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Why I'm the Parent on the Bench

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You know that parent you always see sitting on the bench at the park? You know the one. She’s the one who is checking Facebook on her phone or texting pictures to relatives and friends. You may call her inattentive or lazy. You may even judge her for not being more involved with her children. She’s off in her own world and her children are playing all by themselves or with the new friends they’ve found at the park.

I am her.

Granted, I know where my children are, who they’re with and what is or isn’t in their mouths at the time. But I’m not the parent who is climbing up the stairs and holding my child’s hand down the slide. I’m not the one holding HJ’s waist as she navigates the monkey bars. Nope. Not doing it. I’m sitting right there on the bench.

I know. I sound like the worst mother in the world. Hear me out, though: Have you noticed the epidemic of kids (and adults!) who seem to be unable to do much without being given specific instructions? I’ve worked at companies with interns who sit and stare at walls without being told explicitly what they should be doing at every moment. I’ve seen kids in fifth grade who don’t fix their own plates at potlucks. I went to school with kids in high school whose parents did their science projects for them. I’ve heard horror stories about parents calling college professors to dispute grades. I’ve seen too many of my own peers unable to stand on their own feet as adults and still have their parents give them gas or grocery money on a monthly basis.

I think it’s sad and it’s something I don’t want for my kids. It’s my job as a parent to teach them to use their brains to figure out how to navigate the world... not show them how to do everything, or worse, do it for them. By sitting on my park bench, I’m just beginning to teach my kids about independence, problem-solving, and using their imagination. If they get in an argument with another kid, I sit back unless someone’s well-being is in danger. My girls need to learn how to handle disagreements between friends. That’s a skill they will need even when they’re 80. If they aren’t tall enough to climb up the green ladder? I will sit and watch them use their brains to step on the side of the structure to get a boost up so they can reach. If I jump in there every time they fight with someone or every time they have trouble accomplishing a task, what am I teaching them? That Mom will do it.

No. I want them to learn to trust themselves to figure things out. I want them to know that they are smart enough to find the solution. If they still continue to struggle after considerable effort, will I step in? Of course. I will help them problem solve and show them shortcuts to help them along the way, but I WILL NOT be the parent who does it for them.

So for now, you can find me sitting on my park bench watching my children learn (while also checking Facebook occasionally). I’ll save you a seat if you’d like.

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