Westchester Magazine Features Editor's Experiences as a Hands-Off Parent

Confessions of one happily hands-off parent



Features Editor Laurie Yarnell with her husband, Gary, and their two non-Mandarin-speaking but tattoo-free offspring.

I’ve been hearing a lot recently about the new “hands-off” parenting movement, a sort of backlash to the hovering, helicoptering insanity that’s taken root and flourished here in Westchester and beyond. Now, new parents fork over money for classes to learn such under-parenting techniques as giving their kids some unstructured playtime, letting them get a little dirty, and yes, having them experience (gasp) being bored.

In our family, my husband and I dubbed our own cobbled-together, laissez-faire child-rearing philosophy “benign neglect.” Basically, the mission of the benignly neglectful parent is to end up with the same amount of kids at the end of a day as she started with. Period. Thus there’s a lot of pleasantly forgiving leeway associated with the exact how to’s of raising those kids. And, while I am certainly not a parenting expert, I can report that my two children did manage to make it through high school and then college without appearing on a milk carton, patronizing a tattoo parlor, or starring in a sexting scandal. Nor have they kept kompany with any Kardashians, bonded in lock-up with Lindsay, or de-toxed with Robert Downey, Jr. In fact, they now are making their own lives in—as I write this, West Virginia and Oregon, no less—and don’t hit us up for money quite as frequently as they used to.

So, in an effort to both lessen the anxiety of parents who’ve been under fire with directives from the helicoptering camp and save them tuition for under-parenting classes, I share with you now the “Things I Never Did with, to, or for My Kids—and yet they survived:

1. Had them listen to classical music in utero (classic rock, yes; Chopin, no). And hey, one of my kids actually grew up to study and sing opera in four languages.
2. Just said no to drugs during their births. Panting through the pain versus blissing out with an epidural—seriously, is that even a choice? Not for me.
3. Puréed my own baby food from organic fruits and veggies I grew in my backyard garden. The Gerber stuff in the jars was just fine for my little growing gourmands.
4. Heck, I didn’t even bother heating up the jarred stuff. They gobbled it up at room temp and were none the wiser—until now, of course.
5. And speaking of warming up—I most certainly didn’t do that to any baby wipes. Their tushes? Just fine, thank you, last I heard.
6. Quizzed them with homemade Mandarin flashcards or employed a native Mandarin-speaking nanny. And they can still order Chinese take-out. Remarkable.
7. Baked bake-sale contributions from scratch. I just went with snack packs of fluorescent orange Cheetos. They were a huge hit, but, sadly, that’s probably a legally punishable offense now.
8. Replied, “We are applying to such-and-such school” when asked by the neighborhood ’copter mom what colleges my kids were considering.
9. Read, wrote, or “edited” any of their college papers on operatic themes in 18th-century Vienna or ecologically sustainable tourism in Latin America. I do this for a living. That’s plenty.
10. Called their employer to complain about the scalding temperature at which the cafeteria food is served or their cubicle’s access to natural light.

So, you might ask, just what did I do? I loved, listened to, and cared for them to the absolute best of my ability. They knew I was always here for them—and that I continue to be—when they need to chat, get advice, or just hang out. My job, as I saw it, was to help my children grow up to be productive and independent. And if, in the process, they burned their tongues, became addicted to Cheetos, or developed a little on-the-job seasonal affective disorder, heck, nobody’s perfect. Not even this happily hands-off parent.

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