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The Idle Parent – Leave Them Alone

The Idle Parent – Leave them Alone

Over the past two years, I’ve blogged about 24 parenting books and this is the first time I ever spied my husband actually reading one of them. He is much more laid-back than me still I wonder if sometimes even he questions his less is more strategy when everything one encounters in our society indicates the opposite. Basically, author Tom Hodgkinson argues that the best thing we can do for our kids is leave them alone.

This book is equal parts entertainment as it is enlightenment. Deliberately avoiding all modern parenting methods, Hodgkinson looks to John Locke, of the seventeenth century, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, of the eighteenth century, for guidance, believing that the best thing you can do for your child is live in accordance with Rousseau’s philosophy, which is to shield your child from the crushing force of social conventions.

I know what you’re thinking this is a bit much, but The Idle Parent has yielded more ah-ha moments for me than any other book I’ve read as well as more laughs out loud. Essentially, Hodgkinson believes, “The problem is that we are putting too much work into parenting, not too little. By overinterfering, we are not allowing the kids to grow up and learn by themselves.” As far as Hodgkinson is concerned we need to heed D.H.Lawrence’s warning not to create “big babies.” With so many of us being dependent and impractical ourselves, we are passing this on to our children. Hodgkinson believes we must “recapture the lost arts of domestic living.” Stop seeking perfection. Eliminate family days out. And learn how to live from your kids, at home.

Hodgkinson maintains that “an unhealthy dose of the work ethic is threatening to wreck childhood. Under tyrannical work-obsessed governments, years that should be devoted to play and joyful learning are being stifled by targets and tests and long school hours.” The Idle Parent believes “these activities impose a huge burden of cost and time on the already harried parent. They leave no time for simply goofing off, for free play. They have an unwelcome side effect of making children incapable of looking after themselves.”

The first step to idle parenting is you need to start by doing less for your children. “Stop trying to be an efficient, hardworking parent. Lie in bed and see what happens. You will find that doing less for your children will make them self-reliant.” Help your child rewrite the purpose of work in your house. It’s not as Rousseau explains to help out or even serve mankind. “Nor is it the greedy piling up of stupid possessions. An individual works for his own pleasure.”

What Hodgkinson wants you to take away from his book is the ability not only to make life easier for you but also create independent children. He urges mothers, in particular, to stop working and start living. Ultimately, if you’re happy, The Idle Parent argues, your children will be happy. Mind you, The Idle Parent does recognize there’s a difference between carefree and careless. For example, the idle parent should ban TV, as “children are merely submitting to someone else’s creation” instead of creating something of their own. Essentially, what Hodgkinson suggests you do is approach parenting from the perspective of a respect for childhood, for free time, for unorganized and unsupervised fun.

Hodgkinson writes, “We simply want to enjoy our lives and to give our children a happy childhood. What greater gift could there be from a parent? If our children will say, ‘I enjoyed my childhood,’ to their friends, then I would count that as a great achievement. Better to have a happy childhood than a high-achieving one with a huge shrink bill to pay in adult life.”

With the season of giving underway, I keep thinking about this particular section of The Idle Parent. Am I giving my children the gift of childhood? Or am I too busy making sure they don’t miss out on something they may need later in life? While this philosophy of parenting might seem counterintuitive, I’m beginning to think this obvious yet revolutionary idea of nurturing the natural instincts of creativity and independence might be the best thing I can do for my kids.


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Read my other blog Befriending Forty at and find out what happened when the person I thought I’d be met the person I actually became.

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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