Jennifer Garner Practices "Benign Neglect" In Raising Her Kids—But What Is It?

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This opposite approach to helicopter parenting may be just what parents need in their own lives.

<p>Frazer Harrison / Getty Images</p>

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Fact checked by Sarah Scott

Me time. It’s an essential part of any frazzled parent’s life. But also inherent in taking time away from the constant needs and wants of your family? Guilt, at least for this mom of five.

If I’m writing, doing yoga, getting a pedicure, or even tip-toeing out the door to the store kids-free, on the one hand, this tiny voice is insisting on how important it is to do things for, and by myself. But more often than not, I’ll allow the demands of parenthood—and to be honest, fear about not being there—to trump personal goals or desires. I even find that sense of duty inhibits me from making future plans, like buying concert tickets, or visiting friends who live far away.

Enter actress Jennifer Garner, who in addition to being an all-around amazing person, seems to have a good grasp on balancing (gasp) having her own life with motherhood. During an appearance on Today, the mom of three (she shares kids Violet, 18, Seraphina, 14, and Samuel, 11, with ex Ben Affleck) describes her approach to parenting while speaking with hosts Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager.

“I want to be around. But I also think it’s OK if they suffer from a little bit of benign neglect,” she says about her brood, adding, “Their lives are their own. I’m not trying to live their life, and I don’t mind that they see that I love mine.”

Um, mind blown. Because she makes total sense. It’s been drilled into our heads that setting a positive example for our children is basically non-negotiable. What if that carries over from modeling healthy eating habits to living our best lives, even when that means our kids aren’t involved every second? And, even more radical, what if actually giving our kids space to make their own decisions and just, well, exist without us hovering right over them is a far healthier choice?

Of course, the concept of “benign neglect” is very age-dependent. I won’t be giving my 2-year-old too much space to potentially harm himself or destroy my house. It’s also important to note that this parenting philosophy doesn’t advocate for true neglect.

As Tracee Perryman, PhD, author of Elevating Futures: A Model For Empowering Black Elementary Student Success cautions Parents, using the term “neglect” when referring to any human relationship is ill-advised. Instead, with benign neglect having been characterized as an alternative to helicopter parenting, the goal here is fostering self-determination in children and helping them identify, leverage, and gain confidence in their strengths.

“As a parent, I believe it is important to help children learn how to determine when assistance is truly needed, rather than looking to a parent to solve all of their problems and complete all tasks,” Dr. Perryman says.

Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist in New York and the Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services agrees. “Approaching parenting with a philosophy of benign neglect involves nurturing independence in children," she says. "It fosters an environment where kids are encouraged to explore, make choices, and solve problems independently, ultimately developing a sense of autonomy.”

To be clear, just because you’re not watching your child’s every move like a hawk doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing their safety. “It's a balance between freedom and safety, ensuring that children have the space to grow while maintaining a secure environment,” Dr. Hafeez emphasizes.

The parenting approach Garner and many others follow offers several benefits—for both caregivers and their charges. For the school-age set, Dr. Perryman says, “I believe that fostering agency and initiative in children prepares them to manage social relationships outside of the home, adjust in school, and learn how to self-advocate.”

Dr. Hafeez adds that kids whose parents practice so-called benign neglect learn to flex their decision-making and resilience muscles. What’s more is that when kids see their parents happy and satisfied in life, their emotional well-being is bolstered.

“Children learn the importance of finding joy, pursuing interests, and maintaining a balanced life,” she says. They also absorb all the positive vibes and may be more joyful humans themselves, who are encouraged to explore their own interests and passions.

By contrast, Dr. Perryman says, “If children only see parents fatigued, overwhelmed, anxious, and upset, then they are more likely to conclude that such feelings are normative.” She adds, “When they see parents enjoying life, and parents provide opportunities for their children to also enjoy leisure and self-care, then children are more likely to see possibilities for a balanced, happy, and fulfilled life for themselves.”

Benign neglect is not without its drawbacks, to be fair. You never want to take the concept to an extreme.

“Constantly prioritizing personal interests over family needs may convey that individual pursuits are more important than familial responsibilities,” Dr. Hafeez warns, adding that maintaining your role as the authority figure in the family should never be sacrificed to heavily prioritize personal pursuits. That can look like inconsistent discipline or difficulty setting boundaries, with both behaviors potentially creating an unstable environment for kids.

“An overemphasis on personal interests may result in a lack of emotional connection between parents and children,” Dr. Hafeez adds.

Ultimately, the goal of any parent is to find that just-right, healthy balance between discovering happiness in our own lives and providing that for our children. Even Garner must struggle to achieve this holy grail at times—she is human after all!

As for me, I feel like perhaps I’ve had the scales tipped too far in the direction of managing my kids’ lives. Thanks to the Yes Day star, not only do my children expect me to let them eat all the ice cream they could ever want at some point, but I’m determined to curb guilt and embrace more opportunities to enjoy my own life—but only because it’ll benefit the kids. Baby steps.

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Read the original article on Parents.