December 2, 2013

Hands Off, Hands On

New York Family’s editor’s note for December 2013

By Eric Messinger

On set with Betsy Brandt. Photo by Michael Jurick Photography

My children are now 9 and 13. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about when to be a hands-on, pro-active parent and when to hang back and let the kids sort through their lives without my overt input. With my 9-year-old-son in particular, I’ve gone from being a regular homework supervisor to rarely checking or pestering him about it. He’s lucky, I’m lucky—we can afford a tutor who meets with him once a week, and that seems to be enough to motivate him and steer him in the right direction.

At the same time, lately, following a report that Adam wasn’t being a kindly friend, I have been taking a more hands-on approach to issues of personal behavior—having regular chats with him about character, responsibility, empathy, and the like. The best way to do this, I find, is to be brief and selective, raising the topic at moments when he and I are enjoying each other’s company. I never really know what sinks in or what he really makes of my chatter, but I will say this: Just the other night, Adam came to me with a proposal to help a friend that was, I thought, very generous and self-sacrificing. I didn’t explore motivation, I just told him how proud I was—and that resonated. Twice that night, he asked me if I was proud of him, as if he wanted to make sure he heard it right. Maybe I don’t tell him that enough? Or maybe it has more currency when I only tell him when I really mean it?

As we enter December, this will have to serve as my contribution to literature of parenting and the holiday spirit. The rest of the issue does a really good job of covering the holidays in many other ways—from all the fun things to do around the city to toy guides and gift guides, from a touching story about how a toy cow saved Christmas to this month’s cover mom, Betsy Brandt, whose enthusiasm and wonderment for a city that’s new to her and her family seems just right for this time of year.

Have A Happy December,  

Eric Messinger

Sign up for our free weekly parenting newsletters full of local tips, weekend events, advice, giveaways, and more!
Find more great articles like this in our Parenting and Personal Essays sections.