Monday, November 24, 2008

Idle parenting is very continuum

A friend sent me this link to a Telegraph UK article describing the practice of "Idle Parenting":

Idle Parenting Means Happy Children, by Tom Hodgkinson

It cracked me up while at the same time reassuring me (his manifesto includes lines like "We drink alcohol without guilt" and "We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work"), and it seemed very much in line with my Continuum Parenting ideals.

Hodgkinson describes the birth of his idle parenting epiphany with this Fight Club-like quote from DH Lawrence:

"The welcome discovery that a lazy parent is a good parent took root when I read the following passage from a DH Lawrence essay, Education of the People, published in 1918: 'How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.'"

The basic idea of Idle Parenting is to let children play and do what they want to do while the parents get on with their sedentary, boring, grown-up lives, which is exactly what I crave.

Maybe it's because we had our first child in our thirties rather than our twenties or teens, but I find myself worn out when I try to play all day. That might be why Hodgkinson's insistence that since children like being busy and parents like being lazy, "it makes sense for the children to do the work."

That's one reason we're trying to train Mikko to stuff DVDs in envelopes, so that one day he can carry on our family business while we read library books.

Jean Liedloff's The Continuum Concept casts a vision that, though less light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek than Hodgkinson's, mirrors his insistence that children don't need constant attention of the sort that Western parents think their children crave. Based on her observations of tribal societies, Liedloff recommends a childrearing practice in keeping with what humans have evolved to expect: first, constant physical contact during babyhood while the baby passively observes what the adults are doing, and then, when the baby becomes mobile, increasing journeys away from the safety of the mother, eventually coming to rest within the peer group of other children for most of the day.

Obviously, most of us reading blogs don't live in tribes anymore, so in most families it's unlikely that there are enough children in the household to create a varied peer group for a Western child. But I do agree with the general idea that there are some things adults want or need to do, and there are some things children want or need to do, and we can both just get on with it. If Mikko wants to join me in my adult activities, such as helping us cook or clean or wash dishes or wrap packages for our business, then he's welcome and invited, as he learns the ropes of being an adult. But if he wants to hare off and enjoy himself in some childish giddiness, that's also perfectly acceptable, and I shouldn't have to feel guilty that I don't always join him in that. I can, if I want to, but he can enjoy his time as a child without my interference.

Here's another quote from Hodgkinson's article:

"Paradoxically, the idle parent is a responsible parent because at the heart of idle parenting is a respect for the child, a trust in another human being."

Children don't need to be raised in some heavy-handed fashion. They grow. They grow the way our cherry tomato plant grew this summer. It was a gift, so we paid no money for it. We planted it, and it took off. We provided some soil and some water on dry days, and God and the plant's inherent developmental arc did the rest. I know plant-to-parenting metaphors have been done to death, but seriously, people -- kids will grow all on their own, too. You provide the basics of nourishment, physical and emotional, the supplies for growth. But don't fool yourself into thinking you're creating a human being. That work's being done next to you, ahead of you, despite you, but not by you.

A final quote, but then go read the whole article if you haven't already, and also visit his site, The Idler.

"My idea of childcare is a large field. At one side is a marquee serving local ales. This is where the parents gather. On the other side, somewhere in the distance, the children play. I don't bother them and they don't bother me. I give them as much freedom as possible."

I'm living my life, writing my novel, being unambitious and thrifty and content, not impressing anyone at high school reunions or mommy gatherings, watching my kid grow and celebrating it with him. I don't trick myself into thinking I have more power than I do. I just let him run around me in a blur, wearing me out with his enthusiasm and energy, and refuse to feel guilty for sitting on the sidelines, watching him raise himself.

Hilarious photo by Andrew Crowley, from the article referenced


Susana la Banana said...

In my group, we like to call this idea "unparenting," after the whole idea of "unschooling." Ha ha ha.

My problem with this is that we do NOT have a society where it's okay for kids to hang around places where adults do their work, AND then there's the whole "paranoia about safety" issue where since no one lets their kids play by themselves, it's no longer really safe to let your kid play by himself. (At the park, for example. If there were lots of kids playing there, it would be safe, but if it's only my kid...scary!)

Anyway. It's definitely food for thought for all those people that worried about James ever pottying, eating like an adult, sleeping through the night, sleeping in his own bed, playing without being near me, staying with a relative, etc...we just let him do his thing and eventually, he did. =)

I especially like the "we drink alcohol without guilt" part of this parenting philosophy. I am totally there already. ;)

Lauren Wayne said...

"Unparenting" -- I love it!

Yeah, I find I often write (for my own sake as much as for others') in all-or-nothing terms, sort of to shock me to a new point of view. I envision a middle balance, somewhere between neglecting the kids and obsessing over them, and I see that our culture is more on the obsessing end, so when I read about something like Idle Parenting, I think -- just the crazy idea to nudge us toward that healthy middle. You know?

But I do mourn that there aren't more arms to hold babies, more kids to run around with...and at the same time, I value our independence as a little family of three. So, there you are! You can do only so much with what you have. Certainly it would be cruel to purposely ignore your kid all day when you're all he has to interact with.

Ah, but the drinking without guilt... We just had a nice wine with Thanksgiving dinner, and I didn't feel bad at all.

P.S. Now that Mikko's walking and I'm all excited, my mom's already started in on "But is he talking any more yet?" I guess that's the next thing I'm supposed to "teach" him. lol

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