sessions, I can feel the improvements.
  • I’ve upped my veggie and water intake (even though I haven’t cut back much on the less healthy food) – and it makes a difference.
  • Although in other areas the change is slower – getting to bed early is not easy – but I’ve made some progress including cutting back on the amount of time I’ve been getting sucked into the vortex of social media.

So far, so good.

In turn, I’ve been trying to be more focused and less distracted with my family, and to a lesser degree (because, after all, it’s only been two weeks) with friends, and the things I chose to be involved in.

And that’s led me to recognise another area of potential distraction. At times, I spend a lot of time anticipating and overthinking the potential problems, possible reactions and things that could go wrong. Not just with my kids – although that’s a main focus. But in lots of areas of life. It’s exhausting – but sometimes, when it’s what I’ve always done, it’s hard to see another way.

But today I did see another path, and this was thanks to a bit of time I spent looking after my small veggie patch.

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It’s a busy little garden but when I actually looked, the peas were sprouting, the tomatoes were starts to ripen, the blueberries were turning blue, the zucchini a were thriving and various herbs were in full flight. Despite my neglect.

Hmmm.

No one else had paid attention, beyond the occasional watering. Certainly not my kids. And Rosie, when asked, would neither confirm or deny any wandering through it. She was silent on the matter (however I can normally tell, because everything is dug up otherwise).

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It appears the garden is going well, despite neglect. And that’s because the neglect had been benign.

Have you heard of that term? Benign neglect, according to the Oxford dictionary,  means ‘an attitude or policy of non-interference or neglect of a situation, which may have a more beneficial effect than assuming responsibility; well-intentioned neglect’. And it’s something I want to learn to embrace more often.

One of the tensions I feel is that I want to be involved in so many things:

  • I want to take an active role in my kids’ lives – because I love them and find them endlessly fascinating or frustrating (sometimes both at the same time) and want to guide them in certain ways. So I’m torn – should I step in, should I leave them to it, or (as often happens), should I watch from a distance and worry about what the result will be?
  • I want to see the house run in particular ways because there are ways of operating that I think work best. But then I get resentful that I am the ‘default parent’ – the one who is responsible for ensuring nothing falls through the cracks, who plans for all the events coming up and is the source of knowledge for all potential Christmas gifts (topically, at the moment).
  • I want to take a role in our local community activities (including, but not limited to the school) – but then I am torn, trying to be an (almost) fulltime employee and an (almost) fulltime member of so many different groups. And I don’t manage them well, running late often, and getting stressed as a result.
  • I want to take a stance on a whole range of current topical issues, because I have an opinion I think is worth sharing, or I want to show support. But that eats into time I would, really, rather spend in other ways.

The dot points above are just a start, because I’ve got at least a dozen more I could add.

I do overthink things. And, although I don’t think I ‘helicopter’ parent, or interfere, I dwell, and ruminate, and become absorbed in issues way longer than is necessary.

I worry, for instance, when one of my kids springs on me at the last minute the need to organise something for a school activity that they failed to mention earlier.

I become involved, too, when often that involvement isn’t required and it can led to disappointments on all sides (for instance, I’m sure someone else is a far more effective fundraiser than me – but, ok, I’ll try and sell more raffle tickets).

I FEEL responsible, even if, technically, I know I am NOT responsible.

I struggle, often, to let go – of my need to feel relevant, involved, responsible – although I crave the reduction of stress that accompanies letting go. It’s complicated.

What could be the alternative? Possibly – more benign neglect, in certain areas of life, at least.

Because:

  • Often, when I leave my kids to solve their own problems, or to do the work themselves, they can. Plus, they grow through the experience.
  • I have a husband who is home more often than I am, is very capable, and, even though the approach might be different, often he will get to the same end point – if I let go enough to leave him to manage more of the home.
  • When I am more selective with my involvement, I do a better job. And I can be more effective as a result – and enjoy them as well. Plus – often – other people will step up, or a new way, with less resources, is found.
  • Pausing to respond often means I am more focused with what actually matters. Many issues lose relevance, or are resolved, as a result of pausing. This frees up time I would spend with people I care for in real life, providing headspace for work and volunteer activities where I can have more effective impacts, or simply allowing for downtime. Which we all need.

Consciously identifying the areas where you could be benignly neglectful could actually lift a weight from your mind.

And who knows? You might find a surprise bumper crop as a result!

 

Do you use benign neglect in certain areas of life (or do you see ways you could?)

Do you have any ideas of what I can do with this bowl of Granny Smith apples in the photo at the top? (That’s the problem with gardening – you’re left with things to eat!)

 

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4 thoughts on “Intentional benign neglect: part of thriving in December

  1. Yes! I’m benignly neglectful of parts of the garden. This year, we have a thriving grape vine. In winter, it was a lemon tree heavy with fruit. It’s less effective on housework, study and actual paid employment though 🙂

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    1. A shame, isn’t it???? (although, maybe, for an overthinker like me, just doing the work at work rather than overanalysing it, can feel like neglect, but can be more efficient). And – of course, some of the housework might not be needed (or others could step up to the plate!)

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  2. I love the idea of benign neglect. My cyclamen plant is a perfect example of this. It sits in my bathroom and I water it very spasmodically, only when I notice the leaves are starting dry up. Every winter it delivers beautiful purple flowers; it is stronger for the neglect I think. There’s a good lesson in there for me. Taking a step back is often a good thing.

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    1. I read an excellent article about stepping back and letting kids learn today – I think it applies in so many areas (with some thought, of course – can’t completely walk away from everything!) Your cyclamen sounds lovely, and yes, from experience, they thrive on it!

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