January 8, 2011

The Idle Parent

I just skimmed the book The Idle Parent, mostly because it was overdue and it was from the New Books table and I can't renew it. But partially because I got the concept of The Idle Parent in the first chapter or so, and partially because I am a terrible finisher of books that don't completely capture my interest.  The whole idea of the Idle Parent is that if you would quit being so intense and be more laid back then your kids would be healthier and happier. 
I like that idea, so I picked up the book. Relax? Sign me up. 
The author's (Tom Hodgkinson)premise is that if parents would not be so intense on schooling and perfection, kids would learn to manage themselves and more you and take responsibility for themselves.
Tom highly recommends less spendy vacations, dinners out, expensive hobbies, and letting children be. "Don't interfere" is one of his mantras.  Step back, and the child will step up.  Tom encourages us to sleep in late (the kids will find the breakfast cereal, just throw them out of the bedroom if they come in), and to drink wine during bath time (you work hard, enjoy life a bit) and just generally let the children manage themselves more.  Not totally, just more.  Ironically, I think that it takes more work to let children be (in the way Tom intends--allowing their natural creative and independence to come forth), then to regulate and control.
The book is certainly winsome and inspiring. You work hard, he says, you can relax a little.
It reminds me of this lovely article that I read years ago about mothering in France compared to mothering in America.  The French women's focus was on their lives, the children revolved around their mother. In contrast in that article, in America the women revolved around the children.
There is incredible pressure to make your life all about your children. I decided a long while ago that I wanted parenting to be primarily a relationship and not my career.  I have worked full-time, but I don't see this as a decision about working or not working. Instead, it is about perspective.  Do I evaluate myself based on my child? It's not so much how much time I spend doing the tasks of care-giving, but instead, how do I identify myself?
I think that we put incredible pressure on mothers to find their identity in the care of their children and to find themselves in their relationships to others.  All that is good, until you try to measure your achievement or success based on someone else's performance or start to see yourself as orbiting your child. 
I am all for taking a step back--I think I do too much for my child.  There is space for her to become, if I give her the room to take it.

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