Saturday, June 21, 2008

Idle Parenting?

"Action is the refuge of people who have nothing whatsoever to do."
~Oscar Wilde


A few years back, I was ambling around the internet in search of something in particular, and I ran across something I wasn't searching for at all-- The Idler. In fact, I'd never heard of it before, but I browsed the site for a while, reading and thinking and laughing. One article struck me particularly well because it argues for something I think is very important-- leaving children alone in raising them.

For someone like me, whose own child once said happily that his unschoolish type education was akin to being a free range chicken; whose gardening style leans strongly toward natural, native plants, xeriscaping, leaving a garden alone to do its thing, and working with nature rather than constantly battling it to bring it to submission and beauty; whose days are happiest and most productive when full of meaningful work, but work that is done in an unhurried, unpressured sort of way; to whom leisure means rest and relaxation and freedom of mind rather than violently running about to "recreate" myself, I really get the meaning of this article.

For some reason, today, The Idler and the article on raising children came to mind again, so I went over to the website and had a look. There's occasional content there that might be offensive to some (many?), so I'm not particularly recommending it to everyone, but I do think this humorous, yet serious, article is worth reading and considering.

Hopefully, by now you know that I'm not a believer in unparenting, but I am also not a believer in overparenting, and I think the latter is all too common nowadays. As Christians, we are meant to "train up" our children, but maybe there's a better way to do this than to follow our modern tendency to manage every minute aspect of their lives. It's gotten to the point that, even if we are aiming for freedom and letting a child alone, we manage to manage that because we have outcomes in mind. We do our best to shape the child's free time in such a way that our desired goals for him (and the use of his free time) will be met on our desired timetable. We have a very hard time truly letting go.

From The Idler article by Tom Hodgkinson (hopefully to be enjoyed as well as to be thought about!):

"...before moving on to my tips for responsible parenting, which to me is synonymous with idle parenting, I would like to explain the intellectual philosophy that I’ve based the tips on. It comes from the following lines from an essay called “Education of the People”, written in 1918 by DH Lawrence, and published today in the anthology Phoenix.

"How to begin to educate a child. First rule, leave him alone. Second rule, leave him alone. Third rule, leave him alone. That is the whole beginning...

"DH Lawrence is absolutely right. There is far too much inteference in the lives of children. This interefence is usually carried out under the excuse of “health and safety”. Oh Health and Safety! How many crimes to humanity have been committed in thy name? I understand, for example, that in nursery schools around the country, which are now known by the unappealing term “pre-schools”, running around is not allowed. Running around not allowed! For children of three and four? Surely they should be doing nothing but running around! But no. We have decided somewhere along the line that three-year olds should be prepared for the discipline of school in pre-schools, where their natural urges will begin to be tamed. Apparently pre-schools have an educational remit. Why? They should be free to run wild. The best pre-school would be a large room with garden attached, twenty kids and two adults at one end ignoring them.

"Now Lawrence was not of course recommending slothful neglect. We don’t let our children eat nails. What he meant was that we should allow them space, physical and mental. “It is this in respect that we repeat, leave him alone. Leave his sensibilities, his emotions, his spirit, and his mind severely alone.”

"The “leave them alone” philosophy, or “benign neglect” as it is sometimes called, seems in direct oposition to everything that we have decided to believe. You are supposed to play with children, give them attention, give them “special time”, “mummy time”., “quality time”. You are asked to make “play dates”. Thus it is that childcare becomes a burdensome task rather than a pleasure. We are taught by TV supernannies how to look after our children. Now supernanny has lots of good tips, but she can end up making us feel like bad parents because we’re extremely unlikely to be able to live up to the high standards she exhibits. Well, if you don’t feel like it, don’t do it. It’s surely worse to play a game with your kid under suffrance, resenting every second, than to ignore them and read the paper while they find something to do. “Bill, play with Fred,” I heard a mother command her husband. “I thought play was supposed to be a spontaneous thing,” came the lugubrious reply. Now of course, we all do play with our kids, but to do it on command and at pre-appointed times defeats the object."

Read the entire article if you'd like:

Leave Them Alone!