Book club: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids

 The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kidsby Tom Hodgkinson came to my attention after our interview with Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids was published. It might seem strange that a nanny agency owner would be writing so much about what may seem like lazy parenting. Having worked with countless families over the years, one of the most universal goals our families share is to raise healthy, balanced, self-reliant kids. Hodgkinson and Skenazy share the viewpoint that giving children time and space is integral in in supporting this goal.

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A quick summery by Goodreads:

Many parents today spend a whole lot of time worrying and wondering- frantically “helicoptering” over their children with the hope that they might somehow keep (or make?) them flawless. But where is this approach to childcare getting us? According to Hodgkinson, in our quest to give our kids everything, we fail to give them the two things they need most: the space and time to grow up self-reliant, confident, happy, and free. In this smart and hilarious book, Hodgkinson urges parents to stop worrying and instead start nurturing the natural instincts toward creativity and independence that are found in every child. And the great irony: in doing so, we will find ourselves becoming happier and better parents.

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And here is an excerpt from the book:

Our children’s days are crammed full with activities: ballet, judo, tennis, piano, sport, art projects. At home they are entertained by giant screens and computers. In between, they are strapped into cars and made to listen to educational tapes. Ambitious mothers force hours of homework on bewildered 10-year-olds, hanging the abstract fear of “future employers” over their heads.

Then they buy them a Nintendo Wii, the absurd, costly gadget that’s supposed to bring some element of physicality to computer games. It’s only a matter of time before children have their own BlackBerrys.

I think of the New Yorker cartoon of two kids in a playground, each staring at a personal organiser and one saying: “I can fit you in for unscheduled play next Thursday at four.” All these activities impose a huge burden of cost and time on the already harried parent. They leave no room for simply mucking about. They have the other unwelcome side effect of making the children incapable of looking after themselves. When they are stimulated by outside agencies, whether that be course leader, computer or television, they lose the ability to create their own games. They forget how to play.


While we don’t agree with everything The Idle Parent suggests, it’s an entertaining read, and can be a sigh of relief to over-worried parents.