How to bring up children without lifting a finger
Sunday Business Post, 29 March 2009
In your darkest moments, raising children can feel like a thankless task. You work your fingers to the bone to feed, clothe and shelter them. You spend the remainder of your waking hours ‘interacting’ with them. Then, by the time you’ve got them to bed, you’re too worn out to do much more than fall asleep yourself. Wake up the next day, and the routine begins all over again.
Well, Tom Hodgkinson is here to put an end to all that, with a book that should become essential reading for all prospective parents. Hodgkinson is the editor of The Idler, a bi-annual publication devoted to the ethos of idle living, and he sees no reason why being a parent should involve any hard work at all.
In his philosophy, we are at the mercy of tyrannical governments and adult-run interest groups who want to fill our children’s lives with tests, targets, lengthy school hours and myriad extracurricular activities – all during (as Hodgkinson puts it) ‘‘years that should be devoted to play and joyful learning”.
The Idle Parent begins with a manifesto to, among other things, ‘‘reject the idea that parenting requires hard work” and a pledge to ‘‘leave our children alone”. To do this, parents need to be selfish: don’t give in to consumerism, don’t waste money on expensive holidays or toys, carry on drinking alcohol without guilt, stop working so hard and, for heaven’s sake, have a lie-in.
But The Idle Parent is not simply a celebration of idleness, it’s about the pursuit of happiness for the entire family. After all, Hodgkinson points out, ‘‘a life free from pleasure is no life at all”. Children, he points out, are, and always have been, capable of remarkable self sufficiency.
If you do take your lie ins at weekends and on holiday, the children won’t starve, and eventually they’ll work out how to put cereal in a bowl for themselves – in time, they may even make breakfast for you and do the dishes.
Hodgkinson denounces toys (‘‘children get more fun from a cardboard box”) and most children’s TV programmes, arguing that playing simple games from the comfort of your sofa can be more rewarding for kids, as can building dens, socialising in large groups with other families, and reading – preferably classics you enjoy just as much as your children will.
He writes passionately and practically about the bane of all parents’ lives: incessant whinging. Whining, he says, is an expression of dependence and the result of parents doing too much for their children. To eradicate this, he advocates a life with fewer rules, where you can say ‘‘no” and stop seeing it as unkindness, where children are free to roam their own environment, away from corporate health and safety rules and even conventional education. Of course, Hodgkinson writes this from a relatively cosy perspective:
he and his family opted out of the ‘rat race’ to live in a rural, self educating idyll in Devon. He is a passionate advocate of frugality, only working, when necessary, from home, and living by the philosophy that time is more important than money. It’s hard to fault any of his arguments.
Parents of young children will find themselves nodding furiously throughout this thoroughly enjoyable book (how you’ll cheer when he fills three black sacks with his children’s toys and finds that they fail to notice) and, no doubt, guffawing in recognition at their own child-rearing ‘mistakes’. You never know, The Idle Parent may even give you your life back.