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    The Don’t Look Theory of Parenting

    December 18, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    I would like to say that this theory of mine, which applies, I think, most especially to raising boys, developed because of how deeply moved I was by Charlotte Mason’s ideas on masterly inactivity. Unfortunately, that would be disingenuous. This little theory of mine sprung up almost entirely as a way to protect my children from myself.

    There are times to look, and there are times not to look, and it takes wisdom to know the difference.

    Listen to this post as a podcast:

    Well, maybe we can at least tip our hats at Miss Mason and say that it was she who told me that they needed protecting from me in the first place.

    After all, it was she who wrote:

    Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions. Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings!

    Vol. 3, p. 37

    I circumvent that problem by providing my children with Velcro shoes, as a general rule.


    The truth is that, at some point in their short lives, my children have made me nervous. And I don’t mean in a stop-talking-to-that-scary-man sort of way. I mean in the way of all children throughout history — climbing higher than I think is safe or some other such thing.

    I’m not saying that there is never a time to tell a child to stop and be sensible, but still, I’ve no desire to teach my children through the special revelation coming out of my mouth what they might learn well through the bumps and bruises of general revelation.

    I mean, yes, he was going too fast on his bike when he took that turn, but he’ll never do that again, right? Not after that fall.

    Unless, of course, he is my youngest, who is convinced that his failure was temporary and next time, surely, it’ll work out differently.

    But even daredevils have their place in society.


    Don't Look

    My theory has become: don’t look.

    Just don’t.

    If we look, we will want to stop them. We’ll want to intervene. Get down from that tree! Pull up your pants! Why in the world are you spitting right now?

    Just don’t.

    It matters not that the times I least believe my genuinely honest older son are the times he begins to orate on how “safe” his new idea is. I let him do it anyhow, with perhaps a reminder that Dad will be very upset if he accidentally kills his sisters.

    There is a fort in my backyard. Some children are good at building things, but not mine. It looks like something out of a bad Halloween movie. Parts of it are too high up to be safe. I have it on good authority that Daughter A. has already injured herself.

    They want me to come look at it. They beg and plead. I? I demurely decline. I finally explained to one of them the other day that they really don’t want me to look at it because I may be overcome with the desire to tell them to take it down and build something nice and lower to the ground.

    There are times to look, and there are times not to look, and it takes wisdom to know the difference.

    I was once amused at the park when a group of mothers freaked out because of how high my son had climbed. Their conversation had made me aware that they had no scruples about what their children were watching and listening to. They didn’t seem to care if their little minds were filled with garbage, so long as no broken arms or legs came about.

    I invented my Don’t Look Theory of Parenting shortly thereafter. There are worse things than a broken leg.

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  • Reply Saddling the Masterly Inactivity Virtue Horse | Afterthoughts November 15, 2019 at 7:10 am

    […] while she has a cup of coffee with her friends. This is where masterly inactivity departs from my Don’t Look Theory of Parenting. You can see which side of the horse I have fallen off on: in order to protect my children from my […]

  • Reply Michelle Franklin March 14, 2019 at 8:04 am

    Just listened on Aftercast!! ♥️♥️ You summed up my parenting so eloquently. ?

  • Reply Fannie March 11, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    I just put ch. 3 of vol. 3 down and it was a delightful reading. The allegory of the general in command also struck me as a great example. In the same chapter, Miss Mason explains to us that masterly inactivity is, amongst other things, trusting our kids and so your don’t look philosophy, even if utterly terrifying, is a good one.

    I liked your example at the end with mothers at a park. A similar situation happened to me last year and doesn’t the fear of other mothers for your own children make you feel like a terrible person? I find that when you actually watch your kids play you understand that you can trust them more often then not.

    I will continue to find for my right to make sure my daughters are not left alone to play with little boys though. Safe physically or not, there are things that I just want to prevent for as long as I can.


    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 11, 2017 at 8:54 pm

      Yes! The fear of other mothers *does* make me feel like a terrible person — at least for a moment. I like what you said about realizing that we can trust them more than we initially think… ♥

  • Reply Lauren Ferrin January 14, 2017 at 6:59 am

    I just came across this and I am very encouraged by it. Thank you.

  • Reply Abby June 7, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    While I agree that our kids need time to learn and discover and simply play, I must admit I struggle with this. My three are very young: 4.5, 2.5, 10 months. I feel like playing with them whether it is tag, Legos, babies, sand box is my means of bonding with them. They play by themselves, but are always asking my husband and I to play with them. I find myself being pulled in opposite directions: play and develop a relationship, or give them room and allow them to experience life! Frustration and guilt are a constant companion.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 7, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Oh, yes! I agree that for younger children there are a lot more hands-on requirements, and the bonding is SO important! I think the key at those ages is not to interrupt and distract when they are already involved so they get into the habit of playing on their own. 🙂

  • Reply Jessica July 16, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Ha ha! Yes!! This is my theory….but I never put a name to it. Love it!

  • Reply a. borealis May 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    A year and a half later . . . yessssss. I’m glad this theory of parenting has a name, because I ascribe to it as well. I’ve found myself looking away and holding my tongue for exactly what you said: protecting THEM from ME.

    They need the freedom to explore and invent free from fussing and directives. And I need the freedom from feeling like I need to prevent catastrophe a hundred-thousand times per day.

    Your “Why in the world are you spitting right now?” sums it up so perfectly. Because seriously. Why??

