How to be an idle parent
The Idle Parent is my kind of child-rearing book. Its author Tom Hodgkinson who’s actually more philosopher than guru, believes we should drink alcohol without guilt, lie in bed for as long as possible and fill the house with happy mess rather than miserable tidiness.
Now comes the slightly more difficult part. In a roundabout way, attaining the ‘devil may care’ lifestyle above, takes a few sacrifices. Throwing away the TV, banning toys and forgoing family days out – but we shall come back to that later.
Whilst the past decade was spent in hot pursuit of ‘lifestyle’ achieved by office slog, maxed out credit cards and massive mortgages, Tom was gaining quite a cool, cult following. Quietly rebelling against the materialistic system and spreading the, “reclaim your life back with less work and more play” message with his magazine The Idler which spawned a series of ‘loafing’ books.
This wasn’t just idealistic youthful backlash, Tom has stayed true to his values – rather zeitgeist expression in this recession. Three kids with long-term girlfriend Victoria, a move from Shepherd’s Bush to a rundown farmhouse in Devon later, and he’s now transferred his school of thought to family life.
He says: “I’m so far off from being a guru, I’m a terrible parent and lose my temper. All my friends thought idea of me writing a parenting guide was completely laughable.
“The key to idle parenting is less work for the parents because you’re not having to organise activities all the time just let them get on with their own lives. Its about leaving children alone so they play and become resourceful.”
In order to “reinvent life outside the system”, they got rid of the au pair, Victoria’s job, the debts and the TV. Then they installed some pigs, hens, started growing their own veg and roped the kids in to help – creating enjoyable responsibility. But they don’t save money in order to boost their bank balance – frugality means idleness, they can afford to work less.
Tom concludes in the book: “I would rather be at home and go without a holiday and drive an old banger or have no car at all and spend the cash. And there’s no need to suffer: I am going to keep drinking beer, reading books and playing the uke. A life free from pleasure is no life at all.”
Whilst some of Tom’s choices may seem a little extreme, many of his theories make a lot of sense. Perhaps we can adapt some of his utopian tips to create our own idle life:
Why bad parents are good parents. Keep a light touch on the tiller. Stay in the background, like the ideal ruler in the Tae Te Ching whose people barely realize they are being governed. Once kids are past the age of one, dads are just as capable as looking after them as mums. Men are naturally idle and tend to leave the kids alone more readily than the anxious mother burdened as she is by the commercially produced ideal images of magazines and adverts.
Let us sleep. Last summer holiday we found ourselves lying in bed till ten or eleven on several occasions with children aged three, six and eight in the house. After we’d chucked them out a few times they began to look after themselves. They are all quite capable of pouring milk on cereal. Children actually have an inbuilt self-protective sense that we destroy by over-cosseting. They become independent not so much by careful training but in part simply as a result of parental laziness.
Why there’s no more family days out. All week you have been stressed out at work, you are tired grumpy and guilty because you haven’t seen your children. So lets chase some fun! Lets pile everyone into the car and join all the other desperate families at the local theme park a strangely lonely place. Hundreds mill past each other but rarely speak like mute zombie families. You are being ripped off, comodified, victimized, your weakness profited from. But should fun really have to be paid for? Idle parenting is low-cost parenting.
Ditching toys stops the whining. Little tiny plastic pieces that pierce your feet when you stumble around the house with a hang-over, that trip you up on the stairs, that you sit on. Once I waited till all the kids were at school and their mother was also out. With great pleasure, I filled three black bags with old toys and left them by the bins. And the amazing thing was no one ever noticed. Commerce leads to inequality and whining. And we must resist the temptation to teach them that a remote controlled Dalek is better than a twig. African children rarely cry. I guess that’s because they have more control over their lives and less stuff to argue about.
Ban telly, embrace freedom (some DVD’s allowed). The idle parent has to confess that the television can be quite handy if you want to have some peace and quiet to drink a cup of tea, have a doze or potter in the garden. But the thing about TV is it’s a different kind of leaving them alone that doesn’t do anyone any good. We have finally unplugged and it is a great liberation the children rarely ask for it back. After a couple of days they got used to this and after school, instead of dashing to a screen they were found drawing things at the table, or making things or playing self-invented games.
But is it possible to make them give up Club Penguin? We have the same problem as anyone else pulling them off the f***king computer screens. We have to give them an hour a day on it or depravation will turn out too freakish. But I sometimes fail. I see them glued to the screen, lose my temper and haven’t got the energy to deal with their tantrums when I pull them off.
The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson is published in Hamish Hamilton hardback £14.99
If you want to find out more about Tom’s alternative parenting tips - his archived Daily Telegraph columns featuring his musings on family life are on can be found by clicking here