Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Idle Parent

I was idly reading the Times website the other day (trying to ignore the chaos going on behind me) and came across a book review for a book called The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson. I haven't actually managed to get my hands on a copy to actually read the book yet, a copy is awaiting my return to the UK, but the review struck a chord.

Essentially, he is advocating allowing children to have more time and space to themselves to create their own play. He thinks that many parents spend too much time standing over their children in adult organised activities, ensuring that things are done just so, and that many of these activities are too educationally orientated. I was reminded of a conversation I had last year with another member of the Mothers Union as we watched other mothers being very engaged with their children in the playground whilst we gossiped and our children were last seen investigating bugs in the hedge. We confidently agreed that we had made a decision to parent our children in this way, to allow them space to explore and create for themselves, but then we secretly whispered to each other that maybe it wasn't so much a conscious decision but shhh .. maybe... just maybe.. we might actually just be a bit lazy.

Fast forward a year and I find myself in a culture where this type of parenting is the norm. The Bosnian kids are afforded a remarkable amount of freedom in comparison to British ones. They play outside, the boys on bikes and with footballs, the girls walking around arm in arm whispering and giggling. All ages mix together, they all know each other and they are, on the whole, beautifully behaved. Exuberant sometimes, loud often, they engage with each other, taking the resonsibility to look out for the younger ones and without fail respect the adults. It seems to me that this mixing of ages and backgrounds leads to a real development of a social awareness that can be lacking in British children who seldom have the opportunity to engage with youngsters outside of their own age range.

So, now that spring is arriving (at least the days are getting longer even if there is still snow on the ground), I'm looking forward to watching the Bosnian children enjoying themselves. I'm not sure that I am quite prepared to let my two head off on their own, they are only 2 and 3 after all, but I am looking forward to possibly reading a book on the porch whilst they create havoc in the garden and not feeling guilty that I ought to be organising something.


Laura - Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? said...

I like idle parenting. The 3 year old plays happily in the garden with the dog and his bike, the 4 year old potters in her room and makes pictures of princesses.

In fact the only time we have trouble is when I try to control their activities and put them in the same room for any length of time.

Of course the above is just this months phase - next month it will all change again, as it always does.

Me? I drink a cup of tea

ck said...

I didn't know there was a name for this type of parenting. I thought I was being selfish for a little me-time.

But when my older daughter stopped napping I started giving her "quiet time"in the play room for 1.5-2 hours. She bucked it at first, but now she plays by herself, "reads," colors and listens to books on CD. When the time is over, she's almost as refreshed as when she napped.

Glad to know I might be doing something healthy after all!

MDTaz said...

I've marveled at the contrast between the level of engagement our parents felt was necessary, and how our generation has been compelled to think we must attend to our children 24/7. When it was nice out, my mother said, "Go outside and play." And I did, and I invented worlds of my own. Later when I'd return, she'd be happy to see me, but demonstrated no guilt or urge to entertain me because she hadn't "been with me" for a few hours. The advent of hover-moms is a shame. Most of all I think it keeps our children from being confident and independent. There's a great blog (not mine) that that addresses this:

Thanks for mentioning this book and this whole idea of "idle parenting." I'd not heard this term and I like it - a lot...

Mummy said...

I think a lot of it has to do with working mothers (from my own experience). I spend so much time away from my daughter that I feel when I am there I should be "with" her. And then the nanny who is there when I am at work, well, she is paid to play with her.

Last night, however, while at the playground, I did chat to the other nannies while I let my little one play with the much older girls and boys. She seemed more happy than when she plays with me!

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I agree, it's what I like about Albania too, it's like britain in the 40s & 50s (from what I gather) kids roamed free, played on the streets etc. My son plays football with theh neighbourhood lads, they go to the loacl shop onthei rown (aged 4 & 8) And with so many power cuts, crappy tv, few amentiies they are really learnign to entertain themsleves & even with riends too, they provide their own entertainment. I think it's very healthy (& good for me too;-)) Glad to have found a fellow Balkan mum, tho I kid myself I'm a Mediteranean Mummy, sounds so much more exotic & 'Mama Mia' ish;-) I'll be back!

Maternal Tales said...

This book has been on my 'to read' list for a couple of months now since a friend of mine recommended it. We laughed about it because, as you say, it sounds like it's advocating lazy parenting. But actually I think it's supposed to be quite insightful. I definitely think children should be left alone to play by themselves - this is where imagination is formed.