    Just leave ’em alone and let ’em spit. It’s so must better that way and leaves this mama feeling a bit less frazzled. This from a mother of FOUR boys. Goodness.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 11, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      Four boys! I love boys, but four is a lot of … shall we say “energy” !! — for one home. God bless you! 🙂

      • Reply a. borealis May 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

        Seriously. The energy levels. (Especially with my ENFP 9yo at the helm. When he is absorbed in something solo, the entire house quiets down in a significant way.) They pretty much move together in a gigantic, writhing ball of flailing limbs and bellowing. I can’t even tell what they are doing most of the time – everything looks and sounds the same.

  • Reply Amber Sherwood November 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I am so glad to see someone else is employing this philosophy as well. Although I must admit half the time I watch out of the corner of my eye and hold my breath. I think that if you let kids play and climb freely from an early age they will learn their lessons from smaller falls and will have a habit of being more careful when they try new things,

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      I think you’re right that they will learn lessons from smaller falls. Good point! 🙂

  • Reply Tamara December 21, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Hi. I clicked over here from pinterest. I really appreciate this post. I grew up always under a on overly watchful eye (I was honestly told “Don’t run! You could fall!”) And I got in trouble for getting hurt since it must have meant I wasn’t being careful. Now, as a mom, I try to balance teaching caution with letting a kid be a kid. I think you nailed it.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 22, 2013 at 3:34 am

      Tamara, it means a lot to me that, being raised as you were, you left this comment! Thank you!

  • Reply Amber December 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    We have a tree fort much like you describe! I refuse to do more than glance at it, for just that reason. The fort has fallen down twice (with a kid in it each time! And yes, they were fine) but this third iteration is quit sturdy and has lasted over six months. I loved overhearing their plans and schemes for making it stronger and more sturdy after each crash. This goes along with providing them real tools, nails and a pile of scrap wood they can pillage. I should also mention that I’m talking about an 11 yo, a 7 yo, and a 5 yo who mostly acts as a fetcher and observer.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 22, 2013 at 3:33 am

      I *wish* I could say that our fort looks safer each time it is accidentally demolished, but so far I’m not so sure. We don’t have any mature trees, so they are using the fence and an old toy kitchen and I’m convinced that someday they will bring down the entire fence! Oh how exciting that will be, when my goat flock is found eating the neighbor’s shrubs. 🙂

  • Reply livingstonesacademy December 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Oh my word, you made me laugh even more than usual today! Thank you. And so true. I hate that I sometimes tell them to pull up or tie a shoe when they’re playing. How irritating. I think I’ll practice this more. Because it’s really silly. How can I prevent my whirling dervish from hurting herself? The child still runs into walls at nearly 6 years old (and no she doesn’t need glasses, she’s really just that spacey). If she hasn’t learned it by now, it may be because I’m constantly telling her not to do things because she might hurt herself. If I know psychology at all (and I frankly don’t think you have to be an expert, just an observant person), I’d say she doesn’t learn from her own mistakes because she feels those mistakes validated mommy’s paranoia, and she’s determined to outwit me someday. Maybe if I just leave her alone and not be able to say “I told you so”, she’d finally get it. Thanks again, Brandy. Love your posts 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 20, 2013 at 12:41 am

      A 6yo running into walls? Sounds…very familiar. 🙂

  • Reply sara December 18, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Recently a visitor to our home looked around and after commenting on the beautiful natural landscape, started pointing out all the potential dangers to the children. (A creek, a silo, outbuildings, etc.) I said, “Well, they won’t climb the silo because I can see it from the house, but I’m sure they climb plenty of other things they’re not supposed to.” I think he was pretty horrified. I couldn’t think fast enough to say this to the visitor, but later on I explained to my husband that after my kids have safely reached adulthood I hope they tell me all about their adventures.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 18, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      I have already been told a few “adventures” when the children think it has been long enough for me not to freak out and they are…interesting. 🙂

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe December 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I love this! This is my parenting style as well. At least, I try. 🙂

  • Reply Celeste December 18, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Oh man, this is really how I *want* to be as a mom! But honestly, I get worried about not only my kids getting hurt (because I agree that there definitely are worse things than a broken leg) but also CPS coming around if I have to make an emergency visit to the ER with my six-children-under-eight-and-pregnant-belly…and then all the risks that come with that. Yes, making a concerted effort to just. not. look. would really help. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 18, 2013 at 11:18 pm

      Oh, Celeste! {{{hugs}}} I know I don’t have as many children as you, but I still understand that fear. I do think I have loosened up — felt *able* to loosen up — a lot more once my youngest got a bit older, and especially after he turned five.

      The one thing I do remember doing, that I think I actually did right was, when they were really little, trying to teach them to do things safely instead of telling them to stop. So, for example, I have vivid memories of my oldest when he was one and loved to climb. We taught him how to come down backwards so that he didn’t topple. A few things like that, to be proactive. That was the first step for me to be able to let go — because I am not naturally this way — to try and teach them some basic safety.

      When I say don’t look, not that you thought this, but I feel the need to clarify for anyone else who might be reading, I am referring to school-age children. 🙂

      So far, we haven’t had any broken bones, but we did have a child jump from a great height who, even though the x-ray read normal — was unable to walk for almost a week subsequent. That was scary!

    • Reply River September 9, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      I love this!
      This is what I long for, but have the same concerns as Celeste… and we had CPS called on us because we use miswak toothbrushes… so a child being seen in my yard (which faces CPS parking) doing “dangerous” childhood things… concerns me, even though I desperately want to let them do these things…

      • Reply Brandy Vencel September 9, 2015 at 9:08 pm

        Seriously?? Someone called CPS on you over your choice of an alternative toothbrush? River, I am so sorry. Sometimes, I just cannot believe the world we are living in. 🙁

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