Friday, November 7, 2014

Family Book Review - The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson


 Tom Hodgkinson wants us to leave our kids be, to give them the space and time  to grow into self-reliant, confident, inquisitive, contented and free people. Full of practical tips on what to do and (more importantly) what not to do, Tom will not only help your kids to be happier, but he'll also help you, their parents, live happier and more fulfilled lives.

JD found this book in a charity shop and bought it for us to read. At a glance it seems to be the kind of book with the same sort of ideas that we already follow with our kids.

I enjoyed a lot of the thoughts in this book and agreed with some of them. The author seemed overly obsessed with finding the time to drink alcohol which we don't often do. There are plenty other things we enjoy doing that it'd be nice for more time for though :D

I'm going to quote my favourite parts from the book and explain why I like them:

"Children who have too much done for them cannot do things for themselves. Have you noticed how they expect their parents to know the precise location of all their belongings at any point. Where's my Tamagotchi? the child tyrant whines. I can't find my socks."

Actually, not just true of children. Plenty adults rely on their partner to know everything too. We currently have a problem with Erin getting herself up for school. We want her to take responsibility for it herself but she's resisting so far. We're working on it. Leigh sometimes tries to get us to help her with doing something she can easily do herself too. And while it feels good to help someone out I think the pleasure of managing to do something yourself is equally rewarding. I want my kids to have that feeling.

"Whining is an expression of powerlessness and dependence. When you cannot do anything for yourself, when you have come to rely on others to supply your needs and wants, then whining is the impotent response when things go badly."

A whining child is like torture. Just loud enough to grate on your nerves but not too noisy that you feel the need to quieten them. Teaching a child how to do most basic tasks themselves cuts down on this constant whining for help and must make for a happier, more content child. TH (Tom Hodgkinson) also mentions that lots of adults whine at work because they feel they have no control over what happens there.

"The boredom of the full-time mother is compounded by her guilt: she feels guilty because she is not enjoying the company of her own baby, her own children. She feels a failure for not enjoying motherhood. How far she falls short of the ideal of motherhood presented in magazines and TV ads."

TH feels strongly that the way society isolates full-time mothers is wrong compared to how extended families used to share care of the children. I did feel isolated when I had Leigh and it took a lot of getting used to after working full-time and being surrounded by people. I enjoyed being a Mum but sometimes felt I wasn't a good enough Mum or that there was something wrong with me for finding it hard to cope at times.

"Where the man-made world is very expensive, nature is free, physically, mentally, spiritually and financially. While the man-made world is endlessly frustrating, nature is deeply satisfying. Nature is the great generous opposite of mean and greedy commercial culture. It costs nothing."

Preaching to the choir here! I've always loved getting out into nature with or without the kids.

"Shopping trips to town are hellish. The harried parent wastes vitality by saying 'No' constantly, and is also made to feel mean and stingy."

Advertising shamelessly targets children all year round but never as viciously as at Christmas time. Parents are made to feel guilt if they don't spend enough on their child or don't get the most popular toys as presents. I used to feel mean saying no to my kids but I'm starting to feel differently. 'Can't Buy Me Love' isn't just a song lyric. Your time is the best gift you can give anyone and is what kids crave most, not more stuff.

"You want your kids to fit in with the other kids and therefore you buy them rubbish. But the rubbish costs money and to get the money you have to work."

TH believes you should be happy with less stuff and I agree. Life is set up to have everyone chasing material possessions. A bigger house, a faster car, a newer mobile phone etc etc. One of JD's favourite quotes sums up how we feel about possessions.


The less you want, the more content you feel with what you have. The less you want, the less you need to work to pay for the things you want to buy. It does make it awkward when family ask what you want for Christmas though. :)

"Try not to fill children's days. Let them live."

Our kids fight against being too busy. They prefer to have a few days in the holidays where we do nothing. They often ask if we're doing anything at the weekend and feel pleased if we say nothing or groan if we're doing too much. Many kids are constantly engaged in after-school activities and days out/holidays. In the school holidays it's sometimes hard to find a balance between going out and having fun but also days doing nothing so the kids can just laze/lounge and enjoy the time off school. As a parent I often feel guilty that we don't always have a holiday or enough days out but then I remind myself that the kids themselves enjoy time to relax so who am I feeling guilty for?

On reflection there's far too much in this book that I could talk about so I'm going to save some for another day/post :)

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